Since the Leveson Inquiry began, the debate about privacy in a land where we treasure a lively, free press has become noisy and partisan. Apart from the row about how to deal with the recession, it promises to define the decade. It’s beginning to look as significant now as free love and feminism were in the Sixties: behaviour and attitudes almost as old as time held up to question by a new generation and viewed in a different moral light.
For some years the barriers that protected privacy have been broken down as ever more people in public life have bared all and let cameras into the most private parts of their lives.
Personal privacy has been further eroded by our predilection for putting questionable pictures and accounts of ourselves on social networking sites – and that’s before we get to the nefarious activities of Mr Murdoch’s gumshoes and hackers; the misery they caused has been repeatedly aired at the Leveson Inquiry, which is also making the tabloid press behave as though butter woudn’t melt… But will this last?
Privacy is a very curious thing. There is hardly a more public figure than the Queen, and yet we know little about what makes her tick. I’ve just ploughed through Elizabeth the Queen, Sally Bedell Smith’s authoritative biography, full of detail about what she likes for breakfast, her jewels, dresses and Royal tours. And yet, by the end, I had little idea of the Queen as a person. Luckily, her grandchildren have given us some insights into this dutiful, disciplined woman who works harder in her eighties than most of us did when half her age.
Talking to Andrew Marr, Prince Harry made it clear just how much the Queen relies on Prince Philip. And it was Prince William who commented astutely: ‘I think she doesn’t care for celebrity… and she really minds about having privacy in general.’ Yes, even in her position, she manages to keep for herself a private life that is just that – private. And this probably accounts for how she manages to keep smiling and sane after 60 years in the hot seat.
The event of the year so far has been the release of an album by Leonard Cohen. Old Ideas has received universal adulation from rock critics no doubt too young to have been out of nappies when Suzanne first took root in our generation’s consciousness. I’ve been in thrall to Cohen ever since. At one point it was better to keep this a secret as it was regarded as a bit, well, geeky to like Cohen. (I loved the band Tindersticks too and kept very quiet about that.) Now it’s just fine to ’fess up to a Cohen problem.
I thought we’d heard the last of Cohen when he disappeared up a mountain in California to live in a Buddhist retreat. But during those five years his manager nicked his money and he had to go back on the road – and he stayed on tour for two long years. He has paid tribute to how this return to work in his seventies has invigorated him, further proof that work in late life is good for you – even rock-star poets.
At 77, Cohen is now without question the grand old man of music and songwriting, the psalmist for atheists and agnostics. It is not surprising that so many young musicians sit at his feet. At the last count there have been around 2,000 cover versions of his work. In a recent speech he explained that his songs don’t come from ideas but from ‘convictions of the heart’.
The new album has great depth and has a serenity and acceptance folded into it: his voice has got even deeper and the songs more imbued with meaning – not that they were ever short of that. As with all Cohen’s work, it goes to the heart of the essentials of life – failure, redemption, love and lust. It is another ‘manual for living with defeat’.
Most encouragingly, and delightfully for Cohen, he is now a grandfather. His 38-year-old daughter Lorca has recently had a baby girl. One-year-old Viva Katherine’s biological father is the Canadian songwriter and musician Rufus Wainwright and she has a second father in Wainwright’s German partner. So watch out for Viva Katherine Wainwright Cohen in the charts in a couple of decades. With that parentage, it looks to me as though the family has been dealt the genetic equivalent of a royal flush. She just has to become a 21st-century troubadour.
After 51 days rowing 3,000 miles through horrible weather in a small boat across the Atlantic, six gallant present and former servicemen, some of them amputees, were doubtless ecstatically happy to hit land on Barbados.
But who was that curious figure in a Union Jack T-shirt waiting to greet them? None other than the ubiquitous Cliff Richard. I suspect I am in a minority here, but if I had seen Sir Cliff waiting on the quayside, I’d have headed straight back out to sea.
Why does he continue to produce a cheesy calendar every Christmas? I gaze at it transfixed and amazed at how anybody would even consider having themselves photographed in 12 rather questionable outfits; but at least Sir Cliff keeps his kit on – and I suppose we should be grateful for that.
This article is from Saga Magazine, for more great reads like this