This superhuman woman deserves praise

Ellen has one quality that will never endear her to a male-dominated press - she doesn't conform to stereotypes
Click to follow
The Independent Online
Pete Doherty enters rehab, the Pope lives to bless another day, and Cherie Blair is once again the source of much journalistic hand-wringing. So much of our news is conveyed as an on-going soap opera in which people in the public eye, from politicians to pop stars, get more or less the same treatment. They become bit-part players in an unfolding drama.

So female MPs are said to be enraged that plain-speaking macho man Alastair Campbell is back at the centre of things. This bully-boy has already fired off enough expletives on his Blackberry to fill pages of copy. There are suggestions that policies such as childcare will be sidelined to emphasise "male" issues like immigration and crime, and that ministers like Patricia Hewitt, Tessa Jowell and Harriet Harman may be kept off television because they are "too posh" to appeal to working-class voters.

All utter tosh of course, with about as much basis in reality as the many "love messages" Pete Doherty is meant to have had from Kate Moss before, after and during his sojourn in Pentonville prison. Even the Pope's blessing from the window of a hospital in Rome had to be turned into a row in the media about whether His Holiness was miming to a pre- recorded tape or not. A couple of days later, when the ailing pontiff hadn't rallied enough to deliver a full sermon to the assembled faithful, there were even suggestions in some newspapers that he should resign while he's still with us.

Meanwhile, the campaign to re-brand Michael Howard has kicked off with the predictable revelation (in a documentary to be broadcast this Saturday) that he once was a "rather dashing lover"; but weren't we all, back in the Sixties? Michael and Sandra have allowed themselves to be filmed dancing at a Tory disco - a real vote-winner.

In among all this, a historic cease-fire is announced in the Middle East, and the citizens of Kenya are short-changed once again as their leading anti-corruption official stands down without explanation. The US then announces that it will stop sending aid (a pitiful pounds 1.3m), because the current government lacks the will to fight graft.

While tsunami victims try to rebuild their lives out of the lenses of much of the world's media (now called to more pressing matters elsewhere), events on the home front are dominated by the investigation of a Commons committee into the finances of Prince Charles. We are regaled by the fascinating book-keeping employed by the Duchy of Cornwall, an organisation worth over pounds 400m that pays no corporation or capital gains tax, in spite of a turnover of pounds 11.9m last year.

Are we supposed to be shocked that Prince Charles has received a 300 per cent pay rise over a decade from the Duchy? I'm no fan of HRH, but can't see why he has behaved more greedily than the boss of any successful supermarket chain, be it Asda or Tesco. Secretly, we loathe Charles because he's arrogant, has loads of butlers, houses and gardens, and we don't.

Then there's the astonishing "news" that Tony and Cherie Blair attracted a better list of top-ranking pop stars to dinner at Chequers than last night's Brit Awards. I'm only surprised that Kate Moss doesn't appear on their roll-call of freeloaders, as the poor woman has had her name linked to almost every single event in the last couple of weeks. A friend received a phone call only the other day from someone demanding to know if she had been seen drinking in our neighbourhood of Clerkenwell. I've no doubt that someone will publish the Kate and Pete Guide to London, bars, secret gigs and no stops for food.

The achievement of Ellen MacArthur is, amid all this fuss about nothing, something we can rightly feel proud of. But even this extraordinary woman's feat has been subjected to the long rinse cycle by the hacks. First came the puns- even though headline writers had 71 days while the woman battled through the world's most challenging waters to come up with a few crackers, we were treated to "Ellen sails into our hearts" in the Daily Express, "Ocean's Ellen" from The Sun and, most gruesome of all, "Come Ellen and High Water" in the Daily Star.

Even Ms MacArthur's well-wishers were subjected to intense scrutiny, with cynics complaining that President Tony had upstaged Buckingham Palace by announcing the Queen's message in Parliament. Another mean-spirited gesture saw the Tory culture spokesman John Whittingdale (who?) surmising that the speed with which Dame Ellen acquired her honour might be connected "with the imminence of the general election".

How pathetic - as if a single 28-year-old becoming the youngest Dame ever will swing a flurry of marginal seats. I can see all those disaffected youths from Wigan to Widnes rushing out in a couple of months' time to cast their vote for the party that honoured a round-the-world yachtswoman under 30. As if! Even the Daily Mail couldn't resist comparing the fame of Dame Ellen with that of Pete Doherty and coming to the irrelevant conclusion that more young people will be following his trail in and out of the clinic doors than hers past the finishing line.

But perhaps most churlish of all, The Guardian devoted a spread to chipping away at the idea Miss MacArthur is a living legend, someone whose achievement will be remembered for decades, by asking the question "why is Britain still ambivalent about Ellen MacArthur?" I didn't know we were. The sailing correspondent Bob Fisher moaned at length about how "she moans and whinges the whole bloody time ... she should just shut up and get on with it."

Further complaints related to her "psychobabble", the fact that most of her admirers were French, and that she seemed to have no real friends. It is hardly surprising if Ms MacArthur is ruthlessly obsessive, and dumps men when they have outlived their usefulness. But she must be trimmed down to size - the cast of Dead Ringers fill their shows with feeble parodies of our Queen of the High Seas, the tabloids speculate about whether she'll return to her British bloke after all and, according to some writers, Ellen divides the nation.

Of course, you and I know that all over the country ordinary people who do not earn their living writing balderdash salute her. We couldn't care less that the logo of her sponsors B&Q is splashed all over her vessel, that she uses high-tech equipment, that she moans a lot, that she isn't loveable and cuddly. We frankly couldn't care less if Alistair Campbell has sent her an f... off message on his Blackberry or if Michael Howard is going to ask her to the next Tory ball to demonstrate his disco technique. We fully expect the Pope to come up with a special blessing, and I bet that ITV has already planned An Audience with Dame Ellen to follow the audience with I'm a Celebrity winner Joe Pasquale they are recording next week.

For one glorious moment, Ellen MacArthur has shown us what it is to be superhuman, and I thank her. I accept that Ellen has one quality that will never endear her to a male-dominated press - let's call it the Paula Radcliffe syndrome. Both are successful woman who don't need to conform to any stereotypes and who are role models way beyond their gender. If only there were a few more of them in politics, the rest of the news wouldn't have to read like a comic strip.