Review of 1998: It started with the pigs

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
Love had a happy ending for Mandela if not for Monica. Ireland trembled on the brink of peace; Iraq on the brink of war. Cole Moreton on 1998, a year in which a world depression loomed - but Viagra raised spirits


The year began with good news for City fat cats: stocks were up, bonuses at record levels and doctors said dieting was dangerous. The cream went sour pretty quickly, though, as the Asian crisis became so serious that the IMF had to bail out several nations with emergency payments. Mo Mowlam risked her neck to rescue the Northern Ireland peace process by meeting loyalist prisoners inside the Maze. Back in London, one of her cabinet colleagues endured great embarrassment because his son had been caught selling cannabis to a tabloid reporter. Everybody knew who it was but couldn't say, until Jack Straw (a Home Secretary who steadfastly refused to chill out about drugs) admitted that yes, the guilty party was his boy William. Peter Mandelson took a trip, seeking inspiration for the Millennium Dome in Disneyland, Florida - but he took great pains to avoid being seen with the Mouse. President Clinton was less discreet. His wife dismissed emerging details of a fling with a young intern called Monica as "absolutely false", and Hillary stood by her man when he appeared on live television. Wagging his finger and looking the world in the eye, the President insisted: "Listen to me ... I did not have sexual relations with that woman." The Pope went to Cuba, Fidel Castro having declared Christmas a national holiday in his honour. The mother of a 13-year-old Californian girl was convicted of child abuse, after allowing her to die bed-bound weighing 49 stone. Gales battered Britain, and a freak tornado destroyed the village of Selsey in West Sussex. Two ginger Tamworth pigs fled for their lives after escaping from an abattoir in Wiltshire. Butch and Sundance were on the run for several days before being captured and taken in by an animal sanctuary. They brought home the bacon by touring the country, charging pounds 1,500 a time for personal appearances.


Boris Yeltsin warned of a Third World War as Tony met Bill in Washington and prepared to bomb Iraq. Karla Faye Tucker, a 36-year-old born-again Christian who had murdered two people 15 years earlier, was poisoned by a Texan executioner; she chose fruit and salad for her last supper. The Mayor of New York refused to consider the repatriation of the original Winnie the Pooh, Piglet and Eeyore toys from a glass cabinet in the city's public library. Danbert Nobacon of Chumbawamba took the law into his own hands at the Brits pop awards ceremony when he poured cold water over John Prescott - he said he was angry that the Government had sold out the striking Liverpool dockers. He used a champagne bucket. The Belgians do these things differently, as the founder of Microsoft, Bill Gates (worth pounds 23bn at the time), found out when a custard pie was thrown in his face in Brussels. "Lead us not into temptation" became "Save us from the time of trial" as the General Synod meddled with the Lord's Prayer, but neither version worked for Ross Rebagliati. He lost his gold medal for snowboarding at the Winter Olympics in Japan after testing positive for marijuana. Britain's only medal was a bronze in the bobsleigh. Guy Snowden resigned from the National Lottery organiser Camelot after the High Court decided he had tried to bribe Richard Branson. The Lord Chancellor stayed, despite the stink over the pounds 650,000 refurbishment of his apartment. And a personal intervention by Tony Blair saved Bart's Hospital (where, quite coincidentally, all three of his children were born). Bombs were about to fall on Baghdad when the UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, flew there to pursue his "sacred duty" of preventing war, and managed it, for the moment. Confidence in our brave boys was dented slightly when a Harrier jet heading for the Gulf accidentally dropped two huge fuel tanks on a village in France.


Alarmed at the poor state of British farming and the threat of a ban on hunting, everyday rural folk marched on London. The organisers said 284,500 people were on the Countryside March, but independent observers saw only half as many. The Chancellor quelled discontent among teachers, nurses and commuters by announcing ambitious spending plans in the budget, to be paid for by drivers, drinkers, smokers and prudence. When The Full Monty was released on video one of its stars, Steve Huison, announced from his allotment that he had been paid only the Equity minimum for stripping off in a film that had made pounds 50m in Britain alone. As Bill Gates defended his company's aggressive marketing policies to the American Senate, hackers were freezing Windows systems in the US Navy and Nasa. This didn't stop the space agency from announcing that it had found water on the moon. A long way from the Sea of Tranquillity, Serbia declared elections in Kosovo illegal and sent in its special police force to terrorise the province. The shooting of two men in a Northern Irish bar shocked even the most cynical observers when it emerged that one of the life-long best friends was a Protestant and the other a Catholic. In Latin America, General Augusto Pinochet wept as he stood down from control of his nation's army - but the former dictator of Chile was made a senator for life. Jack Straw refused to allow Roisin McAliskey to be extradited to Germany to face allegations of terrorism, deeming it an unjust and oppressive way to treat a young woman who was ill in hospital. Boris Yeltsin was written off by many as too unwell to govern, but rose from his sickbed to sack his entire government. The last tin-miners in Britain were laid off with the closure of the South Crofty mine in Cornwall.


Good Friday lived up to its name for once. The deadline came and went but the talks about the future of Ireland carried on, day and night, with decisive interventions by President Clinton on the telephone. Finally, the various parties appeared (separately) on the steps of Stormont Castle to announce a deal that included a new assembly for Northern Ireland. While the media were looking across the Irish Sea, Robin Cook married his former secretary Gaynor Regan in secret. Friends said he punched the air in delight when he left Tunbridge Wells register office, wearing a green anorak, and found there were no photographers outside. No such luck for George Michael, who squeezed on to the front pages after an undercover police officer caught him engaged in a "lewd act" in a Beverly Hills lavatory. While Michael came to terms with the fact the world now knew about his sexuality, the rather less coy Peter Tatchell of Outrage! stormed the pulpit at Canterbury Cathedral to interrupt the Archbishop's Easter sermon. A more serious offence was committed by the sculptor Anthony-Noel Kelly, sentenced to nine months in prison for stealing human remains from the Royal College of Surgeons to use in his art. The body of Pol Pot was put on display in Cambodia to prove that the Khmer Rouge leader described by many as the most evil man in the world was really dead. The convicted paedophile Sidney Cooke was released from Wandsworth prison, and police played a cat-and-mouse game with vigilantes and protesters as they searched for a place where he could resettle. The best April Fool was by Guinness, which convinced a reputable newspaper with pink pages that it was to sponsor Greenwich Mean Time, renaming it Guinness Mean Time and replacing the pips with drips from a pint.


The state of Israel celebrated its 50th anniversary, but orthodox Jews were disgusted when their nation won the Eurovision Song Contest. They objected not to the song but to the singer, a glamorous transsexual called Dana International. Frank Sinatra, who would not have approved, died. The other contender for ditty of the month was heard when Arsenal won the league and cup double, and fans chanted for their French midfielder Emmanuel Petit: "He's tall, he's quick, his name's a porno flick." One Arsenal fan, the Archbishop of Canterbury, chose to watch his team at Wembley rather than join other Christians among the 50,000 protesters who linked hands outside the G8 summit in Birmingham, asking leaders of the richer nations to break the chains of Third World debt. The summit cost pounds 10m (including the dyeing of dusty roadside verges green for the benefit of the VIPs in passing limousines) but little was achieved. People power was more effective in Indonesia, where students led a revolt that resulted in the resignation of President Suharto. And there was elation once more in Ulster when a referendum endorsed April's peace deal. Things were also looking up for impotent men in the United States, where a new wonder- drug called Viagra was breaking all prescription sales records. India set off five nuclear test explosions. Pakistan ignored pleas not to rise to the bait, and carried out six tests of its own. Old enmities resurfaced in this country when Emperor Akihito of Japan arrived on a state visit. As he was driven down the Mall with the Queen, former prisoners of war turned their backs in protest, burned flags and whistled "Colonel Bogey". The Foreign Office was grateful for this distraction, since embarrassing questions were being asked about its intervention in a military coup in Sierra Leone.


Life was tough for a podgy idol of limited talent who was suddenly out of the team. No, not Ginger Spice - who survived a departure from the Spice Girls and would reinvent herself as Geri Halliwell, UN ambassador for goodwill - but Paul Gascoigne, who struggled to cope with his disappointment at being left out of England's World Cup squad. Tears were shed when the manager, Glenn Hoddle, finally lost patience with him, principally by Gazza himself, who flew back from the training camp in Spain immediately. Louise Woodward also returned home, to Cheshire, after the Supreme Judicial Court in Massachusetts ruled that she was guilty of manslaughter but had served her time. She appeared on Panorama and was interviewed by Martin Bashir, as Diana, Princess of Wales had been. Mohamed al-Fayed was full of conspiracy theories when he appeared before an official French inquiry into Diana's death, and fumed against the "snobs, vultures and bastards" responsible. There were scuffles and bottles thrown outside the Stephen Lawrence inquiry in London, when five men suspected of murdering him arrived to give evidence. The Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Paul Condon, apologised to Doreen and Neville Lawrence for the errors that had allowed their son's killers to escape justice. The Rolling Stones cancelled the British leg of their world tour after a row with the Treasury over new tax laws that would have cost them pounds 10m. Would-be rock stars fared better: aspiring musicians were exempted from the welfare-to-work scheme. Without the exemption their benefit would have been stopped unless they tried to get a proper job. The decision meant they could close the curtains and concentrate on the World Cup, like most of Britain. Flags were draped in unlikely places and not much work was done as Scotland followed a long tradition by crashing out in the first round and England staggered through. They lost on penalties, of course, after an epic game against Argentina in which David Beckham was sent off. The teenager Michael Owen scored one of the greatest World Cup goals ever and was praised by the great Brazilian footballer Pele.


The summer of sport continued as Tim Henman became the first British man since 1973 to reach the semi-finals of Wimbledon. He lost to his American doubles partner Pete Sampras, who went on to win the title for the fifth time in six years. The Olympic sprinter Linford Christie won his libel case against the former bank robber John McVicar, but still had to pay pounds 115,000 costs. The judge, unfamiliar with Mr Christie's groin-hugging Lycra running suits, asked: "What is Linford's lunchbox?" France, the hosts of the World Cup, beat Brazil (whose biggest star, Ronaldo, had suffered a fit before the match) to win it. Many French fans hoped their multi-racial team would be symbolic of a new spirit of tolerance. Or, as one said while he danced in the streets of Paris: "Au revoir, Monsieur Le Pen." More than 25,000 members of the Orange Order took part in a 10- day stand-off with the army after they were prevented from marching down the Garvaghy Road in Drumcree. The stalemate ended in tragedy: the Orangemen stood down after three young brothers were killed in a firebomb attack on a Catholic home. Derek Bentley was posthumously cleared of murdering a policeman 46 years after he was hanged for the crime. Not before time, said his family. So did friends of Nelson Mandela, who married Graca Machel on his 80th birthday. Brian Milton arrived back in Britain after 117 days, having completed the first flight around the world in a microlight aircraft. Seven adventurous insurance workers agreed to walk on hot coals as part of a training exercise, and were subsequently taken to hospital with severe burns.


Terrorists bombed American embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, killing 81 people and injuring 1,200. President Clinton retaliated with air strikes on Afghanistan and the Sudan, saying that the targets were associated with the chief suspect, Osama bin Laden, and that one of them was a weapons factory. Both claims were denied. Whatever the truth, the raids deflected public attention from the Lewinsky affair, at least until the President was forced to testify before a grand jury. Afterwards he went on TV and conceded that he had engaged in a relationship with Monica which was "not appropriate. In fact it was wrong ". Chastity or marriage were the only two lifestyles for Christians, said the Anglican bishops of the world when they met in England for the Lambeth Conference, which takes place every 10 years. Homosexuality was still "against scripture". The retiring film censor, James Ferman, suggested that the laws restricting pornography should be relaxed. The Medicines Control Agency raided a sex shop in Soho and seized 14 imported cases of Viagra, which was not to be licensed until September. Ireland's Olympic triple gold medallist Michelle De Bruin was banned from swimming for four years after being found guilty of tampering with a drugs test. England cricket fans thought they must have taken hallucinogenics when their team beat South Africa to win a Test series against major opposition for the first time in 12 years. Scientists announced that the number of rats in Britain had reached 60 million, one for every human. A car bomb was left next to a school outfitter's in the shopping centre at Omagh, County Down, on a Saturday afternoon, killing 28 people and injuring 200. The group responsible, which called itself the Real IRA, issued an apology.


Gerry Adams renounced violence. The Real IRA declared a ceasefire after its leaders received a quiet but very forceful word from the real IRA. In Spain the Basque separatist group Eta did the same. The Norwegian Prime Minister announced that he was depressed and took a week off. The Dow Jones suffered the second-worst drop in its history and stock markets around the world slumped as the Asian crisis intensified. Russian banks were broke, and half the country was either on strike or had not been paid for months. Nobody was in charge while Boris Yeltsin fought with the Duma over who should be prime minister. Eventually the job went to the compromise candidate Yevgeny Primakov. Bill Clinton visited Moscow, was then applauded in Ireland, and given a standing ovation at the United Nations, on the day that a videotape of his evidence to the grand jury was broadcast all over the world. The independent prosecutor Kenneth Starr published a 445-page report accusing the President of lying under oath. The report attracted much criticism for documenting Clinton's sexual encounters with Monica Lewinsky in great detail. Sixteen prisoners in Ecuador sewed each other's lips together in protest at having been held for a year without trial. Floods in Bangladesh, India and China left at least 50 million people homeless. Helmut Kohl, the German Chancellor who had seen the Berlin Wall come down, was defeated after 16 years in power. The record-breaking runner Florence Griffith-Joyner died at 38. The Queen visited Malaysia to close the Commonwealth Games and came within two miles of the ongoing battles between the police and thousands of anti- government protesters. She signed a football emblazoned with the crest of Manchester United, a club which worried football fans by agreeing to sell to BSkyB for pounds 625m. A survey said British trains were less reliable and punctual than those in India or China - which came as no surprise to Frank Dobson and fellow Labour delegates, delayed on the way to the party conference when a driver failed to turn up on their Virgin train.


Touts charged the public pounds 1,000 a ticket to see a young woman take all her clothes off and simulate sex. The woman received only pounds 40 a night, but she wasn't in it for the money - she was the Hollywood star Nicole Kidman, who boosted her artistic credibility by acting on the London stage in David Hare's The Blue Room. There was at least a slender chance of seeing a woman in the Long Room: the Marylebone Cricket Club voted to admit female members for the first time in two centuries, although most were told to join the 18-year waiting list. The joy expressed by Salman Rushdie when the government of Iran said it would not collude in his murder turned out to be premature. A petition signed by half of the Iranian parliament described the fatwa as a divine order that carried a sentence of "death, today and tomorrow, and to burn in hell for eternity". Hate mail and threats were received by a woman in Norwich who wrote a letter to a local newspaper describing the people of Norfolk as boring. Nato jets were about to strike military targets in Yugoslavia when the US special envoy, Richard Holbrooke, struck a last-minute deal with Slobodan Milosevic, President of Serbia. Unarmed observers were sent to make sure the Serbians withdrew from Kosovo and allowed refugees to return home safely. General Pinochet was arrested as he recovered from a back operation at the London Clinic. A Spanish judge had requested his extradition to face charges of murder and torture. There was uproar in South Africa when the Truth and Reconciliation Commission found that apartheid was a crime against humanity but gross violations of human rights had also been committed by some of those who opposed it, such as Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, Chief Buthelezi and members of the African National Congress. Nobody was quite sure what Ron Davies was guilty of when he resigned suddenly as Secretary of State for Wales, although he did admit to "a serious lapse of judgement" with a stranger on Clapham Common which led to his being robbed at knife-point. The BBC banned all mention of Peter Mandelson's sexuality after the journalist Matthew Parris, discussing the Davies affair on Newsnight, suggested that the Trade and Industry Secretary was gay. A milkman from south Wales, who was given the MBE for services to the community, refused to travel to Buckingham Palace because it would disrupt his round. "The Queen is a very nice lady," said Trevor Jones. "But she isn't worth rushing for."


There was a whiff of revolution in the air at the House of Lords. Peers voted to allow Lord Irvine to wear ordinary trousers and shoes rather than breeches, stockings and buckles. They sent back the Government's plans for electoral reform in the next European elections, and even dared to groan or cheer during the Queen's Speech - unprecedented behaviour which was prompted by the proposal that hereditary peers be abolished. "We were cocked, loaded and ready to go," said a senior Pentagon official, referring to America's preparations for a bombing raid on Iraq. The planes and Cruise missiles were about to be fired when Saddam Hussein made a promise to co-operate with UN weapons inspectors after all. Hurricane Mitch devastated Nicaragua and Honduras in what was described as the worst disaster ever seen in the western hemisphere. Five days of wind and torrential rain killed thousands of people, made at least a million homeless, and left whole towns under water. The hurricane also destroyed the economies of both nations,which were already hamstrung by debt. Britain sent millions of pounds in aid, and called on the IMF and the World Bank to cancel what they were owed. European nations voted to lift the export ban on British beef. The Minister of Agriculture, Nick Brown, was forced to speak publicly about being gay because it had emerged that a tabloid newspaper was on the verge of printing allegations about a past relationship. He carried on working as before. "Stability is a sexy thing," said the Prime Minister - he was talking about the economy. Surgeons at Great Ormond Street separated Siamese twin girls born sharing the same liver.


A painter won the Turner Prize, but the conservative critics still got their annual chance to whinge, because one of the materials used in Chris Ofili's work was dried elephant dung. A member of the public protested by dumping a pile of cow dung on the steps of the Tate Gallery. Scientists announced that they had spent 15 years and pounds 30m pulling apart a worm which liked to live in compost. This was the first time they had managed to unravel the genetic blueprint of a multi-celled animal: Caenorhabditis elegans was so small as to be almost invisible, but its DNA code was 97 million letters long. Oskar Lafontaine, Finance Minister in Gerhard Schroder's new centre-left German government, was branded the most dangerous man in Europe by a British tabloid after he suggested harmonising all of Europe's taxes. Those City cats who had been so fat at the start of the year ended it feeling distinctly queasy, their bonuses having been slashed or postponed after months of global instability and job losses all over Britain. President Clinton visited Israel, and expressed his hopes that the Middle East peace process could be resurrected. Then, with Tony Blair, he launched air and missile strikes against Iraq. John Hume and David Trimble received a joint Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo. "The challenge now," said Hume, "is to grasp and shape history - to show that past grievances and injustices can give way to a new generosity of spirit and action." !