Thursday 21 July 2011
Julie Burchill: The day Rebekah's fortune was told
In the Eighties when I was young and Godless, I penned a frankly filthy, and filthily frank, book called Ambition which went to the top of the paperback novel charts and made me a packet. It concerned the antics of one Susan Street, a young woman who was "almost clever and almost beautiful" and was determined to become the most powerful broad in Fleet Street. In the course of fulfilling this desire, Susan was not only prepared to sell her soul, but to slip it a Rophynol and bend it over the nearest sideboard in order to have it taken roughly from behind by any passing potentate, should this help her advance up the greasy pole.
Once again, surveying the shambles at News International, I have wondered at my ability to get it wrong. My heroine oohed, ahhed and orgied through a series of increasingly lurid encounters with Brazilian hookers, New York lesbian sadists and even, if I remember rightly, a demonically-possessed, sexually-obsessed electric toothbrush in order to win the top job from her ancient and corrupt boss, one Tobias Pope. But it has been a striking feature of the current revelations, however murky, that no "three-in-a-bed hells" or even "naked romping" took place between the flame-haired counter-jumper and her powerful patron. On the contrary, both appear to be the very model of devoted partners to their respective spouses. Spoilsports!
Mention of the Chipping Norton Set seemed promising at first – "sets" are usually "fast", and sound a great deal like "sex" anyway. Mrs Brooks husband was an old Etonian racehorse trainer, nicknamed both "Looks" and "Champagne Charlie", who appeared to have squired a number of glamorous exes of famous men, from princes to sporting heroes – so far, so Jilly Cooper. But once membership was known to have included the ickily-uxorious David Cameron and that ocean-going anaphrodisiac Jeremy Clarkson, all bets were off.
Murdoch's happy possession of a sexy Chinese wife caused the heart to yearn hopefully for some sort of shenanigans, but the chances she might be a heartless, inscrutable minx were scuppered by her rather lovely though dismayingly loyal defence of her old man from the joker with the shaving foam. Murdoch has a son who seeks to walk in his giant footsteps, as did my monstrous Pope, but whereas Pope Jnr is a sexy Jewish swashbuckler with genitalia resembling "a cosh wrapped in velvet", Murdoch Jnr looks more like a gutless Gissing bit-player caught with his hand in the petty cash.
And as far as Rebekah herself, she is far cuter, cleverer and more fascinating than my really rather repulsive heroine. We were briefly friends in the Nineties and my fondest memory is of the day she visited me in Brighton, when after a lush lunch we and her friend Jane Moore decided to visit a fortune-teller. When we got there I bottled out on religious grounds, but Bex marched in – and ten minutes later out again, her face almost as red as her lovely hair. The fortune-teller had only gone and told her that although she thought she was a career girl, she had a rich and successful man who worshipped her (she was married to Ross Kemp at the time) and that was where her best bet lay.
Jane and I fell about with laughter at this as Rebekah fumed, though we couldn't decide whether or not he actually knew who she was. But the gypsy's warning came too late for my quiet, kind friend, while I escaped to the coast, out of harm's way, wondering at how things turn out. Stranger than fiction – too true.
Cheap gin and sex would be better for us than water
"Calm down, dear." It wasn't long ago that Ravey Davey got into shtup with the sisters for saying that, but when you consider the "pampering" culture which women have embraced freely over the past decade, you could see why he was confused about the subsequent scoldings. Isn't the whole spa culture about persistently telling ourselves to calm down, while paying handsomely for the privilege?
The girly spa stay has replaced the dirty weekend as the dream mini-break of many women. In oversize white towelling gowns, clutching bottles of water as though they were tiny, transparent life-support machines, we prowled the hushed, lemongrass-scented hotels of this far from fragrant land like smelly ghosts for many a restless year, paying through the nose for unguents that actually have no way of seeping through the skin and blowing our hard-earned cash on scented candles while Rome – and Greece, and Ireland – burned.
But now that mainlining bottled water and green tea 24/7 have been proven to be useless and £10 face creams regularly outperform £100 pots, we will hopefully start finding more sensible, fun and proven ways to calm ourselves down/comfort ourselves in these cash-strapped times, such as drinking cheap gin and having lots of sex. It worked for generations of British women, and there's no reason why it couldn't work for us.
Easy to be nice if you've enjoyed privilege
I was sorry to see the back of The Apprentice, and even sorrier to see Nice Tom win. People can afford to be nice when they're privileged. The back stories of the female finalists, on the other hand spoke of real deprivation, yet they were ceaselessly mocked for being so full-on ambitious. But when your mother doesn't speak English and you grew up without a bathroom (as Susan did) or you took an after-school job so that you could pay for your own school dinners rather than accept free ones (as Natasha did), ambition is often the only thing that prevents you from giving up and going under.
I find it endlessly fascinating, and not a little pitiable, that educated liberals cannot find even a little understanding for the poor of their own country, while practically wetting themselves with compassion when it comes to foreign aid. For these right-on Smuggies, charity may not begin at home, but contempt certainly does.
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