Terence Blacker: Our strange need for a Scarlet Woman

Notebook

Share
Related Topics

Some call it romanticism, others prurience. Whatever the label, a fervent interest in the love lives (that is, the sex lives) of others is now as deeply embedded in the psyche of the nation as its affection for grand public events involving the royal family.

British voyeurism has its traditions and rituals, too. At any one time, a small number of attractive women in public life will be the focus of mass longing, and its first cousin, disapproval. Quite how the role of National Scarlet Woman is attained is something of a mystery. Ambition helps, but is not enough in itself. Age, perhaps rather encouragingly, is no barrier to NSW status, and nor is nationality.

The past few days have seen lip-smacking and ogling of an unusual intensity. Nancy Dell'Olio, who is something of a veteran among NSWs, has made a comeback by going on holiday with the married theatrical knight, Sir Trevor Nunn.

Nancy plays this game quite beautifully, making herself available for interview and photographs, and giving a good quote. "When I am in a relationship, I am usually the one in control, although I also like to lose control," she told one journalist. "I like to be led, not always to lead."

It is important for the NSW to be bad in the conventional sense – Nancy claims that, as a law student, she had affairs with all three of her professors – but good where it matters. Like Ulrika Jonsson, another member of this exclusive club, she has had an eventful, occasionally sad romantic life, every new turn of which is reported in the press.

The British are surprisingly loyal to their fantasy objects. They may be reviled by the press on occasions (too vulgar, too brazen, "a maneater") but, quite suddenly, the sun will shine on them again.

Prurience unites the classes as little else does. Where the middle-class media has Nancy or Ulrika, their tabloid rivals dwell lovingly on the latest excitements in the life of Jordan, also known as Katie Price. While the others have a hint of the enigmatic and foreign to them, Katie offers an old favourite of the sex-starved British, pneumatic randiness.

It is, one assumes, something of an act for her, just as it was for those who have played the role in the past, Barbara Windsor or Samantha Fox. Here the fantasy has nothing to do with mystery, with leading or being led. What matters is perceived availability. The tabloid NSW is always up for it.

Not all of our fantasy figures need to be scarlet in their approach. Another favourite is the wholesome, blooming, nicely brought up girl who, so the dream goes, misbehaves only when appropriate.

One of the creepier aspects surrounding the royal wedding has been the sense that, as interest in the event itself has faded, something clammy and voyeuristic has kicked in. There was Huw Edwards' rather odd remark about the bride's breasts ("a limited view, but a splendid view"), the eagerly-recounted stories of Kate Middleton's trips to lingerie shops, even a photograph in one Sunday newspaper of the bed in which the couple would spend their first night as man and wife.

If Princess Diana had once complained there were "three of us in this marriage", her son and daughter-in-law must feel there are a few million in theirs.

Because it is not seemly for the British to lust openly over a member of the Royal Family, the hunt has been on for a substitute. It is the bride's sister, Philippa, who has won this unhappy prize. The tabloids now refer hungrily to her as "Her Royal Hotness".

Poor woman. She did her best to look attractive and respectable at a royal occasion, and has woken up to discover that her behind has suddenly become a focus of erotic yearning for the strange nation over which her sister will one day reign.



I'm all in favour of show trials for litter-throwers



The more that crazed libertarians in government prate about declaring war on rules and regulations, the more essential much of the derided legislation seems to be. For example, some excellent red tape is about to be rolled out to counter the rising tide of litter around our roads.

Motorists who chuck waste out of the windows of their cars will be liable to an £80 fine, even if the offender is a passenger.

Should the fine not be paid, magistrates can impose penalties of up to £2500. Already there have been whingeing complaints about "the war on the motorist" and how local councils should take responsibility rather than clobbering citizens. They should be ignored.

One or two show-trials of those who discard the remains of their lunch on to the road would be a marvellous way to encourage people to support the big, litter-free society.



Shame on those who hunt the lovely turtle dove



One of our most beautiful and best-loved birds, the turtle dove, is disappearing from our skies. According to new research by the British Trust for Ornithology, the turtle dove is no longer to be found in 40 per cent of the territories where it was breeding 20 years ago, and its numbers have declined by a shocking 71 per cent in the past decade.

Some blame can be attached to changing agricultural practices here and habitat loss in Africa, where the turtle doves live in the winter months, but the main problem is that they are shot and trapped in their millions as they migrate over Malta, Cyprus and parts of southern Europe.

That this symbol of love could be destroyed by human ignorance and cruelty should be a source of species shame.



React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior Property Manager

£13000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Junior Property Manager in a yo...

Recruitment Genius: Web Development Manager

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has ari...

Recruitment Genius: Service and Installation Engineer

£22000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has ari...

Recruitment Genius: SEO / Outreach Executive

£20000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client is a global marketin...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Newspaper stands have been criticised by the Child Eyes campaign  

There were more reader complaints this year – but, then again, there were more readers

Will Gore
 

People drink to shut out pain and stress – arresting them won’t help

Deborah Coughlin
A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

Homeless Veterans appeal

Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

Scarred by the bell

The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

The Locked Room Mysteries

As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

How I made myself Keane

Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

Wear in review

A look back at fashion in 2014
Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

Might just one of them happen?
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?