Shakespeare’s Globe

The House of Lords could soon welcome a new member – the first cabinet minister to wear a thong in p

Today Brent South. Tomorrow Soweto. And the day after that the House of Lords? There is speculation that Paul Boateng will be honoured with a peerage when he returns to Blighty after serving as high commissioner to South Africa.

If so, what title will he choose – Lord Boateng of Brent South, Lord Boateng of Hackney (his place of birth) or the rather more alluring-sounding Lord Boateng of Soweto? The former barrister makes a virtue of not belonging to any clubs in his Who’s Who entry (“Clubs: none”), but he would no doubt make an exception for what is arguably the grandest members’ enclosure in town. If so, he has a rather more varied background on which to draw when it comes to illustrating his coat of arms.

Boateng is not only the first black man to have served in the cabinet, he is also believed to be the first cabinet minister to have sported a thong in public. The occasion was the GLC Christmas panto of 1985, to which Boateng turned up in the guise of a “lewd law lord”. Such sartorial exuberance is in his blood. Ozwald Boateng, one of Savile Row’s top tailors, is a Ghanaian kinsman who has provided him with several sharp suits in the past. With such an impeccable pedigree, it can’t be long before the peers (if not any lewd law lords) welcome him to the red benches.


There was no greater proof of J G Ballard’s prescience for me than an interview I conducted with him to mark the publication of his Complete Short Stories. The novelist had agreed to take part in a written Q&A for the Literary Review and his answers arrived by post at my home address, neatly typed out. It struck me as paradoxical that this most modernist of writers would still use such an old-fashioned implement as a typewriter.

Fascinating reading his answers made, too. His vision of the future? “I think the danger our children and grandchildren face lies in the decline and the collapse of the public realm. Politics, the Church, the monarchy are all slowly sinking back into the swamp from which they rose in the first place . . . Random acts of violence will break out in supermarkets and shopping malls where we pass our most contented hours. Surprisingly, we will deplore these meaningless crimes but feel energised by them.” Sitting in front of the television that day, I knew exactly what he meant. I held his letter in one hand as I watched the crime of the century unfold before my eyes. It was 11 September 2001.


Guido Fawkes, aka Paul Staines, has a reputation for crossing swords with print journalists as well as political aides like Damian McBride.

When he thinks a newspaper has followed up a story from his blog without proper attribution he goes proverbially ballistic, as I have discovered to my cost.

He has already accused the Telegraph’s Andrew Pierce of building his career on nicking other people’s stories, and he once likened me to “a thieving ****ing magpie”. I had never read his blog before this devastating attack on me, nor have I met Mr Staines in person, but I would like to think he is more charming in the flesh. And his intemperate diatribes against print hacks do raise an interesting question of media etiquette. Shouldn’t Guido take it as a compliment that other people follow up his stories? Isn’t that sufficient recognition? Whenever newspapers “borrow” stories from each other they don’t expect a reciprocal credit – and they rarely receive one. If ever my staff “borrow” a story from Guido Fawkes I now insist on them attributing it to “an avid reader”.


The former Liberal MP Sir Clement Freud always had a complicated relationship with money. Walking with his grandfather Sigmund Freud one day, he came across a drunk lying in the street with his hat propped against him. After they stood and watched passers-by put money in the hat for a minute Clement asked his grandfather why he hadn’t put any in. “He wasn’t doing it well enough,” came the reply. No wonder Sir Clement went on to do it so well. After starring in an advertisement for dog food, he developed an appetite for the filthy lucre. He may have later become a stalwart on Radio 4’s I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue, but the way he conducted his own business affairs was sometimes more like I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Quid. Asked by the Illustrated London News in 1988 to nominate candidates in the event of the return of the stocks, Sir Clement responded: “I don’t give free quotes.” You do now, Clement, you do now.

Sebastian Shakespeare is editor of the Evening Standard’s Londoner’s Diary

This article first appeared in the 27 April 2009 issue of the New Statesman, Rise of the Geek