Julie Burchill: Jackie O and her trivial pursuits


Click to follow
The Independent Online

Was there ever a bigger all-round phoney than the late Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis, whose puddle-deep insights into the great (Martin Luther King), the good (Indira Gandhi) and the ghastly (her sleazebag of a husband and General de Gaulle) have just been released some 47 years after she confided to her pal Arthur Schlesinger and a trusty tape machine, soon after her husband's assassination?

That they were made public at all, by her daughter Caroline, and facilitated by the journalist Schlesinger, speaks volumes about JBKO's likeability. Surely it would be the reaction of most professional media workers to discourage such demeaning disclosures from a close friend in the first place, and of most offspring to protect a parent's posthumous reputation by destroying the wretched things?

It's not the negativity which appals – I am very much of the "If you can't say anything nice about anyone, come and sit next to me" school of slander – but the narrow-mindedness and naiveté. The beneficiary of a long and expensive education – private schools in Maryland and Connecticut, then Vassar, the University of Grenoble, the Sorbonne, Smith College and eventually George Washington University, graduating with a BA in French literature which caused her to look down her retroussé nose at her fellow Americans for much of her life – the future Madame Onassis reveals herself to be as witty and wise as any wretched WAG shooting the breeze with her freshly-waxed cronies in some chi-chi Cheshire winebar.

Churchill is "gaga", Roosevelt a "show-off" and any woman generally who doesn't spend half her life fussing over her appearance, as Mrs Kennedy herself did, probably lesbian. In a crowning piece of hypocrisy, MLK is reviled as a phoney and sex fiend – this from a woman whose husband committed adultery even on the night of his inauguration, and who had girls performing for him on more nights than Minsky's. If Madame Nhu and Clare Booth Luce HAD been lesbians, we'd surely have known, because JFK would have asked them if he could watch.

He was barely cold in his casket before the classy Mrs K was making eyes at a Greek billionaire far coarser even than her dead husband, a man who saw fit to have his super-yacht's barstools made of the skin from whale's testicles, and the footrests on the stools made from polished whale's teeth. Yet even Onassis was appalled at the level of his new wife's shopping addiction – she made Coleen Rooney look like a Poor Clare. Before long he was back with his mistress, the self-made, independently wealthy Maria Callas. Not only was JBKO the world's most expensive kept woman, she was also its most flagrantly and consistently cuckolded. But then, if you are the first you are hardly in a position to complain about the second – as her spiritual heiresses the WAGS have discovered.

Writing about the current creepy mania for Downton Abbey, the brilliant cultural critic A.N Wilson has commented that fetishising the old class hierarchy is just a few steps up from praising slavery. "I was always a liability – everyone thought I was a snob from Newport who had French clothes and hated politics," said Mrs Kennedy in a rare moment of insight. There's a reason snobs are snobs; they tend overwhelmingly to have literally nothing else – not kindness or cleverness, not wit or wisdom – to boast about except their bloodline. Blinded by their lineage, they tend to vastly over-rate their real attributes.

Mrs K was notoriously fond of comparing her husband's shabby short-stay at the White House knocking-shop to Camelot, and does so many times in the Schlesinger tapes. But I feel that history will judge them as being far closer to the stars of the rubbish film than the actual Arthur and Guinevere of legend. That is, Richard Harris and Vanessa Redgrave – a shag-happy slapper and a humourless bore, neck and neck when it came to the self-delusion stakes.

Photography – an art form for the untalented

Why is David Bailey – now 73, who has spent most of his life having sex with a variety of world-class beauties – so apparently permanently pop-eyed with bile and bitterness, as revealed in a recent Sunday Times interview? A lot of it surely is the fact that he will be remembered, if at all, as that bloke who was lucky enough to have had sex with Jean Shrimpton, Catherine Deneuve and Marie Helvin, rather than as a genuine creative talent. Too late in life he has realised that photography is not art, but luck through a lens. Hence his belated reinvention of himself as a painter.

A lot of rubbish is talked about a monkey being able to write Shakespeare if you gave it long enough on a typewriter, but who believes that? Neither could it sculpt The Kiss or paint the Mona Lisa. But it could, if given a camera, take a decent photo by the end of play. That's why paparazzi are often called "monkeys". BTW, I am not claiming that journalism is creative either, anonymous trolls'o'mine, so don't get your knix in a twist. A hack recognises another hack, is all I am saying.

Snobbery and submissiveness

Trivial though she was, JBKO was a harbinger of several strands of socio-political creepiness which continue to this day, albeit becoming more visibly risible with each weary decade. The kneejerk anti-Americanism which often arises not from socialist analysis but from silly snobbishness; she called the down-home Johnsons "Colonel Cornpone and his little Pork Chop". Staring at your husband as though he has two cocks for the benefit of cameras – British leader's wives are big on this. Letting him get away with spraying his sexual territory like a dirty dog, while acting as though you have bagged a prince among men is another – a favourite of the French politician's femme. CAN'T we just imagine her combining them all by slobbering over DSK – ick!