“I was very surprised by their reaction. It was neurotic and very heavy-handed,” whined Martin Clunes about being shunted as the face of Churchill Car Insurance following his driving ban. Clunes had totted up 12 points for speeding. Possibly, he thinks the courts are “neurotic”, too. And those ashen-faced pedestrians who no longer need to leap into hedges when he turns out of his driveway. Or irritating birds like me, still a bit narky about being run over on a zebra crossing – not by Clunes, incidentally – but by a similar nork.
The ad agency and client aren’t being heavy-handed, Martin. They’re showing a rare, remarkable instance of laser clarity and – gasp – morality. You were employed to be the embodiment of “everyman who needs car insurance”. But if, Martin, you were to call Churchill right now, the phone call would trundle along something like: “Hello, I’d like to check what insurance I need to sit redundantly and wholly emasculated in the passenger seat shouting VROOM VROOM while my wife drives me to Waitrose, for I am banned from British roads due to the court’s suspicion that I may kill or maim!” To which the call-centre employee – picking his teeth with an unfurled paperclip – might reply: “Sir, you don’t actually need insurance to be in charge of changing the Chris Rea CD or handing out wine gums. Good day to you.”
Clunes doesn’t see it this way. “It was quite rude, actually,” he moaned. “They never said goodbye. They never said thanks. They washed their hands of me completely.” Keeping in mind that Churchill binned Vic Reeves in 2005 when he was convicted for drink driving, well that jowly faced bulldog has a track record for bearing his fangs.
I love that Clunes thought he might get a “so long buddy” muffin basket and a bear hug from the CEO. Clunes owns a 135-acre farm in Dorset. His ad appearance fee was his thank you.
Churchill Insurance is unique in this day and age because it’s rare that clients and agencies truly give a stuff if celebs are a good fit for the product they’re flogging. Let’s consider the brain leaps that took Everything Everywhere to hire Kevin Bacon – to whom the pseudo-intellectual cultural meme of the past 20 years claims everyone is connected by six degrees – and to then create adverts which completely misunderstand the meme, leaving Bacon burbling a load of verbal slurry while Britain reaches frantically for its remote control. Harmless but bloody annoying. Or consider MasterChef’s Gregg Wallace, who for the past 12 months has treated interviewers to the murky undercarriage of his painful separation from a woman 17 years younger than he is, as he shrank with heartbreak before our eyes. Now – whoop! – he’s the face of WeightWatchers. How many WeightWatchers points is “a good cry and two plays of a Leonard Cohen album”?
Of course, Britain’s most jarring celebrity ad endorsement right now is Kerry “anthropomorphised slow-moving car-crash” Katona flogging payday loans directed at young women for the delightful “Cash Lady”. Kerry Katona was declared bankrupt in August 2008. It is believed she had outstanding debts in the form of unpaid taxes from 2004 to 2006, amounting to £417,000. And now here Katona is, 20 times a day on daytime TV, in a pretty frock with her nails done and hair beautifully coiffed, telling young girls they can get cash within the hour after a two-minute consultation.
Katona’s “ladies” are signing up for an APR of 2,670 per cent. Even if they borrow £180 for just 28 days, they still end up paying an interest rate of 378 per cent. It is unclear whether Katona will pop around and be your wise-cracking salt-of-the earth buddy when the bailiffs appear to take your TV, sofa and pram. Using Katona as the honeytrap for this deal is reprehensible. Katona flogging this notion to her fan base is murky in the extreme.
As yet, it’s unclear who’ll replace Martin Clunes as the face of safe, responsible driving, but I’ve failed my test six times already so surely – on an ad agency shortlist – I must be in the running.
How will I cope if they stop the new migrants?
The mind boggles how ministers might put off Romanians and Bulgarians from coming to Britain via a negative advertising campaign. Pictures of Rylan off The X Factor spray-tanning his behind? A long audio clip of a dinner party where people eat a Jamie Oliver meal in 30 minutes and discuss Farrow & Ball paint shades? An M6 service station breakfast that costs £14 with 50p extra for ketchup? A weekend in Blackpool in sideways sleet? A wee on one of those rogue Virgin trains with loo doors that open, turning the carriage of commuters into a mobile gynaecology unit?
The thing is, I rather love Britain because of these things and not in spite of them. And I rather like Bulgarians and Romanians, too, having employed them over the past five years and found them focused, funny and hard-working. My agent and my accountant are Polish and that works out rather well for me, too. There are no neat solutions to immigration, so to simply confess that my life is held together by trustworthy, diligent immigrants and that I’d be quite lost without them may sound rather glib, but it’s a truth seldom uttered by anyone in power with anything to lose. We lose sight of these people as human beings at our peril.
Botox shouldn’t be a party
The Royal College of Surgeons (RCS) wants to put an end to “Botox parties”. Only trained doctors, nurses and dentists should provide non-surgical cosmetic treatments. Good. Alarm bells went off for me when friends began going on two-day botox courses, arriving home with syringes, vials and an offer of a quick fix in their kitchen amongst the Crunchy Nut Corn Flakes boxes and cat litter trays. I have never had botox, my face is rigid enough already, and I’m glad the RCS want to deter me by making it more like a proper medical procedure and less like Avon calling.