“Is time running out for Peter Mandelson?” This was the strangely prophetic headline over last month’s Mediawatch. Almost as soon as the magazine hit the streets, Mandelson lost his cabinet post although in the end it wasn’t his homosexuality that brought him down but his Hyacinth Bucket-ish social pretensions.
Mr Mandelson’s snobbish desire to boast influential friends and have designer house-fittings for his ever-so-posh Notting Hill abode sat uneasily with his job as MP for Hartlepool, one of the poorest towns in all of Europe. Although Mandy himself appears to have become convinced that his homosexuality was being used against him, at least by The Sun.
The New Statesman’s political editor, Steve Richards, recalled a conversation he had with Mandelson in which he asked the former Secretary for Trade and Industry why he had not expressed more frequently his enthusiasm for the single European currency. Mandy replied: “Every time I do that there’s an attack on Gay Mandelson in The Sun. There’s a correlation between the two, you know.” (For those lucky enough not to be readers, The Sun is fanatically anti-European and ruthlessly rubbishes anyone who doesn’t share its Europhobia.)
Is Mandy being paranoid or has The Sun really been having a go at his gayness because he is pro-European? According to Sarah Shannon in The London Evening Standard: “A glance back over recent months reveals some truth in Mandelson’s assertion. Take his speech to business leaders at the CBI conference at the beginning of November. Mandelson made it clear to his audience that he had his eye on monetary union soon after the next election. Six days later Trevor Kavanagh, [The Sun’s political editor] wrote his infamous piece entitled: ‘How many skeletons are still in the closet? Riddle of Britain’s Gay Mafia.’”
Also, on October 19th, Mandelson was reported to have ridiculed the suggested ban on taxpayers’ money being used to campaign for a Yes vote in the referendum on EMU. Days after there was another rush of gay Mandelson stories in The Sun. Ms Shannon discovered that The Sun has run 30 stories that feature the words ‘Mandelson’ and ‘gay’.
Most of it was his own fault, of course, and Trevor Kavanagh turned the tables on Mandelson by ingenuously suggesting that it isn’t he who is homophobic, but Mandelson who is Sun-phobic.
But, of course, press interest in Mandelson is no confined exclusively to The Sun. The Daily Mirror serialised the forthcoming biography of Mr Mandelson, the one that exposed that notorious loan. The book revealed that Peter had been part of a youth group in the 60s in which a paedophile had been at work. The suggestion was that this man had perhaps included Peter among his victims, although there was no confirmation of this.
One chapter dealt with Mandy’s sexuality, but contained nothing that would be news to regular readers of this column. However, it did contain some interesting comments from his friends. A “gay journalist in Westminster” is quoted as saying “[Mandelson’s] gayness drives his personality. He tries to exploit his sexuality where he can, where he hopes it can curry favour.” Let’s hope Trevor Kavanagh doesn’t read that or he’ll be claiming his gay mafia stories have some basis in fact.
The “friend” also says that Peter is paranoid about the newspapers “turning him over” about his sexuality and so is extremely discreet about his male friends. But the supposedly ace media manipulator should surely know better than anyone that there is no escape from the all-seeing eye of Fleet Street.
Take this little tit-bit tucked away in The Times Diary, which linked Peter with the Hollywood actor Kevin Spacey. “Wendy [which is The Times’s pet name for Mandy] was first seen revelling in the company of Spacey, who has migrated from Los Angeles to the more delicate climes of London, at the relaunch of the Old Vic in October, and the two have been close since… Notting Hill chums of Mandelson, alarmed by his gloomy mood, are delighted that he has found light relief in the company of the charming American bachelor.”
Even now, after all that has happened, Mandelson can’t bring himself to say the three little words that would relieve him of this prurient interest in his private life. And neither can former Welsh Secretary Ron Davies, who is still being hounded by the tabloids. The Sunday People revealed that, despite his unfortunate experience on Clapham Common, Mr Davies is still apparently cruising the gay beauty spots. “Shamed former Welsh Secretary Ron Davies was TWICE spotted cruising for gay sex in the run-up to Christmas.”
According to The People, Mr Davies was spotted by officers from the Gwent police at a woodland area called Forest Fawr… and on at least one other occasion at another local gay spot. A police spokesman is quoted as saying: “The first time he was parked up in his car. He was casually dressed and not involved in any kind of sexual activity. But his presence at these locations means that he must certainly be suspected of seeking contact with other homosexual men.”
So there we have it. No need for charges or trials or any of that rubbish, if Gwent police say Mr Davies is guilty of soliciting for immoral purposes, then he must be, and The Sunday People is pleased to hang him on their say-so. But there is something even more sinister and disturbing about this story. What are the police doing passing their observations of a man who is doing nothing illegal to The Sunday People and then decorating them with comments like: “He is obviously a man who has difficulty controlling his desires because he cannot stop visiting these places.” What happened to justice and fairness and people being innocent until proved guilty?
Mr Davies denied the whole thing. He said he frequently went walking in the forestry areas close to his home but that in recent weeks he had been accompanied by his wife.
This incident also says much about police promises to stop time-wasting observations on cruising and cottaging spots. It is quite obvious from this report that they are as enthusiastic about wasting public money hanging around lay-bys as they ever were. And it is clear that even before Mr Davies was outed, the police were collecting the car registration numbers of people using cottages and cruising spots on the M4. Big Brother is alive and well, and if you’re a cottager with a car, he’s watching you.
But it is not only British politicians and social climbers who are suffering from closet fatigue. Over in the US, Michael Huffington, a Texan oil millionaire who made a bid to get elected as a raving right-wing Republican, has come out as gay.
The Guardian told us that Mr Huffington, who married socialite Arianna Stassinopoulos in 1986, just couldn’t keep up the pretence any longer. He was 39 when he married Ms Stassinopoulos and up until that time he had been sleeping with men. He then decided that he would have to give up cock and settle down with a wifey. He took up politics at her behest, because she was determined one day to be First Lady. But her ambitions for him hit the deck when he failed to get elected, and he gave up politics.
In the end he just couldn’t resist his feelings any longer and Michael and Arianna divorced. Michael then gave a sensational coming-out interview to Esquire magazine. This revelation fitted together all the pieces of the jigsaw that had been puzzling the observers of the Huffngton marriage. It explained why he failed to oppose gay rights, even though his party was majoring in anti-gay electioneering, and it also made clear why he left it so late in life to marry.
Well, unlike previous royal engagements, that of Prince Edward and Sophie Rhys-Jones has provoked not so much hysteria as suspicion and cynicism.
One Daily Mirror commentator summed it up when he invited us to “Trade in tea-towels from any past wedding for your very own Edward and Sophie one”. The tabloids would obviously love this to be yet another Romance of the Century, but it just doesn’t ring true.
It may be that the mood of the country has changed and the fiction that “royal” people are somehow different from the rest of us can no longer be sustained. Or it may just be that the couple aren’t prepared to play the game. They describe each other as “best friends”, and when they kiss it is rather as though they have magnets in their lips set at like poles. The body language is all wrong. The words they speak are not words of love.
Carole Malone in The Sunday Mirror explained the long courtship like this: “Had Edward been a toothless hunchback, Sophie would have hung in there. What normal girl wouldn’t when the prizes are palaces, wealth, a title and untold social clout? … She’s got an engagement ring that could blind a man at ten paces. She’s got a £10 million mansion as the marital home. As a royal-in-waiting, her PR business will rocket into orbit. And just think of the free frocks!”
Mary Kenny, on the other hand, in The Express on Sunday, thought that it was right that Edward should get married. In fact, she said, every man should get married — “forcibly if necessary” — and no exceptions (except priests, of course). “I do not entirely omit homosexual men, either, from the marriage stakes,” wrote the great sage. “Many a gay man has been happily married and has been grateful to father children by shutting his eyes and thinking of England. Thus, Prince Edward has performed a considerable service, and a very proper duty, to society by making this commitment to marriage.”
Nutcases aside, perhaps Brian Reade in The Mirror summed up most people’s feelings in a piece of rhyme that no tabloid would ever previously have considered publishing on the day of a big royal event. It began “And so it’s time for all to squirm / At the latest wedding of the Firm / Another union of chinless wonders / To rank with all the other blunders.” The most telling stanza of this great work goes: “And so to Edward the mantle falls, /His marital life to make a balls, / A Prince who’s suffered many sneers, /From luvvy types with ginger beers. /But now he’s killed all bitching moans, / By falling for Sophie, not Griff Rhys-Jones.”
Certainly Matthew Norman in The London Evening Standard thought that the chief purpose of the royal family these days was to keep us entertained, soap opera style, with their sexual shenanigans. “Edward has three years, perhaps four at the outside, to manoeuvre a spectacularly mucky divorce,” he wrote.
I think that might be possible.
The Sun may have promised to pack in the outing, but The Daily Mail has made no such commitment. And so, on January 2nd, we were regaled with a feature headed “Why Sam no longer loves men”.
It concerned Sam Fox, the former “Page Three Stunna” who, it seems, has given up being a plaything for men and decided to become a woman’s woman. Most of the information in the feature seems to have come from her father, from whom she is estranged.
“Papers have been approaching me for years about Sam’s sexuality,” he says. “But I have always remained silent until now… I just wish she could have talked to me about it. It is simply not a problem for me and I want her to know that.”
It may not be a problem for him, but for the millions of Sun-buyers who purchase the paper simply for the wank-potential of page three, it could be traumatic.