The edge - Amanda Platell despairs of dishonest Renee

Renee's annulment seems dishonest. Marriage is not like a designer frock you can return within 28 da

So much has been said about Kate Moss's predilection for hard drugs and soft women that it has almost overshadowed the very bad behaviour of another female icon, the sometime Bridget Jones and full-time Renee Zellweger. Women everywhere were enchanted when Renee, a singledom heroine, married the squillionaire country singer Kenny Chesney in a perfect frock on a paradise island after a whirlwind romance of less than four months.

Alas, just four months after the sunset wedding, the sun set on their marriage and Renee filed for an annulment.

Now, for every person who believes in marriage, this was the most bitter of blows. For better or worse, she married the guy, they exchanged vows, she performed her conjugals, she became his wife. The reason for the annulment is supposed to be that Kenny, 37, after a pretty horrible start to their marriage in which they spent only 17 days together, wanted to wait a while before they started a family. With her 36-year-old biological alarm clock going off, Renee decided time waits for no man, even if he is her husband.

We could cope with a quickie divorce after a quickie marriage, but an annulment seems a most dishonest move. Marriage is not like a designer frock you can return within 28 days and get your money back. And just as no person can expect the love of their partner on demand, no woman can claim her husband's sperm on demand. It's little wonder men are being pathologically put off marriage.

Being an admirer of Alison Lapper's courage in raising a child and creating a distinguished career despite being born with hands but no arms, and feet but no legs, I wanted to see for myself the statue of Lapper now standing in Trafalgar Square.

But to say it graces the square or her achievements is a misnomer, as the statue is singularly devoid of grace.

"It gives a very powerful message about disability and motherhood and being a woman," she says. I beg to differ. Its message is about disability and confrontation, the pregnant pose a stunt to get it noticed. It is the art world's equivalent of vanity publishing.

Brave, yes, but there is nothing feminine about it nor, alas, anything lovely. While anybody can be beautiful, as Ms Lapper constantly and correctly reminds us, not every body is beautiful.

The most revealing statement in Prince Harry's coming-of-age interview was not that he loved Camilla Parker Bowles "to bits", although that was enough of a betrayal of his mother for most of us, but his claim that he was both a party prince and a caring one. "If that's a problem with anyone, then I'm very sorry. I don't want to change that much. I am who I am."

Twenty-one years old, and already a perfect person. Only our future king could breed such breathtaking arrogance in one so young.

Nothing to do with the fact that Asda has lost market share, of course, nor that the facelifted, liposuctioned mother of all motormouths was not quite as simpatico with its customers as the budget supermarket had hoped . . . It's just that Sharon Osbourne has decided that she is too busy to complete the £7m ad campaign.

In retrospect, having a multimillionairess (especially one who owns mansions all over the world and keeps a personal chef) fronting a working mums' food store was about as silly as having the skinny former supermodel and failed daytime (or any-time) TV star Twiggy fronting the new do-or-die fashion range for Marks & Spencer.

Oh no, they couldn't. Oh yes, they have.

Charles Kennedy takes centre stage in celebratory mood for the first Liberal Democrat conference since the 2005 election. The party is on the move, he is prime minister material, and it's a moral triumph.

Not since the Aussie captain Ricky Ponting tried to explain to the Australian media how he'd lost the Ashes to England have I heard defeat so beautifully dressed as victory.

This article first appeared in the 26 September 2005 issue of the New Statesman, Vote Brown: get Blair!

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The strange death of boozy Britain: why are young people drinking less?

Ditching alcohol for work.

Whenever horrific tales of the drunken escapades of the youth are reported, one photo reliably gets wheeled out: "bench girl", a young woman lying passed out on a public bench above bottles of booze in Bristol. The image is in urgent need of updating: it is now a decade old. Britain has spent that time moving away from booze.

Individual alcohol consumption in Britain has declined sharply. In 2013, the average person over 15 consumed 9.4 litres of alcohol, 19 per cent less than 2004. As with drugs, the decline in use among the young is particularly notable: the proportion of young adults who are teetotal increased by 40 per cent between 2005 and 2013. But decreased drinking is not only apparent among the young fogeys: 80 per cent of adults are making some effort to drink less, according to a new study by consumer trends agency Future Foundation. No wonder that half of all nightclubs have closed in the last decade. Pubs are also closing down: there are 13 per cent fewer pubs in the UK than in 2002. 

People are too busy vying to get ahead at work to indulge in drinking. A combination of the recession, globalisation and technology has combined to make the work of work more competitive than ever: bad news for alcohol companies. “The cost-benefit analysis for people of going out and getting hammered starts to go out of favour,” says Will Seymour of Future Foundation.

Vincent Dignan is the founder of Magnific, a company that helps tech start-ups. He identifies ditching regular boozing as a turning point in his career. “I noticed a trend of other entrepreneurs drinking three, four or five times a week at different events, while their companies went nowhere,” he says. “I realised I couldn't be just another British guy getting pissed and being mildly hungover while trying to scale a website to a million visitors a month. I feel I have a very slight edge on everyone else. While they're sleeping in, I'm working.” Dignan now only drinks occasionally; he went three months without having a drop of alcohol earlier in the year.

But the decline in booze consumption isn’t only about people becoming more work-driven. There have never been more alternate ways to be entertained than resorting to the bottle. The rise of digital TV, BBC iPlayer and Netflix means most people means that most people have almost limitless choice about what to watch.

Some social lives have also partly migrated online. In many ways this is an unfortunate development, but one upshot has been to reduce alcohol intake. “You don’t need to drink to hang out online,” says Dr James Nicholls, the author of The Politics of Alcohol who now works for Alcohol Concern. 

The sheer cost of boozing also puts people off. Although minimum pricing on booze has not been introduced, a series of taxes have made alcohol more expensive, while a ban on below-cost selling was introduced last year. Across the 28 countries of the EU, only Ireland has higher alcohol and tobacco prices than the UK today; in 1998 prices in the UK were only the fourth most expensive in the EU.

Immigration has also contributed to weaning Britain off booze. The decrease in alcohol consumption “is linked partly to demographic trends: the fall is largest in areas with greater ethnic diversity,” Nicholls says. A third of adults in London, where 37 per cent of the population is foreign born, do not drink alcohol at all, easily the highest of any region in Britain.

The alcohol industry is nothing if not resilient. “By lobbying for lower duty rates, ramping up their marketing and developing new products the big producers are doing their best to make sure the last ten years turn out to be a blip rather than a long term change in culture,” Nicholls says.

But whatever alcohol companies do to fight back against the declining popularity of booze, deep changes in British culture have made booze less attractive. Forget the horrific tales of drunken escapades from Magaluf to the Bullingdon Club. The real story is of the strange death of boozy Britain. 

Tim Wigmore is a contributing writer to the New Statesman and the author of Second XI: Cricket In Its Outposts.