Spectator Life

Spectator Life

An intelligent mix of culture, style, travel, food and property, as well as where to go and what to see.

Life lessons from the oldest people in the world

María Branyas Morera, aged 117, is the oldest person in the world. She was born in California on 4 March 1907 to Spanish parents who decided to return home in 1915. The voyage was an early lesson in adversity: her father died and María lost the hearing in one ear after she fell from the

Hannah Tomes

My old friend went viral for all the wrong reasons

Last week, an old acquaintance went viral. Charles Withers had, according to his pregnant wife, disappeared around a year ago, leaving her to bring up one young child alone with another on the way. The pretty Massachusetts blonde posted a plea for information on Facebook. It was, she wrote, surprisingly difficult to divorce someone who refused to return

Britain’s roads are becoming a Soviet nightmare

In the dog days of 2021, I spent a grey Sunday afternoon driving around a part of London with a view to an eventual flat move. Why take the car? Because the bus routes didn’t match where I planned to go, I wanted to stay over ground, and I would be able to cover more

Julie Burchill

Why we pity beautiful women

What do we talk about when we talk about Marilyn Monroe? Sex, death and everything in between. Unlike other legendary film stars from Garbo to Bardot, Monroe has become (to use that awful and over-popular word) ‘iconic’ – which is ‘problematic’ in itself. Being recognisable as a hank of blonde hair and a white dress failing

Sam Leith

The scrambling of Scrabble

When you’re playing a word game, don’t you sometimes feel how horribly unfair it is that players who know more words prosper? Wouldn’t it be better to have word games that didn’t rely so heavily on knowledge of the dictionary, that weren’t so, y’know, wordy? And, come to that, wouldn’t a kindler, gentler sort of

Women don’t want women-only clubs

In my experience, men offer this infuriating comeback when challenged about the continuing exclusion of women from clubs such as the Garrick (for now at least – the Garrick is voting on 7 May on the admission of women as members). ‘But why don’t you set up your own women-only clubs,’ they sulk, ‘and leave

My life of genteel poverty

Every year at the beginning of April, I tell myself I must top up my Isa before the 5 April deadline. And all my friends tell me I must. My financial adviser tells me I must. Articles in the press and adverts on social media tell me I must. And every year on 6 April

The problem with MrBeast

Jimmy Donaldson, more commonly known as MrBeast, is the world’s most successful YouTuber. More than 250 million people follow his channel. His videos are mostly absurd challenges involving obscene amounts of cash generated from his YouTube advertising revenue. In one video, he eats $100,000 worth of gold leaf ice cream; in another, he pays a

Kurt Cobain’s life was an American morality tale

The Peaceable Kingdom probably isn’t the first place you would have looked for Kurt Cobain. Of all the ironies and confusions of his brief life, perhaps none was as pointed as his choosing to kill himself in a room overlooking that sign, announcing Seattle’s upscale Leschi neighbourhood, with its views of Lake Washington and the

The person who edited this will soon be redundant

Whenever I write about AI on The Spectator (which is a lot) I always get comments like ‘Yawn. Wake me up when AI actually does something’. And, to a point, these are fair comments. For all its remarkable feats, its photos of Shakespeare with weird fingers, its videos of dogs typing in spacesuits, the new

The cult of Camille Paglia

There’s a spectre floating inside the head of a certain type of young woman. It’s the fast-talking, sex-realist American academic Camille Paglia. She was big in the 1990s but my parents haven’t heard of her. ‘Did she write Fear of Flying?’ asks my dad. On sections of the internet she has become a folk hero.

A.A. Milne and the torturous task of writing

For those of us lucky enough to have been regular contributors to Punch magazine, April is a slightly crueller month than most, since it was on 8 April 32 years ago that the last edition collapsed, exhausted, on to the newspaper stands. By then it was way past its best, but in its day it

Julie Burchill

Youth is wasted on our anxious young

The old should envy the young; it’s part of the natural order of things. When I was young, I was gloriously aware that old people (anyone over 30) envied me; though I was a virgin until I went to That London at 17, my mum and her mates thought I was up to all sorts

At last, a museum of real British culture

Pin yourself to the spinning wheel as the knife thrower aims his blades. Take a Northern Soul twirl on the talcum-powdered floor. Play ‘With My Little Stick of Blackpool Rock’ on George Formby’s banjolele. At last popular entertainment, from Sooty to Strictly, is being given its rightful part on the nation’s stage. These fabulous artforms,

I’m saving the world, one worm at a time

Recently, I was walking down a London street when on the pavement I spotted a worm. It was so motionless I wasn’t sure if it was alive or dead. Normally, I would have passed the worm by without a second thought. But I’d just been to my local park to do stretches, meditation, breathing exercises

Is AI the biggest Brexit benefit?

It’s not easy being a Leaver, right now. For a start, the government that actually delivered Brexit – the present Tory government – is facing a one-sided electoral hammering which will make the Anglo-Zanzibar war of 1896 (duration: 38 minutes) look like a tense, nail-biting score draw. In the same vein, polls consistently show high

Growing up straight

Attending an English public school in the 1970s when you weren’t from that world was a tough gig. Mum’s family were from the East End. Dad was what might euphemistically be called a ‘wheeler dealer’. Having had little education, Dad was determined his children wouldn’t suffer the same fate. So my brother and I were

Stoicism is back

If Marcus Aurelius were around today, would he have a podcast? The answer, of course, is no. His meditations were for his own guidance and never knowingly meant to be published. This doesn’t mean he wouldn’t have found himself shoved forward as a hero of a new resistance. His sound bites would be rendered into

Damian Reilly

Tim Dillon, your tour guide to the end of the world

Tim Dillon is a comedian who not so long ago worked as a New York tour bus guide and subprime mortgage salesman. He started a podcast from his porch in 2016 and used it to talk about world events, what he and his lowlife friends were up to, and, frequently, to complain about how broke

Julie Burchill

The art of the flounce

With Owen Jones very huffily leaving the Labour party, I was moved to examine the state of The Flounce in public life de nos jours. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines it thus: 1. To move with exaggerated jerky or bouncy motions (‘flounced about the room, jerking her shoulders, gesticulating’ – Agatha Christie)2. To move so as

I’m a hypochondriac. Even I’ve had enough of the anxiety epidemic

Our age of mental hypochondriasis has some surreal, even comic, aspects. I recently met some Gen-Zedders who were actually competing over bagging psychological diagnoses. Unsurprisingly, ADHD was the gateway pathology for these young folk – prescription rates for hyperactivity have jumped a fifth in the last year to 230,000, with doctors claiming to be overwhelmed

My night with a murderer

My father met a murderer once; a carrot-topped former chorine called Ann Woodward, who gave her veddy veddy posh husband both barrels after discovering he intended to divorce her for someone more upper-class. She got off after her mother-in-law, Elsie, who preferred a killer in the family to a scandal, bought off the American cops.

China’s greatest poet was a drunk teenage girl

One of China’s most famous poems was penned by a teenager with a killer hangover. ‘Heavy sleep can’t get rid of the dregs of alcohol,’ she grumbles, sequestered in her darkened room after a night of boozing and bad weather. She has to ask a maid to open her curtains. Here comes one of the

Julie Burchill

The monstrous beauty of Nico

Few things sum up the chasm between childhood and adolescence more poignantly than our changing relationship with music. One minute life is all familial cuddles and nursery rhymes – the next it’s all parental alienation and rock’n’roll. One year I was eagerly buying the records of Pinky & Perky, the next those of Dave Dee

Julie Burchill

Terfs are the new punks

‘PUNK’S NOT DEAD!’ I will sometimes write as a sign-off on emails to mates when I’ve said something particularly ‘bad’. It’s something of a joke with me; although I was around the scene early on (1976) and started my career off as a 17-year-old writing about punk, I didn’t much like it. I liked black

Now AI is coming for musicians

Do you remember those far off misty days of yore, when shocking, startling, amazing, disquieting revelations from the world of Artificial Intelligence only arrived every year or two, or even longer? It was about, ooh, a fortnight ago: a wistful, innocent time of smiling boy scouts, and honey for tea, and vicars in bicycle clips,

Lloyd Evans

Did we really need Warsi and Baddiel’s podcast?

Podcast fever continues to dominate the political airwaves. The rewards for success are enormous and popular podcasters are able to fill concert halls around the county by delivering a couple of hours of chitchat to willing punters. Since the running costs are minimal, the profits are vast. This explains the gold-rush of media darlings and

A river-side chat with Paul Whitehouse

The words ‘immersive experience’ have always suggested, to me, a rather strained hour or two smiling patiently at unemployed actors pretending to be ghosts or personages from the olden days or, if I’m really lucky, chocolatiers who are not called Willy Wonka for legal reasons. In fact, all the publicity for the ‘Fish and Feast

Could the BBC sink Desert Island Discs?

Desert Island Discs is 80 years old and to celebrate this milestone the BBC has planned an event unprecedented in the show’s long history. It is also one that will surely have its creator and original presenter, Roy Plomley, spinning in his grave. Desert Island Discs Live will take place at London’s Palladium over three nights