Spare a thought for the rich and famous
The writer and broadcaster Terence Blacker contributes a twice-weekly column on a wide range of social, cultural and environmental issues. He is the author of four novels, of prize-winning fiction for children, and has written a highly praised biography of the brilliant reprobate Willie Donaldson.
Friday 24 December 1999
On the other hand, what the hell. Most of them are so dysfunctional, they have forgotten what privacy is. So let us raise the veil one more time and reveal precisely what our most revered public figures will be doing over the festive season.
For many politicians, of course, these few days are a traumatic, stressful time. With no excuses to nip off to a discreet flat in St John's Wood for a brisk late-night briefing with a research assistant, with no exciting press conferences or appearances on the Today programme, they are left simply to be themselves.
Tetchily they re-introduce themselves to their families, playing party games with a frantic, wild-eyed joviality. By next Monday or Tuesday, they will be forced to recognise that they have forgotten how to be themselves. A crisis will be manufactured - leadership, new scandal, London mayor; you know how it is, darling - and they will be on their way back to St John's Wood.
But some politicians will be engaging in more useful holiday projects. Peter Mandelson, for example, has checked his new best friend, Bobby, the golden retriever, into the SIT! Clinic, where it is hoped that Bobby's recent off-message behaviour will be cured by the clinic's strict yet friendly social indoctrination training programmes. With the help of a special pager collar, he will soon understand basic commands - "Wag tail!", "Lick face!", "Act zany for the cameras!" - from his master.
Meanwhile, celebrities who find fame a burdensome chore will be seeking inner peace. Those closest to Mohamed al Fayed have known for some time that their employer acts the vulgar potentate only because the tabloids expect it. Essentially a brooding introvert, Mr Fayed has hired out the Millennium Dome's Spirit Zone, where he will retire with a few humble security guards for a period of silence and fasting.
Meekness of that kind is surprisingly prevalent among public figures. Chris Tarrant is so mortified by his part in the weekly celebration of greed and vulgarity that is Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? that he will be spending Christmas Day in London's soup kitchens - an option so popular that, in some hostels, the unfortunate homeless may be outnumbered by caring celebrities.
The great writer Howard Jacobson will be ladling soup, AA Gill has told his family that this year he has a "higher calling" and the country's leading communist, Julie Burchill, the Diana of Brighton, will be moving among the common people, dispensing warmth and kindness.
It will be a more memorable Christmas for others. Neil Hamilton, Jeffrey Archer and Jonathan Aitken are on an aversion therapy course, during which anything less than the whole truth will be punished by a sharp, painful shock - or, in the case of Aitken, the lack of a sharp, painful shock.
Later in the season, the comic novelist Joseph Connolly will do something he has not done for years: shave. Owner of a beard so enormous that Hampstead fire officers have declared it an official fire hazard during the dry season, Connolly has promised to reveal his face if not invited to the Dome on New Year's Eve. Charlie Dimmock and a task force of topiarists are standing by for their toughest assignment to date.
Bear these people in mind as you settle down tomorrow in domestic contentment. They have given much over the past year and deserve your thoughts and sympathy as you all enjoy, I hope, a very happy Christmas.
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