If I meet one more smug, smirking pro-war protagonist who greets me with that ‘Hey, peacenik – you must feel a right prat’ look, I fear I shall arm myself with a few of those elusive WMDs and take out whole swaths of Wapping, Kensington and Downing Street. If there’s one thing worse than the world’s most powerful military force waging an unlawful, unethical war against a clapped-out old tyrant’s ragbag excuse for an army, then it’s surely the quite absurd rash of gloating and triumphalism that has engulfed large parts of our country. I am all for saluting the efficiency and bravery of the armed forces in doing their job, but did anybody really ever doubt that we’d win the military conflict? Do we cheer when Australia thrash Bangladesh at cricket, or throw street parties when Brazil drub Lithuania at football? A senior commander of the SAS in the last Gulf war told me last summer that the allies had virtually wiped out Saddam’s infamous Republican Guard in 1991 and any fight with them now would be laughably one-sided. This was confirmed by one of our own Marines who described a tank battle with a renegade Iraqi mob outside Basra as ‘like pitting Ferraris against Austin Allegros’. My SAS friend also assured me that Saddam had no weapons of mass destruction and that there could be no credible link with bin Laden, because Osama hates Saddam even more than we do. Extreme Islamic fundamentalists may loathe us democratic Christian infidels, but apparently what they really despise are lapsed Muslim despots with a penchant for palaces, Phantom Rolls-Royces and prostitutes. No, this war was about George Bush giving America a scalp for 9/11, warning real menaces like North Korea to watch their step, and securing new oil reserves big enough to stop the Saudis dictating the global economies; probably in that order. Anyone who doubts this should look closely at the US flag put over Saddam’s head on that statue before it toppled. It was the same flag, we discovered later, that had been flying over the Pentagon on that fateful day in September 2001. This was payback. On the wrong bad guy.
As I sat rather bemused by the departure of a few Mirror readers angry that we carried on expressing anti-war sentiment once it started, someone sent me this quote: ‘Why of course the people don’t want war. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger.’ So spake Hermann Goering at his Nuremberg trial.
Losing readers to principle is annoying, but losing the hilarious Iraqi information minister Mohammed Said al-Sahaf has left me utterly bereft. I thought of him the moment I realised that the Mirror would drop below two million sales in the official monthly figures for March. Imagine the benefit of chucking him on the box after Coronation Street to declare, ‘It’s all rubbish. The Mirror’s over three million and rising. We have Murdoch and his infidels on the run, we are slaughtering them in fact. Newsagents are incinerating their papers, they won’t leave Wapping alive.’ Mohammed, if you’re not swinging from a Baghdad lamp-post, can you give me a call?
Talking of ludicrous characters, has there ever been a more absurd specimen than Catherine Zeta-Jones? Her wedding-pictures court case revealed a scale of whining, arrogant self-obsession not seen since Liberace took the Mirror’s legendary Cassandra to the legal cleaners in the 1950s for daring to suggest that he was not a rampant heterosexual stallion. Watching the Douglas duo weep and wail their way through endless awards ceremonies, slobbering each other with sickeningly self-congratulatory kisses, I feel a burning urge to fly to Hollywood, confront them in their sumptuous mansion, and shout, ‘YOU MAKE ME PUKE.’ It would be expensive, it would be pointless, but, God, I’d feel better for it.
I embedded myself at the Four Seasons Hotel in Canary Wharf for the duration of the war. Not quite a trench under mortar fire in southern Iraq on a dusty night, but a token selfless gesture to my amazingly courageous staff on the various frontlines who haven’t seen their homes or families for more than a month now. And I did encounter a few unexpected pockets of resistance of my own. One Sunday brunch was enlivened by a confrontation in the main restaurant with a grim-faced man from Essex who marched up to me and said firmly, ‘Excuse me, but I saw you on Question Time and wanted to say something to you.’ ‘Oh yes,’ I replied, my chest instinctively puffing up with pride as I awaited the inevitable, rather embarrassing torrent of praise. ‘Fire away.’ He stared violently into my eyes. ‘YOU ARE A BLOODY DISGRACE.’ Temporarily startled, I followed my friend outside and asked him to repeat what he’d said. ‘YOU’RE A BLOODY DISGRACE AND A TRAITOR,’ he happily obliged, as his wife pleaded, ‘Oh not again, it’s me birthday, for God’s sake.’ I regret to report that after two weeks of little sleep and a few too many adrenalin surges I unburdened myself on to my verbal assailant with an equally tart character assessment. ‘How f***ing dare you talk to me like that,’ he snarled. ‘I know, BLOODY DISGRACEFUL, ISN’T IT?’ I replied. My mood was cheered only by the discovery that Thierry Henry had recently slept in my room; a fact guaranteed to restore some va-va-voom to any Arsenal fan.
The BBC asked me to name my favourite book for their Big Read project, but I couldn’t do it. From the moment my enormously cerebral neurologist cousin Nicholas gave me a copy of Conrad’s Nostromo when I was just seven years old, I have started and then not finished countless ‘heavy’ tomes that intellectuals assure me I need to read. The unpalatable truth is that I have the attention span of a gangrenous centipede. So holidays are spent with Andy McNab, Jeffrey Archer, cricket books and anything else I can find lightly to soothe rather than overly test my unsophisticated brain. How could I publicly admit my favourite book is not King Lear but High Concept – the defining account of Hollywood excess through the short life of drug-crazed, booze-sodden, hooker-obsessed Top Gun movie producer Don Simpson?