Susie Rushton: 'Pressure of work' is no excuse

For the personal energy a designer is required to put in, the responsibilities of a CEO look like a doddle

Who knows what was going through John Galliano's mind one night last week as he traded insults with a couple in a Paris bar? The truth of what was said in this unseemly scrap remains disputed, but as a second video emerged yesterday of a drunken Galliano apparently announcing "I love Hitler" on a different occasion but in the very same bar in the Marais district, it looks as if the designer's professional image may be fatally tainted, whether he is formally charged or not.

Is John Galliano, now suspended by his bosses at Christian Dior, to go down in history as haute couture's answer to Mel Gibson? He is an unlikely racist, say some friends and defenders in the fashion world. A man who mined ideas for his spectacular fashion shows by taking in-depth research trips to Japan, China and Africa, his obvious curiosity and hunger for knowledge would seem incompatible with a world view that might find one attacking a stranger (as Galliano is said to have done) for being "Asian".

Certainly, the reported comments sound as preposterous as the rock-star pose he is said to have struck at the end of the tirade. He is also said to have called one of his fellow drinkers "a whore", before insulting her handbag, her boots, and her eyebrows. Not so much a racially motivated attack, perhaps, as the comprehensively misanthropic rant of a man in an alcohol-enhanced meltdown.

One week before he was due to present two fashion collections, Galliano was obviously buckling under the pressure. "[Designers] work incredibly hard," one of Galliano's biographers told a newspaper at the weekend. "If he's had a little more than he should have to drink, one can understand that."

Since 1996, the British-born designer has single-handedly helmed France's most prestigious fashion house, producing dozens of collections a year for an empire that makes £588m in annual profits. Being the chief designer at a modern fashion brand is no dilettante pursuit. For the personal energy a designer is required to put in, the responsibilities of a CEO of, say, an energy conglomerate, look like a doddle. Delegation is near impossible; total involvement in every aspect of the business is the norm. Anybody doubting the pressure that top fashion designers endure cannot have caught the More4 documentary McQueen and I on Friday, which graphically illustrated how the demands of the modern fashion business contributed to Alexander McQueen's suicide at the age of 40 (he took his life in the run-up to a fashion week).

But Galliano will find little sympathy. "Pressure of work" as an excuse for celebrity bad behaviour simply won't wash at the moment – not when millions in far less well-paid careers also feel job insecurity and the stress of cutbacks, downsizing and falling pay levels. Last week the TUC reported that "flexible" workers are putting in more unpaid overtime than ever before. So when a frazzled Nick Clegg complains that he simply must have his skiing holiday, we roll our eyes. If we hear that investment bankers need a bonus to keep them going through 14-hour days, we suggest they relocate right off. The recession has caused an empathy drought. And our intolerance isn't only aimed at people in the public eye.

At lunchtime yesterday in a crowded cafe I had to share a table with a youngish couple that moaned without pause for breath about how hard they worked at their jobs in architecture. Then one of them sighed: "You know, it really isn't an 80-grand-a-year job", as if he were on the breadline, and my empathy evaporated.

World-famous fashion designer, powerful politician, successful architect, rich banker: these are the jobs we are taught to hunger for from a young age. But who wants one of these so-called top jobs if it turns you into a boring, selfish, aggressive, drunken sociopath?