Just over two years ago, Barack Obama delivered a calculated insult to Britain. He returned the Epstein bust of Sir Winston Churchill that had been loaned to America by the British government as a token of solidarity following the September 11 terrorist attacks. Churchill had pride of place in the Oval Office between 2001 and 2009, a symbol of the tight-knit transatlantic relationship that had flourished under Tony Blair and George W.
For 20 years I have seen Colonel Gaddafi every morning. He greets me with a faraway look in his eyes as I step into my study. It is one of those vast propaganda portraits, 5ft by 3ft, beloved by serial kleptocrat dictators. Looking youthful, almost serene, he sports a bouffant hairdo and military uniform with enough gold thread on his epaulettes to embroider a WMD. Behind him is a desert panorama of rolling sand dunes, date palms, camels and a huge pipe with torrents of water gushing out to create fertile agricultural land, along with combine harvesters, a flock of sheep and the sort of Harvest Festival fruit basket most vicars could only ever dream of.
Ah, what it is to have the gift of self-awareness, and how we pity those without it. Tony Blair got off the phone to his friend Muammar Gaddafi and reported that the Libyan leader was delusional and could not face reality. He did not understand that the people had put up with him for long enough and it was time to stand aside for a new leader. I suppose we should be grateful that Tone didn’t use the RAF or mustard gas when he was of a similar mindset.
In any discussion of Mormons, it’s worth getting the gags out of the way first. There’s the chafing underwear they must wear to deter them from temptation, which looks like a cilice by Fruit of the Loom. There’s polygamy, which though rejected by the Mormon church in 1890, is still practised by a few perverted loons in remote corners of Utah and Colorado, who construct architecturally fascinating networks of trailers to house their multiple families.
Rania of Jordan’s glamour and eloquence have won her celebrity friends in the West – and comparisons to Marie Antoinette at homeAmman, JordanTo the western world, she is the closest the 21st century gets to Princess Diana: glamorous, beautiful, charitable and royal. But to many of her citizens, she is extravagant, meddling and possibly even corrupt. She describes herself on Twitter as ‘a mum and a wife with a really cool day job…’ So which is the real Queen Rania? As the Arab spring spread across Jordan, I took a trip to Amman to find out.
I have learnt to be wary of proselytising about football. The last time I tried was the final of the World Cup in South Africa, Spain versus the Netherlands, two teams with a reputation for skilful, attacking play and thoughtful rather than hopeful passing. These two sides, I explained to people whom football fans like to call ‘neutrals’ (it means they’re not interested), would show how the game is meant to be played at its most refined — especially if your most recent encounter with football was watching England’s concrete-booted performances in that tournament, culminating in ignominious exit against an unusually exuberant Germany.