Didn't Antonia de Sancha used to be somebody?

A new picture of a once famous political lover amuses Quentin Letts

Share
Related Topics

One definition of news is anything that surprises. In that respect, the photograph last week of Antonia de Sancha having a beer and cigarette on a London pavement was newsworthy. Most people had not seen de Sancha since the early 1990s, when, with smouldering allure, she co-starred with David Mellor in a very public scandale. Now here she was, sucking on a ciggie in a faux-furcoat. I say, were those black suede boots knee-length?

The photograph appeared first in the Daily Mail which, with perhaps uncharacteristic lack of generosity, hinted that almond-eyed Antonia had gone to seed. I thought she looked fine – fun, too, which was how I remembered her from a supper in New York in 1996. She was stepping out with a friend of mine at the time.

Last week's photograph of her was not newsworthy in the sense of being linked to current affairs, to what one might call "serious" news. And yet the image, almost artistic with its blues and smoky greys and those ringlets of stray raven hair, surprised us. Many will have thought, "Antonia de Sancha, well, well."

A kerfuffle ensued. Journalism professor Roy Greenslade, who once worked at the murkier end of Fleet Street but now delivers quasi-papal homilies on media standards, wrote in The Guardian that it was "chauvinistic" and "disgraceful" to run the photograph. The Guardian, mind you, made sure that it reproduced the picture.

The Daily Telegraph was next. It did not use the Notting Hill fag shot (perhaps not wishing to pay the fee) but reproduced an engaging portrait of de Sancha from the time of the Mellor affair. The paper assigned a couple of gumshoes and one of them bagged a few words from her. Naturally, the Telegraph distanced itself from the alleged brutishness of the Mail – yet it still ran several jaunty paragraphs.

Far from being cross about her re-emergence into the news, Antonia de Sancha has turned out to be sweetly, wryly amused. She posed for new, attractive pictures in yesterday's Mail and gave the paper a long interview. But was it right for the snapshot to have been taken in the first place? Is a London pavement a private place? Pace Professor Greenslade, is it sexist to gawp at a person who was once famous?

In these days of the Leveson terrors, we journalists must certainly be careful about snoopery. But if you encountered a one-time political mistress, would you not have a discreet stare? Would you not be quietly gripped? To deny widespread interest in once-prominent characters is to misunderstand human nature. To suppress publication of such images would be dishonest and actually rather miserable (which, by the way, dear old Roy Greenslade is not). The stern Cromwellians of the Hacked Off pressure group may not like it, but people are interested in people. That is why diary columns, Hello! and so forth endure.

Most "news" is about a see-saw in fortunes, be it up, down, or, whoaa, off the see-saw altogether. Such is the drama of life. If once-forbidden love and high-boned beauty are thrown into a mix seasoned with cigarette smoke, newspaper readers will be lured.

Today's Britain is not so different from the days of Restoration comedy. In the 17th century, society was small enough for the low to view the high as they went about their daily rituals. The modern media connects 21st-century Britain to the rakes and cuckolds, the libertines and bodiced lovelies, of our age. Thus are our morals moulded. When those characters prove as gracious and good-humoured as Antonia de Sancha, we would be the poorer for not knowing them.

Quentin Letts writes for the 'Daily Mail'

React Now

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Online Advertising Account Executive , St Pauls , London

£26K-30k + Bonus, Private Medical Insurance, Company Pension: Charter Selectio...

Advertising Account Executive - Online, Central London

£25K-28k + Bonus, Private Medical Insurance, Company Pension: Charter Selectio...

Senior Infrastructure Consultant

£50000 - £65000 Per Annum potentially flexible for the right candidate: Clearw...

Public Sector Audit - Bristol

£38000 per annum + Benefits: Pro-Recruitment Group: Do you have experience of ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

It’s two decades since ‘education, education, education’, but still Britain’s primary school admissions are a farce

Jane Merrick
United Nations special rapporteur Rashida Manjoo addresses journalists in central London  

We could have had a proper debate about sexism after Rashida Manjoo's comments. Instead, we’re fencing over a media-garbled paraphrase

Archie Bland
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit
Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics

Is sexual harassment a fact of gay life?

Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics
Kim Jong-un's haircut: The Independent heads to Ealing to try out the dictator's do

Our journalist tries out Kim Jong-un's haircut

The North Korean embassy in London complained when M&M Hair Academy used Kim Jong-un's image in the window. Curious, Guy Pewsey heads to the hair salon and surrenders to the clippers
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A forgotten naval victory in which even Nature played a part

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A forgotten naval victory in which even Nature played a part
Vespa rides on with launch of Primavera: Iconic Italian scooter still revving up millions of sales

Vespa rides on with launch of the Primavera

The Vespa has been a style icon since the 1950s and the release this month of its latest model confirms it has lost little of its lustre
Record Store Day: Independent music shops can offer a tempting alternative to downloads

Record Store Day celebrates independent music shops

This Saturday sees a host of events around the country to champion the sellers of well-grooved wax
10 best smartphones

10 best smartphones

With a number of new smartphones on the market, we round up the best around, including some more established models
Homelessness: Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

Zubairi Sentongo swapped poverty in Uganda for homelessness in Britain. But a YMCA scheme connected him with a couple offering warmth and shelter
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park
The pain of IVF

The pain of IVF

As an Italian woman vows to keep the babies from someone else’s eggs, Julian Baggini ponders how the reality of childbirth is often messier than the natural ideal
Supersize art

Is big better? Britain's latest super-sized art

The Kelpies are the latest addition to a growing army of giant sculptures. But naysayers are asking what a pair of gigantic horse heads tells us about Falkirk?
James Dean: Back on the big screen

James Dean: Back on the big screen

As 'Rebel without a Cause' is re-released, Geoffrey Macnab reveals how its star perfected his moody act
Catch-22: How the cult classic was adapted for the stage

How a cult classic was adapted for the stage

More than half a century after it was published 'Catch-22' will make its British stage debut next week
10 best activity books for children

10 best activity books for children

Keep little ones busy this bank holiday with one of these creative, educational and fun books