Friday, 21 April 2017

THE QUEEN'S SECRETS





Our longest-serving monarch celebrates her ninety-first birthday. We pause and ponder. The image that swirls is one of snowy froth and crinkled eyes, a discreetly-slicked lip, trusty pearl and diamond earrings, a triple-rope pearl necklace, a glinting brooch. Robust hat and handbag. The Anello & Davide shoes that somebody else wears in for her. Modest, dedicated, dignified public outfits, as befit a head of state. Sovereign. Mummy. Granny. Great-Granny. Long live our gracious Queen.
What was she like as a child? What games did she play? What did she fantasise about? What scared her? She'd survived a world war and was barely a woman when she ascended, before we were born. She was a mother at twenty-two. How did her pregnancies affect her? How did she really feel when she was forced to put duty before motherhood, and leave her children for long periods? What about her surgeries, her dental treatment, her menopause, her ninety-one birthday cakes? What did she think about the Munich air disaster, Beatlemania, England winning the World Cup, the assassination of JFK, the EEC, the miners' strikes, Watergate, Concorde, Red Rum, Thatcher, Lady Di, the Falklands, Reagan, the IRA, Live Aid, Fergie, Lockerbie, Mandela, the royal divorces, the burning of Windsor castle, AIDS, the Euro, 9/11, Camilla, Obama, Michael Jackson's demise, William and Kate, George and Charlotte, Blair, Cameron, May, ISIS, Brexit, the relentless crowds of subjects thronging beyond the gates of Windsor and of Buckingham Palace? The huge headlines that have punctuated her reign read like a variation on Billy Joel's 'We Didn't Start the Fire'. It was always burning, since the world's been turning ... and inside, a fragile woman, an ordinary mortal, with the most extraordinary story to tell.

What I wouldn't give to read her autobiography. What I wouldn't give to write it. She will all too soon be gone. The dense linings of her heart, her throbbing thoughts, a lifetime of echoes piled and toppling from the groaning shelves of her mind, will soon be gone too. Halted. Silenced. Done. Ninety, ninety-five, a hundred years of precious, priceless memories will be wasted. It is thus for all of us. Unless we write them down. Why didn't she?

Friday, 14 April 2017

BECKHAM: THE BLAND LEADING THE BRAND




'Poor kid,' withered Piers Morgan. 'Brand it like Beckham,' sneered everyone else. 'It is unprecedented to trademark a five year-old,' admitted the UK Intellectual Property Office. But trademark her little girl is precisely what Victoria Beckham has gone and done. Not exclusively here, either, either, but right across the European Union. And not only Harper, but also her brothers Brooklyn, Romeo and Cruz. The whole family is trademarked to the threaded eyebrows now. I'm guessing there's also an American deal in there somewhere. To be fair, eighteen year-old Brooklyn is already modelling, lucratively. Romeo, four years his junior, has been strutting the catwalk and the studio since the age of ten, and fronted Burberry's Christmas campaign in 2014. Cruz launched his 'pop career' with a charity Christmas single last year. What was it called, again?
It's a family affair. Not that it is going to help David's damage-limitation campaign, hastily launched after his bitter failed bid for a knighthood. This clan is worth some £500 million and counting. The media, as if they wouldn't, have gone for the throat. The Beckhams' excuse? 'Future-proofing'. So it prevents their baby from being exploited, right? Wrong. Stable door, horse, legging it. Her own parents got there first. There's already a Harper fashion blog (harperbeckhamfashion.blogspot.com/). Brace yourselves for Harper make-up, perfume, dolls, books, films, fashion, music and 'entertainment'. Whatever that means, in this context. Whatever it takes to spice up a rich girl's life.
Tiny stars pay the biggest price for fame. I've had a little first-hand experience of this. Some years ago, when the firstborn was a tot, I walked away from the chance of banking a million bucks. I wouldn't even have had to do very much for it: simply turn over my child to the system, sit back and watch the star-makers do what they do best.
I was sitting beside the pool of the Sunset Marquis, West Hollywood. Mia was playing with the lead singer of 10,000 Maniacs. Bruce Springsteen was reading at a table nearby. Grace Jones was creaming her legs on a sun lounger. The usual. The studio casting director who approached me did not mince his words.
'Take my advice, baby,' he said. Not that I'd asked for it. 'Drop your typewriter in the toilet and get your ass out here on a permanent basis. You are sitting on a million dollars. I've seen cute, and that is as cute as cute gets. Believe me, we are talking Macaulay Culkin's little English cousin in 'Home Alone 3'. She is IT. we'd like her to do a screen test.'
Reader, I confess. I considered the offer. Until next morning, when I dialled him to decline. Could I imagine living with a Drew Barrymore in ten years' time? Whom stardom turned into an alcoholic, sex-crazed, narcotic-addicted teen whose own mother disowned her? I'll give it a swerve, thanks. His response: 
'You screw up the kid's life, you'll have the money to pay for the therapist.'
To get them off my back, I agreed to them 'at least' shooting some footage in the grounds of the hotel. Mia put on a floaty dress and my lipgloss, and skipped in and out of the flowerbeds. The director swooned. I stood imagining people asking her for her autograph in supermarkets. I felt a cringe coming on.
Oh sure, there are child stars who survive to well-adjusted adulthood. Shirley Temple, Jodie Foster and Brooke Shields spring to mind. Mara Wilson, the little girl in 'Matilda'. But for each of them, a Macaulay Culkin - who toppled off the rails in spectacular style, and divorced his parents. A Lindsay Lohan. A Miley Cyrus. A Gary Coleman. A Britney. A Justin. Sometimes, they recover and get a grip. Or they do a Michael Jackson. I'm betting Victoria Beckham has never heard of Bobby Driscoll. A movie star at six, an Oscar-winner at eleven. By the age of seventeen he was a junkie has-been, arrested countless times on robbery, forgery and drug charges. In 1968, his corpse was uncovered in an abandoned New York tenement. The body was not formally identified. The child star who had earned $60,000 a year was buried in a pauper's grave. 

Planet stardom is a precarious place. A parallel universe. Incomprehensible. It is inhabited by the desperate, which is what such folk are, no matter how much money they've got. They all become has-beens in the end. It is not a place for normal people. Thank your lucky stars that you're not them.

Sunday, 9 April 2017

BRIAN MATTHEW: KILLED SOFTLY WITHOUT A SONG




Take away the thing a man lives for, and he loses the will to live. Deprive him of the single pursuit that gave shape and meaning to the otherwise bleak process of shuffling heavily towards the grave, and you puncture a person's soul. This is what The BBC did to Brian Matthew when they kicked him off Sounds of the Sixties. They as good as killed him softly without a song.
Not content with the slaughter, they proceeded to make insensitive bordering on callous comments in the press; to re-jig the schedule and appoint successors in a way that clearly left no possibility of an eventual return. Then, to add the greatest of insults to the untimely injury, they falsely announced his death, a full three days before he expired. What I've been told is that his family prepared a statement in readiness for the inevitable, which was then passed to the BBC to hold on file. There is nothing suspicious or out of the ordinary about this. When I started out on staff at the Daily Mail, I was regularly placed on 'obit duty', updating the substantial obituaries of luminaries that were kept, ready to roll. I remember rewriting Elton John's and Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother's on the same day. Which had symmetry, when you think about it. But the blessed BBC stuffed up, and rushed to declare that Brian had already died. The error was unforgivable. They have not apologised publicly for it.
The last time I saw Brian was in the BBC studio where he recorded his show with producer Phil Swern, with whom I was going next door to the BBC Club for a glass of wine or four. Brian declined to join us. His carriage awaited, he said. He had to get home, he added. To Pam? 'To nothing, really,' he replied, mournfully. 'I get up to nothing, and I go home to nothing. I'd live here in the studio if I could.' Which was no insult at all to his stalwart wife. She knew her husband inside out. She knew to give him room.

We all know the man as a legend. He was also a man of honesty, dignity and integrity, who was so proud to be an important part of our rich industry heritage. He will be forever missed. God rest you, dear Brian Matthew. You were not only the voice of the Sixties. You were the voice-over of our lives.