The Sun's interview with violinist Nicola Benedetti was a masterclass in sexism

Why have words at all when you could use the space for derogatory comments and suggestive pictures?

Yesterday I stumbled across this "interview" with violinist Nicola Benedetti in the Scottish Sun, in which Matt Bendoris - ostensibly a grown man and not a fifteen year old Nuts columnist - gives a masterclass in female objectification.

In it, Bendoris tastefully focuses on Benedetti's appearance, not her music:

So I guess Nicola won’t be posing for the lads’ mags anytime soon. Pity, because she looks fit as a fiddle when we meet at Edinburgh’s plush Sheraton Hotel.

But Nicola doesn’t always take the bonniest photo — she’s beaky in pics sometimes, which is weird because in the flesh she’s an absolute knock-out.

The classical musician is wearing skinny jeans which show off her long legs. She’s also busty with a washboard flat tummy, tottering around 5ft 10in in her Dune platform wedges.

He also urges Benedetti's cellist boyfriend Leonard Elschenbroich to get her pregnant:

The one possession she never lets out of sight is her 1712 Earl Spencer Stradivarius — made by the legendary 18th Century Italian violin master Antonio Stradivari himself.

No wonder as it’s worth £2million and is on loan from American banker Jonathan Moulds.

Me: “Gie’s a shot.”

She gasps: “Absolutely not! No one gets to touch this baby.”

Talking of babies, she’d like those too.

Nicola says: “It’s eight years since I won Young Musician of the Year. In the next eight years I’d hope to be a better violinist and I’d like to have started a family. I’ll be in my early 30s so I would probably like a baby or two by then.”

Better get busy making sweet, sweet music, Leonard. Lucky boy...

After reading the article, I had a question for Mr Bendoris:

I guess there’s a certain skill in writing about a artist and focusing on their physical attributes instead of their art. It requires you to wilfully ignore all of that talent. Bendoris must have trained in the Sun’s cultural isolation chamber, watching endless streams of Big Brother repeats and reading nothing but his own previous columns. Two weeks later, he emerged sweating and crying, screaming “Art is dead”. He was ready.

It’s like interviewing David Hockney and writing about how long and thick his willy is, asking if viewers would enjoy "elitist" painting more if he’d tie a brush to his dick and shake it at a canvas. Except that wouldn’t actually happen cause, you know, every Sun reader knows willies are horrible - not like lovely boobies though, eh lads?

Why do they bother including words at all if they’re just pushing wank fantasy material? They’d get more suggestive pictures in without all that bloody text. There’s an irony in deriding classical music as "elitist" and then sexually objectifying one of its best modern proponents. It’s not the general public who are wrong for ignoring classical music; it’s Nicola Benedetti for arrogantly refusing to get her tits out and bringing it down to “their” level.

Bendoris’ retort was that he loved “folk who get outraged on someone else’s behalf” which is disingenuous. I’m personally outraged that someone would actually write this shit and try to sell it to me as news. I’m offended that a company thinks I am that stupid, misogynist and ignorant - and you should feel insulted, too. But you know, mostly I’m not offended. I’m just disappointed that in 2012 this passes for journalism and there are still numpties out there willing to defend it.

I don’t think most Sun readers are as lecherous and paleolithic as Matt Bendoris and his editor Simon Houston. I hope they vote with their wallet. Right, enough of this filth. Let’s have some nice classical music.

Alan Williamson is editor of Split Screen, where this post originally appeared. He tweets as @agbear.

Violinist Nicola Benedetti. Photograph: Getty Images
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In the 1980s, I went to a rally where Labour Party speakers shared the stage with men in balaclavas

The links between the Labour left and Irish republicanism are worth investigating.

A spat between Jeremy Corbyn’s henchfolk and Conor McGinn, the MP for St Helens North, caught my ear the other evening. McGinn was a guest on BBC Radio 4’s Westminster Hour, and he obligingly revisited the brouhaha for the listeners at home. Apparently, following an interview in May, in which McGinn called for Corbyn to “reach out beyond his comfort zone”, he was first threatened obliquely with the sack, then asked for a retraction (which he refused to give) and finally learned – from someone in the whips’ office – that his party leader was considering phoning up McGinn’s father to whip the errant whipper-in into line. On the programme, McGinn said: “The modus operandi that he [Corbyn] and the people around him were trying to do [sic], involving my family, was to isolate and ostracise me from them and from the community I am very proud to come from – which is an Irish nationalist community in south Armagh.”

Needless to say, the Labour leader’s office has continued to deny any such thing, but while we may nurture some suspicions about his behaviour, McGinn was also indulging in a little airbrushing when he described south Armagh as an “Irish ­nationalist community”. In the most recent elections, Newry and Armagh returned three Sinn Fein members to the Northern Ireland Assembly (as against one Social Democratic and Labour Party member) and one Sinn Fein MP to Westminster. When I last looked, Sinn Fein was still a republican, rather than a nationalist, party – something that McGinn should only be too well aware of, as the paternal hand that was putatively to have been lain on him belongs to Pat McGinn, the former Sinn Fein mayor of Newry and Armagh.

According to the Irish News, a “close friend” of the McGinns poured this cold water on the mini-conflagration: “Anybody who knows the McGinn family knows that Pat is very proud of Conor and that they remain very close.” The friend went on to opine: “He [Pat McGinn] found the whole notion of Corbyn phoning him totally ridiculous – as if Pat is going to criticise his son to save Jeremy Corbyn’s face. They would laugh about it were it not so sinister.”

“Sinister” does seem the mot juste. McGinn, Jr grew up in Bessbrook during the Troubles. I visited the village in the early 1990s on assignment. The skies were full of the chattering of British army Chinooks, and there were fake road signs in the hedgerows bearing pictograms of rifles and captioned: “Sniper at work”. South Armagh had been known for years as “bandit country”. There were army watchtowers standing sentinel in the dinky, green fields and checkpoints everywhere, manned by some of the thousands of the troops who had been deployed to fight what was, in effect, a low-level counter-insurgency war. Nationalist community, my foot.

What lies beneath the Corbyn-McGinn spat is the queered problematics of the ­relationship between the far left wing of the Labour Party and physical-force Irish republicanism. I also recall, during the hunger strikes of the early 1980s, going to a “Smash the H-Blocks” rally in Kilburn, north London, at which Labour Party speakers shared the stage with representatives from Sinn Fein, some of whom wore balaclavas and dark glasses to evade the telephoto lenses of the Met’s anti-terrorist squad.

The shape-shifting relationship between the “political wing” of the IRA and the men with sniper rifles in the south Armagh bocage was always of the essence of the conflict, allowing both sides a convenient fiction around which to posture publicly and privately negotiate. In choosing to appear on platforms with people who might or might not be terrorists, Labour leftists also sprinkled a little of their stardust on themselves: the “stardust” being the implication that they, too, under the right circumstances, might be capable of violence in pursuit of their political ends.

On the far right of British politics, Her Majesty’s Government and its apparatus are referred to derisively as “state”. There were various attempts in the 1970s and 1980s by far-right groupuscules to link up with the Ulster Freedom Fighters and other loyalist paramilitary organisations in their battle against “state”. All foundered on the obvious incompetence of the fascists. The situation on the far left was different. The socialist credentials of Sinn Fein/IRA were too threadbare for genuine expressions of solidarity, but there was a sort of tacit confidence-and-supply arrangement between these factions. The Labour far left provided the republicans with the confidence that, should an appropriately radical government be elected to Westminster, “state” would withdraw from Northern Ireland. What the republicans did for the mainland militants was to cloak them in their penumbra of darkness: without needing to call down on themselves the armed might of “state”, they could imply that they were willing to take it on, should the opportunity arise.

I don’t for a second believe that Corbyn was summoning up these ghosts of the insurrectionary dead when he either did or did not threaten to phone McGinn, Sr. But his supporters need to ask themselves what they’re getting into. Their leader, if he was to have remained true to the positions that he has espoused over many years, should have refused to sit as privy counsellor upon assuming his party office, and refused all the other mummery associated with the monarchical “state”. That he didn’t do so was surely a strategic decision. Such a position would make him utterly unelectable.

The snipers may not be at work in south Armagh just now – but there are rifles out there that could yet be dug up. I wouldn’t be surprised if some in Sinn Fein knew where they are, but one thing’s for certain: Corbyn hasn’t got a clue, bloody or otherwise. 

Will Self is an author and journalist. His books include Umbrella, Shark, The Book of Dave and The Butt. He writes the Madness of Crowds and Real Meals columns for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 25 August 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Cameron: the legacy of a loser