The lifelong pleasure of keeping a diary

🍆 Salvador Dalí | 🧳 Peculiar Prince | 🤷 Lab leak?


Bridget Jones with her diary

The lifelong pleasure of keeping a diary

“I always say, keep a diary and some day it’ll keep you,” says Gyles Brandreth in Literary Review. I started mine aged 11, when my great aunt Edith gave me a shortened – “and thoroughly expurgated” – edition of the diaries of Samuel Pepys, which inspired me to keep my own. It’s how I bonded with the veteran MP Tony Benn, “probably the most prolific diarist of his day”. He encouraged me to keep at it and include as much everyday detail as possible. “It’s a dreadful burden,” he said, “but you’ll be grateful in the end.” Tony dictated his diary in later years, which led to misunderstandings in transcription. He told me how he had found “cuddly Pooh” in the middle of one entry, and it had taken him a while to work out that it should have read “Cudlipp, who…”

As an MP, I wrote my diaries in the Commons; the rules of the House do not allow you to read books in committee, but you can write them. (Though one colleague did manage to complete War and Peace while serving on the Finance Bill Committee, by photocopying 50 pages a day and tucking them inside the Budget Red Book.) “Mildly squiffy” in the Commons library at 2am, I once wrote a colourful account of a late-night spat I’d witnessed between the Chancellor and the Foreign Secretary. The following morning, “sober and aghast”, I couldn’t find my diary anywhere. I searched high and low before remembering where it was. I rushed to the library and saw Peter Mandelson, already known as the Prince of Darkness, leafing through my papers. “My heart stood still.” Peter looked up and smiled: “I’ve found it.”

Love etc

Salvador Dalí. Hulton Archive/Getty

When working for Penthouse magazine in 1969, says Lynn Barber in The Daily Telegraph, I interviewed Salvador Dalí in Paris. I was advised to address the artists as “Maître”, which came naturally – he was “so tall, so old, so grand and so exotic-looking” – and to ask him about sex. “Zee painters are always zee big masturbators – nevaire make love, only watch, and some-times masturbation,” he explained. “Every big artist, every important people – Michelangelo, Leonardo, Napoleon – is impotent and this is good. Because if you work too well with your sex, you never produce nozzing. Only childs.” After the interview I had lunch with him and his wife Gala, and when we’d finished, his aide asked if I’d like to join the couple for a threesome. I gave them my standard reply to such requests: that “I’d love to, but it was the wrong time of the month”.


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Long reads shortened

Workers at Wuhan airport in April 2020. Getty

It’s looking more and more like Covid came from a lab leak

For more than four years, says Alina Chan in The New York Times, the search for the truth of Covid’s origins has been derailed by “reflexive partisan politics”. But a growing body of evidence suggests that the pandemic “most likely occurred because a virus escaped from a research lab”. Of course, it always seemed a hell of a coincidence that the SARS-like virus emerged in Wuhan, the same city as the world’s foremost research lab for SARS-like viruses. Or that, according to US intelligence sources, several scientists at the lab happened to fall ill in autumn 2019, just before Covid first emerged. The previous year, the institute applied for funding to create a virus with something called a “furin cleavage site” on its protein spike. Of the hundreds of SARS-like viruses catalogued by scientists, the one that caused Covid, SARS‑CoV‑2, “is the only one known to possess a furin cleavage site at its spike”.

The official explanation for the pandemic – that the coronavirus emerged naturally in Wuhan’s live animal markets – has never added up. The viruses most similar to SARS‑CoV‑2 circulate in bats living roughly 1,000 miles from Wuhan, yet there was “no known trace of infection” anywhere between the two. In previous coronavirus outbreaks – SARS in 2002, Mers in 2012 – scientists quickly found multiple pieces of clear evidence linking infected humans to infected animals. With Covid, all those pieces are still missing: “not a single infected animal has ever been confirmed at the market or in its supply chain”. Of course, it’s still possible that Covid was the result of a natural spillover. More likely is that it was “the most costly accident in the history of science”.

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Inside politics

Modi: braggadocio to put Putin to shame

The “chav” in a monogrammed pinstripe suit

Narendra Modi has “narrowly won his third election”, says Pratinav Anil in UnHerd. The Indian prime minister’s party fell short of a majority, so it will have to govern in a coalition. Nevertheless, the 73-year-old is entering his second decade in power, despite running “one of the most thuggish and corrupt governments in Indian history”. It’s in no small part thanks to the “piss-poor opposition”. They routinely depict Modi as a “chav” – he is the son of a lower-caste chaiwallah (tea-seller), and once turned up to a meeting with Barack Obama “in a monogrammed pinstripe suit spelling out his name a million times in gold”. In a country where “nearly everyone is working-class”, such sneers only make him more popular.

Modi got his start in the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a powerful Hindu nationalist organisation. The RSS was traditionally an “upper-caste affair”; its high-ranking members took vows of celibacy – Modi is “likely still a virgin”– and channelled their frustrations through “punitive calisthenics” and “sweaty wrestling”. Modi has taken that theatre and machismo into politics: he was an early adopter of using 3D holograms in election campaigns, where largely illiterate audiences were left wondering if his apparition “was an avatar of Vishnu’s”. And his braggadocio is enough to “put Putin to shame”. He talks of his 56-inch chest and “penchant for wild swimming surrounded by crocodiles” – one of which he once nonchalantly brought home, “only to be reproached by his mother”.


Edwards in the 1970s

The publicist to rockstar royalty

On Alan Edwards’s first day as a music publicist in 1975, says Neil McCormick in The Daily Telegraph, the Who drummer Keith Moon arrived at the office in Pimlico “wearing a fur coat, monocle and top hat, and introduced himself by tipping over a desk and trashing the place”. Edwards thought he’d be sacked, but when his boss came back from lunch he just said: “Moon’s been in, has he?” Edwards has been in the “chaotic world of rock ‘n’ roll” ever since. He has worked with Blondie, The Stranglers, The Spice Girls and The Rolling Stones. He played football with Bob Marley, bribed the US mafia to rig chart positions for Big Country, and sketched out “Brand Beckham” on the back of a train ticket. He became so close to David Bowie that he once stood in for the star in a radio interview “without anyone noticing”.

As Edwards recounts in his new memoir, working with the Stones was like being in a “medieval royal court with everyone jostling for influence and favour”. When sizing him up for the role, Keith Richards left him “waiting for seven hours in a tiny room with a single chair and a broken window”, before bursting in and interrogating him on blues and reggae. Other clients were just as weird. During his time working with Prince, the star had a suitcase adapted so that he could hide inside and spy on meetings. That almost went badly wrong during an American tour, when the case was accidentally parked with others in the corridor ready to be transported thousands of miles, “with Prince still inside”.

I Was There: Dispatches from a Life in Rock and Roll by Alan Edwards is available to buy here


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