What fun it has been over the past couple of days! Firstly that excruciating interview with the Duke of York over his relations with the American billionaire and convicted serial paedophile Jeffrey Epstein. Then, the following evening, an investigation into the present British prime minister’s relationship with another American, Jennifer Arcuri; which turns out to have been as ‘close’ – that is, sexual – as was widely suspected, until he dumped her, provoking last night’s electrifying ‘woman scorned’ performance on TV. What a treat for the tabloids! It reminds me of a headline I once read in the old News of the World, which I thought represented in one short sentence the main foci of the ‘yellow press’: ‘Duchess Wore Turban at Naked Parties’. It’s just what we needed, to take our minds off Brexit for a while.
Of course neither of these events is important in itself. ‘Boys will be boys’ (sorry!), and there’s little harm in those who are attractive, rich or important enough to be able to, seducing young women (or men) whenever they like, so long as it’s done consensually. I’m always grateful that I was none of those things, and so was almost never subjected to temptations which might have got me into trouble later. Likewise, I’ve never taken much interest in Royalty; which is why the other week I turned down an offer of £800 from the Sun newspaper to comment on the latest episode of The Crown, about the relationship between Harold Wilson and the Queen. (I’ve not watched The Crown, though I’m told it’s good.)
What were important, of course, were certain implications of the two affairs. The first was the accusation that Prince Whatsisname’s paedophile friend had provided him with an under-age girl to sleep with; which she claims, but he denies. The second was the fact that Boris, as Mayor of London, had granted substantial and profitable favours to his mistress’s commercial business, without declaring her as an ‘interest’ on the London Assembly’s books. Both of these are crimes, the second of which the London Metropolitan Police are currently investigating. That makes these events more than just merely titillating.
More generally, both of them illustrate quite vividly some deeply unattractive features of our British class system, as it relates to the upper classes and Royalty. Both Boris and the Prince appear to believe – or did, before these rows broke over their heads – that their positions in society rendered them immune to the moral constraints that ordinary people are subjected to; able, in other words, to do almost as they liked. In Boris’s case that also involves serial lying. In the Prince’s, it goes along with an entire lack of understanding or empathy for the wider problem, of child sexual abuse, that his behaviour was suspected to be a part of. Even if he had not noticed at the time that this was going on – which seems scarcely credible – he should have realised it by the time of his TV interview. (Especially as he is – or was – a patron of the NSPCC.) This illustrates their arrogance. These people really do live in a different world. All of them are immensely rich, too, which may have something to do with it. Yet there they are: over and above us still.
Then – quite fortuitously – came the BBC’s splendid new adaptation of HG Wells’s The War of the Worlds. That began with a Martian attack on Woking. (It’s the same in the book, too, I seem to remember.) Did anyone else notice that it was the ‘Pizza Express’ in Woking that the Duke claimed furnished his alibi – he claims he was there with his kids – for the night his under-aged girlfriend maintained he danced ‘sweatily’ with her in a night club before taking her off to have sex with her? What is it about Woking? I’ve not been there; but I’m sure it doesn’t deserve to be invaded by both the Martians and Prince Andrew.