Alice Jones: The couple who showed us why we don't need gagging orders

The Saturday Column
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The Independent Online

I never thought I'd write this but – deep breath, here goes – the sight of Sir Trevor Nunn in his mangy old dressing gown warmed the cockles this week.

There he stood, on the steps of his – no doubt artfully boho-styled – west London home, his paunch barely contained in striped turquoise terry-towelling, his beard mussed with sleep, his eyes pinpricks, buried beneath an airport carousel of bags. Next to him slouched Imogen Stubbs, a fragrant, rumpled vision in mismatched Gap sleepwear and bed hair. Forget lace and medals and Mario Testino, yawned Stubbs to the assembled paparazzi – this is what a modern marriage looks like. This, bellowed Nunn, getting (a little blearily, but it was early) into his declamatory RSC stride, is what free speech looks like!

OK, I made that last bit up. They didn't actually say anything at all. They didn't need to. Over the past week, the Nunn/Stubbs marriage has been generating almost as many column inches as that other one. It began over the Easter weekend when Nunn, 71, was spotted canoodling with Sven Goran Eriksson's vampy ex-girlfriend Nancy Dell'Olio, 49-ish, on a budget Flybe flight to Newquay, then mooning over her at Jamie Oliver's Fifteen restaurant in Watergate Bay before finally being papped, beaming, with her on the balcony of his £750,000 Cornish "cottage". A very 21st-century romance, you might say.

Then, in a trio of limelight-stealing speeches worthy of an actress with a quarter of a century of treading the boards behind her, Imogen Stubbs announced first that she and Nunn hadn't split up but were going through a very difficult time (and now can I go and see my lawyer, please?), then that she and Nunn were separating "after 21 wonderful years together" and then that she had, in fact, been in a relationship with someone else "for a while". Not to be outdone, Nunn and Nancy were photographed the next night leaving a swanky west London restaurant in matching Clarkson-style denim. Meanwhile, the theatre world – and beyond – was aflame with tittle-tattle about the identity of Stubbs' mystery other man.

Just as the Beatrice and Benedick-style tit-for-tat really seemed to be getting going, the drama king and queen shut everyone up with their one last coup de théâtre – appearing, together, in their pyjamas, on the doorstep of their family home. What did it mean? Had they been reunited? Or were they living together but loving apart? Happily separated or putting on a pretence of togetherness? The gossips, unable to process this confusing turn of events, were effectively gagged.

There is, undoubtedly, something unpleasantly salacious about the breathless coverage of what is a sad, personal event – the end of a marriage that has lasted more than two decades – for two people. And not only for them, but for their families and friends, too. But with their early-morning threshold appearance, the couple tacitly acknowledged the peculiarities of their situation. We live our lives in the public eye, they seemed to say; go ahead and write about them, if you like. And, now, let us get back to our breakfast.

How refreshingly open in a week where the astonishing number of actors, television personalities, footballers and bankers hiding behind silhouettes and blacked-out names was revealed. With the help of their considerable wealth, these public figures have taken out super-injunctions to cover up their misdemeanours and then, just to make sure, covered up the cover-up too, in some cases threatening the entire globe with a court case should it dare to breathe a word about the whole sorry affair.

Meanwhile, those less able to protect themselves with an armoury of cash and legalese have found themselves subjected to twice as much scrutiny – as in the case of the model and Big Brother contestant Imogen Thomas, a single woman whose affair with a footballer has been made public knowledge while her married lover continues to bask in his gilded anonymity.

There is, of course, no good reason why the affairs of famous folk should be played out in the newspapers for our entertainment and the freedom of expression argument is all too slickly adopted by self-interested media outlets with one eye on their sales figures. But the alternative – a world in which privacy, at whatever cost, can be bought, and the rich and powerful can gag the press willy nilly – is far more terrifying. Even Andrew Marr, withdrawing his own misguided super-injunction this week, admitted: "There is a case for privacy in a limited number of difficult situations, but then you have to move on. They shouldn't be for ever and a proper sense of proportion is required."

In other words, sensible adult judgement is needed – both on the part of the famous figures and those reporting on them. In the meantime, part of being an adult is learning to face up to the consequences of one's actions. And somehow, by hitting the street in their jim-jams, Trevor Nunn and Imogen Stubbs have made themselves look far more grown-up than their fellow actors and public players still lurking, coy and cowardly, behind the scenes.

An unexpected victory for the slowcoaches

There are still 15 months to go, but the first gold medal of the London 2012 Olympics has already been awarded – to Team Terminally Disorganised. If, like me, you failed to log on by midnight on Tuesday to give away your credit-card details in return for tickets to the men's kayaking heats in Hertfordshire or the women's 10m air rifle qualification rounds – which you may or may not obtain or be able to afford or even want in well over a year's time – you may be doing a small victory dance (perhaps while humming the national anthem) this weekend.

Defying the expectations of, well, everyone, the big event sports – athletics, swimming and football – still have tickets available. That there's not a seat to be had in the velodrome is hardly surprising, given Great Britain's magnificent 12-medal haul at the Beijing Olympics. But what to make of the fact that tickets for the rather more esoteric pursuits of rhythmic gymnastics, modern pentathlon, triathlon and cross-country equestrian have also sold out? They've all gone, snapped up by the diary-toting 1.8 million who ran amok in the cyber-aisles, gobbling 20 million tickets between them, rather like those people who camp outside Selfridges at the January sales and then dash in and grab all the designer handbags.

Maybe it's simply that horse-riding and pentathlon fans are particularly well-organised folk, with plenty of spare cash in their bank accounts. Or maybe it's that everyone hung back from going for the really big tickets, thinking they probably wouldn't win them. How very British.

To be frank (furter), this is real progress

Well, dears, this is very good news. A blow for equality, struck, unlikely as it may sound, by Nathan's Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest. The annual extreme eating competition, which began in 1916, has never crowned a female winner and this year has introduced a separate women's division for the first time.

Favourite to scoop the inaugural prize at the Coney Island final on 4 July is Sonya "The Black Widow" Thomas of Alexandria, Virginia, who has a personal best of 41 hot dogs – plus buns – in 10 minutes. The prize pot in question (no, it's not just about the glory/heartburn) was originally set at $5,000, some $15,000 less than then men's. Uproar followed and this week, the women's winnings were duly upped to $20,000.

So, unlike almost every other sport (except tennis), in which rewarding female victors with a fraction of the winnings enjoyed by men is the norm, hot-dog eating has embraced parity.

You can scoff all you like, but that's progress.