Funny Girl. November 2017.

Dear Rowley,

There are few performers who can trade under one name and be instantly recognisable. There are the divas – Liza, Barbra, Bette, Cher – and there are the pop queens Madonna, Beyonce and Rihanna who didn’t bother with a surname in the first place. It is rare for a television personality to achieve that status. Cilla did it first and now ITV has blessed Sheridan Smith with a special simply billing her as ‘Sheridan’.

I have been a fan of Sheridan Smith since seeing her absolutely own the role of tart with a heart Audrey in Little Shop of Horrors. More from luck than judgement I saw her play a psychedelic Woodstock Titania in A Midsummer Night’s Dream where she acted David Walliams off the stage. I also saw Sheridan play the lead in Legally Blonde: a commercial success but not a musical I warmed to or remembered a note from the score.

I was longing to love Sheridan as Fanny Brice in Funny Girl but happened to be in the audience at the Savoy theatre on the night the curtain was brought down mid-show. I was with Miss McCarthy that night and, from the opening number, we had concerns that all was not well. We didn’t know whether it was the singer or the song but the star was woozy and off-key. The curtain went down when Sheridan performed a number that involved lewd gestures with chorus boys that surely was not developed in the rehearsal room.

To be fair to Sheridan Smith, her father had died during the run of Funny Girl and I would have said that she could have given herself (and her understudy) a break. The stage manager clearly agreed and bought the curtain down due to technical difficulties. This would have been easier to swallow had we not been invited to have a drink in the bar for an hour before the jig was up and the show didn’t go on.

Watching the ITV special, I was rather disappointed that Sheridan Smith has become the cliche she always avoided. It takes a gifted actress to hold her own in The Royle Family and I thought she gave a bravura performance as Brandy (surely Brandi?) in Benidorm displaying comic timing that would have left Fanny Brice in the shade. She defied expectations again playing both Hedda Gabler and an Olivier Award-winning role in Rattigan’s Flight Path. Her string of leading roles on TV including Mrs Biggs and Cilla - where she sang better than the original – were nuanced and at times raw.

I have had a couple of brushes with the late, great Cilla Black and remember her being as hard as nails. When asked if she would have made it without her only love, Bobby, Cilla said ‘Yeah’. I would imagine that Sheridan would have answered exactly the same. She is a natural star and absorbs attention and applause with that combination of gratitude and entitlement and that’s not a critique.

Watching the Sheridan Smith special on ITV, a comeback in all but name, I wondered how she had got to that point in her career so early. The oleaginous Alexander Armstrong never asked anything more taxing than ‘why were you so fabulous in…’ and completely ducked the opportunity to go for tears (crocodile or not) about the breakdown in 2016.

Sheridan is 36 and that’s a bit young to be playing a Diana Dors character with wobbly bosoms, double chuckling chins, peroxide hair and a bizarre array of tattoos on full display with a gold lamé evening dress that even Di Dors would have considered a bit bold. We all love a knowing, brassy diva and forgive an awful lot if the artist has had a long life of struggle.

One hopes Sheridan is just getting started. The mannerisms when singing employ all the old tricks of broads who can’t reach the high notes but vamp like crazy to cover up technical imperfections. Covering short notes with a ‘Hah!’ or a ‘Yeah’ is OK for Dorothy Squires but not for the first actress to tackle Funny Girl since Barbra Streisand originated the role.

I suspect the lady might be manic depressive but you name a performer who isn’t. Was it wise to throw Crazy into the repertoire to give  a bit of a nod and a wink to last year’s troubles? As anyone with manic depression knows, it never pays to be flippant. I also suspect Sheridan has not been lucky in love but that would go for any female performer since the year dot.

Listening to Sheridan crucify Mad About the Boy all I could hear was a Northern club singer who’s seen rough times returning to her roots. As for Marilyn Monroe’s national anthem Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend, covering that is a case of fools rushing in. Sheridan Smith is a star. She is loved. She is talented. I also happen to think she’s far too good for the blowsy album tour. Still, I bet she wins another fist-full of Oliviers and puts this behind her.

 

 

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Ordeal by Innocence. November 2017.

Dear Rowley,

I had a minor fracas on Twitter about actor Ed Westwick who has been accused of – and strenuously denied – two rapes. As a result, the BBC has cancelled showing an Agatha Christie adaptation called (with no little irony) Ordeal by Innocence this Christmas. The lady who I corresponded with said it was right to erase this man from the schedule with the reasoning that it would be distressing for the victims to see this man on television.

Well, first and foremost the man is innocent until proven guilty. That is the bedrock of British justice. Secondly, if the women allegedly assaulted by the actor chose to watch a programme featuring Westwick then I would question their judgement. Thirdly, what about all of the actors and crew who worked on Ordeal by Innocence? Should they suffer because a fellow cast member is under suspicion?

I did note that Ridley Scott had replaced Kevin Spacey in his upcoming film and decided to reshoot Spacey’s scenes with another actor. The evidence against Spacey seems to be much more conclusive and yet he has not been arrested, charged, tried or found guilty as yet. I am very uncomfortable about erasing people from history. It smacks of Nazism. Should we never watch House of Cards, The Usual Suspects or Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil ever again because Kevin Spacey tried to seduce a fourteen-year-old when he was in his twenties?

I am from the generation when if someone squeezed your bum or touched you up and it was unwelcome you’d simply politely decline. I am also of the generation that believes young people acquiesce with predatory older men or women if careers can advance. This is not an excuse for the predator but neither is it a good reflection on the young person. My major problem with the tsunami of sexual assault allegations is that they are historic. The time between the deed and the whistle being blown makes it terribly difficult to justify why the victims didn’t speak out immediately.

What we have is a new blackmailers’ charter. Nobody who made a pass and works in the public eye over the past thirty years is going to be safe from blame. There seems to be little doubt that Kevin Spacey was an arrogant, predatory man who took advantage of his success to pounce. The fact some of these men went home with him is more morally problematic.

There appears to be a number of men and women who are reporting historic abuse in the spirit of ambulance-chasing layers encouraging the public to take a punt on compensation. I can hold my hand up now and say that at the age of fourteen I was totally sexually aware and very keen to explore. I was actually gagging for an older man to make a pass and would have responded enthusiastically.

The victim culture in society today is worrying. Rape is rape and must be exposed and prosecuted. A pinch on the bum and a sly pass is something entirely different. If we were all on guard for inappropriate touching the world would walk round with their hands plastered to their sides. I don’t find Spacey attractive but had I been fourteen and propositioned by George Clooney I think I would have been grateful rather than appalled.

Who knows where this witch hunt will end? I suspect more careers will be ruined as Spacey’s has. It troubles me that Ed Westwick has been tried and convicted before the British laws have been allowed to weigh the allegations in the balance. Whether right or wrong, actors are by their nature glamorous, attractive creatures. People do tend to be dazzled in their presence and grow weak in the presence of beauty. Only a sharp legal mind will be able to assess whether Westwick took advantage or took for granted.

What has surprised me is that the allegations are centred only on Hollywood and fashion. It appears to me that football will be the next hotspot. Of course it already has been targeted with allegations of gang rape. Footballers are gods to certain young men and women. They are hunted by fans and I wonder whether they can be blamed if – like pop stars – they sleep with groupies.

I am sure that British law is incredibly cut and dried about rape and so it should be. It is more perplexing that men and women in their teens and twenties claim to be traumatised by a hand on the knee or a few dirty words whispered into an ear. And all this happening decades ago. An assault to me is violent, it might be smoothed by the administration of a date rape drug and it is nothing less than an attack. I have been slipped a doctored drink twice: on the first occasion I managed to get out of the club and into a taxi thanks to friends. On the other – done with malice rather than intent to attack – I found myself in hospital.

There are some nasty people out there and constant vigilance is needed to keep out of harm’s way. But if you do have the smarts and know how to take care of yourself, dangerous people can only get so far. My worry is that rape victims who feel shame and blame themselves might stay silent while those seeking attention by blaming someone in the public eye shout from the rooftops. This is a horribly complex subject but one that cannot be allowed to become an ordeal by innocence.

 

 

 

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Deep in Vogue. November 2017.

Dear Rowley,

The much-anticipated December issue of Vogue under the captaincy of Edward Enninful hit the newsstands today. If nothing else, the amount of media – both print and social – generated by the issue has given glossies a shot in the arm. I was enchanted by the cover star Adwoa Aboah with her maximum make-up, killer diamond chandelier drops and Stephen Jones psychedelic turban.

Aboah is fashion royal family being the daughter of Camilla Lowther and also ticks the boxes as a mixed-race beauty who has been vocal about her mental health issues. The accompanying Steven Meisel shoot styled by Mr Enninful reaches back to Bea Miller’s Vogue in the 1970s and features joyous fine jewellery of which the new editor is a great supporter.

I haven’t enjoyed British Vogue since the departure of the late, great Liz Tilberis. It was she who delivered a string of covergirl pearls in the early 1990s that fed my love of fashion. Every issue it was a new Linda Evangelista, Christy Turlington, Claudia Schiffer or Naomi Campbell painted for the gods and dressed in fashions for Olympus. Who can forget Linda in Chanel couture shot by Patrick Demarchelier wearing a towering birdcage hat designed by a young Philip Treacy?

Don’t you think fashion has rather got above itself of late and forgotten that a magazine’s content should be about fun, frivolity, excess and eye candy rather than arty/ugly edge? I’ve never understood the Venetia Scott/Juergen Teller aesthetic so don’t see the point of a fashion spread featuring three women in ballgowns staring at a nude woman riding a cow. If I were Mr Enninful I would spare the readers shoots that make their noses bleed with perplexity.

Neither an I terribly taken by child star Millie Bobby Brown tootsed-up in Gucci and Giambattista Valli looking like a Wednesday Adams Lolita. Child stars are rather unnerving and her combination of knowingness and youth is not a comfortable fit in Vogue. Still, you can’t help falling in love with Joe McKenna’s shoot with Bruce Weber inspired by Mona Bismarck gardening in Balenciaga couture. It’s a barminess that Vogue lacked under former editor Alexandra Shulman.

I do think Mr Enninful missed a trick by not deploying the great Grace Coddington to shoot a fashion portfolio for his debut issue. Instead, Grace ‘styled’ illustrations by Michael Roberts of a gorilla called Gingernutz in the season’s couture looks. How was it? Pointless. Imagine what glories could have been achieved had Grace and Michael styled a fashion story? I recall one of Michael’s Tatler shoots with Tina Turner and Eton schoolboys titled Don’t Thigh For Me Ardent Tina. It was magical.

Race is clearly important to Mr Enninful. One hopes Vogue doesn’t look like a 1980s Benetton advert going forward. Naomi Campbell has scored many a Vogue cover in her career so I think it unfair to say that the magazine was too white and too posh. There’s still a bit of posh in there with features on Annabel’s and Matthew Freud. Zadie Smith writes a pointless essay about HM The Queen that is patronising, pert and bordering on intellectual snobbery.

There are flashes of genius in the new Vogue not least Pat McGrath’s balls-deep make-up story. The advertising department needs shooting for breaking-up Pat’s fabulous story with ads for Aussie shampoo and Gillette Venus razors. How low rent! Vogue should have taken a leaf out of Elle’s book and cleaned-up the crappy ads at the back of the magazine as a declaration of intent.

Most disappointing for me was how textbook the flow of features was throughout the book. I want to see those glorious fashion stories way ahead of the last quarter of the magazine. I can do without the bitty little nothings at the front of book with cut-out pictures and rather old-fashioned copy. Vogue can afford the best fashion writers so can we please be spared little shopping features titled Pigment Politics, Night Shades and (ugh!) Bow Wow. There are also far too many Vogue Partnerships (read advertorials).

Of course it is far easier to criticise than to praise. Much was expected of Mr Enninful and I suspect his nerves of not being a words man got the better of him. He scored Glenda Jackson for a feature but why not make her a model in a strong fashion portfolio to show that as well as racial diversity, Vogue loves women of all ages? The ‘back to their roots’ feature could have been better focusing only on J W Anderson and not Galliano, Christopher Bailey and Victoria Beckham.

I am very unsure about Vogue’s new contributing editors. Did Kate Moss giving her recipe for cheese on toast add anything to the national debate? As for Naomi Campbell’s ‘brilliant’ interview with Sadiq Khan, it was hardly groundbreaking. Whatever next? Cara Delevingne grills Kim Jong Un? Lily Cole deconstructs Brexit with Jean Claude Junker?

Looking at the Adwoa cover again it strikes me that the photograph could just as easily have been of Rupaul. Now that would have been a revolutionary cover for a fashion magazine.

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Halloween. October 2017.

Dear Rowley,

I’ve never been a fan of Halloween. As you know, Bloomsbury is the heart of occult London. We have the most esoteric bookshops, occult emporia, the mysticism of the Seven Dials and the heritage of Aleister Crowley’s Golden Dawn sect who worshipped here. We don’t mess about with the dark arts in Bloomsbury and we do take it seriously.

My thoughts on witchcraft is that it was probably the hallucinogenics and poisons in the potions that caused victims to fall in love or fall down dead. But as any religion proves, belief is such that bad juju could frighten a soul to death. So I don’t find it remotely cool or artistic of the entertainment industry to treat every performance like Halloween.

We’ve had Madonna sacrificed surrounded by baphomet devils at the Grammys, Katy Perry consumed by a circle of fire while writhing on a broomstick and a scarlet robed Taylor Swift charming snakes to do her bidding. Search pictures of Jay Z, Beyonce, Britney Spears, Rihanna or Miley Cyrus and you will see them all making the signs of the devil’s horns, the 666 and the All-seeing eye with tongues lashing their chins.

I happen to think the music and movie industry playing with this fire is so much pantomime. The mischief being made is all too human rather than genuinely satanic. There’s definitely an unpleasant agenda to popular child stars such as Britney, Justin, Christina and Miley growing from fresh-faced Disney moppets to half naked, twerking sex toys.

The double-standards of pop star porn being sold as art sits uncomfortably with the sexual abuse scandals consuming Weinstein and Spacey. Treading terribly carefully, the conspiracy of silence around Weinstein as a sexual predator exposes a toxic hypocrisy. Why did these women not blow the whistle immediately if not for themselves then to protect other vulnerable victims?

I would imagine not a few of the ladies accusing Weinstein must feel uncomfortable that they traded silence for parts. The whole of Hollywood knew about Uncle Harvey’s activities and yet it seems an awful lot of women agreed to visit his hotel suites alone. Where were the agents, the families, the boyfriends and husbands?

There is rage about Kevin Spacey finally coming out as a smokescreen for being exposed as putting the moves on a teenage boy. Again we hear ‘everybody knew’ but nobody blew a whistle because Mr Spacey was box office gold in Netflix’ House of Cards. 

Fashion photographer Terry Richardson has been blacklisted by Vogue and Bazaar after decades of shooting grotesque pornographic images. Having seen some of the unpublished photographs of a naked Richardson having sex with his subjects I find it incredible that he was protected for so long. Sexual abuse of young models in fashion is endemic but the industry protected its own.

Now it seems we have a new spate of inappropriate sexual behaviour in the Palace of Westminster on both sides of the House. We have Tory MP Mark Garnier asking his secretary to buy sex toys and calling her ‘sugar tits’ and Labour MP Jared O’Mara being caught using the foulest sexist, racist and homophobic language. Both were staunchly defended by their parties until the clamour from the public grew too loud to ignore.

The public have adopted a ‘live by the sword’ approach that I find eminently sensible. Lesbian talkshow host Ellen Degeneres was hammered for a ‘joke’ photograph at the Grammy Awards in which she is ogling Katy Perry’s breasts. Several high-profile pundits including Piers Morgan quite rightly questioned why it is funny when a lesbian objectifies a woman but a career-threatening offence if the ogler is a man?

The answer of course is context. Katy Perry appeared to share Ellen’s joke and not feel threatened by unwelcome and aggressive sexual attention. But as long as it is code red for a man who puts a hand on a lady’s knee on a talk show, I don’t think the Ellens can be so cavalier or expect everyone to get the joke.

The liberal elite in Hollywood, Parliament and the BBC can preach their agendas as much as they like but the public – God bless ‘em – will always smell mendacity. Of all the evils social media has unleashed, giving the general public a platform to voice their disapproval is I think rather a good thing.

The transgender agenda is one that is making many people uncomfortable. Apparently more than 50 little boys or girls are referred to NHS psychiatrists per week who believe they are trapped in the wrong body. I could only imagine the torture of being a girl in a boy’s body or vice versa. But surely a very large proportion of these kids might just be gay.

Somebody is pushing the gender neutral agenda arguably faster than the public at large would like. It makes the fight for gay rights seem like the tortoise compared to the transgender hare.

As a gay London man, I am perhaps surprisingly neither overtly liberal nor elite. Respect is a word that was a battle cry for gays of my generation and I think it’s a darned good one in these troubled times. Respecting others’ opinions and choices is kind and nice. Sadly those with agendas don’t tend to respect other people. They seek to beat down the opposition.

For me, Halloween is nothing to celebrate. There are indeed dark forces at work in the world and to celebrate the dark side even in jest is quite simply asking for trouble.

 

 

 

 

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The Black Tie Brooch. October 2017.

Dear Rowley,

You know I am always wary of broadcasting good news because it is invariably at that moment when the lightening bolt sets fire to your fun fur. But it seems like the wind is in the sails of Jewellery for Gentlemen. Just in time for my birthday, Virgin Startup wrote to inform me that backing for the business had been approved.

Can’t tell you what it means to have an organisation like Virgin Startup showing faith in Jewellery for Gentlemen. It doubtless helped that J4G, as I have already started thinking about it, has a first stockist in the Wedding Gallery at No 1 Marylebone. The gallery opens for press next week and public from the 15th of November.

Tomorrow I will be placing all of the gentlemen’s jewellery in the cabinet at the Wedding Gallery. We’ve got a stellar line-up including Shaun Leane, Theo Fennell, Stephen Webster, Lucas Rarities and Wright & Teague as well as the first edit of my Jewellery for Gentlemen.

The collection so far is pretty modest: antique pieces such as stickpins, tie studs and cufflinks with a couple of cracking rings. I hope to have added some black tie brooches and samples of my pearl tie studs made exclusively for J4G. I’d like Jewellery for Gentlemen to be a balance of lovely antique pieces and a core collection branded as J4G.

There is a lot of work to support J4G in the coming weeks and months. I launched the Instagram platform but it’s still baby steps and will keep to my own Twitter account because I’ve already established it as a place to indulge in men’s jewellery. The website is going to be fundamental to promote and eventually sell Jewellery for Gentlemen. I might well be in need of an iTwink to help with the coding but let’s see. You never know until you try…

I have ideas for packaging and hope to borrow the expertise of the Mount Street Printers to create something masculine, understated and practical. Though it would have helped had Thames & Hudson published Jewellery for Gentlemen soon after the launch of the Wedding Gallery, I do recognise that September is the sweet spot for publishing glamorously illustrated books and I will have a good ten-month run to bed the business down.

I have H to thank for turning Jewellery for Gentlemen from a book to a business. If it sets me off on an entirely new path then I have an awful lot to be thankful for. I do think we’re set fair for men’s jewellery. There isn’t a red carpet now from Cannes to Hollywood that doesn’t show fine examples of antique black tie brooches.

I have to admit my favourite chapter in Jewellery for Gentlemen was the one that featured black tie brooches. We did push it quite far not least with the c.1900 Black Rose diamond-encrusted brooch that I borrowed from Wartski, the exquisite Sterlé woven gold leaf clips encrusted with diamonds from Hancocks of London and my personal favourite a diamond vase pouring rivulets of articulated diamonds also from Wartski.

The one piece of advice my Virgin Startup mentor over the application process gave me was not to run too fast. The coffers aren’t full enough to introduce substantial gem-set antique brooches into the collection for the first six months. But I am sincerely hoping my pearl tie studs will be a hit at the Wedding Gallery and that the diamonds will come with time.

The rather wonderful thing about launching Jewellery for Gentlemen is realising how many people are on-side after twenty years working in the business in London. It is heartening that friends have been so keen to help and that interest is piqued when you’ve got something to sell.

Granted, if you want to make billions you have to provide products that people can’t live without and they are usually stultifying, boring objects like kitchen roll, tetra packs, iPhones and Viagra. The one thing Jewellery for Gentlemen  is not is a necessity. However, I do see an appetite from men on the streets of London for individual adornment.

Though we’ll begin with traditional dress jewellery, I think there might be a demand for ear studs made from antique stickpin heads. I can’t wait to start tackling bracelets, bangles and pendants. My friend Shaun wears a diamond line bracelet along with a wrist-full of amazing pieces of jewellery. I love the idea of black or white diamond line bracelet worn with a cocktail suit or black tie.

What I most look forward to is the search for Jewellery for Gentlemen pieces in antique shops and markets both national and international. I think the collection for the Wedding Gallery is sound though we could do with a pearl horseshoe and diamond wishbone stickpin to church bell it up a bit.

I do think Jewellery for Gentlemen could do with a West End stockist or two and am pursuing that with two very dear friends who own rather ritzy shops. I don’t think there’s any reason why I can’t tailor Jewellery for Gentlemen collections for individual shops. I won’t run before I can walk but I do think fortune favours the brave with a new venture.

At present I feel vaguely like Ron Moody’s Fagin packing my baubles into a box in preparation for placing them in the Wedding Gallery tomorrow. Having reviewed the situation, I have thought it out again and the future is Jewellery for Gentlemen. Until next time my dear…

 

 

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