Don't rejoice at Giggs's downfall

Our obsession with the sex lives of the rich and famous is tawdry at best.

Ryan Giggs's spectacular plummet in the public estimation is the perfect example of how our celebrity culture works. A couple of years back, he was Sports Personality of the Year, a shining example for youngsters everywhere; now he's Ryan Giggs, Love Rat.

It's a familiar narrative arc: The young, talented sportsman comes from nowhere to reach the top of his game; he goes on to accumulate an impressive haul of trophies; he has everything that money can buy; but fails to keep his private life as perfect as everything else. Our cheers turn to boos as the secrets are gaudily splashed over the front pages of the red-tops.

"GIGGS IS THE NEW TIGER WOODS" says today's Daily Star. And it's a similar story: the supposedly squeaky-clean bubble punctured by a series of revelations; the kiss-and-tell stories snowballing along as more and more events come to light. Just as with Woods, the tabloids can smell blood - and money.

The Woods stories were dragged out over several weeks, with new affairs coming to light, new people telling their tales of what they got up to, and didn't get up to, with the world's second best ever golfer. The women involved were quickly dehumanised, turned into a series of numbers - or rather holes that Woods had played. Because we didn't really care what they thought, or felt, or did - it was all about the man at the centre of it all. What was he like? What did he say?

The humbling of the alpha-male millionaire was complete; and we could read all about it, and feel a sense of superiority over this super-human ball-hitter, that we hadn't made the mistakes as him - or if we had, that we weren't notable or famous enough to have our mistakes inked onto a million paper pages, peered at on a million shimmering screens. We could enjoy his pain, because it wasn't happening to us; we could revel in his self-inflicted misery, enjoy seeing his hubris turn to shame before our delighted eyes.

So it is with Giggs, although there's another element to all this, a barely disguised stench of triumphalism among our friends at the tabloids. Look, he was doing this all along! And he tried to hide it with that evil injunction! Well now, the floodgates are open. If anything, the huge interest in Giggs brought about by the injunction gave these stories a value they might not have otherwise had - not that they wouldn't have been big stories anyway.

It's hard to find much sympathy for Giggs in all this, and clearly he is the originator of his own downfall through his actions and choices. But I still see these things as very much a private tragedy. No, perhaps we shouldn't be prevented from knowing about these matters, distasteful though that is; but I still feel a bit grubby reading about them - there's a slime that rubs off on your fingers when you put the paper down, or leave the keyboard.

We may like to convince ourselves that we're better than people like Giggs, because we get to see their decline and fall take place in public, but I am not so sure that we are. Our obsession with the sex lives of the rich and famous is a bit mucky, I think; a bit adolescent. Of course, the papers will sell by the palletload on the back of his face being on the front, and so they will have been proved right all along.

Patrolling the murkier waters of the mainstream media
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The Nicholas Lezard guide to spending your book advance

It was quite wonderful, once again, to be able to do things such as go to restaurants, develop a fairly serious port habit and generally not scrounge.

Well, the good times had to end, as they always do, I suppose. I spent the last few months of 2016 experiencing the novel sensation of not being broke. You should try not being broke some time: it’s delightful. Then again, maybe you’re already not broke. We’ll come back to this later.

Anyway, the last time I had enough cash to be free of any kind of worry was back in, I think, 1989. I had an office job and was also getting regular work on the Sunday Correspondent. It wasn’t exactly two salaries but it was certainly at least one and a half.

One day, though, the good people at British Telecom – for that was where I was mostly employed – decided that I ought to be promoted. I didn’t like this idea, because it meant that I would have to start doing some actual work, rather than pottering around the place chatting to people and going for four-pint lunches. So I resigned. What could possibly go wrong? The Sunday Correspondent was a fine paper, and maybe one day I would be literary editor.

You may be wondering, if you are under 50, what the Sunday Correspondent is or was. Well, exactly. It was, as the keener among you will have worked out, a newspaper, a nice, liberal one, which appeared – the clue is in the name – on Sundays. And then one day it didn’t. So within a fairly short period of time I went from having two jobs to having none, and since then I have not troubled the bank by having more money than I know what to do with.

Oh, I get by. There are many, many others much, much worse off than I am. But it was quite wonderful, once again, to be able to do things such as go to restaurants, develop a fairly serious port habit and generally not scrounge.

My munificence to my children was lavish, for once. They’re not daft, though, and they knew it couldn’t and wouldn’t last, and when all those horrible bills that come at the beginning of the year came at the beginning of the year, the status quo ante reasserted itself, and I am going to have to rein things in once more. Rather fewer plates of eggs Benedict for breakfast at the posh eatery in Baker Street, and rather more bowls of Rice Krispies instead.

Or I could find a rich woman. This is the traditional lifeline for the indigent hack, or at least it used to be. Jeffrey Bernard, my sort-of predecessor, would just sit in the Coach and Horses, and sooner or later, after he had put out a distress call in his column, in would come another woman who saw romance in the life of the penniless barfly, and he would be OK again for a while. However, he was writing in the Spectator, which tends to circulate among people with money. I can’t pull the same trick off here, for obvious reasons.

I also wonder if something has changed in the nature of wealth. People who have the stuff these days generally don’t pass it on to people who don’t. The days of the patron are over. What they pass on instead is either impertinent and unwanted advice or simply a dirty look. (Naturally this does not include those kind souls who have been kind enough to help me out towards the end of awkward months in the past.)

But I had my time in the sun for a while, and very pleasant it was, too. I could have saved up the modest book advance for a rainy day but as far as I can see it’s always a rainy day around the Hovel, so what the heck, I thought. Also, it would be very much not in the spirit of the Prix Goncourt or the Jack Trevor Story Memorial Cup, the terms of which dictate that the prize money must be spent in two weeks with nothing to show for it.

I was awarded the Jack Trevor Story prize last year – or possibly the year before that, it’s all a bit hazy – and I like to think that I maintain a standard of fecklessness whether I’m being rewarded for it or not. And the sum involved, I should add, is not big, and two-thirds of it is being withheld until the book is written, and then published.

It’s a fair deal, though, and I’m not grumbling. I have made my bed, and I must lie in it, although I didn’t realise that it would have so many Rice Krispies in it. You try eating cereal in bed without spilling any. The only real problem with doing so, it occurs to me, is that I don’t think there are many women, rich or not, who would be attracted by the prospect of sharing a bed with me and my breakfast. And I can’t say I blame them.

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 12 January 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's revenge