These are boom times for manufacturers of ugly Perspex keepsakes. This week, London hosted not one, but two Women of the Year awards ceremonies, on consecutive nights.
On Tuesday, at Cosmopolitan’s Ultimate Women of the Year Awards, sponsored by hair product, the Kardashians were voted “Ultimate Confidence Queens”, Sarah Storey “Ultimate Paralympian” while those famously accomplished women, the boy band One Direction and the gymnast Louis Smith were also honoured (as “Ultimate Men” and “Ultimate Hottie” respectively).
On Wednesday, Harper’s Bazaar honoured Anya Hindmarch as Business Woman of the Year, Vivienne Westwood as Inspiration of the Year, and the Queen as Queen of the Year. Not really. She was voted Icon of the Year; about time, too, after all those years of hard work posing on stamps and coins and things.
Like Cosmo, Harper’s fell prey to sexual-political correctness, squeezing in the fashion designer Raf Simons for a “Man in a Woman’s World” prize. And, in an odd show of gender-blindness for a women’s award ceremony, it eschewed the word “actress” to award prizes for British Actor of the Year and TV Actor of the Year to Emily Blunt and Michelle Dockery.
Clearly, very little about these award ceremonies makes sense. If the idea is to honour women in a man’s world, why sneak in a couple of random consolation prizes for men? Because they’ll sulk if they’re ignored for one whole evening? No prizes for having the courage of their convictions there.
Nor is it clear what these awards are celebrating. Jessica Ennis was, deservedly, honoured at both ceremonies – as Ultimate Olympian and British Ambassador – but neither plastic mantelpiece-clutterer comes close to her original achievement of an Olympic gold.
So what is the point of these prizes? To judge from reports on the evenings, they are little more than shop windows for fashion and gossip. Harper’s accompanied its write-up with a slideshow of the Best Dressed on the night. Cosmo, meanwhile, guided its readers through the hottest hair and most fabulous frocks of the evening.
Less a celebration of women’s lib than a celebration of women’s lipstick, the accomplishments of the winners are swept aside in a wave of chit-chat about their nude heels, daring splits and on-trend peplums. Heaven knows what there would be to talk about if everyone showed up, like men, in identikit dinner suits – their accomplishments, probably.
I wonder if this latest glut of women’s awards might mark the last hurrah of an inexplicable trend. Women don’t need their own ceremonies to celebrate their achievements; they do just fine when they’re allowed to compete against the big boys. Just ask Hilary Mantel.
Portrait of the artist as a grumpy old man
Behind every tortured writer is an equally tortured family. Take Ian Rankin’s, for example. No, really, take them – he won’t notice. According to his wife, Miranda Harvey, the crime writer, 52, behaves like a “teenage student” when he’s midway through a thriller, locking himself away, listening to music and refusing to communicate with her and their two sons.
“The role of his family, chiefly, during this period, is trying to get out from under his feet… It’s not that he is a person who doesn’t care about his family and is not going to interact with us on a human basis; it’s just how he is ‘now’ and it will be a passing phase,” she says on Imagine. Given that Rankin averages a thriller a year, those phases must pass by disconcertingly often.
Still, Harvey has her revenge, also telling the BBC documentary that she frequently has to soothe Rankin when he panics about running out of steam around page 65 or worries two-thirds of the way through a novel that he still doesn’t know how it is going to end.
These glimpses into life with a writer are revelatory indeed, giving piquant voice to the silent, long-suffering victims of the creative muse. I certainly enjoyed them. In fact, I think there could be a book in them.
Do we really need to import snobbery?
Thunk. The Unofficial Downton Abbey Cookbook lands on my desk with the dispiriting thud of an unwanted satsuma rolling out of a Christmas stocking. In it are recipes for the Classic Cucumber Sandwich, Working-Class Porridge and, umm, Downstairs Toad in the Hole. There are helpful etiquette lessons, too – about not blowing on your soup, how to hold a teacup and why “it is considered unseemly for a lady to require another glass of wine with dessert”. It is written by a female baker from New York who “hopes one day [to be] as poised and elegant as the ladies of Downton”. Someone send her a corset.
This is the second wave of Downtonmania, coming from the US. They’ve really gone for it and now they’re sending their hastily assimilated class prejudices back over here. December’s Vanity Fair features the show’s writer Julian Fellowes in his self-awarded role of Guardian of English Etiquette No One Has Cared About for a Century and then attacks him for his rather non-U habit of watching TV with dinner. Given that he has tricked the world into yearning for the jolly old days of “working-class porridge”, he probably deserves everything he gets.