Magazine article The Spectator

The People's Champion

Magazine article The Spectator

The People's Champion

Article excerpt

Gary Bell is the rudest man in Britain. I have known the bastard for years and no one - move over, lightweight Starkey - comes even close to matching his bluntness, his tastelessness, his heroic urge to offend at all costs regardless of how much collateral damage he causes his friends, his family or indeed his own reputation and career as a brilliant QC.

But Gary has a dark secret: underneath that elephantine carapace of intellectual arrogance, gratuitous cruelty, and room-clearing crassness beats a heart so warm and tender it makes Princess Diana look like Hannibal Lecter.

If a mate were in serious trouble, Gary would be the first to rush to the rescue. Well, wobble to the rescue because, as Gary would be the first to acknowledge, he is exceedingly fat. This kind, decent nature may just be in his genes, but it might also, I suspect, have something to do with his extraordinary back story.

Looking at Gary today in his pinstriped suit and wig, listening to his accent, or hearing his very persuasive accounts of what it was like playing the Wall Game and Field Game at 'School', you would not doubt for a moment that here was a man born into the old Establishment. But he wasn't. Gary in fact comes from a dirt-poor Nottingham mining family, with a chequered history to match. One day, however, he set out to better himself; studied law at Bristol (which is where I first met him: he employed a friend of mine to correct his pronunciation every time he sounded too common), became a world-class debater (rivalled only by his sparring partner Michael Gove), before making his way up the legal ladder to his current eminence as one of Britain's top criminal barristers.

And now he's presenting a new daytime BBC1 series called The Legalizer. He and his family have been panicking about this for months - and no wonder, for it's daytime TV in the same morning time slot as (ITV's) Jeremy Kyle. The time, in other words, when people who don't have jobs, lives or futures begin emerging from their beds, tuck into their first Greggs sausage roll and litre of Sunny D and begin vegetating in front of the moving pictures on their giant, taxpayer-funded screen. (Which might sound snobbish but is also true and is very much the sort of thing Gary would say because he fully understands the underclass: they do, after all, comprise the majority of his clients. ) As a result of this, The Equalizer suffers from a maddening flaw: though it lasts 45 minutes, there are only about 15 minutes' worth of actual entertainment or interest in it. …

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