i Editor's Letter: Struggling with the public image


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The Independent Online


How many of you have been on television? Relatively few of us, even with training, could go on air and project gravitas and wit under heavy fire. In my own case, at least, I speak from experience. During my first screen test, instead of speaking at the recommended three words a second, I used seven. The best advice I received before going on BBC and Sky newspaper reviews was simply: “When you run out of things to say, shut up.”

So I sympathise with politicians who struggle with their public image. Ed Miliband is trying to confront this weakness by pleading, in a playful understatement: “I am not the guy from central casting”.

There should be no law against style. But if Mr Miliband doesn’t take 10 Downing Street in May, it won’t be  because he looks geeky, but because the Shadow Cabinet have failed to convince enough of the public that they are a credible government in waiting.


I went to my first Prom this week, the  premiere of the Pet Shop Boys’ tribute to Alan Turing. (I didn’t bump into Janet Street-Porter.) Juliet Stevenson impassively narrated the life of the computing pioneer and codebreaker who was persecuted for being gay – accompanied by stirring electronica, lavish strings and a sort of Greek chorus led by Neil Tennant.

Ambitious and moving, it finished on a celebratory note that nevertheless  acknowledged the tens of thousands of  convicted gay men still unpardoned.

More trivially: thanks to the couple behind us for the added entertainment.  We got to the Royal Albert Hall too late  to buy a drink, but these two had hit the  bar for the rest of us. Five minutes in,  she booted over their wine bottle. An ice bucket followed, then the glasses, before she passed out in her seat in a  startling position. Unless one is sitting  in the gods, it’s advisable to keep legs  closed and feet below head height…

The perils of late-night gigs!


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