"Dr" Morrissey accuses Kate Middleton of faking her illness

The former Smiths frontman doesn't like the Royals, does like conspiracy theories.

In an interview with New Zealand’s 3 News, Morrissey has accused Kate Middleton of feeling "no shame" about the suspected suicide of Jacintha Saldanha, and described the British monarchy as a dictatorship, encapsulated by a history riddled with "murder… mayhem and slaughter."

In what was a wide-ranging interview that will no doubt capture the public’s attention, Morrissey also suggested that the British press and Clarence House put severe pressure on Saldanha, something which he believes ultimately led to her death.

Asked if he felt there should have been a counter-culture reaction to the Diamond Jubilee earlier this year, like there was during the Silver Jubilee in 1977, Morrissey said:

Yes, I think there should be but I think things are different now. There’s a more firm grip on the press. The print media has more of a stranglehold and it’s very difficult for anything to slip through, whereas back in the days you just mentioned, they weren’t quite prepared for that. It’d never really happened before, so they weren’t expecting it, but now they’re going to great lengths to keep anybody with an oppositional voice at bay and that’s how dictatorships work.

When pressed on why he deemed the Royal Family a dictatorship, he said:

Well, it’s difficult not see them as a dictatorship. What else are they? A self-elected monarchy. If you study the history of the monarchy it’s murder and mayhem and slaughter, so what is there to celebrate? And certainly in England, I don’t know about the rest of the world, but one cannot say anything against them. And even with the recent story about the nurse killing herself at King Edward Hospital, there is no blame placed on Kate Middleton, who was in the hospital, as far as I can see, for absolutely no reason. She feels no shame about the death of this woman, and she’s saying nothing about the death of this poor woman. The arrogance of the British Royals is staggering, absolutely staggering. And why it’s allowed to be I really don’t know.

Does she [Middleton] have a health condition? Is it anorexia or is it pregnancy? … I mean morning sickness already? So much hoo haw and then suddenly as bright as a button as soon as this poor woman dies she's out of hospital? It doesn't ring true. And I’m sure the Palace and Clarence House put maximum pressure on this poor nurse and of course that’s kept away from the press. I’m sure the British press hounded this poor woman to her death. That’s kept away [from the public] and by this time next week she’ll be forgotten, and that’s how the British Royals work.

He added that the two Australian DJs, who have been roundly blamed in the British press, were actually not the main causes of the tragedy:

It was a prank call and they probably didn’t ever think they’d ever get as far as they did. And I’m sure thousands of prank calls are made to Buckingham Palace everyday - people probably do it all the time. The fact that they got so far probably astonished them beyond belief, but the pressure put on the woman who connected the callers was probably so enormous that she took her own life. It wasn’t because of two DJs in Australia that this woman took her own life, it was the pressure around her. And, of course, the Royals are exonerated as always, they’re just so wonderful and we focus on something else, two DJs in Australia, and it’s not how it should be.

The interviewer then suggested that the Royal family had "refashioned itself," to which Morrissey retorted:

They had to do that because they were losing their grip. So they put themselves forward as the Topshop royals, and drag in Kate Middleton as the voice of youth, and therefore with the Olympics, or anything else that’s happened in recent years, they hijack every event to make sure any celebration of England is really a celebration of the Royal Family, which of course it isn’t, but the Royal Family believe they are England and nothing else is England. And if you live outside London it’s not England anyway. But the way they hijack everything and shove their face in is extraordinary because what do they say? Please tell me one thing the Queen has ever said, or William and Kate. I mean, they are zombies but they are a business and it works. 

They are not [tourist attractions] because tourists don’t come to sit down with William and Kate and have tea with the Queen. They go to see Buckingham Palace, and so forth, which will always be there, and that’s why tourists go. They don’t come to meet any member of the extended Royal Family. They are not a tourist attraction. The history of England is a tourist attraction. We don’t need the flesh and blood Royals now. They should retire and resign.

Morrissey’s questionable insinuation that Kate Middleton was in hospital for spurious reasons will no doubt grab the headlines, but in a world where most musicians and pop stars are now bereft of opinion, it’s nothing if not interesting to hear somebody so forceful in theirs. I’m sure it’s times like these, however, that David Cameron maybe wishes he hadn’t pursued his association with Morrissey so aggressively, since their opinions differ so greatly. 

Rob Pollard is a freelance writer. You can follow him on Twitter @_robpollard

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So much for "the table never lies" – data unravels football's biggest lie of all

London side Brentford FC are using data to rethink the usual football club model.

It’s a miserable day for practice, the rain spitting down on the manicured training pitches of Brentford Football Club. Inside a tiny office marked Director of Football, Rasmus Ankersen is waiting for his phone to ring. The winter transfer window closes in 11 hours and there are deals to finalise.

Ankersen, a 33-year-old Dane with a trim beard and hair pulled into a small ponytail, seems relaxed. Perhaps he knows that the £12m transfer of the striker Scott Hogan to Aston Villa is as good as done. Or maybe his comfort comes from Brentford’s performance this season. The small west London club sits safely in the top half of the second tier of English football – at least according to management’s own version of the league table, which is based on “deserved” rather than actual results. Officially, on 31 January, when we meet, the team is 15th of 24.

“There’s a concept in football that the table never lies,” says Ankersen, whose own playing career was ended by a knee injury in his teens. “Well, that’s the biggest lie in football. Your league position is not the best metric to evaluate success.”

Brentford are an outlier in English football. Since the professional gambler Matthew Benham bought a majority share in 2012, they have relied on the scientific application of statistics – the “moneyball” technique pioneered in baseball – when assessing performance.

The early results were positive. In 2014, Brentford were promoted from League One to the Championship and the next season finished fifth. That same year, Benham’s other team, FC Midtjylland, which is run on similar principles, won the Danish Superliga for the first time.

Yet in 2016 Brentford slipped to ninth. Despite the disappointing season so far, Ankersen insists the strategy is the right one for “a small club with a small budget”.

Underpinning Brentford’s approach is the understanding that luck often plays a big part in football. “It is a low-scoring sport, so random events can have a big impact,” Ankersen says. “The ball can take a deflection, the referee can make a mistake. The best team wins less often than in other sports.”

In a match, or even over a season, a team can score fewer or more than its performance merits. A famous example is Newcastle in 2012, says Ankersen, who besides his football job is an entrepreneur and author. In his recent book, Hunger in Paradise, he notes that after Newcastle finished fifth in the Premier League, their manager, Alan Pardew, was rewarded with an eight-year extension of his contract.

If the club’s owners had looked more closely at the data, they would have realised the team was not nearly as good as it seemed. Newcastle’s goal difference – goals scored minus goals conceded – was only +5, compared to +25 and +19 for the teams immediately above and below them. Statistically, a club with Newcastle’s goal difference should have earned ten points fewer than it did.

Moreover, its shot differential (how many shots on goal a team makes compared to its opponents) was negative and the sixth worst in the league. That its players converted such a high percentage of their shots into goals was remarkable – and unsustainable.

The next season, Newcastle finished 16th in the Premier League. The team was not worse: its performance had regressed to the mean. “Success can turn luck into genius,” Ankersen says. “You have to treat success with the same degree of scepticism as failure.”

Brentford’s key performance metric is “expected goals” for and against the team, based on the quality and quantity of chances created during a match. This may give a result that differs from the actual score, and is used to build the alternative league table that the management says is a more reliable predictor of results.

Besides data, Brentford are rethinking the usual football club model in other ways. Most league clubs run academies to identify local players aged nine to 16. But Ankersen says that this system favours the richer clubs, which can pick off the best players coached by smaller teams.

Last summer, Brentford shut their academy. Instead, they now operate a “B team” for players aged 17 to 20. They aim to recruit footballers “hungry for a second chance” after being rejected by other clubs, and EU players who see the Championship as a stepping stone to the Premier League.

It’s a fascinating experiment, and whether Brentford will achieve their goal of reaching the Premier League in the near future is uncertain. But on the day we met, Ankersen’s conviction that his team’s fortunes would turn was not misplaced. That evening, Brentford beat Aston Villa 3-0, and moved up to 13th place in the table. Closer to the mean.

Xan Rice is Features Editor at the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 16 February 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The New Times