Gossip Girl: what would Blair say about Leighton’s drama?

Sometimes, life and art are very far apart, for example when teen dramas feature characters who change clothes 18 times a day, wear hotpants and sparkling tops as dressed-down breakfast wear or pose as long-lost cousins in order to con heiresses out of their fortunes.

At other times, life and art are scarily interlinked.

It turns out Leighton Meester, known to the world as the Machiavellian mixer with a penchant for headbands on Gossip Girl, has something of a dramatic personal life.

Reports the Daily Mail: “Meester wants full custody of her younger brother because she believes their mother isn’t prioritising his welfare.

Leighton, 25, sent $7,500 each month to Constance Meester, to help pay for her illness-plagued brother’s ongoing medical treatment.

But in a lawsuit filed last week, the Texan-born beauty asserted that the money was spent on cosmetic surgery for her mother instead.

And now she wants to removed Alexander from her mother’s care in California, so he can live with her permanently in New York.”

It’s only the tip of the iceberg: read more here and here.

As Leighton’s on-screen persona would probably say; how gauche to have such scandals palyed out in the pages of the tabloids. That said, with Gossip Girl on summer hiatus, bring on more of the same.

I’d like to hear how Blake Lively has insured her cleavage for gazillions, or how Ed Westwick is now a sworn teetotal.


Josh Lyman, School Choices and Scoring Points (Huff Post UK)

Rahm Emanuel with his children

Rahm Emanuel, the former White House staffer, and the inspiration behind West Wing’s Josh Lyman, has had a bad news week. Politicians on this side of the Atlantic will sympathise. Just a few months into his first term as Chicago mayor – a position he had to fight darn hard for – he’s being accused of betraying his city’s public school system.

The reason? This avowed Democrat, a guy who pledged to champion the cause of education, decided to send his kids to private school.

For the Examiner, it was a “snub” and an insult to the Chicago school system, most other papers emphasised just how private and prestigious the school he’d chosen was.

A blogger for NBC Chicago noted snarkily that Rahm was rich enough to go to Thailand, while the rest of his neighbourhood could barely afford Thai meals.

“Decisions he makes in that private life may have public ramifications,” wrote Edward McClelland. “If the mayor doesn’t send his kids to public school, he’ll send a message that Chicago is not a city for the middle class, but a city for well-to-do families who can afford private school tuition.”

Time and again, this issue flares up, for politicians in different countries and of all stripes. Tony Blair dealt with it over the selective Oratory school, Nick Clegg too. It even came up in an episode of spoof series The Thick of It.

How can a politician not practice what he preaches, shriek the critics, as if they can solve problems only when their children are put at a disadvantage.

Hypocrisy? Maybe? But too often it’s beside the point.

This post first appeared on Huffington Post UK. Read the rest here.

Hugh Grant, Phone Hacking And The Case Against Ofcom For Print (Huff Post UK)

On Thursday’s Question Time, Prime Minister David – sorry, some actor named Hugh – put forward the argument for increased regulation of the press.

The phonehacking scandal was so bad, he said, that there was a clear case for a print media version of Ofcom.

Free press go to hell – you’ve screwed up and now you shall pay.

It’s a kneejerk reaction, and absolutely not the way to go. Let’s be clear, what happened at the late News of the World was disgraceful, but would more regulation really have stopped it?

Ofcom monitors after the event, not before or during. A journalist in the desperate hunt for a scoop, who displayed a willingness to circumvent common decency, would hardly have been deterred by the possibility of censure. Otherwise no potentially libellous and unnecessary story would ever get published and no televisions or radio broadcast would ever be found to have breached regulations.

More importantly, more regulation is essentially shorthand for a weaker fourth estate. Journalists are by no means saints, but neither are they all moral wastrels. Look, this week, at The Times’ adoption campaign.

That’s one example of a glorious history of changing the world through the printed word – a tradition that should be guarded, not dismissed at the first sign of a crack.

This post first appeared on Huffington Post UK. Read the rest here.

Enough with the Wills and Kate holiday blog

Another day, another newspaper, another installment of the Wills and Kate holiday blog.

Goody, some more news about romantic caribou lunches, dragon boat races, Kate’s love of Anne of Green Gables (perhaps her most redeeming characteristic) and patriotic hats. Who else is as excited as I am?

I’m no anti-royalist – on balance, I’m quite pro the monarchy. I think the Queen is dignified and impressive to do as much as she does at the age she is, wish Charles and Camilla a better-late-than-never happily ever after. I watched the royal wedding – not only so I could legitimately drinks Pimm’s before midday and mock that hat on Twitter – but because it was a national event and one should not overlook that.

But seriously. Are we really looking at maybe eight more decades of tabloid discussion about what Kate is wearing?

And what they eat, and who they are friends with, and which sister has the better behind?

It’s not just the tabloids either; the broadsheets might dress it up as serious news coverage of a royal trip, but everything I’ve seen in recent weeks has the distinct impression of a 12-year-old with a crush. The papers might as well just be filled with the pages of a scribbled notebook reading “Mrs Wills and Kate” and “I heart W+K”.

We live in an age of oversharing; the Facebook generation devours juicy showbiz details like they grow on trees. But the thing is, this stuff isn’t even interesting. The only solace I’ve had in the Canada trip reports is the fact that Kate’s normally glossy mane hasn’t taken well to the climate and seems a bit in need of some Frizz Ease.

Broadly speaking though, they are dull. Not abnormally so, just dull in the way that most not-particularly-spectacular people are.

So a plea. By all means, dedicate pages and supplements to the couple on the birth of their first child, or when Wills is shipped off to a warzone. The occasional piece about life in their cottage in the dark end of nowhere, OK. Not pages and pages of nothing, endless menus and curtseys and quotes from overexcited women on how “lovely and natural” she was.

Otherwise, I think I’ll have to move country. Only not to Canada – I’ve heard they’ve gone even more gaga for the young royals over there.

Cooking Up A New Curriculum (Huff Post UK)

How do you boil an egg?

It’s not a ridiculous question. In fact, it’s one some of the most well-educated and intellectual people out there would struggle with.

They might be clued up on Chaucer and know Tolstoy to a T, but ask them about baking, boiling or frying and, quite often, they will be stumped for an answer.

I’m generalising of course. It’s not just the straight-A students who lack life skills, it’s everyone.

By the time the national curriculum was introduced in 1988, home economics was “food technology” and regarded as akin to design and technology. Politicians have occasionally brought up a return to practical cooking in schools – Ed Balls prompted much debate with such a pledge in 2008 – but the reality is, too many school-leavers have never been near a saucepan or an oven glove.

It’s not just cooking. It’s everything from changing a light-bulb to cleaning a loo.

As a rent-paying adult in a full-time job, I’ll freely admit that I’m still blurry on the nuances of mortgages, tax bands and interest rates. I’ve spent more hours than Jimmy Wales intended on Wikipedia, familiarising myself with everyday concepts like ISAs or credit ratings. Better that than to admit I’m clueless.

It’s time to address just how clueless we are.

We’re taught “No to drink and drugs” or “Don’t have unprotected sex”, but less time is dedicated to life skills like basic finances, reading the electricity meter or following the instruction manual for IKEA flat pack furniture.

This post first appeared on Huffington Post UK. Read the rest here.