Magazine article The Spectator

There Is Only One Person in Britain to Touch Miss Hurley -- and That Is Mr Blair

Magazine article The Spectator

There Is Only One Person in Britain to Touch Miss Hurley -- and That Is Mr Blair

Article excerpt

Ariving from central London to Henley-on-Thames over the Bank Holiday weekend, we were delighted to discover on the way there that there is a village named Hurley. I mused: about time they named a village after her. Appropriately, there was a suspicion that the village had had a certain amount done to it by way of enhancements and alterations.

Whatever the reason, the place shares a name with the most famous living Englishwoman - with the possible exceptions of the Queen and Lady Thatcher. Miss Hurley is often dismissed as being famous for being famous. If that is true, it makes her fame even more remarkable. Despite the `celebrity culture' by which we are supposed to be surrounded, there are few people in the world who are famous to everyone. Famous footballers are not. Football is less popular now than it was 50 years ago. Probably there are more men at the gardening centre of a Saturday afternoon than at football matches. For myself, I have never heard of those soapopera stars who are always in the tabloids. Likewise, the people who follow soap operas would probably not recognise in the street any of my own heroes or heroines, such as Darcey Bussell, the ballerina whom I revere.

But nearly everyone has heard of Miss Hurley. Nearly everyone knows what she looks like. She doesn't do anything, they say. All that happened was that, about five years ago, she arrived at a film premiere wearing nothing but enormous safety pins held together by bits of frock or possibly the other way about. She has been doing the same ever since, her detractors add. She has been in films, but no one can name any of them. The only thing she does is arrive at film premieres and parties. So the critique of her goes.

But to be famous for being famous is the most remarkable form of fame. The only figure comparable to her in Britain is Mr Blair. A plausible case could be made out for his not doing much either. He is entirely the creature of the camera. He appears on television and agrees with anyone he is talking to or about. On a Wednesday afternoon, at Prime Minister's Question Time, he pretends to disagree with Mr Hague, but hardly anyone believes that his heart is in it.

Mr Blair, like Miss Hurley, would prefer to remain mute, to confine himself to being in front of the cameras looking delightful. That is what he does best. Thus when Mr Gordon Brown started this present altercation about the young woman being denied a place at Magdalen College, Oxford, Mr Blair soon made it known that he wanted no part of it. He wished Mr Brown would drop the subject. For Mr Blair did not achieve his fame by standing for anything in particular other than for being himself.

Like Miss Hurley's, Mr Blair's is an astonishing achievement. All prime ministers, while they remain prime minister, are famous. Fame comes with the office. But nearly all until now have been famous, while in Downing Street, for some policy, even though the public usually forget the policy shortly after the prime minister leaves office. Sometimes they are famous for a policy proving to be a failure; Harold Wilson and John Major endured fame for having to devalue after a long defence of a particular exchange rate. But Mr Blair has no policy for which he is famous. The government has a few policies, but Mr Blair is not especially associated with any of them. …

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