CRISTINA Odone

New Statesman (1996), October 9, 2000 | Go to article overview

CRISTINA Odone


Hague just can't get his head round England: it's way too big

This Christmas, William Hague, Ffion at his side, will be sitting in his Range Rover, enjoying a bottle of wine and some turkey sandwiches as he feasts his eyes upon the Yorkshire Dales. Weather permitting, the two may take up their sticks and go for a walk.

The "rest of the nation", William told us in Just William (and Ffion), the recent Channel 4 documentary about the leader of the opposition, were welcome to go on "enjoying family arguments" but, for him and his bride, it was to be a quiet sandwich in the car. No family, no friends, not even church-going -- it seemed a pretty peculiar way to spend Christmas Day. Yet the irony of this oddball viewing the rest of us as dysfunctional squabblers who will spend the holiday stuffing ham down one another's trousers and pelting each other with buns was lost on William.

But not on anyone who watched the programme. Its star wore a regular guy's Banana Republic T-shirt and boasted of his down-to-earth attitude at every step, but he was so tense with his interviewer, awkward with his jolly sisters, and unconvincing when fondling Ffion, that we knew there was very little that was normal about him.

It wasn't just Willie's weirdness that came out loud and clear in the documentary. His provincialism, too, became obvious. The man's roots, he kept reminding us, are in a few square miles of north Yorkshire -- and his allegiances are to the men and women who live there. For these simple and amiable folk, London is that "place down there", an alien den packed with foreigners, blacks and men in gay pride T-shirts. William was at ease when he was downing rum and black and hoovering big slabs of artery-blocking meat pies. He relaxed with Mother Goose, a woman the size of a barn who owned a boarding house and fed him a proper Yorkshire tea; and he hailed as bosom buddies a series of country bumpkins who looked like walk-on extras from Emmerdale. Little England is way too big for this man to get his head round; he feels at home only when he is within whistling distance of his neighbour's field.

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