Hugh Grant: England’s Reluctant National Treasure

Hugh Grant in modern classic, Paddington 2

England was never, and never will be, Four Weddings and a Funeral. The ruffled charm, the rounded expletives, the unexplained wealth.

England is not, and never will be, Paddington 2. The bougie hippy dippy, the cutesy life lessons, the unexplained wealth.

England maybe was, and might just be again, the kind of prickly, confused but eventually understanding place presented in About a Boy. Though again some apparently hard-up folk seemed to live in awfully nice North London flats.

What is it about this wealth that shuns explanation? Cough, splutter. One for another blog I reckon.

Only one of those of three films though is a national treasure – and it’s Paddington 2 and I will not brook counter arguments.

All three however have benefitted from the presence of a man who is now a national treasure. 

Hugh Grant.

An actor and a man who can viably claim to reach across the breadth of what constitutes a national treasure  – that is an ‘artefact, institution, or public figure regarded as being emblematic of a nation’s cultural heritage or identity.’


A single England of course doesn’t exist.

It’s a filing system not a file. 

England is way too fractured and fractious to be effectively and comprehensively portrayed in a single film. Like anywhere really, our layers of history, class, immigration and region prevents this. Parasite is Korean but it’s not Korea, no matter how much foreign audiences may wish to convince actual Koreans that they are challenging capitalism and centuries old class structures through the medium of improvised cellar renovation.

That didn’t stop us trying though.

Richard Curtis’ England of the nineties was one such attempt with Hugh Grant its’ charming totem around which Cluedo eccentrics danced badly and American leading ladies were charmed effortlessly. This was an England that was enjoyed with such enthusiastic, universal and unfamiliar affection we were all rather taken aback. This benign self-deprecating, sweary, bumbling and harmless enough England was Hugh Grant and whose gravitational pull was so strong it is easy to forget that Julia Roberts – JULIA FUCKING ROBERTS –provided a genuinely sweet cinematic moment which actually referenced ‘Horse and Hound.’

More than anything we were flattered. We quite liked this unusual feeling of being liked. And we quite liked the England that the world seemed to like too. An England where Poshos go to funerals on Scottish housing estates (they don’t) or where the PMs asks his tea lady out (no he wouldn’t). And so 1990s England wrapped a flag around Hugh Grant like he was some sort of rose scented rom com Bond rebrand.

Eventually though Bond got hot again and we got more relaxed about reasserting another core national brand attribute: going around the world killing people. 

Grant slipped from centre stage although not entirely from our eyeline, 90s Rom Com Hugh now more national artefact than global icon.

Like all good national treasures, Grant didn’t at first appear to relish the mantle. Indeed he appeared keen, to the point of self-destruction, to shed the type had fame had cast him into. He got caught curb crawling as he broke America. He starred in Two Weeks Notice.

A man who then happily, gleefully threw aside foppish Hugh to embrace lechy boss Hugh in the Bridget Jones films. A man who recast himself in middle age and mid-career, as utterly unlikeable villains. Ever since becoming very well liked, Hugh Grant seemed at very much at ease with being disliked.

He’s failed because here we are in 2022 and he has the widespread, deeply held and almost unshakeable affection of a country.

And the strange thing is, he probably reclaimed his place as a national treasure because he played this other role, neither fop nor scoundrel. He played a version of himself.

A version of himself who decided to step up when the UK tabloid phone hacking scandal broke and its victims’ needed someone who was prepared to stand up to Murdoch, Morgan and Brookes. Someone who felt robust enough, exposed enough already not to care about the blow back that could and did come his way.

That arrest in Los Angeles, his very public relationship and break up with Liz Hurley and the various irrelevant but nonetheless widely exposed ups and downs of his personal life were already out there. Tabloid Hugh was already oven cooked. To his detractors and now his enemies in court here was a dilletante caricature posh cad and love rat. He saw had nothing to lose.

Anti-Tabloid Hugh, @hackedoffHugh smashed out of this caricature. He was Terminator like in his indestructible pursuit of his targets but imagine Arnie as a pithy and urbane public school boy with a liberal, anti-establishment line in take downs. He part-funded the brilliant Daniel Morgan podcast, a brutal, murderous introduction to the corrupt power base from which the phone scandal emerges as one just one gruesome component.

You talking to me: Hard as nails Hugh Grant taking on the tabloid media

Hacked off, fearless but unmistakably English about it. As someone else once said of Captain Blackadder – another Curtis invention up there with RomCom Hugh – ‘you’ve got to admire his balls.’ Hugh Grant had become a national public figure. And this time rather than stuttering awkwardly under our glare, Grant gave every impression of not giving a single fuck.

Two relatively recent roles cemented have cemented his status. The first was his gleeful turn as the cad, the bad and the ugly in the magnificently uplifting Paddington 2  – a role which Grant himself thinks was probably his best. Here Grant pits his wits against a Peruvian bear nemesis in a duffle coat voiced by Ben Wishaw. If you haven’t, you really should.

This was soon followed up by playing a crooked and sordid Jeremy Thorpe in A Very English Scandal. Here he became embroiled in a very ugly love affair and grubby scandal with urm… Ben Wishaw. Apart from the close proximity of the two releases producing some uncomfortable phonic dissonance, in both performance and reception there seemed to an acknowledgement and open enjoyment of actor and audience. A communion if you like.

‘We’ve come a long, long way together. Through the good times and the bad…

There is Hugh Grant the memory, a reminder of happier times, the artefact from 90s Curtisland England.

There is Hugh Grant the public figure of some renown, campaigning against the malice of tabloid journalism.

And there is Hugh Grant, the national institution, the provider of pitch perfect comic timing.

And so there we have it. Hugh Grant IS a national treasure.

He’d shudder and recoil at this conclusion no doubt. Who wouldn’t? However, his assent to this lofty position is a reminder that England is just a filing system and that the perverse beauty of any system is that doesn’t always work.

Not everyone can be filed away neatly – least of all Hugh Grant.


What do you mean you voice Paddington?
Awkward on so many levels, Grant and Ben Wishaw in A Very English Scandal
Picture Shows: Norman Scott (BEN WHISHAW), Jeremy Thorpe (HUGH GRANT) – (C) Blueprint Television Ltd – Photographer: Sophie Mutevelian

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Born To Defy – 10 beguiling years of Lana Del Rey

Perhaps ironically, the year we launched Pop Lifer was not a great pop year. Occasionally, music seems to get stuck like an old scratched vinyl record, and 2012 was a textbook example. For the first time in pop history, the year’s best selling album worldwide (Adele’s world-bestriding colossus “21”) was unchanged from the previous year. This was closely followed by not one but two mediocre records by One Direction, with Mumford & Sons, Justin Bieber and Maroon 5 awkwardly filling up the rest of the top ten.

What rescued the year from total forgettability was the emergence of two of the Millennium’s most arresting and unlikely talents, in the form of Frank Ocean and Lana Del Rey. Just like Pop Lifer, each of them had done creative work under their birth names in the past, but really made their mark in 2012 using pseudonyms. Unlike Pop Lifer, however, Ocean and Del Rey brought with them two of the most distinctive and compelling albums heard in years (“Channel Orange” and “Born To Die”), while generating a thousand blogs on sexual politics in the 21st century (one of them being our own debut).

In fact, “Born To Die” was released ten years ago this very week, which seems a good opportunity to reflect on LDR’s legacy. The first thing that’s surprising about that sentence is that almost everyone would now agree that Del Rey does indeed have a legacy to reflect on. When “Born To Die” first landed, the world seemed to instantly divide into two camps: those who thought her rapid ascent to fame was a chimera built on hype and artifice, and those who thought that her handful of luminous instant-classic songs were the true secret of her success. Pop Lifer was firmly in the latter camp… but even we wouldn’t have expected what an enduring and significant musical figure Del Rey has become.

Speaking honestly, the Del Rey of “Born To Die” didn’t necessarily sound like the kind of artist who would stick around. It wasn’t the “live fast, die young, leave a beautiful corpse” nihilism of the lyrics and album title, but the sense that even within the twelve tracks of her debut her formula might already be wearing thin. For every seething melodrama like the title track there was a dreary retread like “Dark Paradise”, while love songs as unerringly graceful as “Video Games” were followed by more lead-footed fare like “Million Dollar Man.”

It also seemed very possible that her lurid lyrics of retro Americana and decadent Hollywood glamour might paint Del Rey into a corner. Like early Suede, she created an idiosyncratic universe of her own, expressed through its own lexicon. Where Brett Anderson summoned a world he would later admit could be mocked as all “nuclear skies” and “pigs by motorways”, Del Rey conjured up a realm of black-hearted sugar daddies, end-of-the-world kisses, doomed intoxicated romances, and sad girls in red dresses. It wasn’t hard to imagine the novelty quickly hardening into self-parody.

Two paths forward seemed likely, to us at least. The first would be that LDR would rush back to capitalise on her unexpected success with more of the same, to diminishing returns (think Scissor Sisters or Franz Ferdinand). The second would be that she would try to reinvent herself, with the very real possibility that she would spend years slaving away in a studio and come back with some embarrassing hip hop or electronica disaster which would disappear without trace, taking her with it.

Not for the first or the last time, LDR did something unexpected. “Cruel World”, the first song on her follow up album, didn’t just return to the same universe but expanded it over a bruising and bewitching 6 and a half minutes. This wasn’t diminishing returns, this was doubling down… and winning. The song found Del Rey still in her red party dress while the Bourbon flowed and men waved Bibles and guns around. Nothing had changed except for LDR’s confidence and the depth of her songwriting. The result – the bruised, bloody, beautiful “Ultraviolence” – was her first masterpiece. While it didn’t quite match “Born To Die”s sales, it silenced her snipers and established her firmly as what Bruce Springsteen would call “simply one of the best songwriters…. She just creates a world of her own and invites you in.”

And what a world Del Rey has forged, guided by her ever-growing confidence and built on the foundations of an extraordinary songbook. Another unexpected Del Rey quality has been her work ethic. She might sing as if she spent her entire life hanging around bars, picking up tattooed men, and being driven around on Harley Davidsons, but it soon became obvious that the place Del Rey really liked spending time was the studio. Her only rival when it comes to work rate is Taylor Swift, who has also released five records in seven years, and who recently called Lana “the most influential artist in pop”.

Del Rey detractors like to say that her music often sounds the same, and it’s true that – sonically speaking – a breathily melancholic piano ballad like 2022’s “Wildflower Wildfire” could easily slip onto “Born To Die” with a few hip hop bells and whistles dropped on top. But it’s not true that Del Rey hasn’t changed. Del Rey once bizarrely denied that she had ever adopted personas, which was a bit difficult to accept given that a) she issued this denial under her flamboyant nom de plume and b) it was utterly contradicted by all of her early videos and songs, which often seemed to be a restless attempt to channel not an all-American girl but all American girls, from Hollywood starlets to biker chicks to Jackie O. Yet over time these personas have indeed dropped away and revealed a much more honest, thoughtful and naked songwriter, closer to Joni Mitchell confessionals than Madonna self mythologising.

There have been costs to her evolution as a songwriter. Some of the cheaper thrills of her earlier records are gone, and we say this as people who greatly respect cheap thrills. LDR fans don’t get giddy, narcotic romps like “Off To The Races” any more, nor songs as unsettling and visceral as “Ultraviolence”. Perhaps as a result, the bright explosion of Del Rey’s early fame has faded a little over the last decade, leaving her closer to the cult singer you suspect she herself always expected to be.

But the fruits of this evolution have been considerable. To the relief of many fans, Del Rey has in recent years recognised and resisted her previous weakness for glamourising dysfunctional and violent relationships. More importantly, as she has delved deeper inside herself, she has also become increasingly playful. The first sign of this was when, to the shock of the entire world, she revealed that she could smile 1 minute and 12 seconds into the video for 2017’s “Love”. But it was cemented on 2019’s “Norman Fucking Rockwell!”, which was full of mischief and daring, both lyrically (the opening lines to the title track becoming instantly famous) and musically (who would ever have thought Del Rey would one day helm a ten minute dreampop reverie with long passages where her voice would all but disappear in guitar fuzz and scuzz?).

“Norman Fucking Rockwell!” went on to become – by some distance -the most celebrated record of Del Rey’s career so far. Grammy nominations were swiftly followed by it being named album of the year by publications as diverse as Slant and The Guardian. Many of the same music critics who had sniffed about Del Rey’s talent 7 years earlier were forced to eat their words.

Del Rey is a complicated and contradictory figure and so it shouldn’t surprise us that she didn’t take a well-deserved break to bask in the success of “Norman Fucking Rockwell!” Just as she was being rewarded for all her hard work with the first unanimously glowing reviews of her career, she embarked on a self-sabotaging series of retaliations and antagonisms against various journalists on social media. She may also have let her prolific instincts get the best of her. Despite several moments of piercing beauty, her two albums of 2021 did sound – for the first time since her debut album – like she might be stretching her talent a little bit thin.

But before you count her out, remember what happened right after “Born To Die”. If there’s one thing we should have learnt from Del Rey’s glorious ten-year career, it’s that you should never, ever underestimate her.


PS: coming soon, we’re going to tracklist Lana Del Rey’s “Best Of” before she does.

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Everybody else is doing it so why can’t we?

30 years on, we finally agree with The Cranberries. 10 years after our first blog, Pop Lifer is jumping on the comeback bandwagon. The two writers are going to share a few thoughts on why – first up Neil.

2021 ended with ecstatic Beatles fans devouring Peter Jackson’s time travelling “Get Back” documentary, which finally resolved the question of whether John or Paul was to blame for the Beatles split with the possibility it was George all along. Then Carrie Bradshaw returned to TV screens for the first time in 18 years, to a warm welcome that rapidly turned frosty. Now, 2022 is barely underway and we’ve already had the thrilling news that one of Britain’s greatest ever pop stars – Betty fucking Boo! – is back with her first single in 30 years* while Morrissey is trying to heap the blame for his own enormous inadequacies onto Johnny Marr via the ancient art of the “open letter”, like its 1987 all over again.

But why is Pop Lifer back? Simple. Because in the 9 years we’ve been gone Kanye West’s “Yeezus”, The Good Place, Parasite, Twin Peaks: The Return, Lana Del Rey’s “Norman Fucking Rockwell”, Get Out, Station Eleven, Burning, Squid Game, Janelle Monae’s “Dirty Computer”, I May Destroy You, Inside Out, Frank Ocean’s “Blond”, The OA, Under The Skin and exactly 237 other works of genius have come into the world and we only talked about them with each other, never wrote about them. Chris’ football team even pulled off the most miraculous sporting triumph ever in 2016. Now we want to change that and put our love on record. Think of our posts like Morrissey’s open letters, but with hate swapped for love, and hopefully not as atrociously written.

Janelle Monae – one of many incredible things to happen in the last 10 years.

Things have changed for the two founders and writers at Pop Lifer in the last ten years. One of us has changed careers and one of us has changed continents. But the founding principles of Pop Lifer are exactly the same as they were ten years ago. We love pop culture and we want to write about it. Just as Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld had two rules for their show – “no hugging, no learning” – so do we: “no sneering, no cheap cynicism.” If you catch us failing this test, call us out on it.

In addition, we have a few other house rules we’ll let you in on.

  • We can only write about something we love three times per year, to prevent us ever becoming, say, a Kate Bush fansite (please note that this rule will be broken if Kate Bush comes back with a new album and tour).
  • We aren’t going to be trying to write as frequently or promote ourselves as much as we did in that first year, we want this to be fun for us above all.
  • And we’re never ever doing another two-blogs-a-day advent calendar again, that stupid idea nearly killed us all. (No, we’re most certainly not – Chris)

We hope you love some of the things we write about as much as we do. We hope that just once in a while we might introduce you to a TV show, film or album you haven’t heard of or have been avoiding, and make you love it. If so, let us know please. That would be nice.

Yours, Neil.

Over to Chris…

You are always somewhere, right?

No matter how hard you try to escape into a quiet, peaceful nowhere.

You could lose yourself in the notoriously impassable and dense rain forests of the Darian Gap, be alone in the barren depths of the Australian Outback with only Paul Hogan’s dead eyed casual bigotry as an ear worm for company. You could be in Slough.

Slough – Pop Lifer is NOT in Slough

But no matter what shade of dust nestles under your fingernails, your location is a co-ordinate. You represent a point of latitude and longitude which can identify your exact location on this fragile beautiful globe. A location from where a Google satellite might zoom in at any moment and provide you with your browser history and an algorithm of your most recent internal monologues.

And so it is now with culture.

No matter how hard you might want to write, compose, film, direct or even review a piece of art, somewhere, somebody or more likely something is giving you a left, right, liberal, conservative co-ordinate – a precise pinpoint on the map across which territory is being fiercely fought in the defining battle of our times: the Great Culture War.

We’re sure we were promised we’d be in Berlin by Christmas but somehow (the Facebook like maybe) and somewhere (Hogwarts most definitely) we’ve become entrenched and it’s all gone on far longer than anyone expected with no end in sight.

Sadly anyone hoping that ‘Don’t Look Up’ might deliver that fatal shot will be disappointed to note that well set battelines haven’t budged an inch.

Not even Di Caprio putting on a bit of Dad bod weight was enough to end the culture war. If that isn’t enough, what will be?

We know what side we’re on.

Of course we do. I’m sure you can guess.

Ariana’s, naturally.

Do Look Up. But…

…but sometimes, someone may just want to disappear onto another map, another universe that isn’t mapped, break new ground that isn’t yet on any radar but is just gloriously its own thing, resplendent and provocative in a hazy inbetween of don’t give a fuck.

We can’t entirely divorce ourselves from our context and not should we –  but we can and should be able to detach ourselves to give ourselves room to stretch and flex.

So, we just want to go on a bit of leave from the culture war is all. To be gently deprogrammed, so that when we watch a film there isn’t a part of your brain that wonders what Piers Morgan or Joe Rogan might tweet about this.

And so Pop Lifer is back from our leave of absence to provide you with a leave of absence from the inescapable culture war.

A spa day where you just bask in the fluffy dressing gown amazingness of an ‘Sex Education’ or ‘It’s a Sin’ or Dave’s Pyschodrama. So that soon the hum and the drum of the noisy aggy clatter of the outside will be drowned out by the sheer force of just how good ‘It’s Always Sunny’ is or the subversive anti-capitalist anarchy of ‘La Casa de Papel’.

Gillian Anderson – genetically incapable of being anything but brilliant in anything.

This might prove impossible. But we’ll give it a go. Like Jack and the immovable drinking fountain in One Flew Over ‘we’ll try goddam it.’ At least we’ll do that. Wish us luck but if we fail don’t feel in anyway obliged to lob the water cooler out of the window.

We’ll try to provide you with A Great Escape into some really good songs, albums, films, TV shows and other aspects from a well lived pop life.

Follow us on Twitter and Facebook if you want to know when new stuff comes out. Let’s go!


*It’s her, again. Yes! How did you guess? Because last time you were really impressed?

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The Man Who Finally Fell to Earth


David Bowie: 1947-2016

Yes, it’s been a while hasn’t it? Call this sudden unexpected return our ‘The Next Day’, a tribute to a man without whom Pop Lifer would never have existed.

Kate Bush. The Smiths. Madonna. The Sex Pistols. Blondie. Depeche Mode. The Weekend. The Human League. Prince. Pet Shop Boys. Wu-Tang Clan. Suede. Eurythmics. Siouxsie & The Banshees. Nine Inch Nails. Goldfrapp. Eminem. Nirvana. Pulp. Lady Gaga. Lana Del Rey. What do all of these acts have in common, other than their brilliance? It’s impossible to imagine them existing if David Bowie, that nuclear bomb in the form of a pop singer, hadn’t detonated in the early seventies and blown open the whole idea of what pop stars could do, of what pop could be.

For the next few days the universe will belong to Bowie again, just as it did during his imperial period in the seventies. Newspapers will print vast obituaries and double page photo tributes, television news will pump out snippets of his biggest hits, blogs like this will paint the internet purple with prose and Facebook and Twitter will be flooded with testaments to his genius and his personal impact on almost everyone who has ever cared about music. And the thing is, it still won’t be enough, still won’t do justice to what this extraordinary uber-human achieved. Despite what some polls have said, he probably isn’t the most influential pop star of all time – Chuck Berry or Little Richard or John Lennon or some other rock pioneer probably deserve that title – but as far as Pop Lifer is concerned, he’s by far the most interesting.

If you want to imagine a world where Bowie never existed, imagine one where the only songs you ever heard were by Sam Smith and Adele. And if that feels a little bit too close to our actual world for comfort, then that just shows how badly we need another Bowie. But as the impossible news begins to sink in – that the star man, the man who fell to earth, who so many of us seem to have thought might actually be immortal, is gone – so too does the fear that there can never be another like him.

There’s a line in a song by the sadly forgotten Britpop also-rans Subcircus where the singer dreamily moans “there’s a hole in the sky where Bowie dripped through”, and that’s how he always felt, like an otherworldly genius who squeezed his way into this planet from another dimension. The justly celebrated Bowie exhibition at the V&A in 2013 hammered home that he was an even more extraordinary visual artist than most had realised, with the most interesting and eclectic magpie mind in all pop.

But for all of our strange fascination in his chameleonic shapeshifting, if that was all he had done, he’d be forgotten by now, with a thousand other performance artists. What really made him matter, what it really comes down to, is the songs, those amazing, indelible and impossibly varied songs. Speaking personally, they are entangled in my life for as long as I can remember, from dancing to “Starman” in my aunt’s living room at age 6 to my teenage swoons to “Suffragette City” to my obsessive replaying of “Life On Mars?” in my stormy twenties to the ecstasy of dancing to “Young Americans” in London’s glorious Duckie nightclub in my 30s.

He is the first person I have never met who has died and who I feel I will miss for the rest of my life.



George Harrison described being a Beatle as a trauma. As he got older, he rather sank into himself and sought to overcome this trauma with meditation and a country pad the size of a modest county. Harrison was the reluctant Beatle, a man for whom fame was unwelcome, recognition inconvenient and the idea of being ‘George’ a baffling concept he never wished to wrestle with, let alone accept.

David Bowie, on the other hand.

Bowie didn’t wrestle with the idea of fame, the idea of persona, he took it to bed and had all sorts of roundabout sideways fun with it.  He took the gaps between perception, persona and his creativity and carved a unique space where he could demand our attention and control its response. How David Jones, the man felt about his fame is something that is difficult to guess, though his seventies retreat behind a glaze of drugs, as well as the lyrics to the song “Fame” itself, suggest it could be as poisonous for him as other superstars, and yet – even in his darkest years – he always found ways to play with it, to use it. And so it was through his various personas and projects in the 70s, the oddly lurching eighties which he seemed to enjoy more than some of his fans, the intrigues of the nineties and then finally silent in plain sight in New York. Bowie was always able to craft and curate his own image and output like the Wizard behind the curtain, only he wore the red shoes.

When I heard the hollow hideous past tense being applied to David Bowie this morning, my usual Monday fog cleared immediately, sadness burning it out. As I made breakfast, I let my children know that Bowie had died. They responded with a Flight of the Conchords Bowie impression and hummed out a few of his big hits over their Weetabix. Honestly, I’m not referencing this to make my kids look like mini hipsters but it prompted the line of thought I’m trying to articulate now. Everyone has a Bowie voice, many artists have Bowie references, many pop stars are effectively a Bowie reboot.

However, David Bowie was the best David Bowie out there. By a country fucking bisexual mile.

In being the best Bowie, he managed to perform a remarkable feat – David Bowie won. He beat fame –  he conquered this hysterical, hypocritical, ugly beast. In his later, sober years he was utterly in control of his environment, practicing a poise, grace and good humour that was as extraordinary as it was unique. Has anyone held such talent, such fame, such adoration so comfortably? While David Jones remained clear headed, determined, private, loving and loved, David Bowie overwhelmed us with his talent but was never overwhelmed by what he got back from us – our respect, our attention and our love.

And why such love? It wasn’t because he looked as good in a suit as a dress – though that helped without question. No, it’s fairly simple. It was the songs. Always the songs. Such songs.

Thank you, David, for the gift of sound and vision.


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“In an ideal world I wouldn’t be doing this” – Tom Daley takes the plunge

At this very moment – thanks to the weird wildfire of the web – millions of people across the world are finding out that Tom Daley, the 19 year old British Olympic Diver, is in a relationship with a man. He joins the ranks of Frank Ocean, Orlando Cruz and Zachary Quinto in declaring that they are bisexual or gay at the very height of their careers and fame, when they have most to lose and the world has most to gain.

It’s a very 21st century moment. For one thing, Daley hasn’t been co-erced into a public declaration on the front page of a tabloid, like Stephen Gately or Will Young before him, despite the fact he could surely have earnt a small fortune by offering his story up as an exclusive. Instead, he’s released it via YouTube, in a low key, dignified and utterly charming video. He may not be able to control how people respond, but – brutalised by years of unpleasant dealings with the media, not least through gossip about his sexuality – he can at least control how his story is told.

The other thing which makes this a very 21st century moment is the public response. At the time of writing, Daley’s “coming out” video has 21,050 likes and 305 dislikes (more on these later), a ratio of 98.5% support to 1.5% disapproval. Most of the comments left on his YouTube page range from those who are, well, unsurprised, to those who are surprised that it’s a big deal. Others have praised his courage, although our favourite is Lay Yar’s optimistic outburst, “OMG OMG OMG OMG ! I HAVE A CHANCE  NOW! OMG OMG OMG.”

Compare this affection with the hate  which greeted footballer Justin Fashanu, arguably the most well known British athlete to come out as gay or bisexual before Daley, 23 years ago. Betrayed and attacked by managers, colleagues, fans and his own brother, Fashanu never recovered, and eventually committed suicide in 1998.

It’s worth remembering that this is what the UK was like back then, when Tom Daley was 3 and first learning how to swim. It’s worth remembering that as he started school, our current Prime Minister was still finding it politically usefully to attack Labour for abolishing the notoriously discriminatory Section 28 law, smearing Tony Blair as “anti family” for his support for gay equality. When Daley took his first dive, at age 7, The Sun still employed Gary Bushell as their chief columnist, giving the country’s biggest bully pulpit to a man whose pathological loathing of “poofters” poisoned the public well for decades.

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Dr Who isn’t the only national icon capable of regeneration. Russell Brand has flitted between drug addict and campaigner, MTV cult, Daily Mail bette noir, widely praised journalist, Hollywood actor, best-selling author, Mr. Katy Perry, and now, political rabble-rouser. Not forgetting of course, stand up comedian – which is what he was doing when Pop Lifer caught up with the funny bunny Booky Wooky fella. 

Che Guevera and rimming to a disco beat – Russell Brand performing his Messiah Complex, seen by Pop Lifer at Leicester’s De Montfort Hall (photo courtesy of the Guardian)

Che Guevera and rimming to a disco beat – Russell Brand performing his Messiah Complex, over seen by Jesus C and Malcolm X  and seen by Pop Lifer at Leicester’s De Montfort Hall earlier this week (photo courtesy of the Guardian)

And then he arrives.

The libido driven free-wheeling, recovering heroin addict and spokesperson for the Zammo generation of the disaffected and disappointed –  Russell Brand. He strides on to stage for his Messiah Complex set, bound as much by his tight leather trousers as he is by the reputation that precedes him as the loin king with the way and the sway. At once incisive and rambling, egotistical and giving, he is a self-made paradox who dances unapologetically on the hypocrisy of what he says, how he lives and what he represents. He makes you think a little and laugh a lot and stirs up jealousy and admiration as much as he attracts and repels.

His set switches at sharp right angles from audience cuddles to political polemic, each description of his four iconic heroes concluding with a description and/or celebration of debauchery. His slant is as much a critique of modern capitalism as it is a confession to his own susceptibility to its allure.

The set works very well but whether Russell Brand is a good thing or not is a tired, well-worn path which has become particularly overcrowded since he broke the surface as a non-voting, revolution inducing, Paxman baiting, establishment wrecking ball. Why is Russell Brand so liked and listened to is another question and maybe the more interesting one. It may not be of course, but Pop Lifer has a theory anyway.

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