Deborah Orr: It is wrong to give out the message that only the strongest can avoid George Best's fate

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The Independent Online

I know it isn't decorous to bang on about George Best on the day of his funeral. But in my defence, if I can completely mangle a well-known phrase or saying, my intention is neither to praise nor to bury the Belfast boy.

Last week, in the first days after his death, there was an amazing outpouring of uncritical affection for the man. Then, in typical media fashion, there was a rearguard action, with many angrier and less sentimental voices voices parrying the eulogies with stories of his self-indulgence, his cruelty, his violence and his misogyny.

What makes me sad, though, is that, in their very contradiction, these two sets of opinions underpin the most dangerous myth of all the myths we humans tell ourselves. This myth is that perfect genius and fatal flaw go hand in hand, the one being the terrible price that the gods exact in return for their generous present of the other.

Now, practically speaking, there is some truth here. But it is not existential. It is circumstantial. Best was treated differently from other people from an early age because of his great talent. He was sent away from his family to another country, even though he was reluctant to go, at a young age. Soon after this, he was surrounded by adoring people - men and women - who would forgive him.

By contrast, at work, he was hated by opposing teams because he had the power to run rings round them literally, and also to large extent by his own colleagues, all of whom are united in admitting that the guy was not a team player. At no point was he ever challenged in his idea that his talent at football was enough. Best, because of his genius, was not marked by fate. Instead, he was marked by the absence of a normal transition from childish reliance to adult responsibility.

Ah, you say, but that misses the point. The terrible curse that the gods placed on Best was his alcoholism. That is what destroyed his talent and his body. The poor guy was enslaved by his nature and his genes.

Again, it's more complex than that. Best may have wanted his wasted body to be a warning to others who abuse alcohol. But why should it be, when his own mother's death through the same disease was not a wake-up call to him? The truth is that even Best's illness and his inability to overcome it were the result of his complete ignorance of the idea that one's own life - all of it - has to be owned by oneself. It is tragic when someone is unable to forbear from drinking himself to death. But it is wrong to give out the message that only the strongest can avoid this fate.

All you have to do, really, is own your weakness, and understand that the drink/the fags/the blondes are not the powerful thing that is attracting you. Instead, they are just things and it's up to you to to take responsibility for not going near them.

When George Best says that his life would have been different if he'd been less pretty because women wouldn't have found him attractive, he is exposing how his lack of responsibility around his alcohol addiction also manifested itself in his other choices.

If so very many women flocked around George, why wasn't he able to find a single one ever that he could hang on to? It was, quite simply, because he always blamed them when things went wrong, instead of taking responsibility himself. He chose the women who would accept that behaviour - at least for a while - in the same way as he chose the barmen who would serve him with alcohol.

The tragedy is that if Best had been able to work this out, he might now be happy and fulfilled and still making a great contribution to football, to his family and to all the people around the world who loved him. Instead, he is dead and will never, ever be able to take charge of himself.

I hear that a fund is being set up to make a memorial statue of George, and I'm not against that, not at all. But by colluding in the myth of the tortured genius, people taint this man's sad memory. It wasn't his glorious genius that tortured George. It was his mulish refusal to care like an adult for himself and others. May he rest in peace.

Shrinking violet

I see that the lovely Gwyneth Paltrow has become the face of Estée Lauder, and is absolutely everywhere, with her beautiful, air-brushed-looking face beaming out from bus stops. Which is a bit confusing, because I thought she found it a dreadful intrusion, having her picture taken all the time. I thought all the attention attracted by her great fame was the bane of her life. So why is she courting more attention? Is it because she is a total bloody hypocrite? Or is it because she is a fool and a narcissist?

It's hardly a new or unique phenomenon, this one I've so cleverly noticed. But why are they such dumb spoilt idiots, these people? They bang on about being punished for their creativity, then announce to the world that they've got a new baby coming by flogging perfume and giving interviews. There's no excuse, Gwynnie. What is so clever or challenging about having your picture taken by a top snapper, then handing it over to be touched up? Why is she doing this? Because she and her rock star husband are worried about the gas bill? Because if she didn't get lots of unwanted attention, there would be nothing at all in her life to complain about? I'm never going to buy her stinky perfume. Never, ever. So there.

This obsession with youth has got to stop

I know that our respected rival, The Guardian, prides itself on its youthful readership. After all, even I was once young enough to work there. But I'm wondering if the newspaper is now taking its craving for the student audience a bit too far. Yesterday, in huge front-page letters, the Graun loudly advertised the exciting fact that just like all other newspapers, it was carrying educational league tables (though Guardian readers are, of course, against such awful Tory things): "How well did your primary school do?" it demanded, speaking directly and uncompromisingly to its people, as all the most confident newspapers do.

I do hope that the exigencies of targeting the under-12s don't leave the teenage readers feeling patronised, though. Or is pressure on this matter being brought to bear in high places? Ruth Kelly, a former Guardian writer in her own preteens, is now considering a humiliating U-turn on synthetic phonetics in order to drive up literacy in the under-sevens. Clearly this would have a very positive impact on the complexity of the conceits the paper would be able to employ in its leaders.

So what next? Vendors hanging around the nursery gates, pushing their lefty ideas at an audience too vulnerable to be able to say: "Bugger off. I've got Sats coming up, and I prefer to digest my news in the form of The Week, relying on the internet for more radical commentary when the big stories break. That Alan Rusbridger only looks like Harry Potter. He can't really do magic. Your esteemed editor doesn't fool me."

Or even more marvellously: "My arms are still tiny. The Independent's as much as I can handle, thanks."

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