Pants man: Yul Brynner and Virginia McKenna in the 1979 London stage version of The King and I. Photo: Getty
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As Ian Hislop once told me, name-droppers have a distorted sense of their own importance

It’s probably a fault I picked up from my mother, who until she met my father used to be a very up-and-coming star on Broadway.

It was leaving drinks for the Yank the other day at the Uxbridge Arms. For those who missed her earlier appearances in this column, I summarise: New Yorker, loud, funny, often moved to sarcasm (“Oh really?” sounds very good with a Noo Yoik twang), fond of a drinkie, and for a few months a traumatised resident of the Hovel. (It’s like being a ring-bearer. However briefly you carried the burden, you are in an exclusive club, and can be taken to Elvenhome when you’re about to pop your clogs by way of recompense.)

Anyway, all was going swimmingly, until I heard someone at a table not far from me – the Yank, being popular, had managed to pack out one of the pub’s bars – make a joke, or shall we say an observation, that revolved around my being something of a name-dropper.

This rather dented my enjoyment of the evening, for I like to think of myself as not so much a name-dropper as the sprinkler of a little minor-celebrity fairy-dust in order to put a little sparkle into other people’s lives. It’s probably a fault I picked up from my mother, who until she met my father used to be a very up-and-coming star on Broadway. I would, every so often, in that charming way children have of loving to hear a favourite tale repeated, ask her to tell me again about the time Yul Brynner chased her around her dressing room in his underpants when they were both appearing in The King and I. (To tell the truth, I was never entirely convinced of the veracity of this anecdote until I saw on the family shelves a copy of Michael Chekhov’s To the Actor: on the Technique of Acting, preface by Yul Brynner, and with a very large and bold inscription to my mother from the bald thespian himself, in handwriting that seemed, all these years down the line, to be still chasing her round the room, in its underpants.)

Also: I liked the way that this column’s godfather, Jeffrey Bernard’s Low Life, would drop the odd name from time to time; when Bernard mentioned the actor Tom Baker (and his very sensible idea that the NHS should be allowed to prescribe money as well as medicines) I thrilled to the knowledge that this man might have been a miserable alcoholic perpetually on the edge of destitution, but he knew Doctor Who. I never thought, “Huh, show-off.”

As it is, the number of names I can drop isn’t that very many, and as they’re almost all writers I have come to know after 20-odd years in the biz, they shouldn’t come as a complete surprise. And anyway, the man who made the remark about me should count himself extremely lucky to be at liberty to have made it on licensed premises two and a half miles from Wormwood Scrubs, rather than imprisoned within it, for he has done far worse things than name-drop, and for once I do not exaggerate for comic effect in the slightest.

But the problem that name-dropping reveals of the character of the droppers is the false estimation they have of their own importance in the grand scheme of things. This is all part of the fun.

Which is all by way of long explanation for the excitement I felt the other day when I got a phone call from Ian Hislop’s assistant, checking she had the right number for me, and could Ian call me soon? Now, I do know Mr Hislop well enough to go up to him at a party, say “Hello, Ian” and not actually be met with a blank look, but we are not quite on calling-each-other-up terms. So my thoughts ran in this order: 1. Private Eye has discovered The Awful Truth about me, and Ian is telling me that now might be a good time to flee the country. 2. Something awful has happened to Francis Wheen. And 3, which I decided in the end was the one I liked the sound of most, Mr Hislop has seen what was in front of his eyes all along and wants me to appear on Have I Got News For You. In which case my long struggle against alcoholic destitution will be over and my burgeoning TV career will sort out any financial unpleasantnesses for the rest of my life. In the bath, as I waited for his call, I fine-tuned my screen persona and frame of topical reference. Would I, though, do an ad for butter, like John Lydon? I don’t know. It would depend on the script.

Later on I learned that all he’d wanted was Laurie Penny’s email address. A small world crashed. But did I ever mention that I know Laurie Penny?

Nicholas Lezard is a literary critic for the Guardian and also writes for the Independent. He writes the Down and Out in London column for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 01 May 2014 issue of the New Statesman, The Islam issue

Photo: Channel 4
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Who will win Great British Bake Off 2017 based on the contestants’ Twitters

An extremely serious and damning investigation. 

It was morning but the sky was as dark as the night – and the night was as dark as a quite dark rat. He walked in. A real smooth gent with legs for seconds. His pins were draped in the finest boot-cut jeans money could buy, and bad news was written all over his face. “I’m Paul,” he said. “I know”. My hooch ran dry that night – but the conversation never did. By nightfall, it was clear as a see-through rat.   

Some might say that going amateur detective to figure out which contestants win and lose in this year’s Great British Bake Off is spoiling the fun faster than a Baked Alaska left out of the freezer. To those people I’d say: yes. The following article is not fun. It is a serious and intense week-by-week breakdown of who will leave GBBO in 2017. How? Using the contestants’ Twitter and Instagram accounts, of course.

The clues are simple but manifold, like a rat with cousins. They include:

  • The date a contestant signed up for social media (was it during, or after, the competition?)
  • Whether a contestant follows any of the others (indicating they had a chance to bond)
  • A contestant’s personal blog and headshots (has the contestant already snaffled a PR?)
  • Pictures of the contestant's baking.
  • Whether a baker refers to themselves as a “baker” or “contestant” (I still haven’t figured this one out but FOR GOD’S SAKE WATSON, THERE’S SOMETHING IN IT)

Using these and other damning, damning, damning clues, I have broken down the contestants into early leavers, mid-season departures, and finalists. I apologise for what I have done.

Early leavers

Kate

Kate appears not to have a Twitter – or at least not one that the other contestants fancy following. This means she likely doesn’t have a book deal on the way, as she’d need to start building her social media presence now. Plus, look at how she’s holding that fork. That’s not how you hold a fork, Kate.

Estimated departure: Week 1

Julia

This year’s Bake Off began filming on 30 April and each series has ten episodes, meaning filming ran until at least 9 July. Julia first tweeted on 8 May – a Monday, presumably after a Sunday of filming. Her Instagram shows she baked throughout June and then – aha! – went on holiday. What does this mean? What does anything mean?

Estimated departure: Week 2

James

James has a swish blog that could indicate a PR pal (and a marketing agency recently followed him on Twitter). That said, after an April and May hiatus, James began tweeting regularly in June – DID HE PERHAPS HAVE A SUDDEN INFLUX OF FREE TIME? No one can say. Except me. I can and I am.

Estimated departure: Week 3

Tom

Token-hottie Tom is a real trickster, as a social media-savvy youngster. That said, he tweeted about being distracted at work today, indicating he is still in his old job as opposed to working on his latest range of wooden spoons. His Instagram is suspiciously private and his Twitter sparked into activity in June. What secrets lurk behind that mysteriously hot face? What is he trying to tell me, and only me, at this time?

Estimated departure: Week 4

Peter

Peter’s blog is EXCEPTIONALLY swish, but he does work in IT, meaning this isn’t a huge clue about any potential managers. Although Peter’s bakes look as beautiful as the moon itself, he joined Twitter in May and started blogging then too, suggesting he had a wee bit of spare time on his hands. What’s more, his blog says he likes to incorporate coconut as an ingredient in “everything” he bakes, and there is absolutely no bread-baking way Paul Hollywood will stand for that.

Estimated departure: Week 5

Mid-season departures

Stacey

Stacey’s buns ain’t got it going on. The mum of three only started tweeting today – and this was simply to retweet GBBO’s official announcements. That said, Stacey appears to have cooked a courgette cake on 9 June, indicating she stays in the competition until at least free-from week (or she’s just a massive sadist).

Estimated departure: Week 6

Chris

Chris is a tricky one, as he’s already verified on Twitter and was already solidly social media famous before GBBO. The one stinker of a clue he did leave, however, was tweeting about baking a cake without sugar on 5 June. As he was in London on 18 June (a Sunday, and therefore a GBBO filming day) and between the free-from week and this date he tweeted about bread and biscuits (which are traditionally filmed before free-from week in Bake Off history) I suspect he left just before, or slap bang on, Week 7. ARE YOU PROUD NOW, MOTHER?

Estimated departure: Week 7

Flo

Flo’s personal motto is “Flo leaves no clues”, or at least I assume it is because truly, the lady doesn’t. She’s the oldest Bake Off contestant ever, meaning we can forgive her for not logging onto the WWWs. I am certain she’ll join Twitter once she realises how many people love her, a bit like Val of seasons past. See you soon, Flo. See you soon.

Estimated departure: Week 8

Liam

Liam either left in Week 1 or Week 9 – with 0 percent chance it was any of the weeks in between. The boy is an enigma – a cupcake conundrum, a macaron mystery. His bagel-eyed Twitter profile picture could realistically either be a professional shot OR taken by an A-Level mate with his dad’s camera. He tweeted calling his other contestants “family”, but he also only follows ONE of them on the site. Oh, oh, oh, mysterious boy, I want to get close to you. Move your baking next to mine.

Estimated departure: Week 9

Finalists

Steven

Twitter bios are laden with hidden meanings and Steven Carter-Bailey’s doesn’t disappoint. His bio tells people to tune in “every” (every!) Tuesday and he has started his own hashtag, #StevenGBBO. As he only started tweeting 4 August (indicating he was a busy lil baker before this point) AND his cakes look exceptionally lovely, this boy stinks of finalist.  

(That said, he has never tweeted about bread, meaning he potentially got chucked out on week three, Paul Hollywood’s reckoning.)

Sophie

Sophie’s Twitter trail is the most revealing of the lot, as the bike-loving baker recently followed a talent agency on the site. This agency represents one of last year’s GBBO bakers who left just before the finale. It’s clear Sophie’s rising faster than some saffron-infused sourdough left overnight in Mary’s proving drawer. Either that or she's bolder than Candice's lipstick. 

Chuen-Yan

Since joining Twitter in April 2017, Yan has been remarkably silent. Does this indicate an early departure? Yes, probably. Despite this, I’m going to put her as a finalist. She looks really nice. 

Amelia Tait is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman.