For decades, the most frequently seen signature in the world was probably that of Walt Disney. The swooping, cloud-like capital letters – the whirling ‘W’, the squiggly circle on the ‘I’, the late strike through the ‘D’ – appeared before and after all his films like a stamp of calming, paternal authority. These days, though, it’s probably Rishi Sunak’s. The MP for Richmond (Yorks) has been Chancellor of the Exchequer for less than six months, but over the course of the coronavirus pandemic, as he’s doled out cash left, right and centre, he has risen from ‘Rishi who?’ to ‘Dishi Rishi’ to ‘Robin Hood in a slimfit Topman two-piece’ to ‘both Boris Johnson’s greatest asset and gravest threat’. And through it all, he’s personally signed off on every penny. Literally. Everything about Sunak is slick, from the immaculate hair to the £180 travel mug, but nothing is quite as manicured as his personal brand. With every announcement of a new round of fiscal stimulus – be it the furlough scheme or the arts bailout – an accompanying Twitter card has been created.
My heart is pounding, my mouth is dry and my fingers are shaking as I type these words. As a recovering online gambling addict – a habit that derailed my life for three years and left me in deep despair – the prospect of spending months in lockdown was always going to be a challenge. My fear was that the isolation and boredom of it all, being stuck at home with my laptop for company, would undo more than a year of progress and drag me back to self-destructive behaviour that had already cost me tens of thousands of pounds. In fact, the opposite is true. Our collective “Great Pause” has allowed me to take stock and decide, finally, to talk about a problem that affects so many people in the UK, young men in particular – and which the coronavirus pandemic has only made worse. This week, the Gambling Commission revealed that, against the odds, gambling increased in lockdown, in spite of there having been no sporting events on which to place a bet. The rise can be put down to a surge in online slot bets placed at the UK’s biggest online casinos, which increased from £4.5 billion in March to £5.3 billion in May. I never dreamt I would suffer from addiction. I’m in my 30s, don’t smoke, hardly ever drink and never touch drugs. In 2016, however, I travelled the world and stopped off in Las Vegas, where I spent hours on The Strip. It was the first time I had seriously gambled, and it was intoxicating. I found myself feeding dollar bills into the slot machines. I knew right then that this could become a problem for me, and was relieved to tear myself away. The trouble really began later that year amid a relationship break-up. Which is typical for gambling addicts; young men are generally at higher risk of addiction, particularly those suffering isolation and depression. According to recent figures by YouGov, there may be up to 1.4 million problem gamblers in the UK. Suddenly alone in a big house, with disposable income and work as a freelance journalist giving me plenty of spare time, all the ingredients were there. I signed up to my first online casino. Gambling websites make it so easy for you to join – in most cases, registration takes under two minutes and requires just your name, address and contact details. There are no background checks and dozens of casinos to choose from, each with hundreds of games, from poker and blackjack to a vast selection of slots. Within weeks, I was spending hours every day on the apps. Casinos usually offer new customers a welcome bonus, allowing them to gamble with twice or three times the amount they deposit. The catch is wagering, a process through which you must gamble your deposit a certain number of times before you can withdraw winnings. It upsets me now to say this, but most of 2017 and 2018 are a blur. I know for a fact that I gambled every single day, virtually all my free time, pausing only to eat, drink and sleep. I would wait impatiently for wages to drop into my account, then immediately gamble away half of them or more. Huge losses were met with despair and frustration that I could not control my urge to gamble. Huge wins left me numb. Gambling addicts focus on the thrill of the chase, not the size of the win. I have since been told by a psychologist that online gambling addiction is particularly difficult to control because the rushes of dopamine – a neurotransmitter released by the brain during enjoyable activities – are so frequent, they become almost constant, leaving the gambler permanently seeking the next high. Unlike in a real casino, there are no distractions online, nothing to break the habit. It is just you, your laptop screen and five spinning reels. As 2018 wore on, I found myself cancelling social engagements, and those I could not get out of I escaped early to return to my laptop screen and the comfort of the casino. I drifted from friends and became distant with my family. I became a nightmare to live with. Somehow, probably through a deep inner guilt, I managed not to fall into debt. While I am grateful for that, it made the addiction no less shaming, and I still look back with regret at the thousands of pounds I gambled away. I don’t how much I lost between September 2016 and January 2019, but even a rough calculation tells me it’s more than £50,000 – and closer to £100,000. I cannot honestly say whether my addiction impacted upon my career. I do know that it helped send me into a severe depression that only months of counselling and the support of close friends finally dug me out of. I know, also, that revealing I had a gambling addiction to my employers felt like a step too far. That is why so many gambling addicts live secret lives, hiding their habit from even those closest to them. And it is why, tragically, some feel they have no alternative but to take their own lives. Online gambling addiction is called the ‘invisible addiction’ for a very good reason. My lowest moment arrived in December 2018. After losing hundreds of pounds in an afternoon, I didn’t have enough money to buy my family Christmas presents. It was then that I decided to take action to make it stop. I signed up to Gamstop, an online service launched in 2018 that allows addicts and problem gamblers to self-exclude from every UK-licensed casino. That was when I took control of my addiction. I cannot say I have conquered it, and I’m still angry at myself for hiding this problem for so long – but I’m strangely grateful for the 100-or-so days of lockdown, which showed me that I can live without the thrill of spinning virtual slots. Has lockdown helped you to let go of an unhealthy habit? Let us know in the comments section below.
The only life sentence handed out after Daniel Morgan was murdered in 1987, with an axe blow to the head in the car park of a south-east London pub, was for his bereaved family. For more than three decades, his brother Alastair fought tirelessly to expose corruption that he believed led to the cover-up of who killed Daniel, a 37-year-old private investigator. “Even now, many years later, when I find out a new aspect of what took place, it brings it all back,” says Alastair, 71, who lives in Wales with his wife. “You either have to swallow it and accept the dirt, or fight back. If you do fight, you get a [personal] life sentence.” Alastair is speaking ahead of the concluding episode of Murder in the Car Park tonight, a Channel 4 documentary about Daniel’s death and what he saw as the ripples of corruption that spread through the police, private investigators and journalists, all the way to the doors of Downing Street. It is the most investigated murder in British history, with five inquiries totalling tens of millions of pounds, but there is yet to be a conviction. The documentary unpicks the complicated web, with which Alastair is all too familiar, having dedicated his life to justice for his brother. He has co-created a podcast and co-written a book about the case, both called Untold: The Daniel Morgan Murder (untoldmurder.com). Even so, there are still revelations that were news to him in the documentary. Alastair remembers Daniel, who was younger by a year, as a gregarious man who enjoyed being around people. He went to agricultural college, worked in Denmark and in the UK as a tour guide, before starting Southern Investigations, a small detective agency in Thornton Heath, with Jonathan Rees. Both men were married, Daniel to Iris, and had children: Alastair one son, Daniel a boy and a girl.
They always say hindsight is a wonderful thing. It’s true, because if I’d known, I would have tried to remember more about September 19, 1970. Perhaps taken some photographs, made a few notes. After all, it’s not every day you become the first DJ to play Glastonbury, the world’s greatest music festival. 50 years on, I’m still kicking myself. At the time, I was a professional DJ who went by the rather dubious name “Mad Mick”. Based in Bath, I played all over the country, mainly at clubs or discos, but that summer my agent asked if I’d be available to compere and DJ at an outdoor gig on a sleepy dairy farm in the nearby village of Pilton in Somerset. The farmer, Michael Eavis, who I knew from the blues scene in Bath, would be booking groups to perform all day. It was branded as a “day festival”, but, really, it sounded like a hippy garden fete. Still, I was happy to play. Ahead of the gig, my agent and I drove to Worthy Farm and, over tea and homemade cake in the farmhouse kitchen, listened to Michael and his wife, Jean, tell us of their grand vision for an eclectic, fairly star-studded day of music. They had been inspired by the Bath Festival of Blues, where Led Zeppelin had played, and planned to host a “Pilton Pop Folk & Blues Festival”. I remember having serious doubts they could pull it off, but they were warm and genuine people, so I wished them the best of luck and forgot about it for a few weeks. Best Glastonbury performances of all time
What is it about my twin ragamuffin cats that proves such a turn-off for the opposite sex? That’s what I wondered yesterday, as I read the curious results of a study at Idaho’s Boise State University, in the US, where researchers presented around 1,400 women with photographs of two men in their early twenties - one stroking a cat, the other not. The women were then asked how they would feel about the prospect of a casual date or long-term relationship with each of the men. Those chaps shown with cats were far less likely to arouse romantic interest because they were seen as “less masculine, more neurotic, and less dateable”, researchers said. Those results came as a surprise to lead researcher Shelly Volsche, who had assumed the cats would make the men look “trustworthy, gentle and caring”. But I was less shocked. When I adopted Bells and Archie in my mid-twenties, I was warned that my new feline friends could have a ruinous effect on my love life. Cat-owners are perceived as introverts who prefer to spend time alone, I was told, whereas dog-owners are seen as sociable and outdoorsy. (As it happens - I’m an outgoing extrovert who loved cats since childhood, so I don’t fit this dichotomy). And for some reason I do not understand, cats are associated with femininity whereas dogs are seen as masculine - and so it’s easy to understand why, even in these enlightened times, many straight men believe they need to avoid cats like the plague if they are to find a partner. But I didn’t care. I spent a lot of time in my late twenties on dating apps like Tinder and Happn, and I always made sure to use at least one photograph of Bells and Archie on my profile. Adopting my cats is the best decision I’ve ever made, and I’ve never been in any mood to hide them away. My work managing my startup (Heights, a brain health and mental wellbeing service) means many long, stressful hours spent alone. Happy to leap onto my lap for a hug whenever I call their name, Bells and Archie proved the perfect company, doing wonders for my mental health. It’s been suggested that a cat’s purr has evolved perfectly to soothe our stress, and is now the most comforting sound known to humans - something I can totally believe. My cats were part of my identity, I thought, and I have no desire to keep them secret.
There are many theories about why humans commit unspeakable evil, but none of them are particularly comforting. If the childhoods of serial killers are filled with abuse and hardship, then they can appear to be victims of painful circumstances. But if society isn’t to blame at all – if murderers have charming upbringings and little to complain about – then could they be born evil? Scientists in Sweden have analysed criminals who commit the most serious crimes, and believe they have identified the genes that contribute towards violence. The discovery suggests that acts of evil aren’t terrifyingly inhumane, but all too human. We could all commit evil Brian Masters, who has written biographies of several mass murderers including Rosemary West and Dennis Nilsen, says that every human being has the capacity to commit wicked acts. The purpose of society is to curtail evil and without that influence – such as in Nazi Germany, where mass murder was encouraged – every human could commit terrible deeds. “It’s one of the most terrifying thoughts I’ve ever encountered and I think about it year after year,” says Masters. “Whereas I am an equitable soul and would never raise my fist in anger or try to do something that is harmful to another person, I have to admit in total sanity and intellectual honesty that I could. I’m so grateful to live in a country where that is unlikely.” Masters insists that evil is an adjective, not a noun, and that when we describe someone as completely evil, we’re surrendering our intellectual responsibility to analyse their actions. The early signs of murderous intent But although all of us could do terrible things under the right circumstances, some are more likely to do so than others. Masters says that those who are likely to commit murder usually show early symptoms in their childhood. “The man who is addicted to murder didn’t wake up before breakfast and think, ‘ooh, I’m going to start murdering people’. The frustrations in his personality were there all his life and they grow and fester,” says Masters. Whether or not you’re going to do something dreadful is usually apparent before the age of five. Long before he kills somebody, he will exhibit behaviours that show he’s capable of it.” Genetic links to psychopathy Essi Viding, professor of developmental psychopathology at University College London, says that nobody’s born a killer, but that there are individual differences that affect the likelihood of developing murderous traits. Although most children become distressed when those around them are unhappy, some are less reactive to others’ emotions. “This is what psychologists call emotional contagion,” says Viding. “We think it’s one of the early markers of how readily you develop empathy.” A lack of empathy is one of the key signs of psychopathy, and increases the likelihood of committing harmful crimes. But Viding, who focuses on the neurobiological basis of psychopathy, says parents and teachers have a strong effect on a child’s mental trajectory. Growing up in a cold, mercenary environment is likely to make a child less empathetic, while a positive teacher who rewards good behaviour can help a child react appropriately to others’ suffering. “Even juvenile delinquents who have high levels of these traits can benefit from therapeutic interventions so it doesn’t mean that if you have these traits that you’re somehow predestined to become a psychopath,” she says. “I really believe that there’s no such thing as someone born evil. At the same time it would be unrealistic to say there aren’t individual differences in how prone someone is to becoming evil.” A combination of nature and nurture Simon Baron-Cohen, professor of development psychopathology at Cambridge University and author of Zero Degrees of Empathy, says that human behaviour is never more than 50 per cent determined by genetics. Although one version of a MAOA gene increases the likelihood of committing anti-social behaviour, Baron-Cohen says no gene will inevitably lead to psychopathic behaviour. “If you look at the history of people committing anti-social acts, breaking the law and hurting other people, there are strong environmental factors that predict that,” says Baron-Cohen. “Growing up in an environment of criminality is one big factor, as is early neglect and abuse – those purely emotional factors.” Understanding evil Most people shy away from trying to understand those who commit evil, and worry that comprehension can lead to empathy for those who are guilty of terrible crime. But Masters stresses that, while understanding evil is important, we should never start to pity the psychopathic murderers among us. QuoteSomeone who commits murder doesn’t do so just because his parents treated him badly. A lot of peoples parents behave badly but the children don’t turn into killers. Is it because he lives in a violent society where it doesn’t seem to matter so much? No, because he has a capacity to be different, he can choose to go along with the violent society or fight against it. Is it because of a psychological disorder? No, that’s another excuse. But if all these things are combined – if you’re badly treated as a child, if you grow up in a violent society, if you’ve got a psychological disorder - then you don’t stand a chance. Then the murderer is himself a victim. But that doesn’t mean you feel sorry for him. It means you have attempted to explain very wicked, abhorrent behaviour." Whether men are motivated by nature or nurture, we cannot ignore the evil that exists in the world. We may flinch from understanding evil, but it’s our moral duty to do so.
Finally, football has come home. Not in the “England winning the World Cup” sense, more’s the pity, but in the “live Premier League matches are back on our TVs” sense. Yes, three months of hurt never stopped us dreaming. Now “Project Restart” has kicked off, opening with Wednesday evening’s 0-0 “thriller” between Aston Villa and Sheffield United – swiftly followed by Manchester City keeping their slim title hopes alive by romping past the typically imploding Arsenal, as big-haired Brazilian lummox David Luiz did his best Mr Bean impression. This double bill began a post-pandemic frenzy of 92 matches in six summer weeks, spread across four broadcasters: Sky Sports, BT Sport, Amazon Prime and even the dear old BBC – excitingly, the first live top-flight football on terrestrial TV for 28 years. In case you’re out of practice and those “footy bantz” muscles have seized up through inactivity, here’s a handy cheat sheet for talking about the beautiful game in the new normal – 16 things (that’s a team of 11 plus five substitutes) to sagely say in front of the next televised fixture… “Football isn’t football without the fans”
For too many men, sunglasses are just something you buy while filling up the car with unleaded, to stop you squinting while driving on a sunny day. But if well-chosen, a quality pair of sunnies can become a stylish extension of our personalities. A few things need to be addressed when buying a pair; the most important of which being how they fit with the features of your face. Ignore those who’ll tell you that the shape of your face dictates which style you can wear. A more modern approach is to follow the shape of your brow; the straighter your browline, the more angular the frame you will be able to take; rounded lenses will flatter a more arched brow. Colour is another key consideration. Sophisticated neutrals, such as tortoiseshell and black, are winners for acetate frames, which can be jazzed up with coloured lenses: check out M&S; Collection’s D Frame glasses, or the bold square-frame style from David Beckham’s debut collection. That said, you needn’t shy away from a coloured acetate frame – just keep it low-key. Sunspel, Larsson & Jennings and Aspinal of London have all introduced sunglasses to their product line-ups, and they are welcome and worthy newcomers. But if you prefer a one-stop-shop of sure-fire hits, Mr Porter has released The Archive Collection; working closely with its best-selling glasses brands it is offering 35 styles; classic shapes in new variations and materials that are exclusive to the site. 10 of the best
For more than a decade, a collection of centuries-old treasure lay buried in the shadows of the Rocky Mountains. Worth as much as £1.5 million, it was put there by eccentric antiques dealer Forrest Fenn, who had the idea to start a treasure hunt when he was diagnosed with cancer in 1988. The only clue as to its whereabouts was a cryptic, 24-line poem published in Fenn’s autobiography, The Thrill of the Chase - and thousands of people from across the world took the bait, roaming around the deserts, rivers, and rugged mountainsides of western America to find the treasure chest, which is said to contain 265 gold coins, ancient Chinese jade figures, golden jaguar claws, rubies, emeralds, diamonds, and sapphires. But that all ended last week when Fenn, 89, a Vietnam air force veteran who made his fortune as an arts dealer in the New Mexico city of Santa Fe, announced that the treasure had been found “under a canopy of stars in the lush, forested vegetation of the Rocky Mountains, and had not moved from the spot where I hid it.” It has put an end to what might have been the world’s largest treasure hunt, one that was praised for reigniting the buccaneering spirit of the American West, known so well from cowboy movies - but also criticised by some as a grotesque puppet show orchestrated in a rich man’s living room. Five people have died while looking for the treasure. British filmmaker Tomas Leach spent time with Fenn in 2014 while making The Lure, a film about the controversial race. He remembers being transfixed by Fenn’s mansion, a “museum slash lair” stuffed with precious Native American artifacts. “He’s very opinionated and mischievous, but was also very warm, patient, and kind to me,” Leach remembers. “He likes the story that's wrapped up in things, including himself.” For Leach, the key to understanding why so many people quit their jobs to find the treasure, bracing the notoriously unforgiving conditions of the Rockies - where seasons are subject to sudden change - is accepting that it has very little to do with money. “It’s not money you’re searching for - it’s gold and jewels. That taps into a romantic, childhood idea of heading out and finding your own riches. It’s timeless, it’s that human thing of wanting to be smarter than the next person. We all think we can solve this - it’s why board games are so good, it’s why we gamble.
Imagine a town where people are too afraid to leave their homes in case they fall gravely ill. A place where shops, restaurants and bars are suffering through a lack of trade and the population is wary of using public transport. Even if people are brave enough to venture out, there is a permanent niggle at the backs of their minds that wonders if they are going to be attacked by an invisible assailant that comes from thousands of miles away, many times smaller than a pinhead, yet quite capable of killing them. Of course, because of the coronavirus, this scenario seems familiar to us all, but it was the situation faced by my adopted home town of Salisbury two years ago, in the wake of the Skripal poisonings. While the rest of the world went on with its business, what the cathedral city went through in 2018 can now be seen as nothing less than a dreadful dress rehearsal for what is taking place globally today.
Women think men want them to be thinner. Men think women want them to be more muscular.
The names Peter Falconio, Joanne Lees and Bradley John Murdoch are now part of Australian folklore. In July 2001, two young British backpackers, driving their VW camper van on a lonely stretch of outback highway, were persuaded to pull over by Murdoch, a passing truck driver, a decision that ended with 28-year-old Falconio being shot dead and Lees, then 27, being tied up, in anticipation of being raped, before she made a miraculous escape into the bush. Their story is the subject of Murder in the Outback, a four-part Channel 4 documentary that concludes tomorrow. A friend said: “You should do a book about it. It’s got everything: a wicked gunman, the murder of an innocent backpacker, a brave girl who eludes her boyfriend’s murderer, rescue by a passing truckie, police crashing round the crime scene… and the Barrow Creek pub acting as police headquarters.” I knew that pub. I’d driven past a couple of times, but had never been tempted to go in. A seedy-looking roadhouse, spaced about a petrol tank’s distance between two equally decrepit establishments, along the 1,900-mile track between Adelaide and Darwin. I wasn’t captivated then. Little did I know that I would attend weeks of committal hearings and the trial of the accused, and that for more than three years the case would take over my life. The outback is where people often go to disappear. Nearly 40,000 people a year are reported missing in Australia, and around one in 10 of those are never seen again. A lot of those end up in the outback, dead or incognito. I wasn’t convinced that the killing of Falconio – his body was never found – and Lees’s evading a vicious killer was anything more than grist for the tabloid mill. How could a young English girl elude an experienced bushman for five hours in an area devoid of hiding space? But something happened on August 28 2002, that kindled my interest.
On a Tuesday afternoon in late May, Gary Lineker is in the same position he’s occupied for the better part of a quarter of a century: staring out from a screen in the corner of my front room – chest leaning forward conspiratorially; pearly- grey hair catching the light; mahogany, gym-hewn arms gesticulating with precise abandon – yammering on about the beautiful game. Only today he’s broadcasting to an audience of one, and probably wishes he could be somewhere else. Had the coronavirus not paralysed the sporting calendar in mid-March, Lineker would have been our trusted chaperone for the end of another football season. Presenting Match of the Day, he would have shown us Liverpool sashaying to their first league title in 30 years in May and, on BT Sport, the closing stages of the Champions League. From next week, he’d have been our host for England’s latest quest for glory at Euro 2020. As it is, the Euros have been postponed for 12 months, the Champions League will return in due course, and the Premier League is scheduled to restart on 17 June, albeit without spectators. ‘I’m excited to see a bit of live sport again, especially football,’ Lineker says. ‘We’ve seen from Germany [where football restarted in mid-May] that it seems to be going OK. It’s not quite the same behind closed doors, but it’s better than nothing.’ Lineker now has a couple of weeks to think about how he might address the crisis in that first Match of the Day or live game (for the first time since the Premier League’s inception in 1992, four games will be shown live on BBC Sport when the season resumes). ‘Mmm, you’ve reminded me about that now. I need to get my thinking cap on,’ he says. ‘Obviously the tone will be important, we’re glad it’s back on, but there won’t be any over-exuberance…’ Talking about global issues on the BBC is a potential minefield at the best of times, and the pandemic is beginning to stray into that territory. Just recently, Lineker skipped into the row surrounding Newsnight presenter Emily Maitlis and her introduction about the Government’s non-response to the Dominic Cummings saga. After accusations of bias, the BBC apologised, accepting that it had breached its impartiality guidelines, and had a word with Maitlis. She then decided to take a night off from the show. ‘You don’t say,’ Lineker tweeted when that news broke, ‘looking forward to @Maitlis repeating her monologue tonight.’ Is Lineker worried about being seen to ‘politicise’ the crisis, even on MOTD? ‘Obviously I won’t “politicise” it on TV, [but] I don’t think it’s a political issue, anyway. I never have from the start. I don’t see this as a Tory, Liberal, Labour, Brexit, Remain issue, it’s got nothing to do with it. It’s just about minimising the casualties as we go through it.’
You can tell an awful lot about notorious short-sighted, long-distance adventurer Dominic Cummings by his clothes. I should know. Ever since he scuttled into Downing Street after being appointed as a senior advisor to Boris Johnson last summer, newspaper writers (me, I mainly mean me) have been preoccupied with trying to interpret Cummings’s absolutely chaotic wardrobe choices. I watched in mystified wonderment as he arrived at the heart of government each day wearing a crumpled linen shirt, jeans, tote bag and transitional lens spectacles, looking as if he’d slept in a badger set. I sighed every time he appeared in the background of a photograph of suited politicians and civil servants wearing a T-shirt he’d clearly been given free with a USB stick, packet of corporate-personalised Love Hearts and a sheaf of pamphlets at a lobbyist conference. I laughed – oh, how we all laughed – at the gilets. As the months rolled on, it only got weirder. Scarves, sometimes up to four, were added. Some renaissance boots joined the party. Collared shirts were put away altogether. A beanie, barely covering his head, came and went. Some more scarves were put on. Then the pandemic hit, and now, after four seasons, we know there are three distinct Cummings looks: DomCum S/S ’19, aka ‘Gloucestershire landowner storming out of a parish council meeting after failing to convince locals idea for a bootleg stoat fur farm will provide a desperately-needed boost to the area’s economy.’
Chris Packham returned to our screens to kick off a very different Springwatch series last night. Broadcasting live from lockdown in his woodland garden in the New Forest, while co-presenter Iolo Williams was hundreds of miles away in his own patch in mid-Wales, and Gillian Burke at a beaver sanctuary near her gardenless home in Cornwall, he was clearly missing his friend and long-term co-star, Michaela Strachan, who is still stranded at her home in South Africa. But tonight he will be joined on-screen by another special person in his life – his step-daughter, Megan McCubbin, who has been isolating with him in his remote cottage in Hampshire, since lockdown began. What makes Megan’s debut as a guest presenter on BBC2 this evening even more poignant, is that they still share such a close bond, despite Chris splitting up with her mother when she was 12 years old. Packham has been with his partner, Charlotte Corney, since 2007, but she lives on the Isle of Wight, where she runs the island’s zoo, so they have had to rely on FaceTime, like many couples separated by the coronavirus crisis.
“I’ve got a girlfriend!” declared former Chancellor Of Exchequer George Osborne in an interview this weekend, sounding distinctly like a teenage boy desperately attempting to impress his mates over a sneaky Silk Cut behind the bike sheds. It’s the sort of bold claim that would frequently be followed by the disclaimer: “Oh, you wouldn’t know her. She goes to another school.” The MP-turned-newspaper editor then went on to reveal that he’d “probably never been happier in my life” (which must have gone down well with his ex-wife Frances and the two children they have together...) before boasting of dancing with Hollywood actress Jennifer Lawrence at an Oscars aftershow party. Which happened to be at Madonna’s house. It all smacked of a man trying a tad too hard to convince us - not to mention himself - that he was cool, a move that places him firmly in that hoary old midlife cliché: divorced men getting a makeover from their first post-divorce girlfriends. It’s a fate that has befallen all manner of famous males - from Coldplay’s Chris Martin to professional petrolhead Jeremy Clarkson, from sportsmen Shane Warne and James Cracknell to both MasterChef judges, John Torode and Gregg Wallace. Still, Osborne, who turned 49 on Saturday, is certainly cooler than he used to be (even if he did feel the need to point out that “I am normal”). He is dating his 38-year-old former chief of staff, Thea Rogers - one of his closest advisors while he was in government and the woman who helped overhaul his image when he was in 11 Downing Street. A full 13 years younger than his ex (ouch), Rogers is part-French (ooh and, if you will, la la), so national stereotype dictates she knows a thing or two about style. She has duly “metrosexualised” the Conservative Party’s austerity Chancellor, who is now more likely to be seen in New Balance trainers than brogues.
The comedian, actor and writer, 47, lives in London with his wife Abigail and two daughters, Esme, 10, and Dory, eight When I was a kid, I mainly wanted to be a superhero, but that gave way to ambulance driver and finally, when I was 13, a comedy actor and writer. ‘Novelist’ didn’t really come into it because it just sounded too posh for me. It still does, to be honest. But I was writing stories before I was writing sketches – usually on scraps of paper that I stuck together and called ‘my book’. I wrote about my mother’s death in [my autobiography] How Not To Be a Boy. Exploring that time when I was 17 and framing it in my own words was certainly helpful. It’s really the only time I’ve faced what happened with any clarity. The idea for my novel actually came first, but How Not To Be a Boy overtook it. I wanted to write novels, but needed to get the memoir out of the way first. This time it was great being able to make up characters and not worry about the feelings of real people: the freedom was joyful at times but also intimidating. With a memoir, you want some sense of progression, but nobody really expects a proper story. And certainly not an ending. Obviously with fiction, you need an actual plot. The main character in Come Again travels back in time to freshers’ week. That was probably one of the most nerve-racking but exciting weeks of my life. I’d gone to enormous trouble to get into Cambridge University and I could scarcely believe that I’d managed it. What isn’t clear at the time is the mad lottery of it: one moment you’re furiously trying to bond with someone you’ll scarcely speak to again; in the next you might sit down next to someone whose children will have play dates with yours. I’ve set the time-travel part of the book to October 1992 because that was my own freshers’ week. It was fun remembering all the sounds, sights, clothes and music. I’ll carry on acting as long as anyone wants me to, but my agent will tell you I’m getting quite fussy. I’m constantly amused by writers who claim to have these elaborately structured writing days: ‘I rise at 5.42am and eat half a bowl of dry lentils with gooseberry coulis before an hour of yoga with a scented candle up my bum and then I’ll write for 82 minutes but only the adverbs…’ Look, I’m marginally sharper in the morning. That’s about it. Robert's life in six books
I can’t remember the last time I was so excited for a first date - especially one I knew could end in absolutely no physical contact. But this weekend, when I got on a Boris bike and cycled from my Chelsea home to meet a girl on Vauxhall Bridge, I was filled with anticipation. It wasn’t even because I thought that Lara* - who, like me, is in her mid thirties and lives in south London - would be the woman of my dreams. It was because I was finally going to have a face-to-face conversation with someone who wasn’t my sister or baby nephew. I’ve spent the eight weeks of lockdown living alone, and even though as an artist I’m used to passing hours in my own company, it was all getting a bit much. I’ve followed the Government guidelines carefully, bar a few socially-distanced visits with my family, who live nearby. But when Boris Johnson announced that we could meet one other person in a park, I immediately knew I’d use the opportunity to go on a date. It’s what I’ve missed most about normal life - getting to sit down with someone new, talk and (hopefully) make a connection. Obviously, it was never going to be the same. But I was still keen to give lockdown dating a shot, and I knew exactly who to ask. I’d met Lara in a bar a few years ago, and we’d exchanged Instagram handles. At the time she had a boyfriend, but I recently saw her post a photo of herself alone, holding a glass of wine, and joking that she was dating herself. I messaged asking if she’d like to go out on a real date - and she said yes. The plan was to cycle through central London, and have a picnic in St James’ Park. It was the most creative option I could think of, without access to the typical failsafes of a restaurant or bar. I dressed in jeans and a T-shirt because we were cycling, but I’d made an effort to put on my nicest casual clothes. It also gave me a reason to comb my beard - pretty much a first during lockdown. She’d made an effort, wearing a floaty top, and it felt like such a novelty after weeks at home. I wondered how we would greet one another, given that we couldn’t touch. In the end, we made a joke of it and did an elbow bump. It was so quiet in central London that we could easily chat as we cycled, stopping off outside Buckingham Palace to comment on how eerily quiet everything felt, and then finding a quiet spot to eat lunch in the park. I’d brought a blanket and made us some cheese and salami sandwiches, so we sat down - two metres apart - and joined the other dressed-up couples, many of whom were clearly also on first dates. It was nice to know we weren’t the only ones who’d decided to use our first, longed-for, in person meet-ups to look for love. That said, it was a bit awkward. There was a lot of talk about lockdown. But things improved when I asked her to teach me some yoga. The highlight was when she touched my chest to adjust one of my poses, but then realised she’d broken the rules and pulled back. The fact we couldn’t make physical contact was frustrating because, normally, I’m quite tactile and hope any dates will end in a kiss. Social distancing takes away the element of hope where that’s concerned.
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