Toby Young Toby Young

The day I became a prize contrarian

Something rather unusual happened to me a few weeks ago: I was shortlisted for a prize. Not the GQ Men of the Year — shock! — but the Contrarian Prize. This is an award given to people who’ve exhibited ‘independence, courage and sacrifice’ in British public life. Previous winners include the headmistress Katharine Birbalsingh, the economist Patrick Minford and the human rights lawyer Clive Stafford Smith. Quite distinguished company, in other words.

On 11 November I was invited along to the Bernard Jacobson Gallery in St James’s by Ali Miraj, the creator of the prize, for the award ceremony. Naturally, the first thing I did was look around to see which of the other people on the shortlist were there. I’m not saying this is one of those prizes that you automatically win if you’re the only nominee to turn up, but the fact that two of the four shortlisted heroes hadn’t bothered to come was surely a good sign.

I had debated whether to write an acceptance speech just in case but my son Freddie forbade it

I had debated whether to write an acceptance speech beforehand just in case, but my 14-year-old son, Freddie, expressly forbade it — ‘You definitely won’t win if you do that’ — and I took his advice. I dare say that’s a common superstition among award nominees. It would explain why Oscar acceptance speeches are usually so bad. Then again, I didn’t want to say something off the cuff that would come back to bite me. That was Kingsley Amis’s fate when he unexpectedly won the Booker Prize for The Old Devils in 1986. During his acceptance speech he said that he had previously thought of the Booker as a rather trivial, showbizzy sort of caper, but now considered it a very serious, reliable indication of literary merit.

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