Years ago an acquaintance of ours, a Madagascan gentleman of French descent came out of his house one morning to find feathers laid in a pattern across his doorstep. By the end of the day he was in an Antananarivo hospital in a coma. Christo, as we can call him, was involved in a land dispute; rather more seriously, he knew at once that the pattern of feathers was a curse on him.
Although expected to die he actually recovered and was released from hospital after several weeks; whether the property dispute had been resolved by then we never found out. The interesting question, of course, is what made him vulnerable to the curse? Would he have collapsed if he hadn’t known what the feathers meant?
This episode came to mind recently following reports of an equally mysterious high pitched noise heard over the Irish channel. Was it a Putin jet? A mini-asteroid? Nope, it turns out to have been Anthony Summers plunging to the ground as he whined about his miserable book sales and the haters who so obviously get under that parchment-like skin of his. Regarding this latest victim of the McCann Proximity Curse we got to wondering whether Summers and the others, like Christo, might have beliefs or character traits that somehow put them at risk.
Let’s be all scientific and take a sample, shall we? Alex Woolfall and Rebekah Brooks, say. Plus Alan Pike and Emma Roach. And Justine McGuiness and Summers himself. There we go, that should do it: can we draw any conclusions about vulnerability or immunity? Readers can judge for themselves but a few case notes might provide some clues. Looking over this little exercise does seem to suggest that the absence of stunning self-regard and the associated certainty that you really are cleverer than most people is good for your health, while a conviction that nobody ever fooled me, on the other hand, can be as dangerous as Madagascan tribal feathers.
In characteristic pose
Alex Woolfall was perhaps the first victim of the curse and he succumbed with astonishing speed. A successful career in B ’n’ B (Bluff and Bullshit) also appears to be a shared risk factor when it comes to the Curse and Alex had the Public Relations variant of B ’n’ B behind him. Well behind him. Still, relentless self-promotion and a myth-ready public led him up to the wobbly pinnacle of “PR legend” and his brief place in the sun in May 2007. Sunny spring days are not corridor-man Mr Woolfall’s preferred environment, as the Praia da Luz photos of that time demonstrate: some hidden aversion makes him slink naturally to the edge or rear of the picture. On those few occasions when he’s forced to take centre stage he looks as comfortable as a trapped gecko.
His public aura was awarded by the McCanns in a series of “we couldn’t have done it without him” tributes, although the exact nature of the “it” remained, and remains, cloudy, ambiguous and perhaps harmful. Mr Woolfall positively beamed. Did you suffer from bad phone reception back in early 2007? Did your car fail to start with an electronic glitch in May? Don’t worry – that was all down to electromagnetic pulse interference from an Alex Woolfall radiating massive ultra-violet self-satisfaction bursts world-wide on a positively sun-spot scale.
And then it was over. When we contacted Mark Warner in the summer of 2007 to ask about Mr Woolfall’s contribution we received not a hymn of praise to his abilities but the terse statement that “We can assure you that Mr Woolfall is no longer with us and doesn’t speak for us”. Strange that. But it was the October Times On-line interview http://www.mccannfiles.com/id65.html that sent Icarus into a plunge which has never flattened out.
The interview is a quite unintentionally hilarious account of his fifteen days of fame during which the supposedly hard-bitten master manipulator was relentlessly played on the end of a line like a helpless, gasping trout. Clever Mr Woolfall is always overhearing them talking together unguardedly – of course they had no idea he was listening in and of course they weren’t twitching his hook – and, being Alex, he knew what to make of it all. He wasn’t fooled. Oh no. No, no.
Just occasionally, sensitive readers of Mr Woolfall’s extremely curious portrait of the pair – they never thought it was an abduction until a week afterwards, he tells us – in the interview may pick up a tiny hint of (immediately suppressed) uncertainty from the Master, as though he knows perfectly well there’s something wrong somewhere, but, even after going over and over his time with the pair, he just can’t put a finger on it. It’s not the net haters that did for him but his judgement of people. Mr Worldly was suckered.
His obvious and absolute inability to believe that he might be wrong – a crucial factor in the Curse of the Mummy and Daddy takes us to M/S Brooks, memorably described by a famous stand-up comic recently as “the most powerful woman in Britain.”
What she didn’t wear for Leveson
It was amusing to watch Rebekah digging her own career grave with her Leveson testimony. Despite wearing that dress, the one that no woman who watched her ever forgets, the demure number with the collar signalling all kinds of 1620 New England Quaker modesty, she simply couldn’t stop herself from revelling in her own, stand-up comic’s legend: “no, of course I didn’t have influence over David Cameron “[sexy hooker’s smirk = “I did really but I’m not telling”]. Whatever magic of her own M/S Brooks may have wielded wasn’t based on Quaker modesty but on a very sharp intelligence that knew exactly how to use her other talent, viz. flame-haired looks to get what she wanted. Looks that have now quite clearly gone, so it’s past tense for Rebekah. Like Woolfall, like others, clever Rebekah probably still thinks the McCanns are characters who fit in to her story. No Rebekah, you were a character in theirs.
Should we be kind to Mr Alan Pike? He’s a harmless, timeless little fellow, his appearance from a Charles Dickens novel, his persona straight out of The Alchemist or American Hustle, a man who would have remained in richly deserved obscurity had the magic of the McCanns not been beamed onto him, floating him up out of his “counselling” room and warp-driving him down into the unforgiving surroundings of a Lisbon court. There the assembled lawyers, rather less politically correct than in now-lost coalition Britain regarded what was in their midst with a sort of stunned disbelief. Mark Warner and the McCanns do pick ’em, don’t they?
To say that Goncalo’s lawyer, in particular, addressed him as if he were a complete and irredeemable comic quack would be unfair. Nevertheless the lawyer seemed to have trouble keeping a straight face and his questions, from his opening sally “what exactly does a trauma specialist do?” onwards, were all amused variations on oh, really? until he lost patience and told the judge that he’d had enough from this “expert” who was asked for evidence but offered only hearsay.
Mr Pike was unruffled. He sat like a crab beneath an impenetrable protective personality carapace, impervious to mockery or self-doubt alike. Whether the news has yet reached him that his testimony was met with world-wide ridicule we don’t know but somehow we suspect that his work with the McCanns will eventually disappear from the top of his CV.
About Emma Roach yes, we must be merciful, for to describe her horrific courtroom performance once more would put people off their lunch. Again vanity and certainty, this time of the comic Guardian variety, is the dangerous risk factor on show: as with Pike and Woolfall when they describe conversations with the couple, we can almost hear behind Emma’s tinkling and star-struck descriptions of what the McCanns told her the loud Look behind you! or Don’t Tell Him Pike! sense of slapstick: Emma really was lapping it up, wasn’t she? Career trajectory? Down, down, down.
Woolfall’s successor Justine McGuinness, then a minor and somewhat fragile PR queen hoping to become a Liberal Democrat MP, joined the couple in the frequently shared hope that McCann exposure can give you the long sought escape velocity to put your career into orbit. Justine, Justine, good fairy speaking, ignore the cameras, step back and away from this couple while there’s still time or the Curse will strike you!
The escape-velocity was there all right: unfortunately its direction was downwards.
Still it was great at first, wasn’t it? Nobody had ever queued up to hear what Justine had to say since she was a school prefect but now she was in demand. At the centre of things. Wanted. As important as she’d always deep down believed she should be. And it was fun, too, it really was. Yes of course there was a missing child, we all know that, but Kate and Gerry had shown the way by laughing through their tears, hadn’t they? So let’s have a giggle. Giving the journalists the slip that day was brilliant, wasn’t it? Deciding which journalists could speak to the pair was great. Best of all though was breaking all those silly Portuguese rules and texting to the world from inside the police station while Kate, dear Kate, was being questioned! Gosh!
Out of your league, Justine. Yet another person who thought the McCanns – rather provincial but Kate’s sweet – could be used by someone so much cleverer than them. Whoops! Dismissal, a court case, manifest hostility from the couple and Kate McCann’s carefully aimed dart at her lipstick soon put her right on that one. But not before she’d signed a mother of a confidentiality agreement to deny her a future best-seller and, lest we forget, not before enthusiastically playing the transparently dishonest “PJ offered me a deal to confess” game – it’s all a hockey game to light-as-air Justine – with the media on September 7, thereby showing how deeply the moral rot had penetrated under her tender bourgeois skin. Was it always there in potentia? Or only after she’d joined Team McCann?
The Curse, having been given such an easy entry route, ensured that Justine’s dream of becoming an MP would come to nothing and her PR business fail to thrive. In October 2014 her political career, which had been moored in a stagnant dead-end creek as a free-lance spinner for House of Commons Speaker John Bercow – good luck with that one – ended with a most satisfactory crash of breaking china at the Lib-Dem party conference when a bombastic and only partly coherent rant at the parliamentary system, best described as the sort of speech you make if you’ve been acid spiked, led to its inevitable response.
“After a year in post Justine McGuinness has offered her resignation to the Speaker, which has been accepted.”
Don’t forget – Goncalo gets all the royalties from all copies of No Stone Unturned Kindle Edition this month. Laugh and donate at the same time.
Outside the UK you can find out where to buy it here:http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/help/customer/display.html?nodeId=201270050
So there we are, a small selection offering some pretty suggestive common traits. Funny, but there does seem to be a certain deficiency of well-balanced, not madly ambitious, non-bullshitting and rather decent types in the sample, doesn’t there?
Oh, and we nearly forgot forgettable Mr Summers and the high-pitched whine from beyond our shores. It’s too easy to be brutal about Mr Summers but Christ, he, like so many of the other Curse victims, does rather ask for it, doesn’t he? Let’s be charitable though and suggest that those wondering whether he has the required entry-wound characteristics should consult his website where his life and career are described in glowing terms using what are clearly his own words. You won’t be disappointed.
Leaving all such cruelties aside the overwhelming impression one still gets from Summers is of a person who has no understanding at all of what he has stumbled into but, like an aged Uncle Toby relative at an orgy, shuffles around the room in his slippers asking what’s going on exactly? What on earth is everyone up to?
You can’t blame Summers for being out of time: eventually it happens to us all. But for a man so clearly unaware of the movements affecting his own trade, his own world, to step blithely into the McCann affair as if it were just another obsolescent churn-out project for the public libraries, like Marilyn and her tits or wicked J.Edgar Hoover and his boyfriends, was asking for serious trouble. Not only are the public libraries closing but so are the publishers’ lists that once supported this sort of journalistic stuff, now as dead and unsalable as the famous “Hampstead Novels” that sold so well in Summers’s heyday.
Irrespective of whether Summers saw the real couple or, like those blinded by their own ambition, a self-deceiving vision, the Madeleine McCann Affair is not their story, to be retailed by briefed “experts” on the ancient model. No such experts exist. The Affair doesn’t even belong to that couple and the death of Brenda Leyland is every bit as tragic and significant as the fate of the child who the parents somehow mislaid.You can’t write stuck-in-the-seventies books about it because the world that produced them no longer exists. If you are tempted – ah, temptation, such a constant, hidden theme in our little sample – to try you’ll end up ridiculed, bewildered and whining.
By the way, your career and reputation does not seem to be on an upward trajectory since you met Kate and Gerry McCann.