The unluckiest people of the year 2013

History might be written by the victors, but where’s the fun in that? Here, for the first time, we salute the hapless, the hopeless and the merely unfortunate figures who helped shape the year   

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The Independent Online

Cardinal Angelo Scola, the nearly Pope

They have a saying in Rome about the meetings at which popes are elected: “The man who goes into the conclave as Pope comes out a cardinal”. The man whom everyone expected to be Pope when the conclave began in March was Cardinal Angelo Scola of Milan.

So much so that, as soon as the white smoke issued forth from the chimney of the Sistine Chapel – indicating a successful vote – the Italian bishops’ conference issued a press release offering congratulations to Scola as the new Pope. Ten minutes later, Pope Francis appeared on the balcony. Oops.

The red hats weren’t the only red faces. The world’s media tipped Scola because the Italian media had. That’s because Italian journalists tend only to talk to Italian cardinals who felt that, after a Polish pope then a German one, is was their turn again.

But when the vote came the cardinals were split on Scola. He was a Vatican insider. Just the man to clean up the dysfunctional bureaucracy, some said. Just the man who wouldn’t, said others. Scola’s speeches before the vote were dull. But the pre-conclave meeting was lit up by the contribution of the Argentine Jorge Mario Bergoglio who, as Pope Francis, is now turning the Vatican upside down.

One of his radical initiatives is to mend fences with the Orthodox Church. While Francis was meeting President Vladimir Putin in the Vatican the man he sent to Moscow to meet the leader of the Russian Church, Patriarch Kirill, was Angelo Scola, the Nearly Pope.

Paul Vallely

Mindy Crandall; let a person go in front of her in Lotto queue, who then won $590m

It doesn’t cost a penny to be nice, or so they say. But in the case of Mindy Crandall, a good deed cost the Floridian mother her chance to purchase the Powerball lottery ticket that won a whopping $590m (£360m). The jackpot was instead scooped by 84-year-old Gloria Mackenzie who, collecting her winnings, thanked the woman who had let her cut the queue to purchase her Quick Pick ticket. Crandall came forward, recalling that, distracted with looking after her children, she had let Mackenzie ahead of her in the line at the lottery counter at her local supermarket.

Moral of the story: don’t let people jump the queue? Certainly not, according to Crandall. She claimed to have “no regrets” over the incident, saying it taught her daughter a lesson about kindness. “It could have been us, but things happen,” she said. “Sometimes it’s better to be patient than right. I knew we were teaching our daughter the right thing.” Mackenzie split the winnings with her 54-year-old son, using the money to move out of her $64,000 trailer into a house with him in his hometown of Jackson, Florida.

Oscar Quine

Howard Middleton; victim of ‘Custardgate’

Howard Middleton on the ‘Bake Off' (BBC)

In what Sue Perkins dubbed “the most incredible case of baking espionage I’ve ever seen”, The Great British Bake Off’s Deborah (inadvertently?) poached Howard’s superior custard for her trifle, leaving the latter with a decidedly “slack” dessert to present to the judges, and causing much theatrical mea culpa-ing from Deborah, not to mention sympathy for her victim, with ‘Poor Howard’ instantly trending on Twitter.

This wasn’t Howard’s first cake calamity. Two weeks previously, presenter Perkins had dented his muffin with her elbow. “Trouble is following me around,” remarked the baker, who was eventually knocked out in week six. No hard feelings from the magnanimous Howard though, who, far from celebrating Deborah’s subsequent demise (in week three), claimed that he was “extremely sad” to see her go. “Deborah and I were close,” said Howard, before going on to explain their singular Bake Off bond. “We shared a fridge together...”

Madeleine North

Chris Froome; won the Tour de France - without sideburns

Chris Froome on the podium after the final stage of the Tour de France this summer (Getty)

We couldn’t get enough of Wiggo last year, when he rode his way to Britain’s first yellow jersey in the Tour de France. Froomey? Not so much. The level of popular ambivalence towards the skinny Sky man perhaps peaked on the fabled slopes of Mont Ventoux. His ascent of that cruel peak in Provence was captivating, stunning, historic. Yet it barely made ripples in that night’s news coverage.

Why? Three reasons. Chris Froome was the second British winner of the Tour, which isn’t as cool as being first. Also, he didn’t have sideburns, a symbol of the gap in personality between the men (Froome was way more interesting on the bike, Wiggo moreso on the mic). Finally, there’s the ‘Rusedski effect’. The Great > British public will embrace adoptive flagbearers, as Mo Farah knows, but in some cases we refuse to warm to outsiders. And in Froome we saw not a man who grew up on a housing estate in north London and lives in Lancashire (Wiggo) but one born in Kenya who lives in Monaco and, like Rusedski, sounds a bit foreign.

All of which is to say, poor Chris Froome, because he’s great. Thankfully, he’ll be back next year when hopefully levels of warmth towards him will rise to at least mid-Ventoux heights.

Simon Usborne

Twitter co-founder Noah Glass; made $0 from the $31bn Twitter flotation

Noah Glass, @noah on Twitter, reportedly christened the micro-blogging site

As trading came to a close at the New York Stock Exchange on 7 November, marking the end of its first day as a public company, Twitter was valued at approximately $31bn (£19bn). The firm’s flotation had created dozens of millionaires and at least two billionaires: co-founders Evan Williams and Jack Dorsey. Facebook aside, it was the largest ever internet IPO by any US company. And yet, one of the few people responsible for Twitter’s very creation came away without a cent. Noah Glass, the software developer who reportedly christened the embryonic micro-blogging service ‘Twitter’, and on whose laptop the entire site originally ran, was pushed out of the firm soon after its launch. With Williams, Glass had been a co-founder of the ill-fated podcasting company Odeo, where the original Twitter quartet – which also included Dorsey and Biz Stone – first met. According to Hatching Twitter, journalist Nick Bilton’s recent book about the company’s early days, Glass was fired by Williams in 2006, at Dorsey’s request. He left without a stake. Glass, aka @noah, rarely uses his invention; his most recent tweet was posted in September, before the flotation, and is impressively magnanimous: “I wish the Twitter team the best of luck,” he wrote, “and trust that they will be successful in continuing to develop this important communication tool.”

Tim Walker

Presiding officers of the US Senate, for procedural bladder holding

Freshmen senators from the majority party in the US Senate tend to be given the job of presiding over the chamber, giving them a chance to learn the ins and outs of congressional procedure. But that privilege can also become a burden, especially when one of their bloviating colleagues decides to undertake a traditional talking filibuster, like the one in Mr Smith Goes to Washington. In late September, Texan Senator Ted Cruz spent 21 hours and 19 minutes on the floor, protesting President Obama’s signature healthcare legislation, known to most as Obamacare. Cruz’s epic monologue – which was not, in actual fact, a genuine filibuster – included extracts from Dr Seuss and a Darth Vader impression. The most unlucky people in Washington that day were the Democrat junior senators assigned to preside on the night shift, including Chris Murphy of Connecticut (11pm to 1am), Brian Schatz of Hawaii (1am to 3am) and Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin (3am to 5am). Poor Schatz had also been given a late shift in March, when Kentucky Republican Rand Paul filibustered for 12 hours and 52 minutes over domestic surveillance – though Paul concluded his talk-fest at the relatively civilised hour of 12.30am.

Tim Walker

John Terry; missed a second consecutive European final, and was ridiculed for wearing his kit

John Terry clutching at the Europa League final (Getty)

Through what will be seen in the future as the peak years of John Terry, his long successful mid-period, it was the relentless there-ness that stood out. On the back pages and the front pages, at the near post and at the far post, on the line, in the box, in the armband for club and country, Terry was always undeniably, unarguably there.

For late-period Terry, though, there is a new habit of conspicuous absence. It started in 2012, in Barcelona, when his red card kept him out of both the last hour of rear-guard in the semi-final but also the final itself. Terry had no chance to personally atone for his 2008 penalty miss and was a spectator as his team-mates won their first European Cup.

This year the misfortune continued. Another European final, this time in Amsterdam for the Europa League, and an ankle injury kept him out. Chelsea won again and Terry was left > with that same ambiguous role – celebrating in clean kit – for the second straight May.

It almost feels as if Terry has maxed out his lifetime’s supply of attention, of limelight, and is now set – quite uncharacteristically – to drift out of the national consciousness. It almost feels unfair. Terry, having retired from international football, will not go to the World Cup next summer, although he is certainly playing well enough for a place. But this is the last year of his Chelsea contract and – fortune all used up – he might not be here for much longer.

Jack Pitt-Brooke

The pedestrian; killed, repeatedly

Unlucky pedestrians (AFP/Getty)

On the face of it, between the UK pedestrian and the UK cyclist, it’s the two-wheeled commuter who has had a bad year, with a spate of deaths throughout November. That’s certainly true, but in the middle of all the political posturing, neverending and often contradictory safety advice and, frankly, an undignified media scrum, we’ve forgotten that it’s the poor pedestrian that suffers most on our roads.

Last year, 420 pedestrians were killed on the roads, compared to 107 cyclists. In London alone, 77 pedestrians were killed, while 16 cyclists lost their lives. Of course each of these deaths is a tragedy, but many of them are avoidable. .

All of these are terrible statistics hiding individual tragedies and heartbroken families, but until we see ourselves as road users, not members of one tribe or another, they are unlikely to change.

Jamie Merrill

The first-time buyer; "Helped to Buy", screwed for next 35 years

Be wary when a desperate politician comes bearing gifts. On the surface, 2013 has looked like a year of mercy for the first-time buyer as George Osborne and David Cameron rolled out a policy aimed at assisting this large class of frustrated prospective homeowners. The broad goal of the Government’s equity loan and mortgage guarantee package is to encourage banks to lend to first-time buyers who can muster a deposit of only 5 per cent of the seller’s asking price.

“As Prime Minister, I am not going to stand by while people’s aspirations to get on the housing ladder are being trashed,” promised Mr Cameron. Take-up has been strong since the middle of the year. First-time buyers have come rushing back into the market. But they may well live to regret it.

Many will be tethered to an enormous mortgage, worth five or even six times their annual salary. They had better hope interest rates do not go up sharply, otherwise they could easily find themselves in financial trouble as their monthly repayments jump. Yes, they may feel richer if house prices continue their ascent. But if they want to move somewhere larger (perhaps after starting a family) they’ll need to take on an even bigger mortgage and stretch their finances even further.

The best gift the Government could give first-time buyers would be a promise to do whatever it takes to see more houses built. That would increase the supply and make homes cheaper than they otherwise would have been. But, instead, ministers have chosen a cynical policy to engineer what the Chancellor reportedly called “a nice little housing boom”. Just in time for the 2015 election.

Ben Chu

The British Badger; insufficient movement of goalposts

A badger, accused of moving the goalposts (Rex)

This was the year that life got a lot tougher for badgers. Already suffering from a high incidence of bovine tuberculosis, the badger populations of Gloucestershire and Somerset have been subjected to a trial cull in recent weeks after scientists found the creatures to be hastening the spread of that disease through cattle. If being chased around in the dark by marksmen wasn’t bad enough, the Environment Secretary Owen Paterson heaped further misery on to the animals by accusing them of “moving the goalposts”. In a statement that quickly became part of badger folklore, Mr Paterson was asked why the six-week trial badger culls that began in September killed far fewer badgers than previously targeted – at which point he uttered his now infamous words. What it boils down to is that initial estimates of the local badger populations in Gloucestershire and Somerset were so far off the mark that the death target they had set was higher than the number of badgers that actually lived there. Which, according to Mr Paterson, was the goal-post-moving badgers fault.

Even based on the reduced badger population, it turns out that the marksmen failed to reach the target of killing 70 per cent of the animals. But while this might look like a rare reprieve in the under-seige world of the badgers, the Government merely extended the culls and the killing continued.

Tom Bawden

Elvis impersonator Kevin Curtis; falsely accused of trying to poison Barack Obama

Kevin Curtis, victim of an Obama-based framing (AP)

When Elvis impersonator and ardent conspiracy theorist Kevin Curtis was arrested for sending a letter with ricin in it to Barack Obama, nobody in Tupelo, Mississippi, was all that surprised. Even Curtis’s own brother issued a statement pointing to his history of mental illness.

But after a lengthy interrogation, the FBI – who added injury to insult with a tranquiliser dart in the backside of his beloved dog Moo Cow – concluded that, in fact, Curtis had been framed. The suspect: James Everett Dutschke. Dutschke, also a keen singer (and convicted child abuser), was Curtis’s nemesis, for reasons that are now hazy but had something to do with his refusal to print Curtis’s dark allegations of a hospital organ-harvesting scam in an underground newspaper he once ran. Now Dutschke is awaiting trial, and accused of trying to send another ricin letter in Curtis’s name from behind bars.

If this is weird to read, imagine what it was like to live through. Curtis, unfortunate though he has been, is said to be somewhat enjoying his new-found celebrity. As for Moo Cow: he got sent to the pound, and it cost Curtis’s estranged brother $200 to pick him up. His current whereabouts, alas, are not in the public domain.

Archie Bland

Erik Norrie; bitten by shark, struck by lightning, bitten by rattlesnake, punched by monkeys (twice)

Hearing someone wail that they are “world’s unluckiest” is not uncommon in our self-indulgent age.

But Erik Norrie was a man actually bestowed with this title by the global media earlier this year, after he was nearly killed by a shark off the Abaco Islands in the Bahamas. Even though the shark removed part of his leg, and Norrie (who was out spear-fishing for his family’s dinner at the time) lost a lot of blood, the incident didn’t warrant the honour on its own. The “world’s unluckiest” bit came after it emerged that Norrie’s life has seen him struck by lightening, bitten by a rattlesnake and punched by monkeys – twice.

Not that the committed Christian from Florida is moaning about it. “It’s called the shark-bite diet,” he quipped after the Bahamas incident. “You can lose two pounds in three seconds.”

What’s more, Norrie is grateful to the Almighty for the experience. “I’ll be honest, I’m saying ‘Thank you’ that He did, because I know something great will come from it. And I gotta believe this is part of my journey.”

Luke Blackall

Anonymous reader of the Irish Sun; they took his diddies away

Back in February, Rupert Murdoch gave a vague hint that he might be willing to ditch the topless models from the third page of his Sun newspaper, when in response to a Twitter user who suggested that Page 3 was “so last century”, he replied, “you may be right, don’t know but considering”. Thus far, however, despite growing attention for the anti-Page 3 movement, the boobs remain and the paper’s editor, David Dinsmore, is committed to them. However, in August, the Sun’s Irish edition announced it would no longer run pictures of topless models on Page 3 (but would retain a bikini-clad stunna, instead). Irish Sun editor, Paul Clarkson, said he had listened to views of readers and pointed vaguely to “cultural differences” between the two countries to explain the change – though it seems to have taken many years for such differences to be deciphered. Meanwhile, in reporting the news, The Irish Times found that a number of people had called the tabloid’s Dublin office enquiring about the change but “only one reader is understood to have demanded its return”. For one unnamed Page 3 devotee, ’13 has been rather unlucky.

Larry Ryan

Dennis Farina, who picked a bad day to die

On a slow news day, a mid-range celebrity can hope for a decent amount of coverage upon death (which is the whole point, right?). Typically, a character actor like Dennis Farina, known for roles in films such as Get Shorty and Snatch, who died on 22 July aged 69, could have hoped for his death to get attention on celeb news-famished platforms across the world; reasonable play on Twitter (#ripdennis), a BuzzFeed list; maybe someone would have even made a supercut video of his best moments from Law & Order interspersed with the programme’s signature dah-dun scene-change sound effect.

Dennis Farina, who died on the day Prince George was born (NBC)

We’re all familiar with the so-called ‘Eclipsed Celebrity Death Club’, wherein a famous person dies around the same time as a more famous person and promptly gets forgotten – your Mother Teresas, your Farrah Fawcetts, your Ray Charleses). Alas, for Farina there was a new incarnation: the ‘Eclipsed Celebrity Life & Death Club’, for 22 July was also the day one Prince George of Cambridge happened to be born. So while Kay Burley, Simon McCoy and lots of frankly bizarre royal watchers lost it outside St Mary’s Hospital in Paddington, barely a moment was spared for poor Dennis.

See also:

  • Marcia Wallace: The Simpsons actor behind the beloved voice of Edna Krabappel died within days of Lou Reed and was left in the shade.
  • Fiftieth anniversary edition: Aldous Huxley, CS Lewis: the pair of celebrated writers had the misfortune of dying on the same day as one John F Kennedy.

Larry Ryan

Liam Emerson; playing his drums quite loudly within Helen Mirren’s earshot as she played the Queen

One was not amused earlier this year; and it was poor old Liam Emerson who bore the royal brunt of it. Helen Mirren, surrogate national matriarch, was playing the Queen onstage in the play The Audience, when Emerson’s drum troupe began performing just outside the theatre to promote an LBGT event. In full regalia, Mirren burst out on to the street and told the drummers in no uncertain terms to hush up.

With liberal swearing, she is reported to have said: “Quiet! I’m trying to do a play in here! People have paid a lot of money for tickets.” Emerson was thrust momentarily into the media spotlight, for being on the receiving end of the least expected celebrity telling-off of the year. Meanwhile, Mirren was unrepentant, saying she’d do it all again – although she did later apologise.

Oscar Quine

The humble beaker, besmirched by Mumsnet, penises and attendant cleansing methods

Not since the muppet of the same name was likened to Danny Alexander has the utilitarian beaker suffered such bad press. In October, the laboratory glassware/child’s cup was forever tainted by association with the unwashed genitals of the husband of a contributor to the Mumsnet forum.

User ‘Sara Crewe’ nearly broke the site’s servers when she asked: “Do you dunk your penis?” She explained: “We have a dedicated post-sex cleanup area on the bedside table. A box of tissues, a small bin, and a beaker of clean water for temporary cleaning/dunking while the bathroom is occupied by me. Apparently our penis beaker is strange and not the done thing.” You think?! Cue viral notoriety for Crewe and her husband’s penis, much of it circulated under the inevitable #penisbeaker hashtag. Later, Crewe revealed she had been compelled to share her beaker habit only when a friend of her husband’s was about “to make squash” in it. She told him, and then the world. “I’ve used it as my pee beaker too,” she added. “Poor, abused beaker.” Indeed. µ

Simon Usborne