Women of Power. April 2012.

Dear Rowley,

While working on Anderson & Sheppard’s No 17 Clifford Street shop project, La Farmer and I found ourselves at Theo Fennell’s Fulham Road flagship and a meeting with the leonine Mr Fennell in his lair. Theo is amusing. I recall interviewing him for an FT story about the crucifix enjoying another fashion moment. ‘How did it begin?’ asks I. ‘Well’, replies he, ‘a long, long time ago there was a Jewish lady called Mary…’.

Theo had us in hysterics about a conference he had attended the previous afternoon as guest speaker for an organisation entitled Women of Power. Though this moniker sounds more like something dreamed up by the leader of  a hen party pack destined for a weekend in Magaluf, this cabal comprises ladies in the business sector who describe themselves as ‘WoP’ with no apparent irony. When I was a child, there was a cartoon heroine entitled She-Ra who I always considered the ultimate Woman of Power but I suspect the assembled ladies more resembled Margaret Mountford

Theo is intelligent, he has an unique perspective on life but politically correct he is not. One cheeky comment and you could imagine the Women of Power rising as one like Wendy Deng to engage him in a kung-fu battle to the death resembling the last five minutes of a Bruce Lee movie. I believe Theo escaped without incurring the Women of Power’s collective ire and lived to host a charity Strictly Come Dancing competition that weekend in the guise of Bruce Forsythe.

Speaking of television, I decided to unplug the flat screen in Bloomsbury Towers and retire it to the broom cupboard. Incredible, isn’t it, that when we only had three channels there was always something on the  box. Now, courtesy of Sky et al, we have hundreds of channels and absolutely nothing to watch. How can this be? There are notable exceptions such as NBCs Smash - an adult Glee about the making of a Marilyn Monroe musical destined for Broadway – and the odd gem such as Twenty Twelve or Damages.

Last week better half and I watched our first full episode of The Only Way Is Essex. I was absolutely entranced by a latter-day Mae West character called Gemma Collins who – according to the set-up storyline – was dating a boy she suspected might be gay. As she complained to her mother, ‘E tells me I’ve got nice eyes and beautiful skin but he never says he likes my tits or naffink’. Can’t make it up can you? Compared to Gemma, Mae West’s bon mots are worthy of Montaigne.

We also had the misfortune to see half an hour of Britain’s Got Talent. Now I have nothing against Simon Cowell and the other three Horsemen of the Apocalypse who sit in judgement on infants, the mentally ill and representatives of minority groups guaranteed to grab tabloid headlines like a pedophile in the night. But I have vowed never to sit through such cynical, exploitative, mawkish, dishonest, meticulously micro-managed effluence again.

Watching Britain’s Got Talent leaves one feeling dirty and used. The producers sank relatively low when last night’s episode turned into a revival of the Mini Pops in all but name. An eleven year old girl with a sweet but over-sophisticated singing voice was told by Mr Cowell that she had ‘soul’. Her choice of number? One Night Only. Other than Love to Love You Baby or Je t’Aime I’m at a loss to find a less appropriate song for a pre-pubsescent child to sing.

The gurning facial expressions the judges assume when listening to a voice they ‘love 110%’ makes one wish the gruesome foursome would reach for a blood sausage and have done with it.  Amanda Holden cocks her head like a surprised but delighted toy poodle being given an unsolicited belly rub and assumes her ‘YouTube face’. Mr Cowell gives a satisfied smile that makes one suspect Sinitta is up to no good under the judge’s desk. For one horrible second I thought David Walliams – the Peter Lorre de nos jours – was going to say to the little girl ‘you remind me of a young Whitney Houston’.

But the show saved it’s Susan Boyle moment for an angelic nine year old boy called Malakai supported only by single mother Toni Ann who – with sterling support from Ant n’ Dec – hammered home a back story so heart-wrenching that it left us in no doubt this child would score four ‘yes’s’ from the panel even if he’d gone on stage and participated in a voodoo ritual.  Anyway, said child did indeed have the vocal chords of an infant Michael Jackson doing his best Mariah Carey impersonation.

Malakai broke down half way through the performance to be comforted by his Mum and judge Alesha Dixon who – having mimed concern so convincingly she might have been told to charade Schindler’s List as an in one - said he was willing to smile through the tears and try again. Bang on cue, the nine-year old proceeded to perform a pitch perfect eight bars that left the audience weeping, whooping and clucking like a maternity ward.

Most alarming perhaps is the tone of voice Mr Cowell uses when talking to a nine-year old child. His comments were more suitable for the ears of a hard-bitten lounge singer relegated from the big room rather than as comfort for a traumatised child who is, frankly, cannon fodder ticking the box reading ‘cute black kid in the mould of Michael Jackson’. I felt a chill for that child. His career began, and I suspect will end, in tears. Until next time…