New York Confidential: How we told America we'd lost the plot...

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The Independent Culture
LAST WEDNESDAY I went to a party at Saks Fifth Avenue to celebrate what was billed as the "British Invasion Part II". The first part of the British invasion, needless to say, was the one led by Sir Paul McCartney rather than Sir Walter Raleigh, but every single Brit at the party pointed out this ambiguity, thinking that they alone had noticed it.

The real purpose of the event was to publicise a week-long exhibition of British designers at Saks called "London Now", a rather belated attempt to jump on the Cool Britannia bandwagon.

My next-door neighbour, Hutton Swinglehurst, offered to lend me his Union Jack shirt for the occasion. I initially thought this was a good idea, since it might result in being photographed by all the paparazzi standing outside. (I've always wanted to hold my hands up in front of my face and pretend I don't want my photograph taken.)

However, my desire not to look like a wally eventually overcame my desire to see my picture in the paper, and I wore a Richard James shirt instead. This turned out to be a wise decision since, in the event, I was one of the few Brits present who wasn't wearing a Union Jack shirt.

The event was co-chaired by Liz Tilberis, the editor of Harper's Bazaar, and Trudie Styler, Sting's wife. No doubt they're doing their best to promote Britain's interests in the only way they know how, but occasions such as these only serve to remind America just how negligible Britain's influence has become. Fifty years ago, when the Anglo-American establishment ruled the world, there was no need to promote British taste. The slogan of the American ruling class then was "dress British, think Yiddish". Savile Row tailoring was popular because it was thought to be timeless and low-key.

Nowadays, the only way to market British style is to try to present it as vibrant and of-the-moment. I suppose this ties in with Tony Blair's attempt to re-brand Britain as a modern, classless society, the centre of the United States of Europe, rather than the colonial power of old. (Incidentally, Tony and Cherie were the honorary chairmen of the event, though neither of them bothered to show up.) To my mind, Margaret Thatcher was a better salesman for Britain, with her shameless appeal to our glorious imperial past. Admittedly it was hokum, but it was the kind of hokum the Americans consume by the bucket-load. By sending out a radically different message, Blair will succeed only in de-branding Britain, leaving us with no real identity.

SHORTLY AFTER Clinton had testified before Ken Starr's Grand Jury, and Zippergate reached a new level of intensity, I bet my friend John Micklethwait, the New York bureau chief of The Economist, that Clinton would still be in office at the end of this year. At the time this seemed quite likely so I foolishly gave him odds of 7 to 3. Now that Starr has handed in his report, and Clinton's fellow Democrats have begun to distance themselves from him, the chances of his hanging on beyond the November Congressional elections are more like 50-50.

My fears were exacerbated by a trip to my local photocopy shop earlier this week. On the counter, alongside a sign saying "Shoplifters will be beaten to death", is a little figurine of Clinton with horns and a ring through his nose. Next to him sits his dog, Buddy, clutching a pair of pink, lacy knickers in his mouth embroidered with the letters "ML".

The only thing that may save Clinton is the growing awareness among Democrats that if he does go, Al Gore will become President. That means that Newt Gingrich, who as Speaker of the House will be the next in line for the presidency, will be only a heartbeat away from becoming the leader of the free world.

THE NEWS that the rapper Big Baby Jesus of the Wu-Tang Clan has been shot in a robbery attempt reminds me of a story I heard about him. Last year, back when Big Baby Jesus went by the name of Ol' Dirty Bastard, a friend of mine had the unenviable task of booking air tickets to fly the Wu-Tang Clan from New York to Los Angeles. She works for an LA production company which was making a video to promote the Clan's latest single.

Whenever you take a domestic flight in America you have to show some identification to the airline's check-in staff so that they can make sure the name on your ID coincides with the name on your ticket. Consequently, my friend had to call up all the members of the Wu-Tang Clan and find out what their real names were, so that she could book their tickets.

"Jus' put `Ol' Dirty Bastard'," said the rapper (pictured below) who now goes by the name of Big Baby Jesus.

"But does it say `Ol' Dirty Bastard' in your passport?" my friend politely inquired.

"Say what, bitch?" replied Ol' Dirty Bastard.

In the end she gave up. It could have been worse. She might have had to book an airline ticket for the squiggle formerly known as the artist formerly known as Prince.

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