As 2020 dawns, Steven Smith takes a long hard look at the state of Britain today.
One of last year’s most controversial, brilliant and unique shows has to be “Years and Years”, written by the genius Russell T Davis. Much of his vision of the future seems to be coming true, alarmingly, with Donald Trump seemingly hell bent that his legacy will be crowned by creating World War Three. One of the most memorable monologues of the show sees veteran actress Anne Reid, playing the grandmother Muriel Deacon, announce that “It is all your fault”.
The acclaimed series made many people pause their busy lives and ask, in a world that is burning because of climate change and with governments arguably spinning out of control, is it all our fault? Or is there still hope?
Waking up on Friday the 13th I felt rough. The night before I had been at the “British Curry awards” with the gorgeous model and actress Danielle Mason. It is one of the most spectacular award shows I have been to. No, I wasn’t hung over, and Danielle had driven us there and we left together at a respectable 11pm.
Looking at my phone, there is a comment from a socialite under a picture of Danielle and myself on LinkedIn: “What next? Chip awards? Lol.” Maybe peeved she had not been invited, the comment can be forgiven, and I have to admit that when I first heard of the awards they seemed amusing. But the actual importance of the awards sees royalty, prime ministers and a host of stars turn up to support them.
It is not all glitz and glamour. Not only does the evening raise a huge amount for charity but it highlights something that we often take for granted: “nipping out for a curry” – its roots, immigration to this country, the possible threat not only to the ingredients, but the possibility that skilled experts in the craft of Indian cuisine will be affected by Brexit.
It was not long ago, in the ’50s and ’60s in fact, that Indian migration to the UK was treated with the same fear we continue to witness from some people when faced with “outsiders”. Now here we are, embracing what has become as common as fish and chips – a curry – and a society that has not just brought their cuisine to us, but skilled professionals (including my GP, as it happens) and so many other valued members of society. We all rely on someone with Indian roots. Personally, I have been lucky enough to visit India and enjoy its rich, diverse culture, with all its extremes, and I am lifelong friends with Doctor Prakash, the Harley Street surgeon, who runs several charities in Chennai. Denise Welch travelled with me there to open one.
I doubt that the real sentiment of the evening would have been noticed by many in the room. For sure, my table was filled with gorgeous reality stars and glamour models. All the old-school table dinner-party etiquette I was taught by my partner as a youth was nowhere to be seen!
The minimally dressed ladies make introductions but can’t wait to sit down and get to their phones to see if they have made it to “The Mail Online”. That’s fine. Danielle might be both a model and an actress, but she is chatty and amusing and not at all rude. I try making a joke as the intro of the awards is taking so long that everyone is starving, and there is no sign of food. Getting my phone out, I ask, “shall I call for a take-away?”
They look up and laugh – but look back down straightaway.
Things change when a well-known photographer comes up and asks me to get Danielle to take her top off as she is not showing enough cleavage, followed by a few other known faces kindly coming to say hello. Suddenly there is a change at the table due to my being recognised.
“Who are you and how do you know each other?” asked one of the glamour ladies. On hearing that sometimes in my PR capacity Danielle gets work and press exposure through me, the phones come down. In fact, the evening seemed to lift with one of the ladies taking time to show me her boyfriend’s penis, which took up most of the phone screen. Asking her how she could still walk caused giggles.
Of course, the women with the most revealing outfits make it into the papers. Danielle is looking elegant and stylish too. “Maybe I should have shown more?” asks Danielle, who is a good actress. Class over brass in the end, I reply. You looked gorgeous.
It is quite terrifying. There is a sea of so-called celebrities fighting to get their images in the press, not through their talents (though many are talented) but by showing as much skin as possible on the red carpet. A star or celebrity not so long ago was trained in social grace and style, not in the art of running a selfie through five apps to make them look like an embryo in a frock. Men aren’t excluded, with features popping up (pardon the pun) like the Battle of the Bulge. How long till a desperate male reality star shows more than he should to get column inches?
What a woman wears is more important than what she thinks, with magazine columns filled with, “Who wore it best and worst”. As Bette Midler says, “So sick of the ‘who wore it best’ feature in women’s magazines. Stop pitting us against each other. If you didn’t put it on backwards and your tit didn’t pop out, you wore it just fine.”
Well, for some, your tits popping out is the point and the papers lap it up. Free PR all round!
Now do not get me wrong. I love a picture or two but the worry is, what are we teaching young people? Ours is a world that is fast revolving through Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook where basic social skills are going out the door.
People are actually putting themselves and others in danger walking through our busy cities in a zombie-like state, unaware of their surroundings, looking down at what is fast becoming the master of us: the phone. A friend of mine told me she claps her hands as they walk towards her.
“Great, that should get you stabbed in London sooner or later,” I replied.
As a diversity role model, I go into schools and talk about my life as a gay man, something that ten years ago would have been unimaginable. Social skills should not be a thing of the past and it is something that we need to teach in schools. I’m sure I’m not alone in being grateful to my parents for teaching me good manners.
Like many, I was horrified when Instagram influencer Freddie Bentley said in an interview with “Good morning Britain” that kids should learn less about World War II, as it was too intense. One of the most important events in history and he wanted it removed from the school syllabus! We are in danger of making the same mistakes again as people forget we need history to remind us of what matters.
Bentley, it could be argued, is suffering from body issues and, yes, life skills should be added to the school curriculum. After all, how a mortgage works is probably more useful than calculus for most people. If we don’t start in schools, with sensible use of phones and self-image, who knows where this is going to end, and if we don’t act it is our fault.
Anyway, my main reason for feeling rough and not wanting to get out of bed – it’s the morning of the election. But when I do look out my window, it’s a dark, ominous day. It has rained for most of the night.
Many have stayed up to see the apparent annihilation of Labour, some in hope that the man who had earned the nickname Bozo the clown might by a miracle be relieved of his posts. According to Piers Morgan, the likes of Hugh Grant had woken crying into their almond-milk cappuccino at the landslide victory of the Conservatives, and many others have woken only to start sobbing into their full-fat milk and sugar smacks.
My phones going off with tweets, texts and messages. “It’s the end of the NHS.” “LGBTQ rights threatened.” “Say goodbye to human rights.”
Many are putting messages on social media: “Defriend and don’t speak to me if you voted Tory.” I feel about that the same way I do about the narcissist who announced they were “culling” on social media. “Who do you think you are? Caesar?” I may not agree with your opinion, but this is the UK and we have freedom of speech within, of course, the bounds of legality.
Casting my vote meant I was up early on the Thursday and at the polling station. I feel it is my duty to vote. But it was with a heavy heart. I felt like a vegan at an all-you-can-eat meat buffet being asked to pick a starter.
It was the first time I did not feel any of the parties deserved my X, as did so many of my peers. My opinion is, it has happened. The captain of the plane flying us out of the EU is not the man I would want but the other choices of pilot were equally unappealing.
Now he’s at the helm until we find someone to take over. Let’s hope he keeps to some of the promises and, with the many LGBTQ people in the Conservatives, from Lord Black to Nigel Evans, it might be a good idea to appoint someone who can protect and advance our rights.
It is doubtful it will happen and yes, I hear it now: that you want LGBTQ+ people to be treated the same as everyone else and that we have already come a long way. Well, you only have to read the hate comments under an article about two men skating together to see why we need it. Funny that in a world where two men fighting and hurting one another is so embraced, two fellas dancing in harmony is so horrifying to so many. We have it so wrong.
It’s becoming a world were celebrity is everything. Where a man hosting a reality show can capture the imagination of so many and become the President of the US with his orange finger on the nuclear button. But this time, when he says, “YOU’RE FIRED” we are all in real trouble.
Here, we have voted in a man who would rather lock himself in a fridge than answer Piers Morgan’s questions on Good Morning Britain – something he had promised time and time again. Boris has lied and lied. Once, one lie and you got found out and it was the end of your career. But in a world of fake news, PR and celebrity it seems the blond ones can do what they like and rule the world.
Now apprenticeships and hard work to get to the top have been fast tracked or replaced with people doing day- or week-long courses and announcing they are experts in a field that used to take years to master. They are getting away with it.
It is our fault if we do not fight for a strong foundation for our country of manners, morals and skills, where we embrace heroes and real talent, not exhibitionists. How can we even lay the foundations if we are openly lied to by those we voted in and we turn a blind eye? Where girls as young as eight would rather be Katie Price than a nurse or teacher. It might just be our fault if we don’t stop to make changes soon.