Sarah Sands: Paxman: Prince Charles, but with the angst in his pants

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The Independent Online

The question I have asked every BBC news journalist I know is: what was Jeremy Paxman's intention when he introduced the phrase "gusset anxiety" to the English language? The consensus view is 1) The email to Sir Stuart Rose may have been written with bitter humour but was sincerely and deeply felt. 2) Paxman is genuinely dismayed that the email was leaked. So is Sir Stuart, despite his public good humour.

One of his colleagues made a scathing reference to the King Learesque disarray of Paxman's genitals as the reason for his discomfort. But then a bad workman blames his tool. The delightful episode has a familiar note. Who else writes barmy letters to public figures, which are received with amused irritation? Prince Charles, of course.

We have read much this week about the unhealthy identification of Oscar nominee Daniel Day-Lewis with the characters he plays. Could a literary version of this phenomenon have occurred with Jeremy Paxman while writing his book On Royalty? During a subsequent interview, Paxman reminisced tenderly about an encounter with the Queen: "She was talking to the Crown Equerry about horses and I thought, 'This could be my mum.'" Uh oh. Note, too, the confidently insider phrase "Crown Equerry". Backstairs Billy could not have faulted Paxman's terms.

The pants email had a Prince Charles hallmark to it. It speaks for the beleaguered silent majority. In the prince's case, these are country folk, for Paxman they are the wearers of Marks and Spencer underwear. The underlying grievance is modernity. What has it brought us apart from a compensation culture, political correctness, dumbed-down television and lousy pants? There is also a reluctant sense of duty, as if nobody else can be relied upon to champion the cause.

Alan Bennett mentioned on the Today programme that Prince Charles had reproached Tom Stoppard for not writing The History Boys. I heard a slight variation on this story. Prince Charles congratulated the National Theatre for realising his vision of the play. A careless reader might think that Prince Charles had written The History Boys himself. Paxman has admitted a cultural and social sympathy with the royals, if not an intellectual one. He spent a weekend at Sandringham, and wrote afterwards that his underpants had been pressed by a valet. Or would that be a Crown Valet? Thus we can trace the root cause of the gusset anxiety.

Like Prince Charles, Paxman has a liberal/conservative world view that is best described as Mortimerism. Their spiritual pillars are the London Library, the countryside, and a melancholy and uncertain affection for the Church of England. They also share a taste in women. Paxman says of Camilla: "I love her. I adore her." If Camilla were to be run over by a horse, both men would probably opt for John Mortimer's wife Penny as an ideal companion.

There are two particular causes of the prince and Paxo's irritable frustration. One is medical, the other existential. Charles's back pain nags at him, and I am told that Jeremy has trouble with his knees. Let us hope both these conditions are curable. Their sense of isolation and futility is harder to solve. Prince Charles has been in training all his life to succeed the Queen. Jeremy Paxman has always been the heir to David Dimbleby. Until both men assume their rightful positions, there will be further torrents of letters and emails. But eventually, it will cease.

As Paxman wrote empathetically: "Once Prince Charles is King, he will be obliged to keep his views to himself."