Tales of the City: Spot the young pretender

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The Independent Online

How did Michael Hammond get away with it?

How did Michael Hammond get away with it? How could the mendacious and manipulative trickster from Bexhill have persuaded so many cops and palace officials, so many polo-playing hoorays and so many lady "celebrities" that he was, respectively, an important policeman, a sporting broadcaster and a glamorous millionaire playboy? At Isleworth Crown Court on Monday he pleaded guilty to being a public nuisance, and will be sentenced on 4 February. But the charge sheet is so long and so comprehensive, you wonder not just about the skewed psychology of bluffing your way into the public's confidence, but also about the way modern society can accommodate such an egregious con artist.

The IPO (impersonating a police officer) stuff is simply a weak man's desire to exert power by remote control - to send policemen scurrying to and fro in response to a summons down the phone in confidently authoritarian accents. But how, when he rang Windsor Castle's police officers, did he know the name of their real-life detective superintendent colleague? How could he turn up with a girlfriend at the gate exclusively reserved for royals and servants, and get waved cheerily through? Nobody, short of William and Harry, gets waved through the VIP gates at Windsor, let alone a scruffbum in ripped jeans and a jumper.

Equally amazing is how suavely he fitted in among the polo set, historically the most exclusive and outsider-scorning community you'll find anywhere except Connecticut golf clubs. He seems to have blagged a job interviewing famous polo types (whoever they may be) for Sky TV - but how did he acquire enough insider gossip to win their confidence? Hell, I interview people all the time but it would take more determination and energy than I possess to fake an interest in polo players.

What is most mystifying, however, is how he came to hang out with clever, pretty on-the-ball women like Renée Zellweger without anyone seeing through him. A favourite strategy, apparently, was to stand at a party near a famous woman and claim a "souvenir kiss" when photographers were around, then tell the newspapers he was having a fling with the hapless starlet. But how did he swing that? Getting on to the party circuit presents few obstacles to London wide-boys with sufficient chutzpah, but once you're inside, it's no easy task negotiating through 150 strangers drinking Holsten Pils, to find the likes of Renée or Dannii Minogue to proposition.

And why do the photographs show Renée and Dannii and Jordan looking so frightfully glad to see him? How was it that nobody rumbled he was what Liz Hurley would call "a civilian" and a thief and jailbird, rather than a millionaire playboy? The answer seems shockingly obvious. The days are gone when an appraising filter hovered in the air between you and a stranger, and an invisible radar swept across their face, gestures and body movements and bleeped in your head if they gave off vibes of implausibility, if they were up to something or if they were not what they seemed.

We now act friendly and interested with strangers without checking to see whom we're being friendly and interesting with. Somewhere along the way, we've lost our filter and our radar.

That's a bit rich, even for Donald

Oh dear. What's a chap to do? Donald Trump is getting married later this month to the lovely Melania Knauss, and I can't work out what to get the happy couple as a gift. I'm sure Donald has already got a set of decanters. I expect he's probably OK for silver-nickel napkin rings. I bet you five quid he's already got a toaster.

I was thinking of ringing Peter Jones and enquiring about duvet covers, when I discovered - thank goodness - Don and Melania have sent out a wedding-present list. What invaluable things they are, when you're short of ideas about what to buy, and what insights they provide into the would-be-lifestyle of the bethrothed pair.

I scanned the list. It was rather shocking. I'd love to help Ms Knauss with her bed-linen requirements, but a set of white cotton Frette sheets at £650 a pop is a high price to pay for my admiration. So is the cafetière, sorry, the "sterling silver coffee server" which they'd apparently like, and it'll only set you back £2,100. I blinked at the mention of a "round cachepot", assuming it meant a kind of cummerbund; but no, it turns out to be "an ornamental container used to hold and conceal a flowerpot" - very useful, and clearly a snip at £2,600.

But since I'm so poor, it looks as if I'll have to descend to the lower slopes of this consumerist Matterhorn, and buy the carving knife (£100). No, hang on, here's a coffee spoon for £35. Is a single coffee spoon an acceptable wedding present in Trump-land? Will Don and Melania (why do I somehow know for sure it's pronounced "Mel-ah-nia"?) gaze at it over breakfast one day and say, "What a great spoon - I wonder if it's the one John gave us?". Maybe not. Perhaps I could send a pack of Blue Mountain Deep Medium Roast to go with it? Or perhaps choose the even more reasonable cheese knife (£32) and send it with a nice lump of smoked Wensleydale...?

If you're wondering, O horrible cynic, why I want to buy Mr Trump a gift, it's because I feel a twinge of admiration for a man who's so single-minded in his pursuit of riches while being at the same time the most parsimonious old Scrooge in Manhattan. Many billionaires name a charitable foundation after themselves, from which they donate sums to needy causes. The Trump Foundation's annual level of charitable giving is $287,000, a teensy drop in the ocean of his assets. Even Leona Helmsley, the celebrated "Queen of Mean", gave $5m to police and fire widows after 9/11. Trump gave nothing. You have to admire that kind of dedicated skinflintism.