The Unluckiest People of the Year 2014 (and one very unlucky giraffe)

For our second annual Unluckiest People of the Year special, we praise the 13 unlucky subjects whose 2014s put the annus in horribilis

Will Dean@willydean
Friday 26 December 2014 18:00

Who: Viktor Yanukovych's chandelier maker

Why: Abruptly rendered redundant

Few have come out of the crisis in eastern Ukraine well. Vladimir Putin may be riding on the crest of popular opinion in Russia, but trade sanctions imposed on his country for its invasion/non-invasion/sorry-we-left-these-tanks-on-your-lawn-someone-will-be-around-to-collect-them-soon-act have given the Russian economy a kicking.

So, yes, while there are many in Ukraine who have had much (much) worse years, spare a moment for the chandelier makers employed by ousted President Viktor Yanukovych. Who, when elected in tumultuous circumstances in 2010, wasted no time in ordering £24million-worth of chandeliers for his Mezhyhirya Residence. One cost £6.5m alone.

Once Yanukovych fled his position in 2014, Ukraine's citizens were, naturally, tickled to see the opulence enjoyed by a man earning £60,000-a-year.

Away from the luxury lighting industrial complex, he won't be missed.

See Also: Viktor Yanukovych's antique sword sharpener; his Steinway tuner, exotic fish breeder etc, so on

Who: Ice-bucket challenge fatalities

Why: Died while the world poured cold water over its head

The ice-bucket challenge was a bizarro viral moment that moved, within hours, from celebrities pouring a bucket of cold water over their head in a fit of very 21st-century narcissism to your grandmother pouring a bucket of water over her head in a fit of very 21st-century narcissism.

It was all for charity apparently, though we'd have liked to have seen actual concrete evidence of this in each video rather than just a flailing Thermos cooler.

As idiotic as the whole thing was, spare a thought for the several people whose participation in the challenge ended fatally (and possibly with an entry in this year's Darwin Awards shortlist).

They included Captain Tony Grider, a Kentucky fireman who suffered a fatal electric shock from a nearby powerline when pouring water over the Campbellsville University marching band from a fire crane. A death as absurd as it was tragic.

The Aldous Huxley* Award for Unfortunate Timing of One's Death

Who: British-Argentine pathologist Julia Polak

Why: Carked it on the same day as Robin Williams

Last year we praised Law & Order actor Dennis Farina who had the poor fortune to die on the day that Prince George was born. We might have also given it to Colin Wilson, author of The Outsiders, who slipped off this mortal coil on the same day as Nelson Mandela, were it not for the fact that all End of Year Review Specials are planned in September and Madiba had the bad grace to die in December.

This year, we salute Dame Julia Polak, a pioneering surgeon whose work in using stem cells to grow new tissue vastly accelerated the chance of being able to create a working lung for transplant patients, among other ground-breaking work. It was Polak's misfortune to check out on the same day as Robin Williams though, so no one noticed.

*Died, as did CS Lewis, on 22 Nov 1963 – the day JFK was shot

Who: The two daughters of one William H Klein

Why: Their father couldn't get One Direction tickets so phoned in a fake bomb threat

There are few things worse than missing out on a concert you're desperate to see. One is missing out on tickets for a show your kids are desperate to see. Have some sympathy, then, for New Jersey's William H Klein whose sub-Homer Simpsonian attempt to bond with his 10- and 14-year-old daughters landed him in jail.

Klein had told his kids he'd landed tickets through a friend to 1D's show at the Hersheypark Stadium in Pennsylvania, but they fell through, as did other attempts to get into the sold-out show. Thinking that his relationship with his daughters was at risk if they didn't get to the show (there had been custody disputes), Klein decided that the best thing to do was phone in a bomb threat from a local convenience store to get the gig cancelled completely.

Sadly, the gig went on with extra security and poor Bill Klein was traced by the FBI and served eight months in a federal prison. One Direction are still at large.

Marius the giraffe was handed a death sentence by his Danish keepers

Who: Marius the Giraffe

Why: Surplus to giraffing requirements

Unlike his French literary namesake, Marius the giraffe from Copenhagen Zoo didn't have Hugh Jackman to rescue him from the brink. Instead, the poor ungulate went out like Bobby Baccalieri in The Sopranos. You never see it coming.

Deemed surplus to requirements due to an inability to breed, 18-month-old Marius was handed a death sentence by his Danish keepers, despite a 27,000-strong petition for clemency and offers from around the world – including one from Yorkshire Wildlife Park – to rehome him.

On Sunday 9 February, Marius was given his last meal – some rye bread – before being shot in the head by a vet. As if that wasn't enough of an indignity, the poor lad was then dissected over the course of three hours in public and was then quite literally fed to the lions.

Don't send your pets to Denmark.

See also: The four lions killed at the same zoo for similar reasons a month later

The artwork used in the background of the Little family's home sold at auction for £1.8m

Who: Unnamed set designer on the film 'Stuart Little'

Why: Made one of the art buys of the century without realising it

It's possible that this kind of thing happens a lot in Hollywood. But rarely with a CGI mouse voiced by Michael J Fox, so let's go with it.

In the late Nineties, a set decorator (as yet unnamed) on the film adaptation of EB White's children's classic Stuart Little (screenplay by none other than M Night Shyamalan, fact fans) bought a painting for not very much money in a Pasadena antiques shop. The artwork was used in the background of the Little family's home. And, for a decade, that was that.

But in 2009, when Hungarian art expert Gergely Barki watched the film with his daughter, he realised it was a masterpiece by his compatriot Róbert Berény which disappeared in the 1920s.

Two years of trying to contact the filmmakers later, he was contacted by the set designer who told him that they'd bought the painting from Sony's props department for their home before later selling it for a small fee to a private collector. Earlier this month, it was sold back in Budapest at auction for £1.8m.

Who: Jay from 'Serial'

Why: Subject of millions of dinner-table discussions as to whether or not he 'did it'

As soon as This American Life trailed the first episode of its soon-to-be podcasting mega-hit Serial, those listening to host Sarah Koenig's explanation of why she was revisiting the murder case of Hae Min Lee were certain-ish of one thing: this guy Jay must've done it. Obviously. Therewasn'tevenaphoneintheBestBuy carpark for God's sake!

Jay is included here for reasons twofold. The first, and most obvious: if he didn't do it then several million people now think (at least at the time of going to press) that he definitely did.

The second: if he did do it, he must be cursing his luck that of all the miscarriages of justice floating around the American legal system, it's the one involving him that becomes the pop-culture phenomenon of 2014 to rival True Detective. Unlucky, pal.

See also: Adnan from 'Serial' – subject of millions of dinner-table discussions as to whether or not he 'did it'

Who: Giulietta Carrelli – progenitor of the trend for 'artisan toast'

Why: Deeply personal idea for a snack becomes global object of mirth

The year's most rapidly mocked food trend was 'artisanal toast'. Tales of people spending $4-per-slice on fancy bread and small-batch butters were initially used as a stick with which to beat the tech yuppies of San Francisco before the trend made its way to New York and inevitably to London.

However, the origins of the posh toast trend – as detailed in a wonderful article by John Gravois in Pacific Standard magazine – were traced to a woman named Giulietta Carrelli whose reason for getting in bed with Big Toast were rather charming. Her café, The Trouble Coffee & Coconut Club, centres its menu on the three foodstuffs which help her deal with the condition, schizoaffective disorder. The illness, a mixture of schizophrenia and bipolarity, had plagued her life but the café had helped her recover. A lovely tale, but one completely forgotten by people wringing their hands at those paying £2.50 for a slice of bread.

Baldrick (left) provided the face of the hapless Tommy, largely ignorant of the reason he was fighting in a French field

Who: Private S Baldrick

Why: Inadvertent poster boy for the perils of pacifism

Alas, poor Baldrick, a fellow of infinite jest all right. In the much-loved Blackadder Goes Forth, Sir Tony Robinson's shambolic comic foil provided – for many – the face of the hapless Tommy, largely ignorant of the reason he was fighting in a French field before being ferried to his death by his generals. That narrative formed a key role (for those of us whose history lessons were mainly taught using VHS, at least) in building the modern belief that the First World War was an unparalleled folly.

Not so, for erstwhile education secretary Michael Gove, who went forth, alright, saying the use of Blackadder as a learning device was perpetuating left-wing myths about the war as a "misbegotten shambles". In response, Sir Tony (a Labour party member) suggested Gove had "just made a very silly mistake". Wibble.

Around 2,200 people complained that they had struggled to hear the dialogue of Jamaica Inn

Who: BBC sound engineers

Why: *muffled explanation*

Some newspapers – often the ones with a commercial axe to grind, surprisingly – will find any excuse to give those licence-grabbing BBC Fat Cats a real kicking.

Yet few could have predicted that after Sachsgate, Savilegate and Executivepay-offgate, one of the major problems faced by Auntie this year would be over the sound quality in an adaptation of a Daphne du Maurier classic. But there you go, folks.

Around 2,200 people complained that they had struggled to hear the dialogue of Jamaica Inn, with the problem variously blamed on mumbling actors and a technical fault with the first episode.

The blame levelled at the sound team led broadcasters' trade union Bectu to make a representation to the BBC on their behalf. Ian Sands of Bectu told this newspaper: "Low-level mumbled lines are not a technical issue, they are an artistic issue. Many directors, and it may not be the case here, are very reluctant to tackle actors about their performance." To which director Philippa Lowthorpe presumably responded with a muffled "Go fgghgk yrrsshlf".

Who: Reviewers of Piketty's 'Capital in the Twenty-First Century'

Why: Couldn't lie about having actually read it

If you would have suggested that the year's most talked-about book would be a 696-page dissection of inequality by a French economist whose previous works have titles like Top Incomes: a Global Perspective (776 pages), you would have got odds similar to Katie Price getting that long-awaited Booker nod.

But so it was. Coming out of nowhere, Piketty's academic denunciation of the global wealth divide became a global hit. Most of us got out of having to actually read Capital, thanks to discussions on Newsnight, articles in the papers mulling its success and web infographics explaining the economist's data. And after that we took in the backlash of those questioning the book's findings and its data and... that's plenty, thanks. Then our copy of Capital got plonked on the bookshelf next to The Goldfinch, whose 784 pages we did actually read.

Kanye West implored the crowd at his concert to rise but was alerted to the fact that the two people refusing to stand were in wheelchairs

Who: Kanye West

Why: Tried to get the party started – upset wheelchair users

Poor Kanye, he just wanted to make sure everyone was having a good time. The guy's an entertainer. Enough of an entertainer to serve $6,000-a-bottle Champagne at his wedding. So one assumes that even a man with an ego the size of the St Louis Gateway Arch would have checked himself after his goof at the jazzily-named Qantas Credit Union Arena in September.

In a gap between "All of the Lights" and "Good Life", West repeatedly implored the crowd to rise – "I can't do the rest of this show until everyone's standing up" – and refused to carry on until everyone in the arena was off their seat. Alas...

As the Aussie fans chanted "Stand, stand, stand", West was alerted to the fact that the two people refusing to stand and delaying the gig were in wheelchairs and quickly changed his tune. "If he's in a wheelchair, it's fine." Thanks Kanye!

Dan Ware's house was pictured on Twitter by MP Emily Thornberry

Who: 'White Van Dan'

Why: Inexplicably shoved into the Westminster mire

Has anyone since the advent of the printing press been as unlucky to be thrust into the nation's glare than Strood resident Dan Ware?

Ware was one of many around the country proud to have St George hanging athwart the front of his house. His just happened to be the one whose home was pictured on Twitter by MP Emily Thornberry in what was assumed to be a down-the-nose gesture at the kind of person voting in the Rochester and Strood by-election (she was quickly hook-slung from the shadow cabinet).

Rather than squirm in the full-beam of the media's attentions, Ware went full Joe The Plumber. Writing his own 'Danifesto' in The Sun ("Better discipline. Kids are too mouthy now, not like when we had the cane") and doorstepping Thornberry's house in Islington before drifting gently back into the good night of public indifference.

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