It’s been a week when poor Dave Cameron appears to have no mates. After shouldering a blistering attack in The Times from a former aide to his “pal” Michael Gove recently – scathing in its analysis of the Prime Minister’s shortcomings – now his pals in the EU have deserted him, after saying (in private) that they would back his crusade to stop Jean-Claude Juncker from becoming the next president of the Commission.
The Polish Foreign Minister – whom the PM counted as a buddy – was secretly recorded calling him “stupid”. Then there’s his well-documented friendship with two of the defendants in the hacking trial, both acquitted this week. Cameron has said in the past that Charlie Brooks, husband of Rebekah, “is a good friend”. They attended Eton, are neighbours, and their families have known each other for decades. David Cameron attended the Brooks’ wedding in 2009, and went to her house for “kitchen suppers”.
As the hacking scandal gradually unfolded, David Cameron tried – rather ineptly, in my opinion – to distance himself from these potentially toxic friends. Suddenly their relationship was being rewritten. Cameron reluctantly admitted that he had ridden a horse belonging to Mrs Brooks, but claimed it was “before the election”. During the Leveson inquiry it emerged that Dave signed his regular text messages to his pal Rebekah LOL – thinking it meant lots of love, when it actually means laugh out loud, not something our Prime Minister will be doing much of at the moment.
In an interview he did for LBC in December 2012, broadcast only this week, Brooks said he was “disappointed” when, after his wife was charged, Cameron stood up in the Commons and said she should resign. He told LBC he “didn’t have all of the facts at his fingertips to comment on that”. Brooks said he expected Cameron would eventually say he was sorry, and thought they probably could be friends again. They had stopped seeing each other, but he held no grudges over that.
When Cameron looks for people he can trust, he tends to go back to people he was at school or university with – Oliver Letwin, Jo Johnson, brother of Boris, who is head of his policy unit, Ed Llewellyn, his chief of staff, and Rupert Harrison, chief of staff to George Osborne. Friends from Oxford include Catherine Fall, his deputy chief of staff.
Does Cameron feel safe only with people he was at school or university with? It would seem so, and Gove has called it “ridiculous”. What a narrow gene pool to select friends from. Could it be that our Prime Minister is completely inept at making real friends and at being a true friend?
His circle also includes Jeremy Clarkson, his Cotswolds neighbour, and couple Matthew Freud and Elisabeth Murdoch, ditto. There’s the swanky party for creative types he’s giving at Downing Street next week, but Clare Balding, Simon Cowell and Fern Britton are hardly his bosom buddies, are they? That’s just a PR exercise.
The picture that emerges is of an insecure bloke of limited life experience who doesn’t really know (or want to know) people outside his small circle, and that is true of so many politicians. They waffle on about “hard-working families”, but their narrow range of friends gives them little feedback from the real world of the electorate. No wonder most politicians fear annihilation at the next election.
Too many kitchens, too much money, too little sense
The Duchess of Cambridge doesn’t look like a woman who eats much. She’s said to eat raw food one day a week to maintain her slender figure. If that’s true, I am entertained by the news that she needs a second kitchen in her new home in Kensington Palace.
The main kitchen, a whopping 350sq ft, is the size of a small flat in central London, which means it would probably be worth half a million quid in that postcode. Bringing the existing kitchen up to scratch cost £170,000, and now we’re told the duchess has requested a smaller, “private family kitchen”.
Taxpayers face a bill of £4.5m for the renovations, although the royal couple have paid for furnishings and fittings. But the question remains, why can’t the duke and duchess just use a corner of the main kitchen for preparing their date-night TV dinners? The trend for multi-kitchens is rampant among those with more money than sense, along with wet rooms. Us normal folk just have showers, but multimillionaires want wet rooms which are basically big tiled toilets with a shower head in the ceiling. Kate will want a nail bar and beauty salon like Victoria Beckham next.
This fashion for foghorn is getting out of hand
Are there fashions in avant-garde maritime performance art? Last Saturday evening I enjoyed (is that the right word?) my second foghorn piece in a year. I bet there aren’t many people in Britain who can say that.
For the highlight of the Whitstable Biennale 2014, hundreds of people gathered around the harbour and along the sea wall to watch a performance of 51° 21’ 45” N, 1°, 01’, 13” E Whitstable Sounding, created by Turner Prize nominated sculptor Richard Wilson and the artists Zatorski + Zatorski. Offshore, two historic sailing vessels emerged from clouds of steam and coloured smoke in the dusk, surrounded by bursts of light from flares, exactly like something by Turner. A “soundtrack” was provided by steam whistles, bells, air horns and old sirens.
Almost exactly a year ago, I drove to South Shields for the world premiere of the Foghorn Requiem by Orlando Gough, which featured a brass band and more than 50 ships offshore interacting with the majestic sound of the Souter Lighthouse foghorn. That was truly awe-inspiring. So how did Whitstable Sounding measure up? After a straw poll in the local newsagent, I’d say the residents weren’t entirely won over. “Sounded exactly like the Clangers”, was the general consensus. I’d give the spectacle four stars and the soundtrack three.
The greatest legacy of the outrageous Felix Dennis
I encounter few people in my life who seem intimidating, but Felix Dennis, who died this week, was one of them. People think I am outrageous, but compared to Felix I am feeble. Felix personified positivity and enthusiasm. He was vulgar, crude and self-obsessed, immensely rich and secretly lonely, although he would never admit it.
We met in 1968 soon after I married for the first time and was living in a mansion flat in Chelsea. Felix, who used to flog Oz magazine on the King’s Road, was a regular visitor. He was soon promoted to ad manager as he was so smart, and before long was co-editor with the rather supercilious Richard Neville.
I’d just started working on a teenage magazine, and was terrified my bosses would find out I had been busted for dope and fined £5. They never did. Felix was fearless, and turned the Oz obscenity trial to his advantage by dressing up in school uniform. He was a complete exhibitionist.
Our paths crossed again when I married the owner of Time Out, Tony Elliott, who was one of his closest friends. Lunch with Felix could be pretty stomach-churning as he would recount in grisly detail all the gross sexual escapades he had persuaded his latest women to indulge him in. Felix had no “off valve” or notion of good taste. Everything was full volume, played to the limit.
He sent me packages of DVDs and CDs, press cuttings and books regularly, right up to a few weeks ago. Funnily enough, his greatest achievement will be something that makes very little sound, is majestically slow growing and doesn’t answer back. It’s Britain’s largest man-made oak forest – 50,000 acres planted by Felix on his estate in Warwickshire. A wonderful memorial to a true showman.