With American banks teetering on the edge, 10,000 layoffs at Facebook and the global economy fighting another doom spiral, we turn our attention, naturally, to comments made by Hugh Grant on the red carpet at the Oscars. Sunday’s ceremony, which was watched by more people than last year but still fewer than can fit into a mid-size Scandinavian country, delivered a solid piece of pre-show drama when the 62-year-old British actor ran into Ashley Graham, the model turned TV-host, who invited him to share in his joy at being there.
I have always had a soft spot for Grant, who specialises in the kind of hang-dog contrition commonly seen in children appealing for clemency before you know what they’ve done. In his latest public appearance, Grant was on chillier form, as he sought to communicate to viewers, via a series of abrupt answers, his disdain for red carpet interviews in general and Graham in particular. The question for the American press on Monday morning, as articulated by the Washington Post, was Is Hugh Grant Rude or Just British?
I think we can say with some confidence that Grant’s I-don’t-understand-the-question deadpan and drive-by reference to Thackeray was a case of laughing at Graham, not with her. (Graham, leaning gamely into the headwind, ploughed on.) Of course he was being a prat, and of course these events are appalling, and of course the red carpet interviews are dumb. What might Grant like to have been asked about? His thoughts on Ukraine, perhaps; or his sense of where the banking crisis may lead. Oh, look; now I’m being a prat, too.
Most sensible people, I suspect, would agree that if you are inclined to play the game to the extent of showing up at an event to present an award, you have to dig deep and be gracious throughout. Graham, meanwhile, staying as ruthlessly on brand as her interviewee, later told TMZ that, as her mother always taught her, you gotta get out there and “kill them with kindness”, and that – naturally – she had “had so much fun”.
More adventures in showbiz this week via the reliably excellent Dawn French, whose live show, Dawn French is a Huge Twat, has been causing headaches for the advertising watchdog after an ad featuring that title appeared in the Sunday Times and – checks notes – two people complained. Job done from the point of view of French’s publicists, but it leads one to consider other titles that do-more-heavy-lifting-than-the-product-itself.
Sean Penn, with his 2018 novel Bob Honey Who Just Do Stuff, is a strong performer in this area, as is Russell Brand and his Booky Wook – although unlike French, neither of these has the advantage of being funny. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies was a smart solicitation for eye-balls. So was Another Bullshit Night in Suck City by Nick Flynn. It’s hard to credit it, now, but the Vagina Monologues by V, formerly Eve Ensler, was every bit as arresting as the French title when the play first opened in 1996. Ultimately nothing will beat the name of TVGoHome’s satirical fly-on-wall documentary about Nathan Barley, which those too young to remember can look up, or work out for themselves since it’s the final, unpublishable word on the vagina/twat synonyms continuum.
The clocks went forward in New York this week, briefly narrowing the time difference with GMT to four hours and bringing on what might be called micro-jetlag (no one in my house can get up). Pity the high school students of some schools in Indonesia, therefore, who, after the Indonesian authorities launched a pilot scheme to start school in East Nusa Tenggara province at 5.30am, are being forced to get up at 4am before plunging out into the dark. According to the governor, this measure is designed to strengthen children’s discipline, at the cost of ruining the lives of the whole family. I long for an experiment in the other direction, in which school starts at 10am and we manage for a single, miraculous day to arrive on time.
Do you carry a water bottle to work? Do you send your kid with one to school? The obsession with hydration is decades deep, but still too shallow to reach back to my school days. I sometimes freak my children out by telling them entire days would go by when I didn’t drink water and no one thought anything of it. By contrast these people are constantly chugging and running off to the loo.
As it turns out, what an Australian psychologist has termed “emotional support water bottles” might not represent the straightforward advance in human wellness we assume. Associate Prof Keong Yap of the Australian Catholic University made his comments about bottles-as-security-blankets to the New York Post in response to a recent US study that found reusable water bottles can contain 40,000 times more germs than the average toilet seat and twice as many as the kitchen sink. More-germs-than-the-toilet is a hardy PR formulation and it should be noted that the study was funded by a water filter company. Still, I’m looking at the giant water bottle on my desk and suppressing a mild urge to heave. Apparently, you are supposed to wash these things every day? With hot, soapy water? And not just run them briskly under the cold tap now and then?
One of my favourite types of TV clip, after people falling over or news hosts mispronouncing “Jeremy Hunt”, is a good find on Antiques Roadshow. This week the BBC show was at Belmont House in Faversham, Kent, where a guest stepped forward to present a painting – a beautiful, abstract scene in grey-greens – that had been in his family for a long time. The man, who wasn’t named, said he suspected it might be by a famous artist, whereupon Rupert Mass, the expert on hand, informed him it was by David Hockney and worth in the region of £20,000-£30,000. Suppressing large emotions, the man said mildly, “thank you for that information. Thank you very much” – a moment of exemplary Britishness that quite made up for Hugh Grant.