Zorro, Sophie and Des

It now looks like Desmond Lynam won't get to be the new Poet Laureate, after all
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The Independent Culture
HOW CAN they be so disobliging? Twice in quick succession, heroic British public figures have been let down by the unhelpful revelations, of ungrateful foreigners.

Last week, the lovely Mrs Margaret Cook revealed in a tantalising morsel from her autobiography, A Slight and Delicate Creature, that she'd had it off with a 38-year-old tour guide called Carlos Renalde in an exciting- sounding territory called the Rio Legarto Cocha on the border or Ecuador and Peru. Very liberating, she described it, as well as "transforming of outlook - and inlook - and of expectations for the rest of my life".

Mrs Cook's natural capacity to talk like a fourth-rate agony aunt did not, apparently, dampen the enthusiasm of her swarthy beau on the Rio Legover, and they were, she said, "an item" for a fortnight. No we weren't, said the horrible Carlos when The Mail on Sunday caught up with him: "I was her doctor, psychologist and psychiatrist rolled into one. Any romance was all in her head". The swine.

And now up pops a Danish dentist called Hans to put a spoke in the Prime Minister's wheel. Hans Joergensen was the chap whom Mr Blair rescued from drowning last week. The way that we heard about it first, Hans had been in trouble half a mile out from shore in a tropical force niner when he was spotted by Mr Blair.

Careless of risk to life, limb and the British economy, the PM had dashed into the waves, carrying one of those little red bags all the lifeguards are issued on Baywatch, driven through the crashing breakers like a torpedo, grabbed the stricken orthodontist and ferried him back to shore while simultaneously fighting off a Portuguese man-of-war jellyfish and outpacing a contingent of armed-to-the-teeth Filipino pirates, applied mouth-to- mouth resuscitation on the beach surrounded by swooning and appreciative Seychellian lovelies in ruched bathing costumes, performed a dazzling Hickman manoeuvre upon the supine Scandanavian, fed him a reviving broth of his own devising and, while the waterlogged dentist gradually revived, entertained the crowd with card tricks and demonstrations of swordplay, in the style of The Mask of Zorro. Now that, we all agreed, is a Prime Minister worth voting for.

Later we heard that it wasn't exactly like that. Blair and the captain of his boat had set off in a dinghy to get better reception for his mobile phone (a likely story), had seen Joergensen signalling to them, 500 yards offshore and, assuming that he was trouble, had hauled him in. A lesser tale, but still, it was a nice thing to do.

Now the Viking ingrate claims he was merely waving, not drowning, and that it was "absurd and ridiculous" to suggest Blair had saved his life. He had, he said, just been hitching a ride. He was never in trouble at all.

Mr Joergensen's response reminds me of the reply given by a Polish count I once knew, when, after a morning's fox-hunting, we all met in a Galway pub to lick our wounds, and, surveying the aristocrat's noble jodhpured frame, which was covered, indeed drenched and saturated, with mud from head to toe, we asked at what point he'd fallen off his horse.

"I didn't fall off," he said with dignity. "I got off." But doesn't it seem rather aptly New Labour that the PM should be floating around in an unseaworthy craft, mobile phone clamped to his ear, spot a chap enjoying himself, do his damnedest to get him " on board", offer gratuitous interventions upon his privacy and then take credit, later on, for saving his life?

SOPHIE RHYS-JONES has apparently "begged" the Queen not to make her a princess, for fear of having to endure slighting comparisons with the late Princess of Wales.

It's a little on the late side for that, of course - her hairstyle, her strawberry-blondeness, her fashion sense and her, how shall I put this, child-bearing hindquarters, have all suffered already from the light cast by the Spencer madonna - but you have to admire such an impulse. It makes you wonder if she begged Prince Edward not to propose to her for five years.

Looking at the photographs of the happily affianced pair last week, especially the gleam of Ms Rhys-Jones's bared teeth as the Prince bestows on her possibly the most grudging and insincere kiss since the one in the Garden of Gethsemane, you can almost hear them begging each other not to make too much of it. Go easy on the passion, old girl. Whoa there, tiger. Steady the buffs, old thing. It was a remarkable display of dormant sexuality, all that "We're the best of friends" routine, a kind of ground-level commitment to mateyness and teamwork but not to any un-British surgings of blood and rendings of underwear.

You can understand if, course. Poor Prince Edward has suffered over the years from hints that he may not be As Other Men, has for too long been unfeelingly christened "Dockyard Doris" by spiteful theatricals, despite his record of passionate nocturnal creepings along Buck House corridors at three in the morning.

Poor Sophie has suffered from investigations into her "fun-loving" past, in which the kind of behaviour redolent of a normal, healthy, middle-class hoyden in her twenties is held up as rather shocking. The only thing shocking about the "I Shagged Sophie in a Potting Shed" story published in the Sunday People yesterday was that she could have forgotten herself with such a boor.

When I met her, five years ago and only on the phone, she was sweet and pleasant and in full PR-girl mode. She was promoting a charity, I was editing a magazine and she wanted some coverage. Only, I said, if we can do an interview with the Famous Person who's headlining the event.

No, she said, can't you just run a piece about the good cause? "Fraid not," I said, "for it has no topspin upon it." " Really," she said with a little asperity. "Why do you journalists have to be so cynical?"

Two things occurred to me. One, that she sounded exactly like Prince Edward did when he upbraided the assembled hacks for their "cynical" lack of enthusiasm at the end of It's A Royal Knockout. And two, that it was rare indeed for a woman who had spent more than a week in PR to assume that journalists would be anything else. It sounded like the words of a girl who had just turned into a royal. Perhaps it was just the start of a five-year apprenticeship.

NOW THAT Derek Walcott is odds-on favourite to become Poet Laureate, it looks like Des Lynam won't get it after all. Mr Lynam's name was included on the list of Laureate possibilities monitored by William Hill over the last few weeks because of the moving way he read out Kipling's "If" at the end of the BBC's Paris-based coverage of the World Cup last summer. We assumed his 100-1 outsider status was a kind of joke; but how wrong can you be?

A new CD is about to appear in the shops, in which Mr Lynam recites a couple of dozen favourite poems from Betjeman, Auden and Roger McGough - and puts in one of his own. Introducing the selection, he modestly suggests that its inclusion might cast doubt on the sanity of his BBC producer, but I don't think so.

The single extant published work by Desmond Lynam, poet, is called "The Silly Isles" It is a withering indictment of the Falklands war. I can't quote it all here, but it begins, "Politicians without their guile,/ Army hawks without a smile/ Did send out men eight thousand miles/ to claim some rocks ...", includes a brief history of Britain's claim to the islands and concludes: "But when the Exocets are fired,/ When men are dead and others tired,/ Those sad grey rocks won't half have cost/ A lot." There now.

This is a fine example of just the kind of public verse to which the Poet Laureate is supposed to aspire. Is it too late for the Prime Minister and the Royal Society of Literature to reconsider?