'Honest' Boris and Granny Brenda: The British media delivers fan fiction that makes even Jake Paul look convincing...

The papers are full of hacks pretending to really *know* the royals and that Boris Johnson is shocked! by Tory corruption. Who's buying it?

In the early hours of the morning, Jake Paul — the YouTube star and superating ego attached to some man-shaped gristle — defeated the latest in a line of opponents chosen to ensure his fantasy of being a world-class boxer remains untroubled by contact with reality.

Far be it from me to use the word ‘fix’, but Paul’s opponent, the 36-year-old former MMA champion, Ben Askren, went down faster than you could say “take the money”, and was pictured walking away from the ring smiling with his wife. He sure as hell didn’t look beaten.

The notion of fake fights and set-up contests floated back into my mind as I read this morning’s papers and, in particular, Tim Shipman’s latest fact-flavoured fan fiction in The Sunday Times.

Shipman, who has published a run of books that purport to tell the ‘true’ story of recent British political earthquakes, has a handy habit of casting his best sources in the best possible light. And, of course, that includes the Prime Minister.

Reporting live from Boris Johnson’s lower intestine, Shipman’s latest dispatch carries the headline No sleaze will stick to Hercules Johnson, but only if he keeps labouring at levelling up. You will remember, of course, that Hercules’ twelve labours included laying the other man’s wife, talking the (Cretan) bullshit, and taking as many golden apples as dodgy Russian donors had to offer.

Shipman’s piece opens with a scene told to him by ‘sources’ which is even less believable than Jake Paul: Super Fighter. He writes:

When Boris Johnson was told last week that senior civil servants during David Cameron’s premiership were allowed to take on second jobs with the private sector finance firm Greensill Capital — the same firm for which Cameron has now been caught lobbying — even the prime minister who likes to shock was taken aback.

I’m told he was incredulous, declaring: “How could this be allowed to happen?” He has spent the week telling people: “We’ve got to clean the Augean stables.” Johnson has ordered an inquiry, one of half a dozen now under way into a crisis spreading like knotweed through SW1.

You could tell Shipman that Johnson has a new hobby — raising unicorns in the Downing Street rose garden — and he would publish it, attributed to sources close to the Prime Minister and accompanied with a poll about what voters in ‘Red Wall’ seats think of magical horned creatures.

I’ve no doubt that Boris Johnson, a man whose career began with him being bounced out of The Times for lying about his own godfather and has continued with a litany of deceptions, is intimately familiar with horseshit.

But what I don’t believe for a second is that he is ‘shocked’ by allegations of corruption in the Tory party. His own administration has so many skeletons in its closet it’s like they’re hanging their coats in an ossuary.

Shipman’s fanfic portrait of the goings-on inside Number 10 this week continues:

Johnson’s team have sought solace this week in the dictum coined during the Watergate crisis that has governed most modern political scandals: “Follow the money.” As one of his allies put it: “Cameron didn’t get the bloody money.”

Again this stretches credibility more than Tory backbenchers diets of port and swan stretch their waistbands. Boris Johnson is not Woodward or Bernstein, he is Claude Rains as Captain Renault declaring he is “shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here” even as a croupier hands him a pile of winnings.

Johnson and the Tories are not angry with David Cameron because he was involved in dubious lobbying, but because he got caught. They’re angry because he’s just made their future paydays harder and ensured that they’ll have to come up with a new set of ‘tough’ rules with new loopholes for them to slump through when the time comes for them to get their delayed paydays.

After a few paragraphs pretending that the Johnson gang are truly worried that Cameron has put them in trouble, Shipman drops in the more realistic take on where things are going — many voters expect Johnson to be dodgy, but simply hope he’ll drop some of the loot in their local area:

There is hope for No 10 in the focus groups I sat through. Voters know Johnson is a bit of a rogue and more lax with the facts than most politicians… As a former minister bluntly put it: “It’s hard to lose trust when no one trusted you to start with.”

…Far from expecting him to stamp out Tory cronyism or second jobs, they hoped he would cut them in on the deal. They trusted he would get jobs and public money flowing to them, which he has promised with his “levelling up” and “build back better” slogans.

Just as the Jake Paul fight needed a hyperactive build-up that pretended the YouTuber might lose to an out-of-shape 36-year-old man, Boris Johnson needs some chat about ‘threats’ and ‘challenges’ to increase the punch of what looks likely to be a win in the Hartlepool by-election and lessen the impact of a thumping defeat in the London mayoral contest.

Shipman isn’t part of a chorus commenting on a Greek hero’s adventures, he’s the grandmother from The Nutty Professor cheering Boris Johnson’s unconvincing flex. Remember when the Prime Minister was doing press-ups for the cameras last year? Tim definitely does.

As Shipman serves up his weekly dose of stenography in The Sunday Times, there’s more fan fiction from Allison Pearson, a woman so detached from reality she files her copy from an alternate dimension.

Limbering up for utterly losing her shit when the Queen finally dies, Pearson writes of Prince Philip’s funeral — in a piece that was clearly 99% written before a moment of the proceedings was broadcast — that:

It was a heartbreakingly beautiful day, almost too glorious for a funeral, but the spring sunshine in which Windsor Castle was bathed felt true to the remarkable warmth (love, even) which the nation felt for the dearly departed. This was the first great Royal occasion of most of our lifetimes without Prince Philip. It is fair to say it took a while to adjust.

We may just about have held it together through the clockwork perfection of the armed services in the great courtyard, their shadows creating a spectral army on the lawn. We may even have managed not to cry when Elgar’s Nimrod, that great melody of memorial, came to a sobbing climax and the cymbals crashed in glittering cacophony.

But tears finally flowed – mine at least – when the camera zoomed in on the seat of the Duke’s carriage and discovered his gloves, neatly folded, his peaked cap and a tub of sugar lumps. The Fell ponies, Balmoral Nevis and Notlaw Storm, waited and waited. Their master was gone.

Pearson receives a six-figure salary to pay for prose that’s even deader than the Duke. What is a “glittering cacophony” and how deranged do you have to be to imagine that the horses had any notion of what was going on? “Their master was gone,” makes Kay Burley’s notorious ‘the sadness in his eyes’ moment look almost reasonable.

Then there are the similes: “73 years they were married. That’s not a relationship, it’s a Bayeux Tapestry.” Prince Philip wouldn’t have liked that. Too French.

It gets even more overwrought though, as Pearson pushes on with a piece that puts her thoughts and feelings at the centre of what purports to be a reflection on the funeral of someone she didn’t know and who, had she tried to hug him, would have most likely released the dogs. She continues:

Due to the Covid restrictions, the Queen sat alone in her pew at the front of the chapel; a tiny, hunched figure sporting a mask and a diamond brooch the size of a saucer. At one point, her head bowed so low that her eyes disappeared altogether and her hat merged with her coat. It was shocking how shrunken she looked.

The Queen is 94 years old and five foot three — it’s not shocking that she looked small; she is small. Expected to produce emotion, Pearson pulls at every possible string and exaggerates every possible element of the scene:

There was no hand to hold, no reassuring pat on the arm. Elizabeth’s comforter and protector was in the casket with the wreath she had chosen on top. “In loving memory,” the card on the white flowers said, but you couldn’t read her name… The brutality of social distancing only heightened the widow’s loneliness. How many millions of viewers yearned to reach out and metaphorically embrace their beloved Queen?   

It’s not moving to note that the Queen’s husband was in the coffin1, it’s mawkish and rather classless as is Pearson’s attempt to push her own covid ‘sceptic’ (or should that be ‘septic’?) position in a funeral report.

Pearson plays her part in the human centipede of royal reporting, swallowing the old bullshit about ‘service’ and regurgitating it for the readers:

In years to come, stern questions will be asked about why St George’s Chapel (which seats 800) could have a congregation of over 100 on Easter Day yet funeral rules still dictate that a mere 30 people could be present for the funeral. Such arbitrary cruelty has been experienced by thousands of Her Majesty’s subjects who lost loved ones this past year. She will not have sought, nor wanted, any special dispensation for herself and her beloved Philip. On the contrary. As the Queen Mother said during the war: “I’m glad we’ve been bombed. It means we can look the East End in the face.”

This is the fan fiction element at work again; Pearson imagines the thoughts of a woman she doesn’t know and whose whole schtick is being inscrutable, rendering those imaginings as if she has picked thoughts straight from the Queen’s brain and plonked them on the page.

The grim emotionalism continues as Pearson pretends this is our national family and not a group of particularly privileged people who had the luck to enter the world through a magic vagina or wed someone who had once been inside one of those bewitched wombs:

As the coffin was lowered into the Royal vault, a lone piper played a haunting Lament, turning and leaving the chapel through an archway so the tune faded softly away. The Duke will wait there for the Queen. When the time comes, the reunited husband and wife will be moved to join the late King and Queen Mother in their tomb.

She accidentally leaves the reader with the image of the undead Philip, tapping his foot with zombie impatience.

Before ending her piece with yet more cloying sentimentality for a man who dismissed the press as “reptiles”, Pearson swallows another bit of royal theatrics:

Outside the chapel, it was Prince Charles, the family’s new patriarch, who waved the official cars away so that everyone could have a bracing and beneficial walk home. The Duchess of Cambridge engaged Prince Harry and his troubled, thousand-yard stare in conversation. She appeared to jolly her husband into joining them. It wasn’t peace exactly, but suddenly the warring brothers seemed less estranged. Grandpa would be glad.

As if they — and their royal protection officers — didn’t already know that Charles would wave the cars aways. And Pearson’s analysis of the chat between Harry, William, and Kate is the result of a kind of royal Rorschach test. Pearson was always going to see the Duchess of Cambridge as the peacemaker and Harry as “haunted” — it’s the Telegraph company line.

Just look at this ‘classy’ reflection that didn’t make it into her final piece:

Whether it’s ‘Herculean’ Boris or the Queen as everyone’s poor old granny, the British press delights in telling these stories. And they are stories, not reporting because we are expected to accept character descriptions that simply don’t match the facts available to all of us. As I wrote last week, papers like The Daily Mail nod to ‘secret’ parts of the royal story even as they feed us the official line.

That odour you can detect is not Boris Johnson cleaning out the Augean stables of British corruption, it’s the establishment offering you the usual horseshit and swearing blind that it’s perfume…



‘Casket’ is a very American word for the obsessively British Telegraph to countenance. No doubt Simon Heffer is going puce somewhere.