Etiquette: I'm sorry (and I don't have a clue)

It's easier than ever to make a grand statement of an apology. Which makes it easier to mess it up, too...

Nick Clegg looked earnestly into the camera and began: "I'd like to take this opportunity to put a few things straight…" In the online clip filmed at his home in south-west London, Clegg apologises that his party did not stick to their pre-election promise to vote against any rise in university tuition fees. "We made a pledge, we didn't stick to it and for that I am sorry," Clegg continued. "When you've made a mistake, you should apologise." The admission has shocked Westminster, just days before the Liberal Democrat party conference. Some thought the public would find the apology a refreshing move for a politician, while others pointed out that it just served to remind the nation of their betrayal.

And by using the internet, Clegg was able to reach the biggest audience possible. Sure enough, by the following morning the two and a half minute clip was the subject of much mockery, even being remixed by a satirical website, The Poke. Using autotune on the Deputy Prime Minister's plea for forgiveness, it was set to a backing track and instantly became ahit, with the DPM seeming, much to his credit, to grant – via his Twitter account - permission for its release as a charity single.

Because if you're sorry – really sorry – for doing something, how else should you admit your remorse but in the most public way imaginable? Ever since Henry II submitted to public flagellation in 1172 as penance for the murder of Thomas Becket two years earlier, public figures have been apologising for their actions. Also using the internet to say how sorry they were this week was Alex Reid, reality television star, cage fighter and Katie Price's ex-lover, who was apologising to his fiancée and mother of his young daughter, Big Brother star Chantelle Houghton. He took the rather romantic step of uploading a video to the website of Now! Magazine. The clip sees Reid begging for her back and praying for things to change. Sure, he could have just sent her an email but by sharing his regret with the world, he could have hoped to endear himself to his ex.

At least that must have been the wish of one heartbroken mystery man (or, possibly – judging by the smart design – a clever viral marketing company) who left his silver VW vehicle parked beside the George Reynolds industrial estate outside Shildon, County Durham, scrawled with apologies.

"LINDA I'M SORRY, I'M A FOOL AND AN IDIOT SOMETIMES" the van read, before concluding with a marriage proposal.

These days it seems that if you really want to show remorse, you have to go big; the bigger, the better. But by making these apologies so public the person at fault has certainly set themselves up for ridicule. That all three pleas quickly became internet memes can only confirm this.

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