For depressing reasons that I won’t go into but you can probably guess, I recently moved from a larger house to a smaller house fit for one. I took my ‘almost-too-large-but-I-think- I-get-away-with-it-actually- no-I-probably-don’t-it-just-looks-silly’ telly with me, and now it looks like I’ve smuggled an IMAX into my caravan-size living room. The TV is the first thing you see when you enter through the front door. It’s probably the first thing you see when you enter the street if I have my curtains open. And it’s certainly the first thing guests – I’ve had a few – remark on. Apparently it’s acceptable in polite society to tell the owner of a piece of furniture that it’s “ridiculous”, so long as that piece of furniture is my TV. And it is ridiculous. Firstly in terms of positioning. There’s no natural slot for it, so it lives at a kind of rude angle, jutting out between two rooms (or open plan areas), looking as foolish and thuggish as a giant beanbag at a dinner table. And secondly, it simply shows things too big. I had Eastenders on once and Phil Mitchell’s head was twice the size of mine, which is terrifying when you live alone. Horror films are a no go now: watch The Shining on my monolith and it’s like the living room is actually filling with blood. At least I’m not alone. According to a new report by Which?, decent quality small TVs are vanishingly rare – and one possible explanation is that manufacturers concentrate their resources on bigger screens, because that’s where the demand is. It used to be considered a bit garish, even uncouth, to have a giant TV dominating a room; now, we adore them so much we mount them proudly above our mantelpieces. What happened to the great British sense of understatement? (Actually, it’s not completely dead. In many of the estate agent photos of houses I saw round here, a telly didn’t feature at all. It was just a lot of living rooms with sofas facing each other. Either people like having a chat in Cambridge, or they have elaborate systems of ropes and pulleys that hide their plasma stations. I think I can guess which.)
Russell Tovey is considering what kind of ghost he might like to come back as. He looks around the empty London hotel bar where we’ve met – prior to Tier 2 restrictions – for some inspiration. “I definitely wouldn’t want to haunt anyone,” he says. “I want to be a nice energy in the universe, for people having a bad time. An angel, I guess.” He’s settled. “Yeah, I’ll come back as an angel.” It’s difficult to imagine Tovey, 38, as anything other than a benevolent spirit. In person he’s generous and funny, and on screen, whatever the project – from History Boys to Him & Her, Gavin and Stacey to Years and Years – he tends to play the most likeable, straightforwardly decent bloke in it. Even his werewolf in supernatural drama Being Human was somebody you’d have gone for a pint with. It’s part of the reason why ITV’s new thriller, The Sister, is quite so unsettling. Written by Luther’s Neil Cross, Tovey plays Nathan, a friendly married man who works for a greetings card company (so far, so Tovey). His life is upended when a creepy old acquaintance, a paranormal investigator named Bob (Bertie Carvel) turns up in the rain to inform him that the local woods are being dug up by developers and so, um, they might want to move the… you know. I won’t spoil anything else, but will just add that Nathan’s sister-in-law disappeared seven years earlier and no body was ever found.
Perhaps it’s a — perfectly understandable — craving for comfort in the teeth of a crisis. Perhaps it’s the fact that many of us, also perfectly understandably, are carrying a few extra pounds these days, given the latest government advice to never, ever, be farther than two metres from your biscuit tin, or risk imminent expiration. (I’ve got that right, haven’t I? Or is the advice to never, ever approach the biscuit tin? So difficult to keep these things straight.) Perhaps it’s nothing more than the cyclical nature of fashion, which dictates that what goes out must surely come in again. Yes, even the cardigan. Whatever the reason, the cardigan is back, in multiple styles and colours and patterns and fabrics. Evidence: Mr Porter, the smart men’s online outfitter, had 153 different cardigans for sale on the day I visited in September, from classic conservative (John Smedley’s merino wool in midnight blue, £150) to bracing contemporary (Prada’s mohair blend in shocking pink, £585) to oligarch fabulous (Gucci’s intarsia wool and alpaca blend, £4,300). And before you throw this publication at your own fluffy quadruped in an alpaca-induced rage, M&S; does a nice lambswool number for £39.50. Those who have for decades preferred their knitwear with buttons will wonder that the cardigan ever went away. The rest of us will marvel that an item more often associated with cosy middle age, like secateurs or toast racks, than with the catwalks of Paris and Milan, could be considered the pinnacle of twenty-first century chic. To avoid that “en-route-to-the-allotment” look (even if you are, in fact, en route to the allotment), my tip is to dress your cardigan up rather than down. Wear it over a button-down Oxford shirt and under a corduroy blazer, or with a smart Sunspel T-shirt and crisp selvage denim jeans, to signal your savoir faire. In short, think Percy Thrower, a man who always dressed up, even for pruning. Let’s not mince words here. The cardigan has never been a sexy item. It is more likely to have a moist hankie stuffed up its sleeve than a rippling set of biceps. That bright red stain on its collar? No, not lipstick: yesterday’s tomato soup. That fraying patch at the elbow comes not from strenuous carpet-based coupling, but resting one’s arm on the edge of the table while playing bridge. The most famous cardigan wearer I can think of is, or was, Val Doonican, the late Irish crooner. (Look him up if you’re under 40.) Unlike Val, I have never owned a wide variety of cardigans. But some years ago I had a handsome, shawl collar, cable knit number from Polo Ralph Lauren. It was my trusty companion for many a postprandial snooze in front of Sunday Grandstand. And, what with the crisis and the extra pounds and the confusing advice around biscuits, I’d quite like another. Another cardigan, that is. Not another biscuit. Although come to mention it… Alex Bilmes is editor in chief of Esquire Six of the best cardigans for men
When Mark Ormrod was told he was going to spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair, he was crushed. In 2007, he was a 24-year-old Royal Marine on his second tour of duty in Afghanistan when he stepped on an improvised explosive device that tore off both his legs above the knee and his right arm above the elbow. When the dust cloud cleared to reveal his injuries, Ormrod’s first thought was: “What a prick… you’re supposed to be an elite soldier and you’ve just been beaten by a lump of metal in the ground.” He blacked out as the helicopter was evacuating him, and his fellow marines thought he had died. In hospital, the man who had stood 6ft 2in and weighed a lean 16 stone was forced to face the reality of a very different life ahead. Ormrod made a decision for the sake of his family and for all the Royal Marine “brothers” who evacuated him from that dusty battlefield: he was going to walk again. But more than that, he was determined that his life would not be defined by what had been taken away from him. He decided to find out exactly how far he could push his battle-torn body. Quite far, it turns out. The UK’s first triple-amputee to survive the Afghanistan conflict, Ormrod ditched the wheelchair in 2009, learning to walk with state-of-the-art prosthetics. He has since won medals at the Invictus games, including gold in the 50 metres breast-stroke, after stepping in at the last minute – a feat that earned him the Exceptional Performance Award and lead to Prince Harry calling him “Superman”.
There’s a section of the sentient, adult population who have self-reported some new symptoms lately: a racing heart; a weakness in the knees; a predilection for full-bodied eyebrows and long, beguiling eyelashes. Those eyelashes… Wait, where were we? Oh yes: Andy Burnham, a self-styled King of the North; defender of his land; brave advocate for “people too often forgotten by those in power”; wearer of quite nice glasses; owner of beautifully coiffed hair. The list goes on… OK, you might not completely agree. But it’s hard to ignore the number of women suddenly falling for his easy charm across the political spectrum. Rarely does a politician bubble up who inspires such warm feelings on opposing sides and becomes known by his first name only – think Boris. And now Andy.
It is a fact universally acknowledged that the sanity of a man even as well-grounded as Alan Partridge was tested to its limits by spending 28 consecutive weeks in Linton Travel Tavern. Although I have not yet reached that milestone, I can happily report that the 26 weeks I have spent watching Die Another Day (Pierce Brosnan’s final outing as 007) once a week every week have had, if anything, a positive effect on my mental well-being. When the Covid-19 lockdown was announced six months ago, I immediately felt my grip on the passage of time being shaken loose. The usual landmarks by which I navigated my way through the week (Evensong at St Giles’ on Sunday, pub quiz at the Old Bookbinders on Tuesday, lunchtime concert in St Hilda’s on Wednesday, etc) vanished, and ahead of me lay a procession of undifferentiated days and nights. In order to take back control, my wife and I set a plan in action to restore a sense of order to our lives. Taking inspiration from a favourite podcast, The Worst Idea of All Time hosted by two New Zealand comedians Guy Montgomery and Tim Batt, we decided to set ourselves the task of watching the same film every Monday to create a sense of order in our lives, and to see how our appreciation of the picture developed. Choosing the film wasn’t actually too difficult. We knew that it had to be a film we would not regret being unable to watch ever again once the experiment was over (the prediction that it would ruin the film has proved unerringly accurate), and we decided it ought to be part of a series only one of us was familiar with (in order to gauge different reactions to motifs and to see how it functioned as a standalone film). As we ran through the various possibilities, my wife (who is very keen not be associated with this project by name) was intrigued by my attempt to summarize the plot of Die Another Day – how, we reasoned, could we go wrong with a film containing an invisible car, John Cleese, a chase through a melting ice palace and a machine that can metamorphose a taekwondo star into the youngest son of Dame Maggie Smith? On the grounds that if you are going to do something unbelievably stupid you should at least do it properly, we set ourselves the rules of watching the film without being distracted by our phones, of keeping an eye out each week for an extra who was really outdoing themselves, and to identify a moment in the film that sparked some modicum of joy in us (this last part has grown trickier as the weeks have rolled on).
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A fortnight ago, Prof Paul Ewart reported for his first day back at work at Oxford University’s physics department: attending a Covid-19 safety briefing in a lecture hall at the world-famous Clarendon Laboratory on Parks Road and receiving warm, if socially distanced, greetings from colleagues. It was something of a second coming for the 72-year-old from Belfast who started working there more than four decades ago. For the past three years, the former head of atomic and laser physics has been on an enforced leave of absence following what a landmark tribunal has now ruled was an illegal decision to force him to retire. This week, it was announced that the university has been forced to pay him three years’ of lost earnings, plus £30,000 in compensation, and reinstate him as a senior researcher. The so-called “remedy judgment” by the employment tribunal marks a victory for Prof Ewart, who sued the university for age discrimination and unfair dismissal when his contract was not renewed in 2017. Bruised after years of legal battles – which have cost him tens of thousands of pounds he will not recoup, and taken a toll on his physical health – he knows the fight is not over. The university has already lodged an appeal, which will be heard in the spring. “The university won’t give up,” he says. “They will just keep appealing because they can outspend anybody.” The dispute is centred around a controversial policy called the Employer Justified Retirement Age (EJRA). In 2011, when the UK’s statutory default retirement age of 65 was abolished, Oxford introduced the rule forcing senior staff to retire before they turn 69 in the hope that it would encourage the recruitment of younger and more diverse members of staff. Cambridge and St Andrew’s universities operate a similar policy. There have been notable high-profile casualties: Prof John Pitcher, a leading Shakespeare scholar and fellow at St John’s College, Oxford, has been involved in a similar legal wrangle, while Peter Edwards, a professor of inorganic chemistry, also took his case to tribunal. At a conservative estimate, Prof Ewart says, the university has so far spent more than £1 million in legal fees contesting the various claims.
Leroy Logan’s car was broken into recently, outside his family home in north-east London. Nothing so unusual about that, especially when the latest figures show that crime in the capital is rising five times faster than in the rest of the country. However, you might expect when a crime is reported by a decorated, retired Metropolitan Police Service superintendent, an officer might manage to attend. “No one came to the house,” Mr Logan says, more in sorrow than anger. He even had CCTV footage. Like many others – whose cars and bikes get stolen, homes burgled, or are mugged – he wasn’t surprised at the lack of a police response when he telephoned them. He was merely given a crime number for the insurers. So widespread is the perception that the police is failing to respond adequately to such lawlessness, when it comes to everyday thefts and attacks, victims no longer bother to go through the motions of reporting them. “And,” Mr Logan adds, “it makes the criminals who carry them out feel they are untouchable.” How to tackle this loss of trust is a central theme in Closing Ranks, Mr Logan’s memoir of his 30 years in the Met, published earlier this month. The man who emerges from its pages has never been afraid of a challenge. His father, one of the Windrush generation who came to Britain from Jamaica, opposed his son’s decision to join the police in the first place.
Over the ups and downs of his 33 years, JJ Chalmers has found himself in a few daunting situations. There was the first time he presented live TV – something he never thought he’d do, let alone become a familiar face on BBC and Channel 4. There was the time he competed, and won three medals, in the inaugural Invictus Games. The time he experienced “living in history” at the wedding of his friend, Prince Harry. And, of course, far above all, the tour of Afghanistan as a Royal Marine Commando, that culminated in the devastating explosion that changed his life. But this evening, in front of millions of devoted (and, admittedly, grounded) viewers, he will go further than he’s ever been from his comfort zone, appearing on the hallowed Strictly Come Dancing floor. And probably wearing a glittery suit while he does it. “It’s madness,” he says, “I have all the gear, but absolutely no idea. I generally always say, ‘yes’, and find out what the question was later, but this is something else…” We have met in a cafe near the BBC’s headquarters in London. Chalmers – who normally lives in Edinburgh with his wife of five years, Kornelia, and their four- and one-year-olds – has just moved to the capital for the duration of Strictly, in doing so creating a ‘bubble’ with his partner, whom he’s not allowed to name yet but with whom he is, suffice to say, delighted to have been paired with. The pandemic means that Strictly is a little different this year. There are fewer contestants, fewer weeks, no Blackpool, no Bruno Tonioli, and some changes to the set.
It’s going to be like the last days of Rome but with fewer togas and more lager. With London being moved into higher lockdown levels from midnight, and Manchester currently at the centre of a row over its status, this evening will be many people’s last opportunity to socialise with their friends for Lord-knows-how-long. As the nation enjoys a hedonistic last hurrah, it could be carnage. There's already a certain shrugging nihilism in the air, thanks to ever-changing regulations, fierce debates about the effect of such restrictions and the looming threat of a long, wet and boring winter. The controversial 10pm curfew will also bring about a bottleneck moment as thousands of refreshed revellers are simultaneously disgorged onto the streets.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this piece contained an image captioned as Erna Wallisch, a guard at Majdanek concentration camp. It was in fact an image of Violette Szabo, the SOE agent who was awarded a posthumous George Cross for her wartime gallantry. We apologise unreservedly for this error. Late September 2020, and a disturbing post on Facebook: ‘Working very hard on an investigation concerning the particularly brutal murder of Jewish babies in the Lithuanian town of Raseiniai in 1941,’ writes Efraim Zuroff. ‘A young female “student” smashed their heads with a large boulder… Anyone from Raseiniai or with contacts with people who were alive at that time, please contact me. This request is URGENT!!!!’ Not the typical post, but he’s not your typical poster, either. Zuroff, 72, is a director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center (Israel Office and Eastern European Affairs). He is widely known as the ‘last Nazi hunter’. Of his swashbuckling nickname, Zuroff says, ‘You know, I’m not exactly doing ambushes in the jungles of South America, here. I’m one third detective, one third historian, one third political lobbyist.’ Yet the moniker is accurate. In 42 years, Zuroff has submitted the names of more than 3,000 suspected Nazi war criminals to 20 countries. In 40 cases, legal action was taken against a Holocaust perpetrator. Nine years ago, Zuroff relaunched Operation Last Chance, a campaign to find the remaining Nazi war criminals. He works in Jerusalem with just an office manager and a part-time researcher. The organisation is mostly funded by private donations. And with the hunt for living Nazis ‘in injury time’ – an 18-year-old in 1939 would be 99 now – Zuroff employs social media to track his prey. Proud of his 8,000-plus Twitter followers, he uses modern methods to solve historical crimes. The pursuit of ‘Student K’ – Zuroff doesn’t want to reveal her name, in case it alerts her, ‘and the fake witnesses start coming out’ – started in 1989, when he came across the testimonies of dozens of Lithuanian survivors. He identified 1,284 potential war criminals. The 'she-devil of the women’s camp': Erna Wallisch
An iconic photograph is one that needs few words. It explains itself. For me there are always two ways of looking at things and I’ve always got to go digging and delving into the past. When I photograph beautiful sites of the world, such as Roman cities, as soon as I see these places I’m full of joy, but then I start thinking they only exist because of the suffering of others – so everything for me has a double meaning. I can’t look at something the way another person would – I’m not a troublemaker, but I’m a person who’s troubled. The picture I took that most people consider iconic – which I’m slightly bored with – is the staring shell-shocked marine in the Vietnam War. It’s a picture that freezes the moment and the viewer’s attention, that’s what an iconic picture is about, something that grabs your imagination immediately, without you needing to try to come to terms with it.
A couple of times a week, Milli Abrams watches as a strange ritual takes place outside her yarn shop in Richmond upon Thames. Depending on the day, a shifty looking off-duty builder or policeman will appear on the opposite side of the street from her shop, Tribe, and perform a drive-by. Glancing in as they stroll past the shop to check if anyone is inside, they will keep walking if they spy any customers, “but if the shop is empty they’ll come in and buy some yarn.” They are the “closet knitters”, Abrams says – keen hobbyists and loyal customers who love to knit but keep it all a secret from their colleagues. “There is such a stigma around [men knitting] still,” says Abrams. “The builder’s workmates are constantly taking the mickey out of him about it, and the policeman will only do it at home and none of his colleagues know.” This small band of secret customers forms part of a rush of new male knitters coming through her door in recent months. “This year in lockdown we’ve seen many more younger guys doing it,” she says. “They’re making chunky knits for their girlfriends and their mums, but they’re mainly picking it up in order to do something mindful and so they can put their phones down.
There are two important questions to ask when it comes to wet-weather outerwear. How well will it protect me in a downpour (obviously), and will it make me look like a trainspotter? It’s no accident that “anorak” has become a derogatory term. To be honest, a certain amount of compromise between style and practicality is necessary. Thankfully, this middle-ground is now well covered. Before buying, make sure you’re familiar with the terminology. A water-resistant garment is good for lighter showers; water-repellent is much sturdier and built to withstand heavier rain, but is not completely watertight; waterproof should be completely impenetrable. In my experience, bomber jacket styles, Harringtons and blousons, are more likely to sit on the flimsier end of this spectrum; however, Next has a great one in navy nylon with contrast orange trims, Velcro cuffs and a breathable mesh lining. I am a big fan of breaking out some colour on a wet day. Hunter’s insulated anorak in autumn storm red is a good bet; it’s completely waterproof and made from 90 per cent recycled fibre, as is Richard James London’s packable Mac. Classically styled raincoats are very much back in favour, too. Gant’s Tech Prep car coat benefits from a waterproof, two-layer construction. Parkas have also earned their place on the coat stand this autumn. Maium’s comes in an array of colours, is completely waterproof and won’t break the bank, while the khaki green Akocity parka from American Vintage will serve you well as a timeless staple. Save The Duck, from Italy, and Swedish-based Tretorn both take sustainability, style and function very seriously. Eight of the best
A game that used to be played at certain country house weekends was called by some Adverbs. It entailed a player performing actions chosen by others in the manner of an adverb that they would have to guess. Peregrine Worsthorne, a former editor of The Sunday Telegraph, who died last week aged 96, chose, it seemed to me, to live his life flamboyantly. This is not to denigrate him, for it enabled him to benefit this paper, which he joined as deputy editor at its foundation in 1961, by putting conservative ideas in entertaining dress. But flamboyant he was. Tall, blue-eyed, beaky-nosed, not given to flab, he wore his wavy hair artistically long. I don’t know how widely he was attractive to women, but he was attracted to them. He was a dandy. In old age he acted as a model for Boden clothes. About 30 years ago he had a suit made with fold-back cuffs, which I thought too much like the Scarlet Pimpernel. He was perfectly aware that the vulgar herd might think his dress silly, for at prep school he was mocked when fitted for a tweed knickerbocker suit his mother had ordered for him. That story must have originated with him, like most of the disobliging stories about him. He would rather be laughed at than ignored. It was he who claimed to have been seduced by the future jazz man George Melly on the art-room sofa at Stowe. Melly denied it. There was the tale of his arrival at the Glasgow Herald in 1946 as a sub-editor. Many outside journalism think sub-editors a sort of deputy editor, rather than the pasty-faced dogsbodies of reality. Perry, also expecting a job grander than it was, announced to the commissionaire: “I am the new sub-editor.” To which the commissionaire, hardly looking up, gestured, “Just sit over there, laddy.” “But ... I am the new sub-editor.” “Aye, just sit there and wait.” That story didn’t come from the commissionaire. Perry, as he was known even to sub-editors, excelled in writing about social embarrassments by which he was not embarrassed. Annoyed by someone eating a burger next to him on the Underground, he retaliated, he wrote, by breaking wind. He was even prepared to stymie his own progress by setting himself up as the fall guy. Visiting his new owner Conrad Black in Toronto, he was unable to find his way in through the gates, so climbed the high fence in the snow and snagged his trousers. The ne plus ultra of such self-defeating clowning was when he used the F-word on television, in 1973. He meant it as a joke, hatched in a taxi with Philip Hope-Wallace, the Guardian music critic. Asked what he thought the British public made of Lord Lambton resigning as a minister after visiting prostitutes, Perry said to the camera: “I shouldn’t think they give a f––.” This might sound funny in El Vino’s which he and Hope-Wallace frequented, along with cerebral journalists such as Paul Johnson, Colin Welch or Alan Watkins. But for it to be beamed to a million firesides did not amuse Lord Hartwell, the Telegraph’s proprietor. Nor did it help that a story emerged from a party conference at Brighton that Perry had swapped shirts in a crowded Wheeler’s restaurant with Vanessa, the beautiful wife of Nigel Lawson. Those inimical to Perry said that he was not serious. But when another man was appointed editor of The Sunday Telegraph in 1976 and a friend hoped he was not bitter, Perry replied: “I am extremely bitter. I have every reason to be. I have been absolutely reliable, never drunk or anything like that, and this is the reward I get.” It is true that he was not drunk. Many journalists were then, often. If anything, Perry was shy with his social inferiors, who were the majority of his colleagues. His mother, the grand-daughter of an earl, married as her second husband Montagu Norman, the governor of the Bank of England, just after Perry’s ninth birthday. Norman did not care for children of any kind, so Perry and his brother, two years older, lived in a separate house with its own servants. He was much influenced by James the butler. One day when Perry dropped in to the pub nearest the Telegraph in Fleet Street, he met a sort of class hostility. That evening the diplomatic correspondent, notorious for clicking into a monster of abuse after a critical volume of whisky, launched into a tirade against Perry, who, he said, belonged in a St James’s club. “You're a hollow man,” he snarled. “You’re a tinsel king on a cardboard throne.” According to the columnist Michael Wharton, who witnessed the scene, Perry, who must have been feeling low, sat there as the abuse washed over him till tears rolled down his cheeks. “Look,” cried the diplomatic correspondent. “I’ve made him blub!” It might have taken Perry back to the term at his prep school near Dorking when he was bullied and ran away. Even then, he wasn’t taken seriously, for he stopped off at Waterloo to see a film at the cartoon cinema. But a lack of seriousness was the golden key to his success. He worked at the Telegraph, Daily and Sunday, from 1948 to 1997. His achievement was to get political ideas of the moderate Right talked about as thinkable alternatives. He did so by paradox and contrariness, by making mischief and finding the moment to pierce sensibilities. He did not originate the ideas. Indeed someone was paid to talk to him each week to keep them coming. At Cambridge he had been influenced by Michael Oakeshott, as he was later by Maurice Cowling. For all his expensive schooling and conviviality at the Garrick, he was an outsider. That was even true of his Catholic religion. His knighthood in 1991 was deserved but seemed lucky, since he remained more court jester than courtier. His great good fortune was to be married for his last three decades to Lady Lucy Lambton.
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Actor Tom Hollander created a brand new literary category over the weekend: Pedantry Porn. His unflinchingly honest “Life In a Day” column for a Sunday glossy detailed the hour-by-hour listlessness of a resting, middle-aged, west London-dwelling actor. Despite currently starring in the BBC’s adaptation of David Nicholls’s Us, Hollander confirms that “owing to forces beyond my control, life has not been as busy as it used to be”. His typical day is joyfully pedestrian and Patridgian; a dreary Dido song made great by Philip Larkinesque lyrics. Instead of bragging about a punishing, crack-of-dawn exercise regime, the 53-year-old might try a couple of sun salutation stretches... “but often I don’t.” Instead, he reheats coffee from the previous day’s plunger, examines his bald spot, sucks his stomach in and out, then takes an 11 o’clock nap before indulging in a spot of “self-service”, of an afternoon. Half an antihistamine helps him sleep at night but he’ll wake at 3am for a wee in the dark, “using my phone screen to illuminate the target”. All this should be stultifyingly boring, but turns out to be an absolute hoot. Why exactly? Perhaps it is the gently schadenfreudic buzz of discovering that, despite all their money and celebrity friends, Bafta winners (Hollander won for The Night Manager in 2017) go about their days pretty much like we do, with, mostly, nothing much of any interest happening at all. Even better for me, as I live near Hollander and often see him in the local garden centre or on his morning market-stall passeggiata. I always presumed that the much in-demand actor was “grabbing” a cortado “to go” from the Portuguese café on his way to a Soho lunch meeting with Tom Stoppard. How utterly delicious to learn that his most pressing appointment is listening to the World at One on his sofa. But here’s a challenge, Hollander: I reckon I can out-dull you any day you like. Life in the slow lane came quickly to me. One minute – in my thirties and forties mainly – I was on everybody’s guest list, man about town and MFI (mad for it). Boredom was the enemy; distraction, stimuli and variety a life force. The next, I was old and NFI (not f------ invited). Now I’m 56, an introverted, Norman-no-mates loner with a thing for jazz funk and vintage hi-fi, and I’ve been revelling in the unexpected joy of tedium for years. I get a thrill from finding a knock-down price on supermarket products surfing the “best before” date. Stationery stores and ironmongers fire up my inner Alan Bennett. I look forward to cutting my toenails and posting letters, and I feel a genuine shiver of achievement when I successfully replace a broken electrical element in the toaster. My favourite thing on the telly is not some knowingly woke, 48-episode time travel drama from America, but Victoria Coren Mitchells’s bafflingly Seventies Only Connect know-it-all quiz show on BBC Two (and, yes, I will take unbelievably tedious pleasure in explaining to you that its name is lifted from the epigraph of E M Forster’s Howard’s End).
Actors are normally invited onto BBC Question Time to lend a dash of showbiz to what can be a tediously worthy late night political programme. They are not meant to be controversial. And they are most certainly not meant to use their appearance on the show as a springboard to start a new political party. But that is exactly what Laurence Fox has done. The 42-year-old actor, best known for playing James Hathaway in the ITV drama series Lewis from 2006 to 2015, was invited onto the panel show in January. His straight-talking arguments – in which he declared that Britain is one of the most tolerant countries in Europe and claimed that “to call me a white privileged male is to be racist” – won rave reviews, and stinking notices in equal measure. Fox did not stop there, engaging his critics with relish on Twitter as he took centre stage under the culture wars spotlight. Nine months later, Fox – part of one of the biggest family acting dynasties in Britain, and who has two children with his former wife Billie Piper – is launching his own party, called Reclaim, to champion the right of people to say what they believe, without being shouted down. Or as Fox puts it: “Giving you a home.” This week, to mark his move from playhouse to politics, he had the words “freedom” and “space” – his late mother’s favourite words – tattooed on his hands. To discuss his plans we meet in the Red Lion pub, Westminster’s favourite watering hole, a stone’s throw from Parliament, where we sit down to record an episode of my podcast, Chopper's Politics, which you can listen to easily on the audio player below.
Standing in front of the mirror, Stephen Taylor-Brown barely recognised his reflection. His face was starting to sag and he’d developed a slight paunch. He realised he looked a lot older than he felt. At the age of 51 he was suffering, he says, from Middle-Aged Man Syndrome. “You can feel your face dragging down a bit – and that can lead to depression, melancholy, a loss of libido, a sense that life is over and has passed you by; that you’re no longer attractive. This is something men will probably encounter in their 40s or 50s and women will encounter in their late 30s or 40s.” So Taylor-Brown decided to take action. “The fact is, you can manage everything – you don’t have to have a belly and a bad posture and a haggard face,” he says. Two years ago, Taylor-Brown became one of the 160,000 men in the UK who has had non-surgical cosmetic treatments – in his case, Botox and dermal fillers. He’s not alone; last week, comedian Jimmy Carr admitted he had had “a bit of Botox here and there, nothing too alarming” as part of a self-improvement package that has also included cosmetic dental treatment and a hair transplant during lockdown.
Taylor Swift indicated that the US election is really hotting up – by putting the oven on. The singer and actress took to Instagram to plug a new magazine interview and share a picture of herself holding a plate of custom baked Democrat cookies. "I’ll be voting for Joe Biden for president", wrote Swift in the caption, as though the cookies needed explanation. (Click on the arrow below to reveal the picture).
Davos, January 2019. Not the natural habitat of Sir David Attenborough, but here he is, aged 93, in a suit and tie, addressing a room full of financiers, CEOs and world leaders. He is showing them clips of film, the consequences of our actions upon the natural world: an orangutan clinging to the sole branch of a single tree in what used to be a verdant rainforest; horrific footage of enormous walruses tumbling from cliffs, unable to find anywhere to rest because the retreating sea ice has forced hundreds of them on to one small beach. The audience is visibly moved. In the front row, Christine Lagarde, then head of the IMF, is in tears. Attenborough, onstage, comments on the film clips, explaining in his measured, soothing voice, how it has come to this, how we have effectively destroyed our most crucial resources and, most importantly, what can be done about it, what they – sitting in that room, people of influence and power and financial clout – can do about it. The following day he is interviewed on stage by the Duke of Cambridge, and there is a standing ovation. There is a clip of this event in the new film A Life on Our Planet, which, along with the accompanying book, is effectively David Attenborough’s last stand. He calls it his ‘witness statement’.
It started when I was 17. My mother had been suffering from womb cancer since before I was born, an illness she could have treated by aborting her pregnancy. Instead, she chose to give birth to me. When she died, the feelings of guilt were immense. I was a semi-professional footballer at the time, so the fact I was exercising for 15 hours each day and cutting down my food intake didn’t strike me as unhealthy. I just thought I was getting fitter. It was when I started taking laxatives too that I realised I had a problem and went to see a doctor about it. He misdiagnosed my bulimia as grief, and prescribed me antidepressants. After this I spiralled much further downwards. I spent more and more time exercising, and began a pattern of bingeing and then making myself vomit. Things came to a head during a visit to Australia to visit family – I became so ill I ended up on an intravenous drip in hospital. After returning home to Glasgow, I suffered a massive heart attack and, as a result, I was in a coma for three months. Needless to say, it was touch and go at that point. I was 20-years-old, and that was when my eating disorder was finally correctly diagnosed. Watching Freddie Flintoff: Living With Bulimia on BBC One, I felt a pang of recognition. Everything I saw in the British cricketer, who bravely shared his own experience of the illness, was exactly who I used to be. Like him, I had been deeply insecure but put on a front when around other people. Like him, I was a sporty type who over-exercised because I thought I was fat. That he’s spoken out about his own bulimia will help so many others by diminishing the stigma and making it easier to seek help before it’s too late.
The issue,’ Perez Hilton is insisting, ‘is not Meghan, but Harry.’ The celebrity blogger lets this statement sit there a while, for dramatic effect. ‘I realise this may be difficult for you Brits to accept, but Meghan is just the scapegoat here. Because it’s not just apparent but painfully obvious to us, out here, that for the entirety of his life Prince Harry has been rebelling against and resisting The Firm – your Firm.’ Squeaking forward on his leather sofa in Beverly Hills, so that his face is cartoonishly close to our Zoom screen, Hilton draws out the word – like all his sentences, ending this one on an up-note. ‘He’s not been a fan of the way it operates from the start, because he clearly thinks it’s too archaic. So Meghan was only his out: his escape clause.’ It has taken us half an hour to get on to Megxit, by way of Lady Gaga, Madonna, Kim and Kanye, and countless other celebrities featured on the 42-year-old’s gossip site over the course of its 16-year reign. Reign, because Miami-born Hilton (real name Mario Lavandeira) is still the most famous celebrity blogger in Hollywood: an opinion divider whose trademark acerbic doodles – of penises and cocaine across paparazzi shots of Hollywood stars – would get him 10 million hits a day globally at his peak. He’s a man whose website, perezhilton.com, was celebrated by Forbes magazine as the biggest gossip site on the web for three years running. As the press release for his forthcoming autobiography, TMI: My Life in Scandal, cheerfully admits, Hilton is ‘known and hated from coast to coast’. On our shores, however, the blogger is perhaps still best known for appearing on Celebrity Big Brother in 2015, where his string of vicious spats resulted in him being branded by the Twitterati ‘the most hated man in Britain’. Interviewing Hilton feels like bingeing on junk food. It’s early morning in LA, the father of three is slim, tanned and endorphined-up from his virtual workout class, and as we move at a frenzied pace from scandal to tasty scandal I can feel my celebrity blood sugar skyrocketing. It’s an analogy Hilton would approve of. ‘Scandal is like McDonald’s,’ he tells me when I ask what he puts his massive following down to (he prefers to call them his ‘Fram’, ‘because my fans are more like family and friends to me’). ‘It’s cheap and it’s easily accessible to the masses, and when you’re going to McDonald’s, you know that you can get a salad, but do you want a salad? No. You want a Big Mac and French fries with an apple pie and a sundae.’ The toxic treats Hilton served up inevitably came at celebrities’ expense, and in TMI the blogger unflinchingly details the takedowns that helped him build a multimillion-dollar brand from a Coffee Bean café on Sunset Boulevard with free Wi-Fi. As the first gossip blogger to catch the internet wave in the mid 2000s, he rabidly chronicled the downfalls of American sweethearts such as Paris Hilton (whose surname he stole as part of his reinvention), Nicole Richie and Britney Spears, often using cruel nicknames (Lindsay Lohan was ‘Linsanity’; Kate Moss ‘Cokate’). He obsessed over Mischa Barton’s ‘bloated’ face, ‘cottage cheese thighs’ and ‘cankles’, and posted leaked nude photographs of Jennifer Lawrence. ‘We have an expression: “if it bleeds it leads”,’ he rationalises today. ‘The most shocking and scandalous story will always get people’s attention. People enjoy all that because it makes our lives seem normal. So even if you have dysfunction in your life, you think, “Well at least my life isn’t as crazy as that wild celebrity’s.”’