Magazine article The Spectator


Magazine article The Spectator


Article excerpt

At evensong in Trinity College, Cambridge last Sunday, Ann Widdecombe was preaching. The pews were packed, with many in the congregation bagging seats half an hour before the service began. 'Strictly Come Dancing fans, ' my neighbour whispered to me. They might have been a little disappointed when she didn't tango down the nave past the statue of Isaac Newton.

Instead, she gave a learned speech on the question of doubt, inspired by Cima da Conegliano's painting of Doubting Thomas in the National Gallery.

Prince Harry will not be starved of local press attention on his trip to New York this week. When I was New York correspondent for the Daily Telegraph a few years ago, the American press were largely uninterested in the views of British journalists, except on one issue: royal visits to Manhattan. Whenever Prince Charles turned up, a frantic call came through to the Telegraph office to appear on CNBC or Fox News. British news priorities in New York were a little different. An old English hack told me, 'The British are only interested in three New York stories:

stories about fat Americans, stories about rich Americans and stories about the Mafia.' The cliches have changed in recent years. The New York Mafia are in decline;

Americans have got poorer; and we're now almost as fat as they are. Even the one cliche that defines Britain now unites us: two countries separated by a common obsession with the monarchy.

Whatever you think of Nigel Farage's politics, the hail-fellow-well-met image isn't artificial. When I met him in the Newsnight green room recently, he was extremely friendly to everyone in a way most politicians aren't. The drinking thing is true, too. When the programme ended at 11.20, he wondered whether anyone wanted to stay on for a drink. We all declined, in our dreary, hurried way, and rushed off home. We have got more puritanical in recent years - bang goes another national cliche, about the heavydrinking British. But I wonder if a little of our old, boozy DNA lingers on in our admiration for anyone who still has a drink before six in the evening.

At Hughenden Manor, Disraeli's house near High Wycombe, the National Trust have come up with a bright idea. In among the pictures of Queen Victoria, Byron and other Disraeli heroes, there's a little table with a temporary exhibit: Margaret Thatcher's old prime ministerial red box. …

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