It’s fairly commonplace for people to wonder what, if anything, they’ll be remembered for. I’m going to be 59 later this year, so it’s been preying on my mind. Will it be the self-deprecating memoir I wrote about failing to take Manhattan? The schools I helped set up? The Free Speech Union? The answer, I’m afraid, is none of the above. I’ve just received an email from Google that has conclusively answered this question – and it’s not good news.
According to the email, I added a location to Google Maps on 4 October 2017 that has been viewed 24 million times. Now, I might take some satisfaction from this if the place in question was a charming, out-of-the-way pub or an historic building. But it was the Manchester City Centre branch of the Premier Inn. I dimly recall that I struggled to find this godforsaken hostelry at the 2017 Conservative party conference and, when I eventually did, added it to Google Maps so others wouldn’t have the same problem. It must have taken all of five minutes, but it’s now the most viewed thing I’ve ever done.
Contrast that with the recording on Vimeo of When Boris Met Dave, a 90-minute Channel 4 docudrama that I co-wrote and co-produced with Lloyd Evans about the political rivalry between the two. That must have taken us the best part of a year to make and yet it’s only been viewed 6,015 times. I did slightly better with the YouTube video of my first and only attempt at stand-up (134,849 views) and better still with the video I made in The Spectator’s basement about why we should leave the EU (243,385). But none of these comes close to 24 million. No, my enduring legacy will be the Premier Inn entry on Google Maps.
I feel a bit like Noddy Holder, the lead singer of Slade. OK, Holder is no Ozzy Osbourne, but Slade released 16 studio albums, 16 greatest hits albums, five live albums and three box sets. Some of these albums reached the no. 1 spot in the UK and in 1984 Slade even had a top 20 hit in the United States (‘Run Runaway’). Yet it’s a safe bet that the only thing Holder will be remembered for in 50 years’ time is co-writing ‘Merry Xmas Everybody’, the irritating Christmas song that is played in heavy rotation in virtually every shop in Britain between 1 November and 24 December. And unlike Holder, I don’t get a royalty every time someone clicks on my little piece of throwaway fun.
Unfortunately, we cannot dictate which of our works will endure and which will be forgotten, much as we’d like to. For instance, I’ve appeared on telly a fair amount over the past four decades and always thought my crowning glory was 25 Years of Question Time, a BBC documentary about the flagship current affairs programme that featured me asking a question as a schoolboy in 1982 and then reappearing as a panellist 22 years later. But posterity has other ideas, because the only thing people ever buttonhole me about on the street is my appearance on a Channel 4 reality show in 2006. The standard exchange goes something like this. Random stranger: ‘Didn’t I see you on Come Dine With Me with that woman from Treasure Hunt?’ Me: ‘I believe you mean Celebrity Come Dine With Me.’
At one point I thought a publisher might approach me about putting out an anthology of my journalism and, in anticipation of this honour, I created a website devoted to what I thought of as my best work. However, I may have overdone it a bit, as Lynn Barber’s introduction to a profile of me in 2006 indicates: ‘I admire Toby Young’s books, but it is his website that fills me with awe. Has anyone since King Cheops built a greater monument to himself?’ In the event, the only time anyone other than Barber visited the site was when I was appointed to a minor role by Theresa May in January 2018. Suddenly, the number of page views went through the roof as an army of offence archaeologists set to work, sifting through my ‘greatest hits’ looking for evidence that I was an unsuitable person to be a non-executive director of a public regulator. It didn’t take them long to find it.
And that reminds me that the passage of time can be kind as well as cruel. When I lost that job and several others for saying various embarrassing things over the years, I thought that was what I’d be remembered for – being a victim of cancel culture. But today no one remembers anything about it. On balance, the Premier Inn is probably preferable.