When I was called to say I hadn’t got the job as project manager at Guy’s Hospital in London, I was of course disappointed. My interview in July 2018 had gone well, I thought, and I had shown I had the relevant experience. I travelled down, suited and booted, from my home in Spalding in Lincolnshire – then 47, it was my first interview for a full-time job after a period of illness, and I was apprehensive. I’d seen the team I could be working with on their website: they looked a friendly lot across a range of ages and backgrounds, more women but some men, too. My presentation seemed to go down well, though the programme director had been pretty frosty. Afterwards she had asked me if I wanted to meet some members of the team. She didn’t say it was a formal part of the interview, but walked me along to a small kitchen where some young female staff were eating their lunch – and left me there with no word of introduction. They eyed me up and down and were totally disinterested; unwilling to engage with me. One young man did chat to me for about 10 minutes before the conversation petered out. Afterwards, I wondered whether I had simply read the situation wrong. But when I asked for feedback upon receiving my rejection, I was told that the role had gone to a woman who – like the person on the phone – was also in her twenties. The team I would have been working with was made up mainly of women of that same age, she explained, and they hadn’t felt comfortable with the prospect of working with a man “who was old enough to have an 11-year-old daughter”. (I had mentioned my daughter in passing during my presentation.) My disappointment turned to astonishment. I’ve done a lot of recruitment in my time as well as being interviewed, and I had never heard anything quite like this – let alone relayed so casually, as if this was a perfectly normal reason to reject someone from a role. With hindsight, I wonder if she would have told a woman that her children put her at a disadvantage in some way. At the time I was simply flabbergasted. I don’t record conversations, but I had taken notes that I was later able to provide to the employment tribunal that last week awarded me £7,500 in compensation for age and sex discrimination. That verdict has been cathartic for me, but the immediate impact of that phone call was devastating. Three years previously I had been diagnosed with haemochromatosis, a lifelong genetic disease that means I have too much iron in my blood and can cause diabetes, liver cancer, arthritis and heart conditions. It meant I had spent a couple of years away from work, very unwell, in and out of hospital for treatment every couple of weeks. I had suffered from chronic fatigue, but I’d picked myself up, first with part-time work, until I applied for the £40,000 a year role on the interface between technology and NHS patient care at Guy’s. Part of its appeal was that it would allow me to put what I’d been through with my own health problems to public benefit. I believe passionately in the NHS and in 2018 received an award from Matt Hancock as a patient safety volunteer in the NHS – ironically for work I did with a nurse practitioner at Guy’s. I don’t mind admitting that, after that rejection feedback, I became very depressed. I started to believe I was totally washed up, that I was no use to society, that at the age of 47 I was finished. The world of work was no place for “old” men, and I was the only breadwinner for my young family. And I was the only breadwinner in our home. I was genuinely concerned about how I was going to put food on the table. We are a very open family so I didn’t hide my anguish. My wife was a mental health professional in the NHS before we had children: seeing the change in me, she suggested I set myself some goals like getting up for breakfast, applying for jobs, and writing down what had happened in that interview as a way of gathering my thoughts. And as I did that, I got angry. I wasn’t even 50 and here I was effectively being told I was on the scrap heap. All my experience in software engineering, project management, and artificial intelligence, running teams in Britain and in several eastern European countries, was being treated as if it was nothing.
What a nice man Stanley Tucci is. Intelligent, courteous, amusing, a smart conversationalist. If you were having a dinner party, Tucci would be the first person you’d want at your table. But what the hell would you cook? Tucci is a terrific actor, whose long career includes major film and television roles and a cluster of awards, but meeting him it’s easy to get the impression that the thing he loves talking about most in the world is food. Tucci loves to eat. ‘I do!’ And he loves cooking. He co-wrote and co-directed one of the great films about food, Big Night, and starred in the film Julie & Julia as the husband of Julia Child (played by Meryl Streep), the chef who introduced French cooking to America. He is the author of two cookbooks himself, The Tucci Cookbook (2012) and The Tucci Table: Cooking with Family and Friends (2015) and is working on a food memoir. On the day we meet, he’s hosting a Zoom ‘cookalong’ for the literary agency Curtis Brown, where his wife Felicity Blunt works (Tucci is one of her clients). ‘I’m doing a fettuccine con funghi,’ he says. ‘Mushrooms. A little onion, shallot, vegetable stock, a little butter, parmigiana, a little parsley over the top… Delicious!’
Parkas have played a significant role in my life. As a child of the 1970s, a snorkel-hooded parka was obligatory if you were ever going to win approval from the cool kids. In the 1980s, as a fanatical Paul Weller fan, the parka (this time more military-styled) proved its relevance once again. The Britpop-powered 1990s peak was perfectly age-appropriate for a man passing from his 20s into his 30s. Now, securely strapped into midlife and with no need of any tribe, my attachment to this evergreen style-staple remains resolute, forming the backbone to my wardrobe every winter. Swedish brand Tretorn has resuscitated the traditional fishtail parka in a military green canvas, with large pockets and a drawstring protective hood. American Vintage’s Akocity is similar but much lighter and cut from a water-repellent polyamide fabric. Old-school snorkels are back on the agenda with US outerwear specialist Schott NYC, albeit in a more luxe fabric and with greater attention to detail. Gap has one in fire-engine red filled with a high-performance insulation made from recycled polyester plastic bottles. On the subject of colour, a parka is one of those items that you can afford to experiment with. It’s not a “serious” winter coat and its history is steeped in utilitarian workwear, so a pop of colour can uplift a sombre season. Try Scotch & Soda’s padded parka in marigold orange, Next’s snorkel in plum or John Lewis & Partners’ shower-resistant Creek parka, available in a range of colours. The best in my opinion is amber – it would look great with dark denim. Parka life
In his front room in Loughton in Essex, Tony Walker still has a Broadcasting Press Guild award statuette that rightfully belongs to Michael Apted. “I went to a posh do in the City of London to accept a lifetime achievement prize on his behalf just before the first lockdown,” he explains, “and it had been sitting here waiting for him to come over from Hollywood to London to collect it.” Apted, who has died aged 79, had first met Walker in 1964, when he selected him, at the age of seven, to star in his new series, Seven Up!. The cheeky East End schoolboy who wanted to be a jockey was soon winning viewers’ hearts, and it was to be the start of a long and cherished friendship between the two men. Originally intended as a one-off World in Action special on ITV featuring 14 “ordinary” youngsters from different ends of the social spectrum, Seven Up! made such an impact that it grew into an acclaimed and enduringly popular documentary series. Every seven years, Apted (who had been the researcher on the first show, selecting many of the participants, but directed every one since) gave unflinching updates on what had happened in their lives. 63Up was broadcast in June 2019, when he described the series as “the most important thing I have ever done”. For cultural historians, it is seen as ground-breaking “reality” TV in a pre-celebrity age. Social scientists study it on university curriculums. But for Walker, now 65 and a black-cab driver in London, it was a family affair. Its creator, he says, was more like an uncle to him. “Even as a kid, I had no inhibitions around him. I never thought of it as being in a film. He was my friend. He was a friend of my family and then, when I got married and had kids of my own and now grandchildren, he knew all of them. He was one of us.”
Under the cover of darkness on December 22 1985, near what is quite possibly the most picturesque stretch of Britain’s coastline, a man broke into the three-storey farmhouse of siblings Richard and Helen Thomas, both in their fifties, near Milford Haven, Pembrokeshire. He killed them both with a shotgun, before setting fire to the building. Then, about five miles away, in the summer of 1989, marketing manager Peter Dixon, 51, was walking along a coastal path while on holiday with his wife, Gwenda, when they happened across a man with a shotgun. He tied Mr Dixon’s hands behind his back, and forced him to reveal his bank card PIN; Mrs Dixon was sexually assaulted. Then he shot them both. Their bodies were discovered six days later in undergrowth near the cliff path, concealed by branches, after their 22-year-old son grew concerned when they did not return to Oxfordshire.
Ben Miller admits he has grown a little frustrated with the TV culture wars. The actor and comedian, who rose to prominence as one half of the Armstrong and Miller duo before starring in Death in Paradise and Johnny English, has largely kept out of the arguments over race that have swept British television this year in the aftermath of the Black Lives Matter movement, killing off entire comedies like Little Britain and even resulting in one famous episode of Fawlty Towers being pulled from the BBC-owned streaming service, UKTV (it was later put back). “I don’t think shows should be cancelled, I think there’s room for us to watch shows that were made in the past,” Miller, 54, tells me over the phone one December morning. He sounds upbeat but a little tired, having just finished filming for his upcoming ITV crime drama, Professor T (all cast were put in a bubble and tested twice a week for Covid-19). “For me it’s about the context in which something is shown. That makes all the difference. I’m a passionate believer in free speech. I think one of the dangers of the culture wars is that we stop listening to each other.” He is speaking to promote his role as the patriarch of the Featherington family in Netflix’s new ratings juggernaut, Bridgerton – a glossy Regency costume drama that, as luck would have it, has become the latest skirmish in the ongoing conversation about race and representation. In the series, Queen Charlotte is played by black actress Golda Rosheuvel (Silent Witness, Lady Macbeth). It was not a case of race-blind casting, says Miller, but a conscious decision from Shondaland productions to reflect the queen’s mixed ethnic heritage (some historians believe the real Charlotte was descended directly from a black branch of the Portugese royal family, tracing back to 13th Century ruler Alfonso III and his lover Madragana, who was a Moor). Producers then took an imaginative leap by depicting a universe in which a black Queen Charlotte had decided to ennoble other non-white men and women into her royal court, creating the most racially diverse period drama ever.
If the path to true mindfulness involves pushing ourselves outside our comfort zone, Andy Puddicombe, the Buddhist monk turned millionaire co-founder of meditation app Headspace, isn’t shirking the work. On New Year’s Eve, in the middle of a pandemic, Puddicombe moved his family – including a six year-old and a three year-old – and all their possessions halfway across the globe, from their home of eight years in Los Angeles to a new one in Lisbon, where they don’t speak the language and barely know anyone. What is it they say about life’s most stressful events? “I think [moving is] up there, right, with the top three or five?” Puddicombe, 48, says, laughing. “I’ve probably lived in eight or 10 countries in my life, and this is the first time I’ve done it with a family. It is a very different proposition.” He coped as he always does: by going back to his basic Buddhist training: “Whether it’s applied to the business or moving house, those are still skills I draw on a lot.” Over Zoom, Puddicombe looks unruffled by the experience. A softly lit baby blue wall and two life-giving houseplants are all that make up his background. Even his smooth bald head is somehow calming. Just out of shot might be 400 boxes overflowing with domestic detritus, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Puddicombe crossed the Atlantic with little more than a clear mind. Now entering its eleventh year, over 65 million people use Headspace, which reportedly generates revenue of more than $100 million per year from paid subscribers (the basic version is free), who listen to Puddicombe’s voice as they learn how to become more mindful through short, guided sessions.
If you were already feeling like you've started 2021 with a bad case of groundhog day (lockdowns, school closures, Gavin Williamson upsetting people), then it seems we have official confirmation. Clap For Our Carers is making a comeback. Sort of, anyway. The first Clap For Our Carers took place on March 26, 2020, organised by 36-year-old yoga instructor and Streatham resident Annemarie Plas, who took inspiration from a similar movement in the Netherlands. At 8pm every Thursday, for ten weeks, people across the country took to their streets to hit palms and pots as a way of thanking the NHS and key workers. Eventually – inevitably – collective fatigue set in, and on May 28, Plas announced she would be clapping for the last time, saying it had “had its moment”. But now, its moment has returned. Today, Plas has announced that she will once again lead a mass clapping movement – this time not Clap For Our Carers, but Clap For Our Heroes. A subtle, but possibly important, rebrand.
Seeing what havoc Covid has caused in friends’ restaurants in London, and watching my own small chain in the capital go up in smoke as the first lockdown hit, I knew the risks in starting all over again down here in Dorset. I put it at 50/50 whether we were going to be locked down when I opened my second outlet at the Fox Inn in Corscombe just before Christmas. Being one of nature’s optimists, I saw that numbers of cases down here have been relatively low compared to the rest of the country. So I was still hoping at the very end of December that we’d be all right. The Fox was busy on the day the official announcement came through – as it has been every day since it opened, with some people coming back two or three times, and making reservations well into the New Year. I had buried myself in work to avoid listening to the radio. Not because I didn’t care, but because I couldn’t quite bear to listen. And then there it was: Tier 3 for Dorset. We had to close by midnight. All the stuff we’d bought to cover the New Year bank holiday would go to waste. Then the bigger picture came into focus. The Fox and my reopened Oyster & Fish House in Lyme Regis are shut for the foreseeable future. The only money I’ve got coming in is from my fish truck in a converted ambulance – enough to keep me going, but not the business. The whole of the country is in the same stop-go-stop scenario, if not worse, so I am not going to moan. Yet, I can’t help mentioning, one half of me does think that these rules are a bit unfair. There is no evidence that hotels and restaurants, where they have rigorous distancing standards in place, as we have, contribute to the spread the virus. Yet you can still go into a supermarket, handle all the fruit and veg on the stands, and then put it back for the next person to touch. We all do it. Enough. The only thing now is to regard this as the first obstacle to navigate on the long road back. Luckily, having been so badly bitten last March, when I negotiated my two new leases this time I insisted on rent-free clauses if there was another lockdown. And most of the staff will go on furlough. So there isn’t too much money going out. And I know that our customers are loyal, even after so short a time. They will be back. It is a question of when, and whether can we survive that long. If it is months on end, there are going to be a load of casualties including me – again. I am not allowing myself to think that way right now. Instead I am counting the positives. I am in a better place than I was nine months ago – physically, having moved back to Dorset, and emotionally. In fact, I am in the place I want to be, and I have a future here. The challenge, then, becomes how to keep going. I could do takeaways under Tier 3 rules, but I’m in two minds. The gain you make for the effort that goes into them isn’t very much. By the time you have staffed it and then delivered it, especially in a rural area like this, it is hard to make a profit. Perhaps I will give it a try with something simple – oysters and smoked salmon – but I am taking my time finally to decide. I am going to have a bottle of wine, and a good brainstorm with myself. What I have found, even in dark moments, is that inspiration is never far away. Trish, a friend and supporter, who makes delicious Somerset membrillo and introduces me to new cheesemakers, came into the pub the day before the announcement and told me about a local garden where they had put cardboard over the grassed area, then compost and manure, and turned into a no-dig vegetable garden. That sounded like my sort of garden, I thought. I have got all the cardboard boxes that are now empty because the planned Kitchen Library at the Fox was completed just in time for lockdown. All 2,000 of the old cookery books that I’ve collected are on display round the walls of what will be a private dining room. So the cardboard is going down on the flat section of the garden behind the pub’s skittle alley. The compost is on order and the horse manure is being provided by Kim, assistant manager at the Fox, a horsey type. When we get going again, there will be a ready supply of veg trimmings, which means we will soon be able to grow our own supply of vegetables, herbs, salads and other things. Next on the to-do list is some new ideas for the fish truck to boost income there. And I have enough set aside to get on with redoing the bedrooms above the pub. When we reopen, they will bring more money back in. It’s an investment in Covid being defeated. That’s what I tell myself when I am out fishing on Lyme Bay for sea bass with old friends. We set off at first light and it can take eight hours – plenty of time to reflect, with the winter sun on the calm sea surface. Despite these latest problems, I know I have made the right decision in taking the plunge down here. I am happy, and I just need the world to catch up with me. As told to Peter Stanford
will.i.am’s got another feeling. You might recall the first – a dozen years ago, about how tonight was going to be a good, good night – but this time he’s absolutely serious. “2021,” intones the 45-year-old rapper, record producer, founder member of Black Eyed Peas, tech entrepreneur and Nostradamus, “is going to look a lot like this: you’re gonna have the non-vaxxers kicking up a lot of noise, you’re gonna have some places open up and some places stay shut because of the complexities of insurance, and [the vaccine] will move slower than you think, so it won’t be until the end of August, September, that society will turn back on again.” Right. Anything else? “You’re going to have Brexit. And depending on how the vaccine opens up, maybe Scotland’s going to be like, ‘Yo, we want out of this b****, I wanna go over there with Europe and s***.’ So maybe that’ll happen. But there’s so many question marks, so many question marks…” This is roughly how all conversations with will.i.am go. You pull the drawstring a little, then watch him light up and spray loosely coherent but often insightful observations around for a while, then you must quickly catch him and ask something else, lest you lose him forever. Fans of The Voice, which returns on January 2 for its tenth series, all of which will.i.am has appeared as a “coach” on, will know this well. Over Zoom it is just as chaotic but even more entertaining, especially given he’s matched his Zoom background to his black and white striped shirt, rendering him nothing more than a floating, fast-talking head in a beanie.
Fancy injecting some blue blood into your ears? Well, you’re in luck because the first episode of the Sussexes’ heavily hyped podcast has landed on Spotify. The music streaming site reportedly paid tens of millions of pounds for the runaway royal duo’s podcast series. The opening instalment is a star-studded, platitude-stuffed “Holiday Special”. But we have questions. Six of them, to be precise… 1. How do you pronounce Archewell? Is it “Arch-well”? “Archer-well”? “Arsh-well”? In the podcast trailer, released earlier this month, even Harry seemed to stumble over the correct way to pronounce the name of his production company, Archewell Audio. During the first episode, he lands on Arch-well (that's ch as in church, not parachute) – but will that deviate in future podcasts? Stay tuned to find out. If you can bear it. 2. Isn’t it all a bit hypocritical? We’re afraid so, yes. The pair spend a lot of time wanging on earnestly about “building community”, “the power of connection” and “our passion for meeting people”. Which is all very nice, except they don't actually talk to anyone in the podcast. “Ginge and Cringe”, as they’ve been dubbed on Twitter, didn’t interview their guests. Instead they asked them to record their own audio diaries to avoid what Harry describes as "the awkward dance of video chat”. OK, face-to-face meetings might have been impossible in lockdown, but it seems a bit rich to blah on about “how interconnected we all are” when there's no actual interaction in evidence. Of course, there’s also the matter of them being varying degrees of removed from their own families. Are they practising what they preach? No wonder Piers Morgan has already mimed vomiting into a bin at the sound of it. 3. What’s with the random bag of celebrities? Again, possibly hypocritical. Harry and Meghan announced that they wanted their podcast to showcase “voices we haven’t heard before”. Instead they’ve opened with a rollcall of well-known names – some of whom (*cough* Elton John, *splutter* James Corden), we’ve already heard quite enough from, thanks very much. Civilian tolerance for rich, famous celebs “reflecting on what they’ve learned in 2020” is surely stretched to its limit. Alongside Reg Dwight and Smithy from Gavin & Stacey, there’s spoken word artist George The Poet, bestselling author Matt Haig, actor Tyler Perry, alternative health guru Deepak Chopra, tennis player Naomi Osaka, Michelin-starred chef José Andrés, teen activist Christina Adane and US politician Stacey Abrams. Some of these guests are poignant and thought-provoking, but are they the “people from all walks of life” that Meghan promises at the start of the show? 4. Does Prince Archie have an American accent? Little Archie steals the show by speaking publicly for the first time, ending the 33-minute episode by wishing listeners a "Happy... New... Year” in endearingly giggly fashion. It’s an aww-inducing (if arguably self-indulgent) moment and the one-year-old already displays a hint of a US accent. Judging by his father Harry’s own increasingly mid-Atlantic tones – pronouncing 2020 as “Twenny Twenny”, need-to-do as “needadoo”, liberally using the words “buddy”, “guys” and “folks”, and wishing us “Happy Holidays” rather than Merry Christmas – his son’s accent is likely to drift even further westward and end up somewhere in California. Yo mom, can I get granola and grits for brunch? We dread to think how the poor lad will pronounce “oregano” and “aluminium”.
Patrick Hutchinson may be one of the few people in Britain grateful for the ongoing requirement to wear a mask. If nothing else, it gives the 50-year-old Londoner brief respite from the steady stream of admirers he has attracted ever since a photograph of him carrying a bloodied counter protester to safety from a Black Lives Matter (BLM) rally propelled him from unknown personal trainer to global star. Since then he has chatted to the Rev Al Sharpton, the US civil rights activist, on live television and in October was interviewed by Prince Harry over Zoom. With tens of thousands of followers on social media, the fanmail, he says, is stacking up. “I seem to have a big fanbase of middle-aged women,” he says. “They say they wish more men were like me and then subtly mention at the end if I’m ever in such and such a place then please drop by – some leave the odd [telephone] number here and there.” What does his long-term partner Juanita and mother of his two younger children (aged 11 and nine) make of the racy messages? “Erm,” Hutchinson laughs nervously, “she doesn’t know…” Patrick Hutchinson has emerged as one of the few bright spots in an otherwise dismal year. The photograph of him carrying the man from the scene where far right supporters had clashed with BLM protestors on London’s South Bank in June provided a rare moment of unity at a time in which society seems to have drifted even further apart. The image went viral and Hutchinson soon found himself being pursued by film crews and journalists.
I was on White House supplemental pool duty on April 23. Let me explain. The White House Briefing Room is the single storey building that links the grand East Wing, where all the state functions take place and where the president and first lady live, with the West Wing – the engine room of the executive branch of government. There are seven rows of seven seats but, because of Covid, the seating is limited to 12 – and there is a daily rotation of who gets to go to the briefing. That day the BBC had the supplemental TV pool seat and we received notification that President Trump was going to give a briefing. Bingo. It all started quite soberly. A research scientist from the Department of Homeland Security presented some early evidence which suggested that when the virus is exposed to UV sunlight and heat it lasts less long on surfaces. The implication clear: with the arrival of summer we would be at less risk of being infected by touching things. He then pointed out that the one thing that kills the virus stone dead is bleach.
I’ve always found it easier to love than to trust. You can mend a broken heart, but broken trust is more difficult to fix. Trust is the pixie dust that is sprinkled over the workings of public life. It’s what binds the Government to the governed, them to us. Without it, we’re no better than Russia. Which brings me to the moment when my world wobbled this year. May 25. Barnard Castle. You only have to mention those two words to bring out expressions ranging from titters of disdain to lips curled in anger. Although I’ve never met Dominic Cummings I can admire his abilities. But he screwed up on a monumental scale when he took a 250-mile trip to Durham during lockdown, then went for a long drive to test his eyesight. Strange bloody eye test, taking a lethal weapon on to the public highway not knowing whether you can see properly. Russian roulette in a Range Rover. He was sick and worried about who would look after his child, and many would have excused this extraordinary stuff-up if he’d shown some contrition. But that isn’t the Cummings style. He demanded we understand, and appeared not to much care if we didn’t. And he made the worst mistake of any courtier by dragging his king into the mud with him. He should have resigned, but wouldn’t. He should have been fired, but wasn’t. Boris ducked it, at least then, and left too much of his own credibility along with Mr Cummings in the car park of Barnard Castle. And when Cummings appeared at a press conference in the rose garden of No 10, it raised more questions than it answered, not just about him but about Boris, too. I’m still angry about it. Why? Because there’s so much at stake – not just the fight against Covid but what comes after. Until that day in May most believed that the Government was doing everything it could to fight this plague; we understood that the personal strain on some ministers and officials was appalling. However, the unforgiving mirror of hindsight will also show a Government trashing our liberties, ripping up the Magna Carta, locking up the innocent, abolishing our right to family life, and often doing so without proper debate or scrutiny. Now, all of this might be necessary, in the very short term, but there are huge perils to it, perhaps even greater than Covid itself. Look around the world. Freedoms lost are so difficult to regain. And there are plenty of unfriendly forces wanting to take advantage of us.
Scott Borgerson updated his LinkedIn profile recently. Like many men of his age and narrow interests, the professional networking site is the American tech entrepeneur’s social media platform of choice. There, he can be found sharing articles about innovations in the global shipping industry, discussing untapped resources in the Arctic, and “liking” a seemingly ceaseless stream of motivational military memes. For a long time, the profile page of “Scott B” (as he styles himself) went relatively unchanged, such was the steadiness of his world. Not any more. Over his moody black-and-white headshot, a badge now reads: “OpenToWork”. No wonder – it isn’t every week you pledge $25m (some £18m) to free your infamous secret wife from prison in time for a family Christmas, just before it is revealed she was divorcing you. After months of rumours, early this week, 44-year-old Borgerson was finally unveiled to the world as the clandestine husband of Ghislaine Maxwell, the 58-year-old British socialite currently languishing in a detention centre in Brooklyn, New York, awaiting trial on charges of recruiting three teenage girls for the convicted paedophile Jeffrey Epstein. Maxwell, who denies any wrongdoing, had long been suspected of having a secret man in her life before her arrest in July, but surprised even close friends when she told prosecutors she was married. At the time, Boston-based Borgerson, who had first been publicly linked to her the year before, became the chief suspect. On Monday, a bail application agreeing to a $22.5m (£16.6m) bond, with five additional bonds totalling $5m (£3.7m) co-signed by seven of Maxwell’s close friends and family, appeared to confirm it. “The person described in the criminal charges is not the person we know. I have never witnessed anything close to inappropriate with Ghislaine,” Borgerson, who supposedly married Maxwell in 2016, wrote to US District Judge Alison Nathan. “Quite to the contrary, the Ghislaine I know is a wonderful and loving person.” Whether the plea works in time to release Maxwell for her 59th birthday on Christmas Day remains to be seen – not least given further documents released by the US government on Friday revealed that she was already in the process of divorcing him at the time she was arrested by the FBI. Compared with almost everything else to do with Maxwell, Epstein and his murky web of high-profile connections that spans the past three decades, the story of how she met Borgerson at a conference seems almost refreshingly mundane. In 2012, six years after the first investigations into Epstein and four years after his first prison sentence, Maxwell founded an oceanic conservation company called the TerraMar Project, appointing herself as CEO and appearing at conventions all over the world in an attempt to relaunch herself as a philanthropic environmentalist. Nobody quite knew what Maxwell’s project did – it had no offices, gave no grants, and was disbanded last year – but given that isn’t all that unusual in the worlds of tech and conservation start-ups, she looked at home. Soon, she started to do what she’d always done best: charm powerful people and make connections. The Boston-based Borgerson was a natural target. As the multi-millionaire founder of maritime analytics company CargoMetrics, as well as a former visiting fellow for ocean governance at the Council on Foreign Relations, a powerful New York-based think tank, he was just the kind of associate she could do with if she wanted to be taken seriously on the high seas. They met, it has been reported, at the inaugural Arctic Circle assembly in Reykjavik, Iceland, in 2013. Both spoke at the event, as well, evidently, as socialising – last week the first photograph of the pair together emerged, enjoying drinks at a reception. Maxwell, all pearls and Liza Minelli-esque haircut, beams as she poses with the 6ft 5in Borgerson. In his slightly ill-fitting navy business suit and wedding ring – at the time, he had been married to his first wife, Rebecca, for almost 12 years – he looks geekily pleased to have made a new friend.
The outbreak was just beginning in Europe when I flew to Austria on 10 March. A friend had invited me to join an all-blokes skiing holiday in Ischgl in the Alps. At the time, there were no Foreign Office warnings about travelling to Austria and nothing in the news, either. I thought, why not? When I arrived it was business as usual. I went straight to a bar – the Jägermeister was flowing and the place was heaving. Twenty-four hours later, we had dinner in a packed Italian restaurant. I’d spotted something vague on the resort website saying that there was coronavirus in town and that there’d be no après-ski that evening. But all the hotel bars, restaurants and boutiques were open. On Friday everything chan-ged. At 2.15pm I got a call from my hotel: ‘Mr Mallender, you need to get back here immediately. The entire Paznaun valley is going to be quarantined.’ I rushed down the mountain, threw my stuff in a bag, and got on a ski bus with around a dozen other tourists. It was standing room only, and the bus was moving at walking pace through nose-to-tail traffic. The town looked like a scene from a disaster movie. Roads were blocked, police cars were flashing, and tourists were running everywhere. Eight and a half hours later, the bus pulled up in a larger town. Normally it’d be a 40-minute journey. I felt under the weather but thought it was down to a hangover and stress. But that night, staying at a new hotel, I woke up sweating; I realised I’d been infected with Covid-19. When I arrived at Gatwick on Sunday no one checked me, but when I got home I went straight into self-isolation. I developed a fever, a cough, and an odd metallic taste in my mouth. By 27 March, I hadn’t slept for four days and was struggling to breathe. My wife called an ambulance. The paramedics gave me oxygen, and by the time a doctor saw me I was already feeling a lot better. I took it easy for the next fortnight, and three weeks later I had recovered. But I was angry about what happened in Ischgl, which turned out to be the epicentre of the European outbreak.
On January 30 1649, Parliament cut off Charles I’s head. A year later, his state crown was “totally broken and defaced”. Parliament valued it at £1,100, the jewels were sold, the gold melted for coin. Nothing survived – or so it was thought. In the vaults of the British Museum lies a treasure handed over by a 49-year-old metal detectorist, Kevin Duckett. He had flipped a clod of earth in a Northamptonshire field on a sunny day in 2017 and poking out, “like a partially unwrapped present”, was the gold figure of a king. And quite a present it was, for this could be a remnant of Christmas past: the crown Henry VIII wore for processions on the feast of Epiphany, which celebrates the Magi – the three kings – visiting the Christ child.
One grey December day in 1945, a young man named Bernard Lovell entered a muddy Cheshire field known as Jodrell Bank and installed a crude hut filled with redundant radar equipment. It was the culmination of a journey that began in 1936, in his laboratory at Manchester University, where he studied the activity of subatomic particles – created when cosmic ray showers, the remnants of supernova explosions, collide with the Earth’s atmosphere. The work fascinated Lovell, but he longed to escape from his dingy lab to find some means of observing them in the wild. In August 1939, Lovell joined the Telecommunications Research Establishment working on the radar network that was the first line of defence against German bombers. His contribution to radar development played a major part in the war effort. The short-wave device he created, H2S, improved the accuracy of night bombing and meant Coastal Command could find and destroy U-Boats crossing the Bay of Biscay at night when they surfaced to recharge their batteries under cover of darkness. So devastating was the destruction that, by August 1943, Admiral Doenitz withdrew his fleet, making it possible to transport American armies across the Atlantic safely – in time for D-Day. On September 3 1939, Lovell was in an operations room in Yorkshire standing beside a pretty young WAAF (Women's Auxiliary Air Force personnel) seated in front of her radar screen. As they heard Neville Chamberlain conclude his radio broadcast with the dreaded words “I have to tell you now, that this country is at war with Germany,” Lovell noticed that the screen was full of echoes (radar signals). Assuming they indicated approaching German bombers he said to the WAAF: “Aren’t you going to call Fighter Command?” “Oh, those aren’t bombers,” she replied. “We were told they are transient echoes from the ionosphere.” As relief flooded through him so did the germ of an idea: these echoes must be cosmic ray showers entering the atmosphere and radar could be used to observe them. That phrase, “echoes from the ionosphere”, was to sustain him through six long years of war until it brought him to that muddy field at Jodrell Bank to the start of his life’s work and the birth of radio astronomy. By nightfall, on December 10 1945, everything was assembled but, to Lovell’s frustration, the generator failed and he had to seek help from local farmer Ted Moston. The next morning he was alarmed to find the jovial Ted sitting on the ground with the generator completely dismantled. Faith in his new friend recovered the following day when the machine was restored to full operation. On the evening of the 12th, the aerials were focused on the night sky and, bursting with anticipation, Lovell sat down and switched on the radar. Almost at once, echoes flitted across the screen. This was the moment and there were the cosmic ray showers being tracked, as if by magic, from the middle of a boggy field. Yet each echo flashed across the screen and disappeared instantly and there were many more than Lovell had anticipated. Were they echoes from other unexplained objects? A colleague suggested the signals might be from the ionised trails of meteors. Lovell knew nothing about meteors, or astronomy for that matter, and he consulted the Royal Astronomical Society. They suggested contacting Manning Prentice, a Stowmarket solicitor and renowned meteor expert. Prentice was a busy man, but he arrived at Jodrell in July 1946 to observe the Perseid meteor showers. Each evening. he and Lovell lay in deck chairs gazing at the sky. Whenever Prentice saw a meteor he called out to an operator in the hut and it became apparent that the visible meteors coincided precisely with echoes on the screen. Prentice had encyclopaedic knowledge of astronomy. As each meteor appeared he reeled off the names of background stars and constellations across which it passed, conducting Lovell on a stellar ramble of the heavens. On those warm summer nights, Lovell was transported into realms of unimagined beauty, learning his astronomy at the side of a brilliant amateur. Still intent on searching for cosmic rays, Lovell and his team decided that a large radio receiver was needed and, using scaffolding poles and cable, they formed a paraboloid with a diameter of 218 feet and an aerial mast 126 feet high, creating a very powerful device. They still did not find cosmic rays but radio signals from sources in the solar system and beyond poured in – the first from the Crab Nebula. Lovell realised that the static receiver was of limited use as it only picked up signals from immediately overhead. What they needed was a fully steerable paraboloid, searching the whole sky visible above the horizon. The result was what we now know as the Lovell telescope.
John le Carré in his time wrote great spy novels, among the best of the genre. He captured the mood of Cold War Europe and, in the character of George Smiley, created the ultimate spy master – clever, self-deprecating, riven with self-doubt, always questioning the morals of his profession, but absolutely dedicated to getting the better of his adversary, the elusive Karla. Smiley’s Cold War was as much personal as it was political. Those of us who practised the same dark arts around the same period read and enjoyed the books enormously; but we were not uncritical. Le Carré’s espionage novels were so widely read and had such influence that they came to define reality. They filled a gap in public knowledge. They were written at a time when very little that was authoritative was published about espionage and the public was starved of information. Those were the days when the existence of MI6 was not even officially acknowledged, and GCHQ never spoken of. “It is not the custom of Her Majesty’s Government to comment on such matters” was the response to an awkward parliamentary question. But the public knew enough to understand instinctively that an important dimension of the Cold War was being fought out in the shadows. To be offered a window that gave an apparently authentic view into the secret world, or the deep state as it is known today, was very enticing. Le Carré bridged the gap between fact and fiction, but not in a pretentious way, as The Crown now seems to be doing. His skillful creation of the ‘Circus’ filled the void for true spy stories. Le Carré never claimed to be writing anything but fiction, but because he was a great storyteller, inevitably his pen enhanced the mystique of MI6 but also stained its reputation – and there was a large dollop of vitriol in his ink for MI6. I only met le Carré once, but it was clear that he disliked, perhaps even detested, the Service that was the source of his inspiration, as his partial memoir Pigeon Tunnel suggests. He only served in the Secret Intelligence Service, as MI6 is formally known, for a couple of years, but something about his experience entered his soul and never left it. His best espionage stories are about betrayal, but he goes as far as making the ‘Judas factor’ the currency that defines the Service’s professional relationships. The impression that he leaves, and it lingers to this day, of the workings of MI6 is corrosive. Le Carré enjoyed the detachment that the writer of fiction can always claim, but there was evident satisfaction too that in the public eye he had successfully tarred the moral reputation of his former colleagues: and the moral theme in his writing is strong. The truth about MI6, and le Carré would have known this very well, is that between and among colleagues, it functions on very high levels of trust, a fact self evident to those whose daily concern is to protect the security of spies they have recruited. Keeping secrets on which lives depend in turn is founded on trust. Le Carré flipped that coin; and of course stories about trust may be uplifting, but they do not make a good spy thriller. The licence that le Carré allowed himself is, therefore, understandable – but his perversion of reality was also extreme. When I made the same point about le Carré at a recent literary festival, his immediate riposte was that the betrayal of his SIS identity to the Soviets by Kim Philby had marked him for life and engendered his disappointment with his career. To an extent, that may have been true, but being “blown” to the KGB was hardly a career-defining event in the depths of the Cold War. Every active operational officer on both sides suffered a similar fate, sooner or later. With le Carré, something much more visceral and personal was in play. It is possible that the ghost of his conman father Ronnie enters the equation. Whatever the explanation, we celebrate a great writer of espionage fiction and a complex creative mind. As for MI6, his literary achievements both burnished and tarnished its reputation. Few can claim that distinction. Sir Richard Dearlove is a former head of MI6
There is a photograph, a still from a famous film, that all reputable men’s style columns are required by law to publish at this time of year alongside a Grinchy story decrying the tradition of the novelty Christmas jumper — and I shall be very cross indeed with the Telegraph picture desk if you are not looking at that photo right now. Since it’s here in front of you, you will know already that the picture is of Colin Firth in a green rollneck, with a torso-covering red-nosed reindeer emblazoned across it. As you also know already, it’s from Bridget Jones’s Diary, from all of 19 years ago, and Firth is making a spectacle of himself as the priggish lawyer Mark Darcy. His squirming discomfort is, of course, what makes the scene funny, because the novelty Christmas jumper is the great yuletide leveler: no one, not even that handsome smoothie Colin Firth, can look cool in a jumper that appears to have been knitted by his mad maiden aunt, after one too many passes of the mulled wine tray. And since Christmas is not supposed to be cool, it’s supposed to be cosy and comforting, the novelty jumper does double duty, by bringing such pompous asses as Mark Darcy back down to earth for a moment. This column is not here to advocate for the most egregious examples of the phenomenon, which envelop the middle aged male paunch in scenes better suited to greeting cards. But the fact is that after this wretched year we could all use a laugh, and it so happens that we’re in luck: the jolly knitted sweater for men is all of a sudden extremely trendy, with many of the big-name designer brands producing knitwear in a riot of colours and patterns, and the high street obligingly following suit. The most eye catching of the high fashion festive sweaters is from Gucci designer Alessandro Michele: a thick wool and alpaca-blend pullover, in rich red, decorated with the face of Mickey Mouse and the repeated Gucci double-G logo (£870). Not to be outdone, Prada has a fetching intarsia wool sweater, in a geometric pattern of yellow, red and black (£695). Other Italian luxury labels — Loro Piana, Canali, Brunello Cucinelli — offer colourful sweaters in cashmere, merino wool and more. More affordably, Gap has a Fair Isle knit in navy, red and green (£49.95), Next does a Marl-pattern zip-neck (£34) and M&S; has gone to town on Christmas prints: if you have a Mark Darcy in your life, I suggest buying him the green cotton crewneck with a sunglasses-wearing Santa on the belly (£19.50). He won’t look cool, by any means. But, even if it must be by force, he will be spreading some much-needed Christmas cheer. Alex Bilmes is editor in chief of Esquire.
News of the death of Chuck Yeager last week, aged 97, prompted tributes across the aerospace world to ‘the man who broke the sound barrier’. As a young US Air Force test pilot in October 1947, Yeager raced across the sky over California’s Mojave desert in a bullet-shaped experimental plane called the Bell X-1. It marked the start of the celebrated era in American military aviation that was chronicled in such dizzying style by Tom Wolfe in his 1979 book The Right Stuff. (Yeager, wrote Wolfe, was ‘the most righteous’ of all who possessed said stuff.) In most of its essentials, though, the shape of the Bell X-1 was fashioned by British engineers in the home counties. They called it the M.52 and began work on it in 1944 at the main plant of a small manufacturer called Miles Aircraft in Berkshire. It was to be powered by two W.2/700 jet engines – the latest in a succession of highly innovative designs by the man whose pioneering work on jet flight transformed the world of civil as well as military aviation: Frank Whittle. Whittle himself had once been a brave test pilot. As an RAF officer in 1931 he had been seconded briefly to the Royal Navy, to fly planes catapulted off ships. (One of his roles involved making ‘pancake’ landings on the sea, to test the efficiency of newly invented flotation bags. Whittle made several landings, never mentioning to anyone that he couldn’t swim.) He flew at little more than 100mph in those days, in biplanes with wire-braced wings and fabric-covered fuselages. Many great engineers contributed to the astonishing leap in aircraft technology that led from those biplanes to supersonic flight less than 20 years later.
Well, you can’t say Matt Hancock didn’t try – but his Tear System just wasn’t working. This morning, the Health Secretary was skipping around Central London on his daily broadcast round, when he stopped by the Good Morning Britain studio to avoid some more of Piers Morgan’s questions and generally congratulate himself. But when ITV showed him a clip of 81 year-old William Shakespeare becoming the second Briton to receive the coronavirus vaccine, he did something weird. Not just Hancock weird (giggling with tired delirium at nothing funny, eating a waffle on air, insisting he likes grime), either. As the camera cut back to him, he was… sort of, wiping his eye? Crying? Trying to cry? Eyes closed, head bowed, he dragged his hand across his face a few more times – but where were the tears? His eyes weren’t even red. Does he possess the necessary ducts? It reminded me of the episode of The Simpsons in which Mr Burns gets a vaccination, only for the needle to emerge on the other side of his arm completely dry (“Try this arm, I saw some blood in there the other day!”).
This column’s favourite royal family saga is back on TV. No, not The Royals with Liz Hurley, much as there is, surely, to admire there. No, nor The Windsors with Harry Enfield, chucklesome as that may be. We (I’m employing the royal “we”) mean The Crown, a show that has many epic qualities but most excitingly, for men’s style snobs, offers the opportunity to ogle the most impeccable men’s formal wardrobe ever assembled, or at least the Netflix costume department’s recreation of it. The fanciest of fancy duds belong, of course, to Prince Charles, played by the superb Josh O’Connor. (Much will doubtless be made of his co-star Emma Corrin’s outfits as Princess Diana, but us menswear honchos pity such fripperies; we know that, of that unhappy couple, Charles is the true style icon.) I interviewed O’Connor for Esquire in the summer, and, unaccountably (I blame the editor), one of the bits that didn’t make the final cut was our chat about the amazing clothes the actor wears. The Prince of Wales has long been recognized as the greatest living exemplar of what the French call le style Anglais: traditional, conservative tailoring, with a rakish twist. Unlike O’Connor, I have (briefly) met Prince Charles. This was at a party in the garden of St James’s Palace. I was introduced by his stepson, Tom Parker Bowles. Ghastly arriviste that I am I was dressed, as they say, to the nines. Tom was in his usual uniform of casual dishevelment. “Look at your shoes!” said Tom’s stepdad. We looked at Tom’s shoes. They appeared to have been run over by a Land-Rover. I looked at my own shoes. They were neurotically shiny and — even more infra dig — brand new. The royal brogues had the deep, rich patina of centuries-old mahogany. I marveled at them. “These shoes must be older than you are,” said the Prince. We established that in fact they were, by a couple of years. They’d be closing in on 50 by now, a compelling advertisement for the craftsmanship of the cobblers of Northampton. Charles is our most prominent champion of the best type of sustainable fashion: buy the best you can possibly afford, wear it until it falls apart, repair it, wear it again. As The Crown arrives in the 1980s, we see Charles find his trademark look. The day I met him he was wearing a dove grey double-breasted suit from Anderson & Sheppard, pale blue business shirt, almost certainly Turnbull & Asser, tightly knotted tie. He might not be our most cutting-edge icon of cool, but even the most ardent republican would be hard pressed to pretend that HRH does not cut a dash. Whatever he wears, he looks like himself. And as Josh O’Connor proves, if someone else wears it correctly, they can look like him, too. That’s style. Alex Bilmes is editor in chief of Esquire. Shopping by Hikmat Mohammed
It is commonly acknowledged that we wear fragrance for one (or a combination) of three basic reasons; to smell fresh, to empower us and to provide a reliable accomplice in the art of seduction. There is however a fourth – the potential to unlock memories and warm the heart by tapping into familiarity and nostalgia. These emotive connotations are the most interesting. The majority of winter scents fall into three categories; Alpine-inspired, those abundant with rich autumnal fruits like pomegranate or plum, and those made with incense, resins and rare spices from the Middle East. Bvlgari Man has a stellar Alpine fragrance called Glacial Essence; a bracing blend of Alaska cedar wood, frosted ginger and sparkling juniper berries. Molton Brown has introduced a juniper berry-infused cocktail to its collection, influenced by the decadent party age of the 1920s. But for me, the ultimate “winter wonderland in a bottle” experience is Kapitel 12, from Skandinavisk; a celebration of Denmark. The spiced-fruits category is my favourite. Jo Loves Smoked Plum and Leather explains itself really; an aromatic mix of tanned bridle leather and aged cognac, plum liquor and cinnamon. The standout of the season however has to be Jo Malone London’s Orange Bitters cologne, a limited edition fragrance that is only available at Christmas (making it even more special in my book), made from sweet orange, bitter orange, mandarin and rich prune, on a bed of creamy sandalwood and amber. 12 scents of Christmas
On his desk at home in Los Angeles, Sir Patrick Stewart keeps an old photograph of the part that, in seven decades of celebrated performances, may well have had the greatest impact on his life. It shows him on stage in Stratford-upon-Avon in 1981, playing the monstrous Leontes in Ronald Eyre’s RSC production of The Winter’s Tale. Stewart, who was then 40 years old, had originally told Eyre he “couldn’t possibly take the role.” Leontes was so violent, so filled with rage, that the idea frightened him. “He said to me, ‘Yes you can. And the reason you can play it is that I know he’s inside you. What I’m going to ask you to do is let him out,’” Stewart recalls. But Eyre didn’t know the real story. “He didn’t know the story, no. He was just extraordinarily observant.” The “story” is one Stewart has been coming to terms with for most of his life: that throughout his early childhood, he witnessed frequent, horrific acts of domestic violence committed by his father against his mother. “I am 80 years old,” he says, “and I am still in therapy. I see someone every week here in Los Angeles, who I have seen on and off for nearly 20 years. I’m still searching myself, still asking questions of myself, and that is certainly the case when I try to recall what it felt like to be in the middle of violence, and there being nothing I can do.” On a video call, Stewart’s unmistakable polished pate appears two or three times to say hello and show me things in the house, but he otherwise finds it easier to talk – especially about this subject – with his camera off, letting those stentorian tones do the work.