They were chalk and cheese: one a tiny, frail Jewish grandmother from New York who became a feminist heroine in her 80s; the other a 48-year-old devout, pro-life Catholic mother-of-seven who enjoys parties and working out. And now, if President Donald Trump has his way, the first, Ruth Bader Ginsburg – who died last week at the age of 86 – will be replaced on the US Supreme Court by the second, Amy Coney Barret. It’s a move which critics say could set the cause of women’s rights back a generation. It is hard to overstate the impact of Bader Ginsburg – “the Notorious RBG” as she was known to millions of fans – on American cultural life in recent years.
Florence Bashar could have lost her life the night she embarked on the perilous sea journey from Turkey to the Greek island of Lesbos. Along with 64 other people, the 17-year-old from Afghanistan and her family stepped onto the overcrowded boat, blindly hoping for a better future. “I didn’t expect that I would arrive here, but I had the feeling that if I did, I would be a lucky person – a successful person,” says Florence sitting cross-legged on the floor on a hot summer afternoon. “All of these feelings were coming to my mind and giving me strength and power.” Gradually Turkey’s lights fell further into the distance, replaced by a dark stillness – and finally safety. Or so she thought. Today she lives on Lesbos and is one of 4,000 minors anxiously waiting to be granted asylum. For more than a year she was in the notoriously squalid and overcrowded Moria camp, until a blaze tore through the encampment two weeks ago, displacing more than 12,000 refugees and migrants. “The night the fire broke out we didn’t have any hope that we would come out from there,” she said. “From all four sides it was burning. It was like hell.” But today Florence is unstirred – she has, after all, been living in a dangerous limbo since she was 15, when her father decided he wanted security and financial stability for his family and uprooted them from their homeland. The gruelling voyage lasted two years. The family of seven travelled from Afghanistan to Iran, across the border into Turkey and on to Lesbos, where they expected to stay for a few weeks. But as the summer came to an end and weeks turned into months, they soon realised that their fresh start wasn’t just around the corner. “I was top of my class” Three years have passed since they packed a few items of clothing and left Kabul behind. Florence hasn’t seen the inside of a classroom since. “I was always top of the class, but now I can’t study, soon I will be over-age and no school will accept me,” she explains, her large dark eyes gazing out from beneath a straw hat. Like so many displaced children, the young refugee misses going to school. Although asylum-seeking minors are legally entitled to access the host state’s education system, the International Organization for Migration warns that children of upper secondary ages are typically beyond scope of national legislation and often excluded from school integration programmes. Back home, Florence excelled beyond her peers, even winning first prize in an inventor competition for building a car model. When she speaks, she does so quickly and with authority, careful to answer each question in detail.
Between reading Mary McAleese’s riveting new memoir and speaking to the former Irish President, our native Northern Ireland is back in the news again. And, as per, the province is finding itself at the epicentre of deeply dispiriting politicking. The Government’s anodyne-sounding yet explosive UK Internal Market Bill, which last week passed its first parliamentary hurdle, ostensibly seeks to clarify – and in parts override – the Withdrawal Agreement in relation to Northern Ireland. But not only would it break international law, there are fears it will undermine the peace process by breaching the Good Friday Agreement. The EU has predictably reacted with fury. “The lawyer in me says this is just what happens in the closing phase of any negotiations, when both sides muscle up and try to see who blinks first,” says McAleese. “At that stage you just have to put your faith in common sense and hope that a decent settlement will be the outcome. “But if it isn’t just braggadocio and bluster then it begs the question: how can the British government be trusted to keep their word on anything else? “The peace process is a dynamic thing that needs to be nurtured and nourished. The embers of hateful sectarianism that we strove so hard to douse have not disappeared; I worry they will be fanned into flames again and that could lead to an unravelling of what we have created.”
Stephanie Yeboah had just started secondary school when the bullying first began. “I developed really bad and low self esteem and was mocked for being not only plus-sized but also dark-skinned as well,” she says. Born to Ghanaian parents and raised in Battersea, south London, the treatment she received at the hands of her peers sent her on a downward spiral, culminating in her diagnosis with depression at the age of just 14. “I wanted to look different,” she admits, when we speak over the phone. “I became introverted and began extreme dieting, as I thought that would fix me. Essentially all of the things that didn't help my state of mind at the time.” Now a prominent “fat acceptance advocate” and social media influencer, she has not only stopped apologising - to herself and others - for the way she looks: she has also helped chip away at the toxic narrative around women’s appearance. In her debut book, Fattily Ever After, the 31-year-old writes openly about how she has found self-worth in a world where judgement and discrimination are rife. But the journey has been bumpy. In her teens, as the bullying continued, she developed an eating disorder, forcing herself to throw up when she ate more than she was “allowed”. She struggled to make any new friends at college, and only felt safe while eating her lunch alone in the loo. It wasn’t until she forced herself to lose a lot of weight to fit into a bikini, that the practice of starving and harming herself came to an abrupt halt. “I wasn’t doing any of it for myself or because I wanted to lose weight,” she says. “I was doing it because I just wanted the policing to stop and for people to think I was desirable. So I dedicated my early 20s to apologising to my body, instead of apologising for my body.”
I am torn. Half of me wishes I could have produced something larky and entertaining like Sasha Swire’s Diary of an MP’s Wife. There is so much in there that I instantly recognise from my own life. No-one ever sits you down to tell you what is expected of you as a Tory wife. You just pick it up as you go. There’s no written guide, and my husband [former Conservative party leader Lord Michael Howard] simply had to trust my best instincts on what to say and do. And his Private Office as a minister was exactly that – private. I had to ring the diary secretary to ask for a 15-minute window for a quick chat with my husband. It was as though he was branded HM Government property. He always said Yes, Minister was rather understated. Hunting in a pack When Michael was a cabinet minister and then Leader of the Opposition, he always liked to discuss what was going on with me. He did so knowing that I wouldn’t cause him embarrassment by letting anything slip. We hunt as a pack. Yet I remember, too, the constant feeling of panic that you might put a foot wrong when your home became government property. Sasha describes living with her children in Hillsborough Castle when her husband, Hugo, was a Northern Ireland minister. At one stage her young daughter leaves behind a diary in Pizza Express with all the details of a forthcoming royal visit to Belfast. Michael and I lived in a police-protected government house in London when he was Home Secretary. Once, we went off to Michael’s constituency for the weekend, leaving behind our 17- and 18-year-olds. They had obviously been having quite a late party and one of their friends thought she saw a button that would bring down a blind, so she pressed it. Suddenly there were 27 police motorbikes lined outside with their lights flashing. I never told Michael because I thought he’d explode. The children were a bit more careful after that.
It is the Valentine’s card that stands out in June Scobee Rodgers’ memory. It was January 28 1986, and she and her two teenage children had just been hurried away by NASA officials from the launchpad in Cape Canaveral after seeing the Challenger space shuttle explode in mid-air shortly after take-off. Her husband, Dick Scobee, was commander of its seven-strong crew. Some of the families of other crew members – including loved ones of Christa McAuliffe, who had emerged from a national competition to become the first schoolteacher sent into space – were still clinging to the hope that there would be survivors. But June’s worst fears were confirmed when, on a nearby TV, she heard a reporter saying such chances were likely zero. She escaped into Dick’s room in the crew quarters to cry in private. “I hugged the clothes in his closet and opened his briefcase. On top of the manilla military folders was a Valentine’s card for me. He was expecting to be back in seven days in time to give it to me. In the middle of everything before the launch, he had prepared it. That was just another part of his love for me.” Her voice is strong and her gaze firm as she speaks from her book-lined home in Chattanooga, Tennessee. But when she finishes, this 78-year-old grandmother of six reaches her fingers up to dry the corners of her eyes. A new four-part Netflix documentary series, Challenger: The Final Flight, sees June talk on screen about that day – though both there, and in our interview, she requests not to be asked to recall the trauma of how it felt to watch the shuttle with her husband inside it explode in the sky above. What is re-examined in the series is the cause of the disaster – the decision by NASA to go ahead with the launch despite icy conditions that morning, and how they might have exacerbated existing concerns about ‘O’ ring seals in the solid rocket boosters that powered the shuttle into orbit. It was their failure that day that caused the explosion. “Watching the series,” says June, who married a 19-year-old Scobee when she was 17, “I was two persons. The first time I was reliving it, and it was extremely sad and difficult. But then I went back and watched it a second time, and I was watching history.”
The Duke of Sussex celebrated his 36th birthday this week in Santa Barbara and of course there was a party, we think. Back in the bad old days he’d have been pressing the flesh at some snooze of a charity, before thrashing his brother and sister-in-law in a sprint for the cameras and then heading to Bodo’s Schloss. This year, very different. If the rumours are true, David Foster, the 70-year-old, five-times married Canadian songwriter and producer, was designated party organiser. What you might expect from a Foster party we do not know but we’re guessing the presence of people he has worked with – so Celine Dion and Barbra Streisand and his wife Katharine McPhee, the star of Waitress – and Foster himself is always happy to hit the piano at parties, she says. Great! That’s the tunes sorted. Wills would have laid on Stormzy but this is California, not KP. Everything’s different now. The guest list, for example. All change. Out go the van Straubenzees, Beatrice and Eugenie, Tom “Skippy” Inskip and the Etonians. Instead we’re fairly sure this was the approved hard-hitters list: Gloria Steinem – not a big chum of Prince Harry’s, but a scion of the feminist movement, and recently she and the Duchess of Sussex looked nice together in conversation outside the Sussexes’ guest cottage. Or was it their garden room? Either way, Steinem sitting in one of your Adirondack chairs, wearing her signature aviators is now (post-Mrs America, really) like having royalty at your party. Glennon Doyle – the author of Untamed: Stop Pleasing, Start Living – and her wife Abby Wambach. The Sussexes have said they “adore” mental health guru Doyle and she is to 2020 celebs what the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi was to The Beatles. That good. Oprah. Needs no introduction. Also local. Elton John. Because he’s a neighbour and is said to have introduced the Sussexes to their house finder Martyn Lawrence Bullard. Also Elton is the go-to celebrity for square-shouldered support when your life hits turbulence (we draw your attention to Barbara Amiel’s memoir, which mentions that in her darkest hour Elton didn’t just reach out, he took her out to lunch and bought her diamonds). Elton is the godfather of mighty fallens everywhere, and we bet he’s Archie’s godfather too. Martyn Lawrence Bullard. He may do the house. Ted Sarandos or someone very high up in Netflix. Someone very high up in Disney. Serena Williams. Meghan’s bezzie. James and Julia Corden. James for authentic British larks (but no fake breasts and dogging jokes this year, no crisps, no nitrous oxide, no shots, no dried ice and no getting naked) and Julia also happens to be Vicky Charles’s business partner. Vicky Charles, the interior designer of Frogmore Cottage and hotly tipped to be doing up the new place if the job doesn’t go to MLB. The Clooneys. They may have come. But they’re probably at Lake Como and George hates the jet lag. Quite a party. Is it just me...
When I was a teenager, one of my biggest concerns was being allowed out. Parties, sleepovers, trips to shopping centres we somehow found fascinating, going to the dance machines at the old arcades in the Trocadero (if you know, you know) – all of it was vital and urgent. Ensuring I never missed out on any of this – alongside acquiring a Nokia 3310 – was an issue of life and death for teenage me. The problem was, I had strict parents, who wanted to know a detailed who, what, where about any elaborate social scheme I concocted with friends on scraps of paper we passed around during science class. How would I get there, was it safe, would there be any alcohol or boys? Like any teenager, my answers involved a complex web of negotiation, imagination and a smattering of relatively innocent white lies. No, no boys; no we definitely won’t stand outside the off licence and ask grown-ups to buy us bottles of Lambrini. That sort of thing. I’ve been reminiscing about this period in my life a lot recently. Because, at 31, I feel as though I am right back in it. Moving back home Two years ago, our hard-fought campaign for a flat deposit led my boyfriend and I to the rent-free idyll of my parent’s North London house. I had heard that moving in with your parents (or pseudo in-laws) can induce a regression. You may suddenly find yourself slipping back into the mindset of a stroppy teenager; slamming doors, leaving the sink full of dishes, becoming idle and dependent and resentful of the parental jailors who are unequivocally ruining your life. I was therefore pleasantly surprised to find that none of the above happened. Instead, we acquiesced into a relatively frictionless living arrangement that soon settled into the patter of an inter-generational double date. Then lockdown happened and, for a while, Covid-19 created a fascinating power dynamic shift. It was my parents who became the stroppy teenagers. At 70, and therefore in a high-risk category, they were shielding. We became the ones running any-and-all outdoor errands, the ones keeping them in lockdown. We became the jailors unequivocally ruining their lives. But post-lockdown life – from Eat Out to Help Out to Rule of Six – has flipped the dynamic. As normality begins to gradually shift back into place, I feel as though that scrap of paper is being passed around science class again by my friends, plans are being made to meet up and I am back asking myself that familiar question from teenagedom: how will I get this past my parents? A picnic in a park, drinks in someone’s garden, a – gasp! – actual pub garden. These are all scenarios that I discussed with my parents this summer with the discomfort of a teenager. This is where we are going, this is how much anti-bac we are bringing, how do you feel about this? An invitation to a party during our brief escape from lockdown filled me with equal parts glee and terror. How should I present this situation to my parents, how do I manage their safety while attempting to return to my life? Will I actually be able to go? The keys I momentarily held during lockdown have been passed over and now I was the one asking for a jail break. It has become even more complex in the latest stage of our rapidly shifting social landscape. Now that socialising has been capped at six people, I have a whole new roster of anxieties. Any hope of socialising at home has been severely dampened by the fact we may only now invite two extra people. Gone are the audacious garden soirées – for way fewer than 30 but far more than two extra pals – I was planning to throw in the overpriced gazebo I bought from Amazon. Gone is any hope of my parents actually having their own friends over, thanks to our presence dramatically reducing their own social hopes. Should we schedule social engagements? Run around the park until their four friends leave? Of course, we could just go to the pub, but with that, new questions abound from my parents – about not just where, what and how safe, but a rundown of the exact numbers we are seeing, with the added caveat that we may be not only endangering them, but actually breaking the law. The fear of illicit behaviour With the Rule of Six returns the nervous realisation of illegality – underage drinking, helping friends buying cigarettes – that flooded my teens. My social life has once again been tainted with an uncomfortable underpinning of naughtiness, of illicit behaviour. Except this time, it’s more likely to be a dinner party of eight than a pack of Marlboros stolen from someone’s dad. There is also another facet of my teenage emotional makeup that has returned thanks to these new social restrictions. What if I am the unlucky seventh member? What if I don’t make the cut for someone’s dinner, drinks or picnic? The whispers of FOMO that dominated my teen years are once again rising to a shout.
The UK helpline has dealt with more cases this year than it did during the whole of 2019, with women worst affected.
Lynda La Plante can spin a tale out of just about anything – from Harry and Meghan’s megabucks Netflix deal (“I’m very envious: I had to pitch to Netflix last summer and can’t tell you how difficult it is. Most of the people there look about 12 years old…”) to the time she auditioned as a young actress and had an unpleasant encounter with a well-known British director. “There was a lot of nudity in the play,” she says, “and I told him I didn’t want to do it because the front row would have been virtually sitting on my crotch. He replied: ‘I think you don’t want to be naked because you don’t like your body’, and I said: ‘That’s not it at all’, and pulled up my T-shirt as if I was going to strip off. I’ve never been moved out of an office so fast,” she laughs. “I got the part, too. I think he was terrified.” La Plante’s storytelling ability has informed a career that includes 38 international bestsellers and sales of well over five million in the UK alone. And with numerous TV dramas under her belt – including the 1980s series Widows, Trial & Retribution and Prime Suspect, starring Helen Mirren as police detective Jane Tennison – she’s one of the country’s most respected writers.
Khakis, a machine gun, and not a tiara in sight: just-released portraits show Princess Elisabeth of Belgium in her first weeks at Brussels Royal Military Academy. In attending the academy, Princess Elisabeth, 18, is following in the footsteps of her father King Philippe, who spent a year there preparing to take the throne. But for a crown princess, not a prince, to do so is relatively new. Indeed, the life of Princess Elisabeth, the Duchess of Brabant, has in some ways been a tale of modern feminism.
First, there came the jogging: I went three times a week, huffing and puffing. Then, against the rumble of frightening headlines and Government press conferences, came quizzes, virtual cocktail nights and a Zoom talent show (my niece’s rendition of Let It Go cutting in and out with the Wi-Fi). Next was the DIY phase: two weeks spent tediously adding coats of paint to my old dining table and chairs, with Netflix auto-playing in the background. Ultimately though, all the busy-work in the world was not enough to distract me from the shock of lockdown, and while key workers and parents certainly had more on their plates than me, I suspect the same bewilderment played out in households everywhere. This Wednesday marks six months since Boris Johnson grimly told the nation to ‘Stay home’ – though it feels almost like a lifetime. Alone in my flat, a freelancer with dwindling work, I wondered what the culmination of all this quiet time would be: perhaps I’d eventually have a breakdown, or produce a creative masterpiece, or simply start drinking in the mornings. None of those things happened. Instead, one day in July, in a move that pre-lockdown-me had never considered, I found myself applying to go back to university. After 14 years of writing only as a journalist, next month I will start an MA in creative writing and throw myself into fiction. It felt like the idea emerged fully formed one day, but looking back, I think my brain had been quietly working on it during all those under-occupied months. And I’m not alone in finding that coronavirus has inspired a major decision. In June, a survey by the Office for National Statistics found that 28 per cent of adults said they were planning big changes after the pandemic, with 42 per cent wanting to make a change to their work, 38 per cent to rethink their relationships and 35 per cent to move house. Pre-lockdown life offered endless ways to avoid thinking about these things: we worked, we socialised and we commuted. This year, however, I twiddled my thumbs. My birthday came and went. Into the void rushed reflection on successes and failures, and questions about what I actually want out of life. I realised that I want my work to be more meaningful, more creative and more personal – and that I miss the stimulation of studying. ‘My theory is that it comes from mortality awareness,’ says Charlotte Fox Weber, psychotherapist and author of upcoming book What We Want. She’s seen many of her clients make big decisions this year. ‘We have never heard death talked about more; it’s a word that is so taboo usually, but it’s everywhere at the moment. In a positive way, some of us have responded to that death anxiety by activating ourselves: OK, this is the moment to get a house, to make that commitment, to try for a baby, to break up with that guy, or to pursue a professional goal that might have seemed out of reach. Because it’s a risky atmosphere anyway, you can throw yourself into the mix – so I think for some people, this period has cultivated courage.’ For me, that’s a new creative path; for others, it means bold changes to their living arrangements. Muireann, 37, has decided that after a decade in London, it’s time to move back to her native Ireland and be close to her parents. ‘I suppose the pandemic underlined the frailty of life,’ she says. Her uncle passed away with Covid early in the crisis. ‘I think everybody started thinking about their family and their elderly parents in a different way.’ She adds that lockdown halted a hectic lifestyle she hadn’t enjoyed for some time; it was when the roller coaster suddenly stopped that she finally had the chance to get off. ‘I think a lot of people will have seen that life as you knew it before – going to the office at 8.30am, leaving at 7pm, commuting – isn’t the only option. I don’t want to go back to my pre-coronavirus way of life.’ Similarly, Emma, 45, has seized the moment to move from the city to the countryside with her husband and 10-year-old twins. It was something they’d often discussed, but the sudden rise in remote working made it possible: ‘My husband was keen to leave before the kids went to senior school, but we’d never quite been able to balance it while he was still expected to be in an office. It’s a big lifestyle shift and I feel really excited about it.’ There’s also a sense that, when events around us are causing despair, humans cope by looking for new purpose. Camilla, 35, had a feeling when lockdown was announced that her days at an advertising agency might be numbered. Planning ahead, she started training for a diploma in hypnobirthing. When she was made redundant in July, she branched out in not one but two directions: as a hypnobirthing teacher and with a letterbox brownie business. ‘The thought of not having any income was scary, but I equally believed that if I could translate passions into work, there could be exciting opportunities.’ With working from home becoming more the norm, she and her husband are joining the city exodus. ‘I could never have predicted how much life would change, but this has been the catalyst for a more fulfilled, happy and healthy future for us.’
Everyone has heard of the Pilgrim Fathers. Doughty, God-fearing souls who sailed to America on the Mayflower to create a world where they could follow their religious beliefs without fear of persecution. But what makes the voyage remarkable are the mothers: the unsung heroes who sailed alongside their men on the momentous enterprise, which after an inauspicious start left from Plymouth 400 years ago today. There were 18 women and of those, 10 took their children with them. Incredibly, given the tumultuous adventure they were about to undertake, three were pregnant and another breastfeeding her infant. Just as startling, there were more than 30 children and youngsters under 21 on the ship. As for the men – the husbands, single men and servants – they totalled 50 and were actually outnumbered by the women and their offspring. That the role of women in the story is scarcely acknowledged is perhaps unsurprising given that 17th century females invariably owed their status and identity to their menfolk. Unsurprising too, that the accounts of the historic voyage are by men about the men, not least by William Bradford, who became governor of the new settlement in Plymouth, Massachusetts. He did, however, acknowledge that the ‘weak bodies of women’ might not withstand the rigours of the journey – though he could not foresee just how deadly the undertaking would be. The arrangement was for the self-styled pilgrims to sail on the Speedwell from the Netherlands, where they had lived in exile from English persecution for 12 years, and rendezvous with the Mayflower in Southampton. The Mayflower, meanwhile, left Rotherhithe, London in July 1620, carrying 65 fortune seekers who had financed the expedition and hoped to recoup their investment by making their riches from the flourishing New England beaver trade. The two groups were to sail in a convoy across the Atlantic but the Speedwell became as ‘leakie as a sieve’ and was abandoned in Plymouth, Devon, at which point many of the pilgrims joined the crowded Mayflower. The ship, which had been used for the cross-Channel wine trade, now had 102 passengers thrust cheek by jowl in the stink of the hold, forced to endure the lack of hygiene, the smell of unwashed bodies and the grime of filthy clothes. Privacy was impossible. To relieve themselves the voyagers had to balance precariously on the ship’s bowsprit but in storms they stayed below decks and used chamber pots, which were sent flying across the cabins when the waves hit and the winds rose. Food consisted of a niggardly diet of salt meat, peas and hard tack biscuits – which became infested with weevils – and, to drink, beer. No wonder the hold became a breeding ground for lice and scurvy. Not until the Mayflower dropped anchor off Cape Cod on November 11, 1620 – more than 100 days since leaving Southampton – were the women, at last, able to step on to land and wash their clothes ‘as they were in great need.’ Remarkably, only one of their number died on the voyage but two soon followed after making land, and a few weeks later Bradford’s wife Dorothy fell from the ship’s deck into the chill waters of the bay. Her body was never found. Strangely, Bradford records the death only in the appendix to his writings with a terse: ‘Mrs Bradford died soon after their arrival.’ Was he as indifferent as he seems? She was only 16 when they married and he 23, and she had been compelled to leave their three-year-old boy behind. Was she so desolate at being separated from him that she took her own life? In truth, no one knows what happened that bleak winter’s day.
“Looks like good weather this week”, said an unwitting friend to me on Monday. “Yes, highs of 28 degrees celsius on Monday with a very low chance of precipitation”, I replied. She looked at me blankly, not realising that over lockdown I have become a weather-watching obsessive. I promise I wasn’t always like this. Pre-Covid, my meteorological interest extended to checking the forecast on a grey day to see if I needed an umbrella. That was it. But from March it all changed. The start of lockdown was so bleak, so monotonous – a constant wheel of work, exercise, eat, sleep and fret – that I found myself checking my phone's weather app nearly every hour. By knowing whether there was sun or rain, I could mark one day from the next. A small victory in a sea of sameness. Soon, my furtive glances at my phone's weather app had taken on the thrill of gambling: would I be hanging out my washing today, or reaching for my umbrella to take my lockdown-permitted stroll? This is what happens to my brain after three months without social contact. It melts. I don’t think I’m alone in my weather app addiction. People around me report the same experience: like me, they've tried multiple apps and, like me, they've found themselves checking them more often, even looking at the weather in places where they are not. Why? Surely one answer is that we're just more connected to the weather this year, because we're closer to it. For years, a large slice of the country has worked in large offices, where we're often sat so far from a window that we wouldn’t know if there had been a thunderstorm. For the first time in years, I’m now spending my working hours outside – at a desk in my garden. I watch the sun rise, I watch the sun set. All on my weather app, of course. Here's what I've learned as a seasoned weather app watcher... Ditch the free weather apps... The Apple Weather app is only ever ballpark correct. It can tell you if there is a rainy day coming up this week, but it has a lot of trouble working out which day that will be. The inaccuracy of the app actually caused me quite a bit of heartache in lockdown. When we were allowed to meet up one-on-one outside, my boyfriend and I went to a park for a socially-distanced picnic on a day when Apple Weather promised beaming sunshine. About half an hour in, a harsh wind came out of nowhere. One moment, my boyfriend was holding a paper plate with cake and custard. The next, the wind picked it up and slapped it onto his face like a clown getting hit with a cream pie. He peeled the plate off his face and found his fringe glued to his forehead and smelling like vanilla. I refreshed the Apple Weather app, which told me that we were currently experiencing fine weather and temperatures in the mid 20s. That moment was honestly very funny – but the rest of the day was just a bit sad, sitting under a dark sky when we’d been promised sun, not being allowed to kiss. There are two morals to that story. Firstly, don’t eat custard in a storm. And secondly, look beyond the free weather apps that come with your phone. ... And find a better one After my trials with Apple Weather I switched to using the BBC Weather app, which seemed to be far more accurate in my area. It has other delightful bells and whistles, like being able to pick out a pretty detailed location for you via GPS. If you have £3.99 and several hours to waste, download Dark Sky, which can give you a forecast detailed enough to pick out your street. But honestly, be careful with it, as it is easy to lose a lot of time watching how a rain cloud favours one side of town to another. (Side note: Dark Sky was bought in March by Apple, so you can’t download it onto an Android device. Sorry, weather watchers.)
Emily Bendell – the lingerie tycoon who is challenging the Garrick Club over its “gentleman-only” membership policy – isn’t loving my suggestion that she stage a protest of underwear-clad models outside the exclusive West End club. “That,” frowns the 39-year-old over Zoom, “might sadly work against us.” It’s obviously a preposterous idea, although the image of Garrick members abandoning their Welsh rarebits to press their faces, en masse, against its festooned frieze windows is priceless. And the idea will be no less preposterous to some than Bendell’s threat of legal action against the exclusive 189-year-old institution for refusing to open up its membership to women. “I know this issue has been in the news before, but I must have missed it,” says the Nottingham-born businesswoman, who founded the fashion-led lingerie label Bluebella, from her east London office. “So when I was looking around for a good members club in which to meet retailers earlier this year, I was really shocked to find out that men-only clubs were still allowed. And, actually, under the Equality Act, it isn’t allowed to refuse to provide services based on gender, which is why I went down the legal route.” In a letter sent to the Garrick last week, Bendell’s solicitors have claimed that, under section 29 of the 2010 Equality Act, it is prohibited to discriminate against a person requiring or seeking to use its services and that “continuing to operate its discriminatory policy” is breaking the law.
MPS, their wives, husbands, kids even, diplomats, royalty, personal assistants, practically anyone who is anyone is cowering at the forthcoming publication of Sasha Swire’s gloriously indiscreet Diary of an MPs Wife. Her diary of 20 years, allegedly submitted to publishers without even her husband Sir Hugo having a read first, mocks, ridicules and exposes the private shenanigans of everyone she came across as wife to the Old Etonian MP who held his East Devon seat from 2001 until the December election of 2019. ‘We are already losing friends,’ she said in an interview this weekend which retold anecdotes such as how Mrs Gove once arrived at a dinner hosted by the Camerons yet somehow found herself sweating over a fish pie as Mrs Cameron took herself off pattern cutting. One wonders how David Cameron feels having every detail of a private visit to the Swires’ home, Lincombe Farm, described. From his jokes about dogging to Cameron’s pride with his ‘honed physique courtesy of a new personal trainer, but which H maintains is more the result of a prolonged and vigorous period of trying to get Sam pregnant again’. But, I venture, what will sting the former prime minister the most is the recollection of a visit by Cameron to their Devon manor house where upon spotting one of the Swire’s barns the then Prime Minister exclaims: ‘You could put a snooker table in there!’ Writing in her diary Lady Swire records that, out of earshot of Cameron, she mutters to her husband: ‘So home counties.’
Pauline Harmange hates men. So much so, that the 25-year-old French author has written a book detailing and deconstructing everything she hates about 51.9 per cent of the population: I Hate Men. “Hate will set you free,” isn’t a message we’re likely to see on a yoga t-shirt anytime soon, yet the 96-page essay – Moi Les Hommes, Je Les Déteste – that actually contains these words has sold out across France, with the first 450 copies flying off the shelves within days, a reprint of 2,500 copies sold, and “several British publishers now interested in buying the UK rights.” All thanks to Ralph Zurmély, a French government official, who has threatened to ban the book for its “incitement to hatred on the grounds of gender.” Zurmély, who advises the gender equality ministry, even went so far as to call Harmange’s work an “ode to misandry” – amusingly a title she and her tiny publishers, Monstrograph, had considered. “And really,” Harmange laughingly insists from the Lille apartment where she’s being besieged by media interest from all over the world, “that’s a compliment.” A little more troubling, however, is Zurmély’s assertion that if Monstrograph continue to sell Harmange’s book, the publisher would be “directly complicit in the offence and I would then be obliged to send it to the prosecution for legal proceedings.” Before we start our interview, I feel I should declare an interest. Actually, it’s more of a bias. You see I love men. Old, young, tall, small, fat or thin: they’re up there with 75 per cent black chocolate, lie-ins and the smell of freshly mown grass in my book. So I have trouble recognising the people she describes in I Hate Men as “violent, egotistical, lazy and cowardly”, and I’m a little worried by the notion that they should be phased out. “Listen, eradicating men is not my aim,” assures Harmange – a demure, softly-spoken brunette in an off-the-shoulder t-shirt. “Ideally the book would help bring men back down to a normal position alongside the rest of us, and at the same time liberate women from the weight of that all-powerful patriarchy.” A visceral loathing of men is both natural and logical, says Harmange in her introductory argument – in fact “the place they take in conversations, in public space, their words and actions as a group, make misandry easy.” The feminist activist then dedicates the first half of the book not so much to bringing men down with a bump, as pushing the whole species off a cliff. Hating men “is not the end of the road. On the contrary, it is the very beginning, you emancipate yourself first by recognising that you are p----- off (with men), and then by acknowledging that you have good reason to be.”
History has not judged the colonial residents of Singapore kindly. Thanks to novelists like Somerset Maugham and J. G. Farrell, we’ve been left with the impression they were the worst examples of rapacious Empire-builders, who enjoyed a carefree lifestyle downing Singapore Slings at Raffles Hotel, while failing to notice the encroaching threat of the Japanese during World War Two. On Sunday, a new ITV adaptation of Farrell’s novel, The Singapore Grip, hits our TV screens. Adapted by Oscar-winning playwright Sir Christopher Hampton and set during the lead up to the Fall of Singapore in February 1942, it tells the story of Walter Blackett’s attempts to shore up rubber company Blackett and Webb as war approaches. Actor David Morrissey, who plays Walter, described his character’s “entitlement as monstrously fascinating”, adding, “He’s a victim of his own world view. [British] arrogance is so blinding that they don’t see their world is about to disintegrate.”
To boys of my generation, Diana Rigg was and always will be the leather-clad, karate-chopping Emma Peel from The Avengers. At boarding school my friends and I would gather on the nights it was shown in the house master’s study in our pyjamas and dressing gowns with cups of cocoa. To us, she wasn’t only the most beautiful woman on television, she was quite the most exciting thing we’d ever seen. Many years later, when I got to know her, I realised that in some ways they had been a disadvantage for her, these extraordinary looks. She was a wonderfully talented actress, fiercely bright and a powerful figure in person. But all her life, she had been so beautiful, so glamorous, that she hadn’t been taken as seriously as some others of her generation. To me, she was the magical woman who I watched from a distance on television and on stage for many years before I got to know her personally. I can recall the first time I saw her from the front row in a play called Abelard and Heloise and became one of the first actresses to appear topless on the West End. Quite the moment. Her beauty gave her a reputation, one which was only compounded when she became a Bond Girl, to George Lazenby’s James in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, in which she became the only woman ever to marry 007 [the ceremony in You Only Live Twice was staged], but people forget she was an accomplished Shakespearean actress too. I remember interviewing her once in 2001 and listing her classic roles: Shaw, Moliere, the Greeks, the Bard. “Yes,” she said, “still, we talk about The Avengers.” She didn’t mind a bit. In fact I think she always seemed rather happy to have been known as this siren. And why ever not? I once asked Michael Parkinson, who interviewed her a number of times, who the most glamorous lady he’d ever interviewed was. I thought, it’s going to be some Hollywood star. Without missing a beat he said “Diana Rigg”. In person she was great fun, very feisty and quite formidable. Her presence was wonderful. She was a tall, powerful figure. When I interviewed her it was only the second time we’d met and we gossiped like old friends. Then 63, she was frustrated by getting older. “You can’t get on top of your lover in broad daylight. And some days you wake up feeling 104 and you have to treat yourself very, very nicely. I smoke, I love wine, I take the dog for long walks.” I saw her quite a bit after that - whenever I did, she was playful and fun. She always seemed like a glamorous figure from another time, and I suppose she was in many ways. Her body of work defined a generation but she wasn’t defined by the work. She was her own woman. And goodness I feel lucky to have known her.
As we speak over the phone from New York, Lionel Larner is flooded with memories of his close friend and client Diana Rigg. The respected 85-year-old agent represented Rigg for half a century in America and, during that time, shared her life on and off stage. “Diana was one of those rare British actresses who was as loved and well-known on this side of the Atlantic as back home,” he tells me. “She was very special to me and defined a generation.” Her resurgence as Lady Olenna Tyrell in Game of Thrones – which brought her Emmy nominations, even though Rigg confessed to never having watched the series – won over a whole new audience. “You couldn’t walk down the street with her in New York without being stopped by one of her young fans,” recalls Larner.
Here is the actor Charles Dance looking fit in the sea (we’re not interested in his girlfriend Alessandra Masi, she’s expected to look fit). Masi is 53 for the record but, honestly, we are unmoved. It’s all about the blokes now and what they look like, tops off. It’s their turn to be scrutinised, if not for their inner-thigh cellulite as they exit a limo, then at least for the state of their bare torsos in their swimming trunks. Only fair, wouldn’t you say? There’s a crucial difference, of course. With women, the beach body ogle has always contained a note of barely disguised ill will. “We’ll get you in the end” is the general tone. “We’ll find the angle and the overhead sunlight that puts paid to your misplaced middle-aged body confidence. Just you wait.” In contrast, pictures of mature chaps in swimming trunks are served up as admirable and inspirational, and the taut-chested Dance is now the hero of the hour. He’s in excellent nick (as we all said when we saw the pictures) and, at 73, that puts him way ahead of the old bloke competition. (Pierce Brosnan is a mere 67, Dennis Quaid is only 66.) This image has also, inadvertently, launched a whole new fun game: What’s Hot and What’s Not Over 70 (men only). Here are the top 10 rules if you’re thinking of giving CD a run for his money in the future: Choose regular old-school swimming trunks. Never Daniel Craig baby blue mini trunks or board short length. Say no to jewellery. CD has a bracelet, which we can let go, but thongs, beads, gold “Mescal” chains etc, not so much. We always felt Harrison Ford’s late-life ear piercing killed the crush. Be careful not to get too chest or other body part proud. Dance is sailing close to the wind on this one, to be honest, as he is prone to the three-undone-buttons shirt. (Note: men recognise, correctly, that too many done-up buttons makes them look like a Tory MP at a staycation photo call, plus unbuttoning is one of the few ruses they have to make themselves feel loose and a bit rock ’n’ roll. Even so, the gaping shirt is lame.) Instead, we recommend ankle baring. No hoodies, plunging T-shirts or V-neck sweaters worn with nothing underneath, if you were contemplating such a sacrilege (not impossible, see Simon Cowell). No long hair. Even Mick Jagger has a just-collar-covering hair do. No hair dyeing (unless for a part). Always trim eyebrows, and anywhere else that needs trimming. Wear dark glasses, when appropriate. As with women, they make you look less knackered when outdoors. Don’t be tempted to get a teeth makeover. Charles Dance has his own sharp little ivory teeth, as opposed to the set of solid white veneers that are normally provided for actors over 50. This is important since, particularly on older men, they look like glow-in-the-dark dentures. Never allow a female companion to apply sun cream to your nose or bald patch (even though we will always do it better): the optics are too “carer and their elderly charge”. Is it just me...
‘Oh my God, she looks beautiful,’ I blubbed into a handkerchief as my best friend’s bride walked down the aisle. So far, par for the course for a wedding attendee. The problem was, in the same hand that I was holding the handkerchief, I was also holding a ring, a ring I was due to hand over to Alex when his bride, Katie, reached us at the altar. She was wearing white lace and I wore a column dress like the bridesmaids, but in sage green to their rose pink, with green accents picked out in the groomsmen’s trim. But I hadn’t thought about pockets. Male best men have pockets for rings – and hankies. Alex and I met aged 13, when our physics teacher decided to sit us boy-girl-boy-girl. With a shared love of heavy rock and surreal jokes, we were soon as thick as thieves. I’d always been a bit of a tomboy and as my female contemporaries were putting on make-up and trying to get into nightclubs, I was hanging out with Alex and our male friends, listening to Slipknot and practising for the garage band we unimaginatively named Black Rose. My hair was dyed odd colours, while, with Kurt Cobain-style long hair, Alex thought he looked rocky, we joked that he looked more like a member of Hanson. In our 20s, as school friends drifted away, Alex and I remained close. By then, we lived in different parts of the country, but spoke regularly and made an annual pilgrimage to Glastonbury together. When we were both single during these years, friends would ask, ‘What about Alex? You get on so well.’ ‘God no!’ I’d reply, ‘I know all of his worst points.’ And it was true. Ours was more of a brother-sister relationship, and that was precious to me. Our phone calls have always been light-hearted, so when Alex called one day in January 2019, in a serious tone, I was taken aback. ‘I’d be honoured if you’d be my best woman,’ he said, bashfully. Of course I accepted straight away. He confided that he had bought the ring and planned to propose to Katie on a break to Venice, but as he was quite a traditional guy, I never thought he’d choose anything other than a male best man. I love Katie, who puts up with all of my and Alex’s teenage in-jokes – she and my fiancé Liam often roll their eyes when we launch into one of our skits. From the outset though, I wasn’t sure about ‘best woman protocol’. Did Alex want me to opt out of the stag? ‘Of course not!’ he assured me. ‘It wouldn’t be the same if you weren’t there.’ In the end, his brother and I organised a weekend in Hamburg – with no strippers, but a lot of craft beer and rock music. We made Alex dress up in a wig and denim hot pants – it was a hoot. As the wedding date approached, I was increasingly nervous. I’m known for crying at the drop of a hat, but I wanted to be the mickey-taking speech-giver: I thought Alex deserved the send-off he’d get from a best man. The day of the ceremony was glorious and flowers bloomed in the walled garden of the Lincolnshire stately home where they said their vows. At the reception afterwards, my speech was full of banter and jokes, but as it drew to a close I could barely get my words out for the stream of tears. Yet as I glanced over at a similarly teary Katie and Alex, I realised that our tight bond was more important than living up to some best-man cliché. I wasn’t a perfect best man, I was Alex’s best woman. Since then, I’ve asked Alex to return the favour when I get married in 2022. I’m still working on his title – bridesman? Man of honour? But the most important thing is that he’s there, next to me on our special day. As told to Sally Howard Have you shared a similar experience to Alex and Kim? Tell us your story in the comments section below
I’ve been an environmental activist for almost as long as I remember. As a student in the early Noughties, I helped establish the first green group Reading University ever had; I was involved in the (now disbanded) Camp for Climate Action in my early 20s, protesting against investment in the tar sands industry (which is used to make petroleum products). I lived and breathed a eco-aware lifestyle, and still do: based in Devon with my two young daughters, I don’t drive or fly or eat meat; our carbon footprint is relatively low. But no group or movement I joined seemed to be making any difference. Carbon emissions were still rising and nothing was changing. Instead, climate change was only getting worse. I was scared we were running out of time to act. Then, about two years ago, Extinction Rebellion (XR) - the group that last weekend blocked the printworks of several British newspapers including The Daily Telegraph - burst into being. It had been some years since I’d been involved with any green group, but what appealed to me about this one was that they were saying “don’t listen to us, listen to the scientists.” It seemed like this movement was going to be fact-driven and evidence-based, which was badly needed. Yet after almost two years of XR membership, I have quit to campaign for nuclear energy. I had joined in April 2018 aged 34 and became founding editor of its newspaper, The Hourglass, and soon was one of the group’s spokespeople. In the years since my activism days, and after having my first child, I had gone back to university to do a Master’s in Science Communication and was ready to put what I’d learned into action. Joining XR gave me that opportunity: as a spokesperson I found myself front and centre of the media spotlight, speaking to millions of people about the ongoing climate emergency.
"I am just going to write because I can’t help it,” wrote Charlotte Brontë, in the diary that she kept of her life as a school teacher at Roe Head School. She charted her daily life, in pages of repression, longing and creative fury, which she would later put in her books. Diaries can be powerful and dangerous. And we are greatly fortunate that our ancestors kept them, did not burn them, and we can still hear their voices; angry, passionate, faulty, compassionate, committing wrong and being sinned against. When Anne Frank’s family were arrested by the Gestapo in their ‘Secret Annex’ in Amsterdam, Miep Gies, the woman who had been caring for them, found sheafs of paper in Anne’s handwriting on the floor. She bundled them up and when Otto Frank, the only survivor of his family, contacted her after the war, she gave them to him. The diary is, perhaps, the most famous in the world, the symbol of horrific suffering and Anne’s bravery, the crushing fear of living hidden as “Jews in chains”.
When I heard the allegations that billionaire Charles Stevenson Jr, 73, had stipulated that his wife was not to gain any more than five pounds in weight during their marriage, I shared the story with horrified friends. But I didn’t tell them why the story made me feel deeply uncomfortable – I am in a relationship with a man who cares more about my waistline than I do. When I met David [name has been changed] on a dating app in January, our shared love of running was our first common interest. We talked at length about our fitness ambitions for the coming year – I was training for my third half marathon and wanted to lose some weight, and David was looking to enter weightlifting competitions. It was such a great feeling, working towards fitness goals together, as many of my previous partners were committed couch potatoes. When David suggested we become friends on My Fitness Pal, an app I use to log my daily food intake (I’ve been on various diets since my teens until now, aged 39, so recording it is second nature), I thought it was sweet. Until I woke up for an early morning run in February to discover a text from David with a screenshot of my previous day’s food intake which said: “WOW, that’s enough pizza to feed three people!” underneath. I started at the screen, shocked he’d even noticed. I was furious, not sure if he was joking. But rather than responding I used the anger to fuel my run, and managed my quickest 5km in months. When I got home, I replied asking whether I’d need his approval on all of my meals going forward. Almost immediately, my phone rang. “Have I upset you? I am so sorry. You said you wanted to lose weight and I…” He trailed off and I realised he was attempting to help - albeit in a cack-handed way. I put the nagging feeling that commenting on my diet wasn’t healthy to the back of my mind. I became mindful of my food intake now I knew someone cared what I ate. I logged weight losses on the app and received such warm congratulations from my boyfriend that you’d think I’d found the cure for cancer. If I did have a hormonal cake binge I expected a cheeky comment like, “I didn’t know cake could be a breakfast food…” but I grew up with four older brothers, so I’m used to a little teasing. David is a kind and considerate boyfriend in so many ways. When lockdown was announced and I moved in with an elderly relative who was shielding, he sent me a massive care package of pampering products and checked in with me every day. The separation was hard so early into a relationship but thanks to technology, we were able to connect online as often as we wanted. Writing work disappeared overnight and my new role as carer took a mental toll, so I turned to comfort eating. At first, I logged everything but fearful of a telling off from David, my food diary became a work of fiction. My clothes tightened and my runs dwindled. As lockdown eased David booked us a romantic getaway to a hotel. He told me to pack my running gear, but I wasn’t fussed about the exercise; I was just desperate to get my hands on my man after months apart. I hoped he would be so happy to see me he wouldn’t notice the extra padding I was carrying. I didn’t realise how different I looked until I saw David’s reaction. He picked me up and hugged me, then pinched the flab on my once toned arms and said, “that’s new!”. I struggled to hold back tears. I told David to go easy with the “jokes” because I was emotionally fragile. I felt repulsed by my own body and didn’t need him to reinforce every negative thought I had about myself. At dinner, I ignored his raised eyebrows as I ordered a hearty meal and dessert. I’ve become so desensitised to his digs that it only stung a little when I asked him about his weightlifting and he replied: “I think the heaviest thing I’ve lifted this year is you when we hugged earlier.” I’m unsure if David wants to motivate me or is trying to control me. Rather than inspiring me, his insults are making me turn to food as a source of comfort and act of rebellion. On the second day of our trip, I locked myself in the hotel bathroom to binge on a huge bar of chocolate, just so I wouldn’t be judged for it. When we got intimate during our break, the spark we had pre-lockdown wasn’t there. I was so self-conscious that I had trouble enjoying myself and kept flashing back to David’s reaction to my new body. He used to call me “gorgeous” all the time but since we started meeting up in person in July, he hasn’t said it once. I know there are aspects of our relationship that aren’t great, but we’ve spent more time apart than together this year - and are still living separately - so it’s difficult to know if the relationship is viable. In August I banned David from making snide comments about my weight and so far he’s stuck to his word, which I’m taking as a positive sign. If a friend told me their partner was monitoring their every mouthful I’d probably say: “dump them!” but I’m not very good at taking my own advice. I do know that If I lose weight and get back to my previous levels of fitness it will be for me, not because a man has told me to. ‘My ex-boyfriend’s cruel comments led to an eating disorder I still haven't been able to shake’ Anonymous When I first met my ex, a competitive bodybuilder and personal trainer, I couldn’t believe my luck. It took me a while to notice the comments that crept in a month after we started dating. Longer still to realise that my food intake had gradually reduced over our 18-month relationship, after he repeatedly commented on what I ate. A throwaway comment about my on again off again relationship with the gym turned into a bet that I didn’t have the willpower to stick at it. I was a size 10-12, but for six months I’d get up early five times a week to work out. He would text me daily to ask how my weight loss was progressing - often accompanying it with a comment on how few pounds seemed to be dropping off. Arguments over food revealed a double standard. We’d often argue that although we paid for food 50:50, I rarely got 50 per cent of it. My anaemic tupperware lunch was perpetually overshadowed by his Goliath-sized meals. The worst part was that the more he tried to restrict my diet, the less healthy I became. At work, away from him, I’d snack on the things I knew I wasn’t allowed at home. My colleagues would laugh at my seemingly endless snack drawer, not realising that I’d be missing breakfast before work, eating a small packed lunch I hadn’t chosen myself and then feeling guilty for mentioning feeling hungry after a minute dinner. I still remember him catching me out once with an empty bag of milky buttons, which caused a screaming row that saw me forced to apologise for ‘letting us both down’. After 18 months of this I was struggling with full blown disordered eating, something I haven’t entirely been able to shake even though the relationship is, thankfully, long gone. The effects of his control will take some time to recover from.