Terence Blacker: Don't look at me, look at all my good works

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The Independent Online

There will be radio listeners whose self-soothing repertoires have been tested to the limit over the past few days. Those who happen to be thermostatically impaired may even have become disregulated. They had been listening to the 2006 Woman of the Year, Camila Batmanghelidjh, on the Today programme.

She was speaking on an important topic, the alienation of teenagers, and, as founder of the charity Kids Company, which helps deprived and disturbed children, is clearly a person of authority. She was a speaker at the last Conservative conference and is widely thought to have been behind David Cameron's "hug-a-hoodie" speech.

Her appearance is striking. Turbaned and fond of garishly coloured fabrics, she looks like an explosion in a curtain shop. She also has her own, occasionally impenetrable, brand of jargon. "A lot of these types of young people are thermostatically impaired," she told a startled John Humphrys. "In addition, they have got very poor self-soothing repertoires because they have been deprived of loving care... They are supercharged with traumatic memories which disregulate their management of energy. And I think we need to be looking at the problem at these levels. Cultural factors only give you the weapons, they don't give you the feeling to kill."

There is a strong element of exhibitionism in this kind of jargon, a sense that the messenger feels herself to be at least as important as the message and, to judge by an account of her busy week in a Sunday newspaper, Batmanghelidjh is not lacking in self-importance. With a few celebrity name-drops (Prince Charles has been amazing, and so have Cherie Blair and Libby Purves), some shameless self-advertisement and crying jags for those poor kids every other paragraph, the article was a blatant application for the privilege of being parodied by Craig Brown. "I'm a mixture," says Camila. "I'm wise but I completely undo myself with my childishness."

This is a very modish type of egocentric celebrity caring, which was pioneered down the years by such champions of emotional exhibitionism as Princess Diana, Esther Rantzen and Bob Geldof. But the person who most memorably contained that odd combination of genuine goodness with silly vanity was Lord Longford. Like Camila Batmanghelidjh, Longford espoused unpopular causes and spoke up for society's outcasts, yet had a weakness for being in the spotlight which made it difficult to take him seriously.

Very much a joke figure in his time, in the 1970s and 1980s, Longford ignored the mockery and went on visiting prisoners, supporting drugs clinics and expressing his faith throughout his life. Now, at least among the few people who remember him, he seems a genuinely heroic figure. What survived was not his moments in front of the camera, but the work that he did. In that context, his love of personal publicity not only seems a relatively minor vice but may indeed have been essential to his role as a public carer. Those who quietly and self-effacingly go about their good works tend not to appear on TV chat shows or on the Today programme. A certain amount of egotism is required.

For all her mad jargon and her powerful sense of her own significance, Camila Batmanghelidjh is where she should be, doing an important job as she represents the case of the young and generally stirs things up. The fact that she needs to tell us all about it simply goes with the territory.

Stripping is not for amateurs

The season of soft-porn calendars is upon us. From all parts of middle England, the year's harvest of dimpled thighs, perky buttocks and breasts wobbling sadly behind pot plants will soon be available. In the name of charity, that first refuge of the modern exhibitionist, more and more people have been parading their unlovely flesh.

At a time when we are all supposed to be worrying about pornography on the web, it is an odd trend. The local worthies who pose for a good cause - nurses, farmers, the Women's Institute - are those most likely to disapprove of their colleagues on page three of the Sun, or in Knave.

The English amateur spirit is all very well but stripping is one area which should be left to the experts.

* For all the talk of political correctness, certain types of insensitivity and national stereotyping seem not only to be thriving, but on the increase.

Describing Kazakhstan's campaign to be considered for the chairmanship of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, The Times chose to headline its story: "Borat's nation seeks leading role in Europe".

The bid, it was reported, was "an audacious attempt by Borat's home country to win the chairmanship of an international body that champions free elections."

Would it be unduly po-faced to suggest that if, at some point in the past, the international press had announced that Basil Fawlty's nation was going to war in the Falklands, the British might have felt slightly aggrieved?

When the world of celebrity and entertainment is so all-powerful that a nation can be presented only as backdrop to a comic fiction, then we are heading for a true moral muddle.

terblacker@aol.com

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