Dylan Jones's Diary: Harmony between Jeremy Corbyn and Alastair Campbell?

A year is a long time where the GQ Men of the Year Awards are concerned.

Sign Up

Get the New Statesman's Morning Call email.

If a week is a long time in politics, 12 months is certainly a long time where the GQ Men of the Year Awards are concerned. While we have occasionally been accused of pandering too much to the Tories, we have tended to mirror public opinion, as we have done in all of the other categories that we celebrate at the awards.

For the first seven or eight years, we acknowledged the success of the likes of Tony Blair, Peter Mandelson and David Blunkett, and when the tides started to turn – as they inevitably do – we went through a period when the room was full of David Cameron, George Osborne, Boris Johnson, William Hague and others. One year, all four of them happened to be there, prompting another winner, Noel Gallagher, to say quite rightly that the evening felt like being at the Tory party conference (not that he would know anything about that).

This year, we had Jeremy Corbyn and Sadiq Khan in the house, and up on stage, as well as Alastair Campbell (who has become something of the magazine’s conscience), so right back atcha. I may even have managed to achieve a rapprochement between Corbyn and Campbell. We shall see.

Seizing the day

One of the many books I took away with me this summer was A Life in the Day, Hunter Davies’s entertaining (and rather moving) second autobiography. I had forgotten that he was responsible for one of the best things about newspaper supplements, the Sunday Times Magazine’s “A Life in the Day” column, which Hunter came up with in 1975, while he was editor.

It was always meant to be a litany of the mundane, prosaic things that a person got up to, a genuine snapshot of domesticity. For a while I edited this section when I worked at Wapping in the 1990s, and it was surprising how many celebrities misunderstood the concept.

My favourite was a (very) former pop star who had obviously condensed an entire year’s worth of achievements into a single day, so it went something like this: “Got up, made tea, ran a marathon, wrote a book, had a meeting with Martin Scorsese, sang on a charity album, climbed Kilimanjaro, had dinner with Richard Branson, spoke at the UN…”

We didn’t have the heart to tell his PR how foolish he looked, so we ran it. I often wonder how that meeting with Scorsese panned out.

Balearic buzz kill

The summer wasn’t all I had hoped it would be, as I was sick for most of it. I’ve been ill for nine months now, struck down by some kind of ear infection that has manifested itself in a variety of issues, not least obstructed Eustachian tubes and a horrific bout of tinnitus. The latter is an ailment that many believe is untreatable but, having spoken to a fair number of experts this year, I have learned that it is usually a symptom of something else completely, and that if you get the right diagnosis, it is possible to rid yourself of it.

I am still in the middle of the process and have learned a great deal since it developed. One important thing is that it is extremely advantageous and rather comforting to find yourself surrounded by cicadas, especially those that congregate around rented pools on the Balearic Islands. They might not be there for the duration, but in the short term they certainly help to disguise the buzzing in your ears.

Soho subterraneans

Having just spent many a year writing and compiling an oral biography of David Bowie – interviewing more than 150 people in places as far removed as Los Angeles and Ipswich – I was surprised that he had such strong connections with London’s Soho, especially as he largely lived “abroad” from 1974 onwards.

One of my favourite passages is the period in the mid-1980s when the film director Julien Temple was leading Bowie around various fleshpots in the West End, looking for the inspiration that would fire up the disaster that became Absolute Beginners. Everywhere Bowie went, people knew him: not from the TV, not for his fame, but really knew him. Twenty years earlier, he had been introduced to the denizens of the coffee bars, clip joints and after-hours drinking clubs by his brother, Terry, and they had never forgotten. There was a lot of: “All right, Dave, ’ows it going, son?”

The authenticity of this glorified pub crawl didn’t stop Temple’s film from being an unmitigated disaster, even if it did include one of Bowie’s finest and often forgotten works, the magisterial title song. Many of these more marginal voices are in my book, and I hope they help contribute to our greater understanding of the man. It was certainly a joy meeting them.

Soap and glory

The minutiae of someone’s life are as important as the glittery bits (if indeed there are any), something that Hunter Davies understood well. I discovered lots when I was researching my Bowie book. Towards the end of the 1970s, the Thin White Duke was touring his Low and Heroes albums, records that were quite austere in their construction and eventually in their presentation, too.

The stage show at the time was so long that Bowie had included an interval of half an hour, not just so the crowd could drink some more beer, but also to allow himself a breather. At half-time, what he did was this: he would stand upright, dressed in his full stage kit, with one leg on a trestle chair while he watch prerecorded videotapes of Coronation Street.

That’s right, the most influential recording artist of the decade would decompress during one of the most intense tours of his life – of anyone’s life – by watching recordings of a soap opera. There’s nowt so queer as flame-haired ambisexual rock stars from space, let me tell you.

Dylan Jones is the editor of GQ and the author of “David Bowie: A Life” (Preface)

This article appears in the 14 September 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The German problem

Free trial CSS