The Year of Modesty
By Hugh Montgomery
If any truism rang true in 2011, it was that celebrities were human beings too – a fact you could hear straight from the horse's mouth! "Most so-called 'celebrities' are just people who happened to become singers or actors or footballers..." opined Leveson star Hugh Grant, "and then also happened... to become successful." And, lo, he was followed into the witness chair by numerous A-listers, their tales of hounding inducing paroxysms of guilt among us showbiz gluttons. Slowly, we vowed to wean ourselves off the Mail Online "sidebar of shame" and survive on the gruel of ironic broadsheet columns.
Not that all celebrities should rest easy this year. For if showbiz hacks were pilloried for their shamelessness, then shameless fame-seekers are in for it, too. What are they, after all, but traitors to the virtuous, "just happen to be famous" cause? Indeed, from Joey Barton's Twitter tirade against the "helmets" of The Only Way is Essex to Daniel Craig's vilification of the Kardashians, celebrity class warfare looms large in 2012. Yes, nascent famous people, modesty is the thing from hereon: when there are fundamental privacy rights to fight for, an OK! "at home" spread or birthday sing-song for an Eastern European dictator simply will not do. Just look at the stars de nos jours for inspiration. There's Adele, whose extraordinarily ordinary rider – organic muesli and lager – merited levels of press coverage usually reserved for Lindsay Lohan DUI incidents. And Ryan Gosling, a paragon of doe-eyed sweetness as likely to go nuts on a chat-show as he is to star in a Michael Bay blockbuster.
Hell, even D-listers are valorising restraint. Check out Myleene Klass, not known for her Rousseauian adherence to the simple life but now loftily reflecting on the exalted joys of a "secret" wedding. Meanwhile, Mark Wright, TOWIE roué-turned-Nice Guy™, has left the show, upset at being portrayed as "an exaggerated version of me", with others exiting in his wake.
And what about Twitter? Yes, even this vortex of self-promotion can be calibrated to the modern celebrity's modest needs: forget the humblebrag and say hello to the haterz retweet, as popularised by the likes of Robbie Savage, whereby celebrities rebroadcasting messages of abuse reflects both the toxicity of the sender and the self-effacing self-assurance of the recipient.
Modesty, self-effacement, muesli... yes, we're in for a lean year. But on the bright side, all this restraint might restore some mystique to these charmed vessels of our imagination. And if that leaves us wondering about Tara Reid's ambiguous marriage status, well then, so be it.
Hugh Montgomery is a New Review 'Style Shrink'
The Year of Olympic Fall-out
By Andrew Tong
The year of the London Games will get off to a false start as rubbish bins overflow with Olympic mascots bought for Christmas presents. The nation has a new inspiration for burning off the excesses of the festive season as we buy cut-price Team GB leisurewear in the sales and join a taekwondo club, start a handball team or go running in the dark, burning torches in our hands. It's hard to tell if your neighbour is training for the discus or just can't fit into non-elasticated clothing any more.
The torch relay begins on 19 May and will pass through more than 1,000 towns and villages within 10 miles of 95 per cent of the UK's population. The test events continue apace at the Olympic venues, with gymnastics at the Greenwich Arena, the Track Cycling World Cup at the Velodrome, swimming and the Diving World Cup at the Aquatics Centre, and finally athletics in the Olympic Stadium itself.
Meanwhile, the four-year Cultural Olympiad culminates in the London Festival, which opens on midsummer's day. There's David Hockney at the Royal Academy, Shakespeare at the British Museum, and a Damon Albarn opera about a multi-disciplined Elizabethan called Dr Dee. Even football might be cast in the shade should Manchester City run away with the Premier League title and England make a predictable early exit from the European Championships in June.
But football will have its way: mid-summer transfer dealings will no doubt dominate the back pages, and its Olympic tournament even contrives to kick off two days before the opening ceremony. That showpiece will be hard-pressed to justify its £80m budget, let alone outdo Beijing's extravaganza, but if Boris Johnson's hair catches fire as the Olympic torch arrives in the stadium, it may be deemed the most innovative yet.
Some Olympic ticket-holders may not make it back in time from Euro 2012 and the Ukrainian railway system to attend their allocated events. Though more likely, punters will be delayed by our own stuttering public-transport infrastructure. Restrictions to London traffic lanes could mean gridlock and commuters jogging to work, proving that the Olympic legacy does exist. But they may have to sprint past the 13,500 British troops on their £553m security detail – many just returned from duty in Afghanistan, where only 10,000 are on parade.
Team GB will win a couple of golds and lots of bronzes and then it will be time for the football season again. After the Paralympics are over, the stadium will fall into disuse while its future footballing tenants are decided. Natural floodplains will be restored to the Olympic Park to create a wetland habitat on the River Lea, while the Olympic Village will be converted into homes for so-called "key workers" such as nurses and teachers – if they still have jobs. Finally, the Great A12 Traffic Jam will be set free after 144 days, just in time for Christmas.
Andrew Tong is a sports reporter for The Independent on Sunday
The Year of Mass
By Steve Connor
Everything we touch, hold, eat and breathe has mass. In other words, all objects, from molecules to mountains, are made of matter which we can measure and weigh with the help of the force of gravity. The apple Isaac Newton saw falling to the ground did so not just because of gravity, but because it had mass. As he calculated, the force of gravity is a product of its mass and acceleration.
But there is something quite mysterious about mass. Why, for instance, do atoms have it while photons, the tiny parcels of light that travel all the way from the Sun, do not? Why do some objects have a bigger mass than others? Why does an elephant, for example, weigh more than elephant-sized candyfloss? The answer could be found in 2012 with the help of the Large Hadron Collider [LHC], the particle accelerator at Cern, the European Organisation for Nuclear Research in Geneva. If the theorists are right, the solution rests in the discovery of a fundamental subatomic particle called the Higgs boson. And if it exists, the LHC should find it.
Professor Peter Higgs of Edinburgh University first postulated the subatomic particle that now bears his name in the 1960s. He theorised that all matter has a mass because it interacts with a force field that pervades the universe – an interaction mediated by the boson. The greater the interaction between an object and this field, the greater the mass of that object.
Nearly 20 years ago, then-science minister William Waldegrave offered a prize to anyone who could explain the boson in simple terms. The winner drew an analogy with a cocktail-room full of political-party workers who stand uniformly distributed, chatting to one another in a relaxed manner. Into the party walks a former prime minister who, as she moves from one side of the room to another, attracts a small knot of people. This is what the Higgs boson does to matter: the greater the mass of an object, the greater the knot of people and the slower it moves through the "cocktail drinkers" of the Higgs field.
The beauty of the Higgs field is that it is all-pervasive and, in important respects, is indistinguishable from empty space. More importantly, because the boson endows virtually all matter we know about with mass, it also acts as a unifying influence over the fundamental forces of physics. It is the physicist's dream to formulate a grand "theory of everything". Which is to say, the boson's discovery might not explain mass alone: it could help unify the disparate forces of nature into a single theoretical entity – possibly the greatest achievement in physics since Albert Einstein's theories of relativity.
Steve Connor is science editor of The IoS
The Year of Women
By Jane Merrick
Meryl Streep's chillingly accurate portrayal of Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady, out this Friday, serves as a reminder that no woman in British politics has come close to her dominance since she left office. Indeed, other than two interim exceptions (Harriet Harman and Margaret Beckett), there has been no other female leader of a mainstream English political party.
At the same time, Downing Street remains seriously concerned that the Government is performing badly among women voters: its internal poll shows that women are turned off by the austerity agenda, while the latest poll for The IoS put Labour on 44 per cent among women, 10 points clear of the Conservatives on 34 per cent; among men, the gap was just one percentage point.
This spring, David Cameron and George Osborne will do two things to try to reverse that trend: the first will be a Cabinet reshuffle that the Prime Minister will use to boost the number of women on the frontbench. (There'll be promotions, too, within lower ministerial ranks: expect the strident and fiercely intelligent Liz Truss, who some MPs believe bears similarities to a young Mrs Thatcher, to be among them.)
The second major overture will come in the Budget, when the Chancellor will do what he can to woo female voters with family-friendly policies such as childcare. There will also be help, it is expected, through the tax system for lower-income earners – a bracket dominated by women, who are also more likely to work part-time.
In the Labour Party, Ed Miliband believes he has a strong band of women on his frontbench, and, as he continues to speak up for the "squeezed middle", will also target the female vote. The member of his Shadow Cabinet who could rival Mr Miliband for the leadership is not Ed Balls but his wife, Yvette Cooper – the Shadow Home Secretary (below) whose review of policing will likely feature in security issues around the Olympics.
But, by this time next year, as this Parliament's halfway mark is passed, thoughts will turn to the next leader not just of Labour but the Tories and Liberal Democrats, too. For all three, the next leader is likely to come from the 2010 intake. Is it possible that they will also all be women? Rachel Reeves, the Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, is tipped as a contender after 2015. For the Tories, Ms Truss would be a good bet. The Lib Dems have a lower proportion of female MPs, but Jo Swinson is worth watching, as she could succeed Mr Clegg, if he decides to become an EU Commissioner. Could any of them follow in the Iron Lady's footsteps?
Jane Merrick is political editor of The IoS
The Year of Sugar and Spice
By Susannah Frankel
Miuccia Prada has spoken. "Sweetness," she announced immediately after her spring/summer collection was shown in Milan last September. And overnight, sugar, spice and all things nice – deemed not even remotely fashionable until now – were set in stone to become the last word in style. And so, three months later, as the new season's fashions begin to drop on a high street near you – and, yes, I know it's demented that one is expected to buy one's spring wardrobe in January, but we all know how it works by now – expect to see ice-cream colours, jewelled embroideries and flowers and a mid-20th-century haute couture silhouette. Sweetness indeed.
At times this may appear more reminiscent of the wardrobe of a fairy-tale princess rather than anything suited to a fully grown woman. And if that smacks of escapism, that's at least partly where such sentiments spring from. There's more than one way to confront hard times and the collective fashion consciousness has decreed that this is not the moment for austerity.
Moreover, while autumn signifies a certain sobriety, spring is the moment for fashion folly inspired, more often than not, by travel – whether that be in its "I've been to India on a research trip and I now like pink" incarnation, or imaginary. In Prada's hands, though, any prettiness is undercut by a witty twist: vintage-car motifs applied to the delicate, fondant-hued surface of clothes safe in the knowledge, as Prada explained, that women and cars are the two loves of the Italian man's life.
At Louis Vuitton, Marc Jacobs, that other fashion superpower, has embroidered and over-embroidered daisies on to his feather-light, fondant-coloured frocks, all hand-worked to the most elevated standards and shown against the backdrop of a snowy-white carousel, just to emphasise its almost perversely whimsical feel.
Christopher Kane was thinking of a teenager dressing up in her bedroom when he designed his collection: "The sort of girl everyone at school used to hate." With this in mind, crystals and Crayola-bright stickers have been appliquéd on to the surface of aluminium silks to ensure that this is a wardrobe that might inspire jealousy in even the most well-intentioned friends. Of course, such unabashed femininity comes not without irony – a saccharine flourish in a less-than-hospitable world.
The starting point for Jonathan Saunders' spring collection is Miami colours – an Art Deco palette, then, of aqua blue, rose pink and mint green – but there's a zoned-out feel to the silhouette inspired by Dior's New Look line that whispers of the popping of prescribed pills by desperate housewives in times gone by. Come to think of it, didn't they come in pretty colours too?
Susannah Frankel is fashion editor of The IoS
The Year of Accountability
By Margareta Pagano
A few months ago I asked one of the Bank of England's most senior figures how he would explain the Great Financial Crash of 2008 to his grandchildren. Would he tell them about toxic mortgage-backed securities? Low interest rates provoking a credit binge? Or the bonuses being paid to bankers that drove them to dream up ever-greater leverage? He twisted and turned, and said: "It was drift – we were all guilty, the politicians, the bankers, businessmen and women; consumers, too. We all got carried away; not just in the UK but round the world."
Getting carried away is probably as good an answer as we'll get. But this doesn't mean those responsible should be exonerated. The biggest challenge of this year will be for the UK establishment – the City authorities, the bankers and the politicians – to be held accountable for past excesses and lay the ground for a fairer future.
The latest report by the Financial Services Authority into its regulation of RBS – which received £45bn of taxpayers' money, and jettisoned 27,000 jobs – was feeble and, apart from the opprobrium heaped on Sir Fred Goodwin, no one has been held accountable. That's why it's crucial that the Business Secretary, Vince Cable, is forensic in his attempt to establish whether charges can be brought against ex-RBS directors.
It wasn't just RBS which drifted; so did banks across the US and Europe. Countries were equally culpable, the UK as well as those in the eurozone borrowing as though there were no tomorrow. Five European governments fell last year and there will be more political unrest if the French and Germans fail to create stability.
David Cameron's veto of the new "fiscal pact" may prove foolish in the long-term interests of our relations with our biggest trading partner, the EU. Cameron has not explained fully why protecting the City against a tax that will hit Europe's financiers equally is worth risking a war of words with our neighbours: we should be told.
If 2011 was the year of unraveling after the crash, 2012 will be when the fightback starts in earnest: demands for control of corporate pay; pressure for the Vickers banking reforms to be pushed through more quickly; stopping bankers' bonuses at the state-owned banks; more bank lending; and more to be done to help soaring unemployment among the young.
If the politicians fail to hold themselves and others accountable, don't be surprised if the Occupy protest movement grows bigger still. The cold may force the protesters to drift home, but the unease about the injustices they are attempting to articulate will remain.
Margareta Pagano is a business columnist for The IoS
The Year of Fast-Track Fame
By Simmy Richman
The slogging tour in a Transit van, the relentless recording of demos by day and waiting for an A&R man to materialise at a show by night... such was the way for musical hopefuls from the Beatles to Arcade Fire. And while that route grew character and tested patience, it also built careers with the potential to span decades.
Last summer a young singer-songwriter from New York became the latest "internet pop sensation" when she posted a video on YouTube. A few million hits later and there she was on Later with Jools Holland. By the end of the year, pop observers as far apart as Pitchfork and Radio 2's Steve Wright (and, yes, The IoS's own Simon Price) were predicting that 2012 was going to be the year of Lana Del Rey. The evidence? A song called "Video Games" – which sounded extraordinary the first few times you heard it; like Muzak soon after – and an image that suggests Jessica Rabbit brought to life.
As "Video Games" went viral, the backlash began: internet "haters" questioned how a former folk singer called Lizzie Grant could have morphed into a femme fatale overnight. "The problem with Lana Del Rey..." opined one headline; "Manufactured!" cried the Village Voice, presumably expecting her to be a bona fide 1950s film star. Despite this, by year's end Del Rey had gone global with spreads in Vogue and Rolling Stone.
It's worth pointing out that Del Rey has not yet released her second single. It's called "Born to Die" and its title feels apposite. Because while a few years have passed since the internet changed the face of the record industry, Del Rey's "career" to date – a hallucinatory hurtle through the levels of fame – seems to signal the speed at which the future will chew up and spit out its music-makers. Forget the tipping point: anyone looking to make it as a pop star now had better be prepared for the tipping-over point – the moment where expectation is so high that there is nothing you can possibly do to satisfy it. Is Del Rey strong enough to survive? Things will become clearer when her debut album is released at the end of this month, but telling interviewers, "I wish I could go back to normal," doesn't bode well.
Never mind: there are plenty more queuing up to take her place. Because, in spite of the Del Rey experience, pop in 2012 will be all about building buzz and very little to do with building a career. The "Sound of" polls, the SoundCloud scavengers, the Facebook likes and the tweets retweeted – these are the tools being used by a generation that has grown up not having to pay a bean for music and with its finger stuck on the shuffle button.
Simmy Richman is music reviews editor of The IoS
The Year of Revolution?
By David Randall
The past 12 months have been more eventful than any in my 33 years as a national newspaper journalist. World news is always unpredictable, and, in 2011, Planet Earth surpassed itself, bringing not only a fearful crop of earthquakes, famines and a tsunami, but also perpetual financial crises and the collapse of regimes which, last December, seemed impregnable.
In such circumstances, none but fools would make forecasts, something of which I am now only too aware. Last March, in a fit of press-day silliness, I wrote that, of all the regimes in the Middle East and North Africa which could fall, Libya's was the least likely. Sure enough, seven months later, Gaddafi fell. I point this out by way of a pre-emptive warning to any members of the betting community tempted to invest wagers on my reading of the world's tea leaves as 2012 begins.
Let us start with events we know will take place: a sequence of elections in which some of the leading lights are up for re-election, or, in Vladimir Putin's case, re-instatement. Despite the first signs in Russia that people are starting to weary of his personality cult and all those stripped-to-the-waist photo opportunities, his grip on Russia's media is such that he will be returned as president again.
As for Nicolas Sarkozy, his fate depends less on the unimpressive opposition – or anything he might say or do – than on euro-related convulsions being kept to a minimum. If the euro survives, so will Sarkozy.
The election which will dominate the entire year is in the US. Here, beginning in only two days' time, months of Republican primaries and caucuses will gradually decide who will stand in November. The winner will have a tough task. For all that President Barack Obama has failed to live up to his own soaring rhetoric, he has been non-flaky at home and has had major successes overseas. Whatever his poll ratings now, I expect him to comfortably beat either Mitt Romney (who looks like the front man in an insurance ad), or Newt Gringich (who looks more like what someone would want to insure against). Both are seriously sub-White House standard.
All these are the things that conventionally matter, but the great issue of 2012 is likely to be not "Who?" but "What?" The feeling grows with every passing nervous tic of the capitalist financial system that it is not merely suffering a bout of recession from which it will duly recover, but, in its more mature economies, is irredeemably flawed.
Consider: the inability to deliver anything even resembling fairness; the unstoppable drift towards greater and greater inequality; a banking system into which money is endlessly poured to little avail; electorates unable to see that low taxes and high public spending do not compute; and, perhaps most significant of all, the lack of any theory, or set of policies, which address these issues.
Lenin asked: "What is to be done?" 2012 will ask: "What can be done?" And the answer, if it comes, may be more revolutionary than we imagine.
David Randall is foreign editor of The IoS
The Year of the Arctic
By Michael McCarthy
Who owns the North Pole? It's probably a question you have never asked yourself. Or heard anyone else ask, either. But you will be hearing it a lot in 2012.
For the icy roof of the world, the frozen ocean and its seabed at 90 degrees north, is right at the heart of the next great scramble for natural resources – the Arctic oil rush. According to the US Geological Survey, the region above the Arctic Circle contains an estimated 160 billion barrels of oil, worth at current prices more than $18tr (£11.17tr), and the world's leading oil companies, the "supermajors" such as Shell and ExxonMobil, which have already exploited all the relatively straightforward sources of hydrocarbons around the world, are eyeing it hungrily.
The Arctic is a forbiddingly difficult place to work, but one ominous development, the melting of the ice of the Arctic Ocean because of global warming, is making exploration possible, and this summer both Shell and ExxonMobil will be starting multibillion-dollar drilling programmes, the former in the seas off north Alaska, the latter with Russian partners in the seas off Siberia. Edinburgh-based oil company Cairn Energy has already begun the scramble with a so-far unsuccessful series of test wells in the seas off Greenland.
It's not only the oil companies that are casting envious eyes on the High North, however. The Arctic countries themselves, the nations by which the Arctic Ocean is surrounded – Canada, Russia, the US, Norway and Denmark (via its ownership of Greenland) – are looking to stake their claims and extend their territorial waters and consequent sovereignty of the seabed out to 90 degrees North: four years ago the Russians planted a flag on the North Pole seabed, and this year Denmark signalled that it would make a formal territorial claim to it by 2014 at the latest.
Yet the Arctic is not only a potential source of oil and gas – it is also the world's most pristine ecosystem, as millions of people realised for the first time with the broadcast during 2011 of Frozen Planet, the BBC Natural History Unit's masterful and wholly compelling account of life at the two Poles. Just how much of it there was, in these icy deserts, and how epic were its struggles to survive, were the principal revelations of a documentary, narrated yet again in the nuanced, husky tones of David Attenborough, which from its launch in late October held much of the nation in thrall.
So when, in the first few months of the coming year, Greenpeace launches a major campaign to make the North Pole and the area around it internationalised – and thus off limits to oil development, no drilling, no territorial claims – it is likely to have a very substantial base of public support. People across the English-speaking world now know what is at risk from attempting to industrialise one of the the world's last great untouched ecosystems.
This is going to be one of the classic environmental battles, like the battle over whaling. Expect to see it in the headlines very soon – for 2012, in environmental terms, is without doubt going to be the Year of the Arctic.
Michael McCarthy is environment editor of The IoS
The Year of Retro-futurism
By Lisa Markwell
The chomping classes like nothing better than a new trend, but in 2012, jaded palates and slender wallets might mean a return to the plates and places we know and trust. Retro-futurism, it's called: trad dishes made with modern techniques and understanding (ethics, health). Three-Michelin-star chef Massimo Bottura and food writer Laura Santtini employ the ethos. So if your chicken's not organic and prepared sous-vide (cooking vacuum-sealed food slowly in a water bath), why not?
The trend rode high in 2011 with fast food gone posh – think of Meatwagon's burgers with stellar beef inside, or succulent barbecue at PittCue Co's truck on the bank of the Thames. The wheels have come off both – in a good way: the former has a white-hot restaurant off Oxford Street; the latter has plans for a permanent home in the capital. There will be plenty of knock-offs of these two in 2012 and, of course, plenty more small-plate places in the style of Russell Norman's brilliant Polpo.
But could we also see the end of the meat-dominated menu? Please let it be so. Last year's £85 steaks at Cut and 34 may be the plateau point for fetishising beef. Can prices or provenance get any higher? One hit restaurant might have started a sideways shift: the Goodman chain's new outlet is called Burger and Lobster.
Another opening that will reveal whether we really are ready to shake the protein off is Orchard, a second venue for the people behind the haute vegetarian Vanilla Black.
And could this be the year that ramen finally becomes our favourite cheap fast food? Tsuru plans to open a mini chain in London and Koya's noodles have a devoted following. As a nation we've adopted sushi as our own, but what could be more soothing in the chill of economic strife than cheap, comforting, tasty ramen?
At the other end of the scale, restaurant titans Corbin and King had another glittering hit on their hands last month when The Delaunay opened. But unlike other recent swanky arrivals, the prices have been set to be very competitive, as front-of-house maestro Sebastian Fogg told me. Take that, Wolfgang Puck! We'll have to wait and see if Balthazar – a New York import arriving soon – is pitched at the same level. If so, London at least will be spoilt for choice with grand cafés offering luxe comfort food at a price within the reach of we mortals.
But what about those slaving over a domestic stove? Back to retro-futurism: John Lewis is selling a sous-vide machine for £349, which means if we really can't be parted from our swanky steaks, at least we can eat them at home (just google Heston for the recipe)...
Lisa Markwell is restaurant critic of The New Review
- More about: