Mills and McCartney ... Must I Take Sides? the Posh Papers Are Never Very Helpful on These Occasions, Offering a Mixture of World-Weary Cynicism and High-Minded Lamentation

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I have been mugging up on the Heather Mills/Paul McCartney divorce. This is not a subject on which, if one is to be a fully participating member of our vibrant 21st-century democracy, it is possible to be neutral, or even apathetic. Even my wife wants to know which side I'm on. There is no equivalent of the Lib Dems to vote for and, as a press commentator, I can't refuse to attend the polling station.

The latest chapter in this saga began on 18 October when the Daily Mail published leaked court papers detailing the Mills case against McCartney. He had, she alleged, got drunk and stoned, beaten her up, stabbed her with a broken wine glass, stopped her breastfeeding and forbidden her to use an antique bedpan. These, wrote Deborah Orr in the Independent, sounded like "fairly commonplace symptoms of a marriage that wasn't working (and even ... of one that's perfectly all right, really)". Which gives us an interesting insight into the family life that Orr shares with the novelist Will Self, but not much more.

The posh papers--though they now devote almost as much space as the red tops to celebrity divorces--are never helpful on these occasions, I find. They offer a mixture of world-weary cynicism and high-minded lamentation. One is reminded of Malcolm Muggeridge's celebrated spoof of a typical Guardian editorial: "It is greatly to be hoped that wiser counsels will yet prevail." Thus, the Times's Jane Shilling, drawing on the wisdom of John Donne, wrote that "the McCartney break-up diminishes us all". It had "no redemptive quality".

But I'm not looking for redemption, only an opinion. Here, the more downmarket papers provide, if the McCartneys will forgive the term, more red meat. The trouble is, there's so much of it to get through.


After the initial leak--which, the Guardian prissily pointed out, breached the Judicial Proceedings (Regulation of Reports) Act 1926--further allegations came thick and fast from both sides. Sir Paul, the Mail assured us, was "maintaining a dignified silence". However, like so many celebrities and politicians, he has amazingly garrulous friends.

He was "incandescent with rage" and "suffering deeply", the friends are reported to have claimed. He had needed to visit a psychiatrist and only the children of his first marriage had saved him from a breakdown.

Next came Mills's friends. …