Disney the ecowarrior

Lost artworks by Disney animators have been restored to America after being discovered in Chibo University, Japan. The works, hand-picked by Walt Disney, were sent to Japan in 1960 as part of an exhibition which coincided with the opening of Sleeping Beauty.

The display, which was designed to explain the various processes of animation, included rare images from the Oscar winning cartoon Flowers and Trees. No doubt the leafy theme of the discovered paintings pleased David Whitely, the Cambridge professor responsible for giving Disney a green make-over. Although Bambi and Nemo may not seem likely eco-warriors Whitely’s new book The Idea of Nature in Disney Animation suggests that they are in fact instrumental in conveying the green message to a new generation. He praises how Disney encourages children to relate to the natural world, describing each film as: "a cultural arena within which serious environmental issues can be rehearsed and explored."

Forget April in Paris - next month New York will be the City of Love. Taking inspiration from the film Paris, Je T’aime (2006) the similarly narcissistic New York, I Love You will pull together a variety of directors, including Mira Nair and first-timer Scarlett Johansson. One key figure is missing however: Anthony Minghella. His feature for the series of short Manhattan based love stories (for which filming will begin next month) was one of a handful of projects that the British director had planned before his untimely death. However, Shekhar Kapur (Cold Mountain, Elizabeth) revealed this week that Minghella passed the work to him to complete shortly before he died. Writing in his blog, Kapur confirmed that Minghella had written his section of the Manhattan feature and discussed it with his chosen successor before his death: "He told me his film was about the value of life, and how people sometimes just throw away their lives unable to look beyond into the real beauty of it." Not a crime Minghella could be accused of. Indeed Kapur’s earnest summary of Minghella’s intentions perhaps exposes some of the good-natured sentimentality which permeates The No.1 Ladies Detective Agency (according to The New Statesman’s Rachel Cooke).

The British-born singer Estelle, currently at No. 1 with her single American Boy, has hit out at the recent rise of groomed white soul singers. In an interview with the Guardian, Estelle questioned the authenticity of hit artists such as Adele and Duffy: "I'm not mad at 'em - but I'm just wondering, how the hell is there not a single black person in the press singing soul?" Estelle, who grew up in London, but only found success after taking her music to New York, also criticised the British Music Industry’s support of black singers. Could this be about to change? In a recent article for The New Statesman, Daniel Trilling discusses Reggae MC’s in England and their influence upon the future of the music industry.

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We knew we’d become proper pop stars when we got a car like George Michael’s

“That was George Michael!” we both shouted. “And he was driving the car we want!”

One of the clichés about celebrity life is that all celebrities know each other. Back in the Eighties, when we were moderately famous, Ben and I did often bump into other famous people, and because of mutual recognition, there was a sort of acquaintance, if not friendship.

There was a random element to it, as well. Some celebrities you might never catch a glimpse of, while others seemed to pop up with an unexpected regularity.

In 1987, the car we drove was a 1970s Austin Princess, all leather seats and walnut dashboard. In many ways, it symbolised what people thought of as the basic qualities of our band: unassuming, a little bit quirky, a little bit vintage. We’d had it for a year or so, but Ben was running out of patience. It had a habit of letting us down at inconvenient moments – for instance, at the top of the long, steep climbs that you encounter when driving through Italy, which we had just recklessly done for a holiday. The car was such a novelty out there that it attracted crowds whenever we parked. They would gather round, nodding appreciatively, stroking the bonnet and murmuring, “Bella macchina . . .”

Having recently banked a couple of royalty cheques, Ben was thinking of a complete change of style – a rock’n’roll, grand-gesture kind of car.

“I wanna get an old Mercedes 300 SL,” he said to me.

“What’s one of those?”

“I’ll let you know next time we pass one,” he said.

We were driving through London in the Princess, and as we swung round into Sloane Square, Ben called out, “There’s one, look, coming up on the inside now!” I looked round at this vision of gleaming steel and chrome, gliding along effortlessly beside us, and at the same moment the driver glanced over towards our funny little car. We made eye contact, then the Merc roared away. It was George Michael.

“That was George Michael!” we both shouted. “And he was driving the car we want!”

We’d always had a soft spot for George, even though we seemed to inhabit opposite ends of the pop spectrum. He’d once been on a TV review show and said nice things about our first album, and I knew he had liked my solo single “Plain Sailing”. We’d done a miners’ benefit gig where Wham! had appeared, slightly out of place in their vests, tans and blond bouffants. There had been a bit of sneering because they’d mimed. But I remember thinking, “Good on you for even being here.” Their presence showed that being politically active, or even just caring, wasn’t the sole preserve of righteous indie groups.

A couple of weeks later, we were driving along again in the Princess, when who should pull up beside us in traffic? George again. He wound down his window, and so did we. He was charming and called across to say that, yes, he had recognised us the other day in Sloane Square. He went on to complain that BBC Radio 1 wouldn’t play his new single “because it was too crude”. “What’s it called?” asked Ben. “ ‘I Want Your Sex’!” he shouted, and roared away again, leaving us laughing.

We’d made up our minds by now, and so we went down to the showroom, flashed the cash, bought the pop-star car and spent the next few weeks driving our parents up and down the motorway with the roof off. It was amazing: even I had to admit that it was a thrill to be speeding along in such a machine.

A little time passed. We were happy with our glamorous new purchase, when one day we were driving down the M1 and, yes, you’ve guessed it, in the rear-view mirror Ben saw the familiar shape coming up behind. “Bloody hell, it’s George Michael again. I think he must be stalking us.”

George pulled out into the lane alongside and slowed down as he drew level with us. We wound down the windows. He gave the car a long look, up and down, smiled that smile and said, “That’s a bit more like it.” Then he sped away from us for the last time.

Cheers, George. You were friendly, and generous, and kind, and you were good at being a pop star.

Tracey Thorn is a musician and writer, best known as one half of Everything but the Girl. She writes the fortnightly “Off the Record” column for the New Statesman. Her latest book is Naked at the Albert Hall.

This article first appeared in the 12 January 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's revenge