Terence Blacker: Saying sorry – a user's manual

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The Independent Online

Every day brings news of fresh apologies. Researching for my song "The Sorry News", which celebrates the art of public apology, I began to appreciate the many shades of sorry.

1. The full grovel. Surprisingly, perhaps, Richard Nixon pioneered this. One moment, in the famous interview with David Frost, he was his usual defiant self, the next that oddly noble face crumpled.

2. The micro-apology. Almost my favourite apology features – briefly – FIFA president Sepp Blatter. Little eyes darting, lips hardly moving, he mutters "I'm sorry" so quickly that he might have been burping.

3. The waffle. Involves embedding the apology so deeply in subordinate clauses that it is almost, but not quite, lost. The best current practitioner is Boris Johnson.

4. The sincere, it's-a-fair-cop apology. You, or your organisation, have been caught doing a bad thing. The only sensible approach, as exemplified by Rebekah Brooks, is a brisk expression of general regret.

5. The ho-ho sorry. Turns a confession into a comic routine, so Jonathan Ross, for instance, or Russell Brand, somehow emerges even more lovably vulnerable than he was before.

6. Full hysteria. Works best for Americans. Jimmy Swaggart, the dodgy preacher, pulls it off brilliantly.

7. The don't-give-a-stuff state apology. Deployed by David Cameron (Bloody Sunday), this model is straightforward, with minimal sincerity, and aims to head off complaint as effortlessly as possible.

8. Extra-strength sincerity. Watch Bill Clinton at work. What this master of PR manages to do is not only to appear sincere but to remind us of their sincerity.

9. The publicly personal. The most potent form of contrition is that which seems to be directed at someone close to the apologiser: Tiger Woods addressing his wife through the world's media.

10. The off-camera apology. The canniest operators – take a bow, Jeremy Clarkson – ensure that, however many times they have to say sorry, it is always in relatively harmless print. Paper fades, but the image of the tearful eye, the croaky voice, lives on.