Baby frenzy: Kate’s pregnancy news causes debate and delirium


When the Queen was pregnant with Charles, an oblique announcement said merely that she “would undertake no public engagements until June” – and left the world to figure out what that meant.On Monday, Kate and William put news of her pregnancy up on their website, which promptly crashed. Serious newspapers began live-blogging on the issue. TV reporters were stationed outside the hospital. Twitter buzzed with quips like “Dilatey Katie”.

Bookies announced Elizabeth (8/1 ) and Diana (12/1) the top favourite names for a girl and Philip (14/1) and Edward (16/1) for a boy (and you can bet on the hair colour, too, 6/4 brown, 2/1 blond).

And columnists began speculating about when, precisely, the baby might have been conceived. The holiday in France that spawned the topless pictures? Maybe, concluded one paper, though perhaps it could have been during the couple’s tour of South-East Asia. Another magazine reports “insider” claims that the baby is the result of a passionate night in their rented home in Wales.

Princess Diana felt her pregnancies were too public – “The whole world is watching my stomach,” she once said – but the level of intrusion is already far greater for Kate, particularly now that details of her medical situation are known.

The news is a blessing and a curse for women’s magazines around the world, which will be madly pulling scheduled covers in order to roll out (pre-prepared?) spreads on royal baby bliss and pregnancy misery. But the very illness that has made the pregnancy such hot news will later bedevil the media, as it means Kate is much more likely to spend the next seven months living a private life rather than providing joy for paparazzi. Severe pregnancy-nausea of her kind can go on for up to 14 weeks, and in rare cases can last the whole pregnancy.

The media upside: extreme pregnancy nausea is also slightly associated with a higher likelihood of twins. Princess Mary of Denmark could get a run for her money.

The royal baby-to-be means unalloyed happiness for Prime Minister David Cameron, wrestling as he was with the Leveson fall-out and welfare reform and the euro-crisis, but now likely to be revelling in the spotlight turning to what an Independent columnist has sourly dubbed “the feel-good foetus”.

The London Telegraph’s Tom Chivers is doing a similar bah-humbug, saying he needs to coin a new word for what he is already feeling: “Babigue? Pregxhaustion? Ennuioetus?” Several of the Top Ten Stories Zoe Williams of the Guardian doesn’t want to  read are already up on newspaper websites, including advice on what Kate should and shouldn’t be eating and speculation as to how Diana would have reacted.

The Queen is probably still sorting out her own reaction. She was told only as Kate was being taken to hospital. The official announcement talks of her delight. But for her and her dynasty, this is about more than an old woman’s pleasure at the promise of her first great-grandchild.

William, Kate and their children are likely to become the new face of the monarchy long before they sit on thrones. It is an age where image, not monarch, is king; they are young, handsome, apparently in love, and ready objects for the projection of their subjects’ longing for the fairy-tale.

They also seem to have “the common touch”; friendly, approachable, down-to-earth.

The Queen has had many moments of glory. The oceanic swell of people turning out for her Jubilee was, to a non-Brit, extraordinary. But she is respected rather than loved. And, while she has kept her footing on deck during some truly stormy seas, she is like the wall-paper of Britons’ lives: there, seemingly, forever, but faded now, and reminiscent of another era and its ways. The gloves alone say it all about her un-touchableness.

But before William and Kate come Charles and Camilla. A poll just after the Jubilee suggested that, for the first time, the British populace favoured a Charles and Camilla combo on the throne ahead of a William-and-Kate ensemble. Fifty-one per cent wanted Charles crowned, although a sizeable 40 per cent still favoured William. Camilla is successfully chipping away at the national resentment over Diana.

But polls on this issue do not matter a hill of beans. The monarchy is not a popularity contest. There is a queue and it will be observed, failing mischance.

And seductive as youth and beauty and cute babies may be, next year’s royal arrival is just as likely as Charles to grow into a middle-aged monarch-in-waiting. According to James Kirkup on the London Telegraph, life-expectancy data suggests the child due next year would probably not succeed until 2068, when he or she was 56 years old, and might well reign into the 22nd century.

By which time he or she might also find themselves sharing the limelight with an expected grandchild who will represent the new face of the monarchy…

First published in The Age.

Wild oats and rolls in the hay as Diva does her dynastic duty



SPARE a maidenly blush for Makybe Diva. She must now trade in the orgasmic delight of finishing first in the Melbourne Cup at Flemington for the not-so-orgasmic delights of the breeding shed.
The queen of the track is to endure the fate of female aristocrats throughout history: arranged unions and dynastic pressures to continue her line.
As with any trophy bride of gentility, the bucks involved are big. According to Mike Becker, president of Thoroughbred Breeders Victoria, a good yearling foal of Makybe Diva by the world’s top breeding stallion, America’s Storm Cat, could sell for $US5 million to $US8 million ($A6.7 million to $A10.7 million).
“She is one of the great mares of all time. That would be a drawcard instantly,” Mr Becker said.
Such profits would make the cost of having her “served” by Storm Cat a triviality ($US500,000, plus the round-trip cost of $US40,000 for transporting her to the United States). What some people will do for a little bit of nookie.
Australia’s top sire, Redoute’s Choice, is by contrast a bargain at $200,000 plus GST for encounters that result in a pregnancy. This might prove a little too close for comfort for our Diva, as Redoute’s grand-sire was also hers, loading the genetic roulette wheel against any joint progeny.
But even an Aussie-sired foal might fetch a price tag of $2 million or more, says John Messara, owner of the Arrowfield Stud in NSW.
After the career-girl glamour of the track, the Diva will find the road to motherhood dignity-denting. Racing experts suggested yesterday that her owner, Tony Santic, might well rest her for a year as Australia is now halfway through its breeding season of September to December. But by this time next year, she will find herself at the very least sexually initiated – and in a way that makes all those minimal-foreplay jokes ring true.
Test-tube reproduction is forbidden to racehorses. “If you used artificial insemination, you could impregnate 10 mares from one ejaculate, and we are passionate about not getting a reduction in the genetic pool,” Mr Becker said. And in the world of equine sex, the gentleman makes the rules.
Makybe Diva will not only have to pay for her consorts but she will have to travel to meet them. Like Elvis at Graceland, a stud stallion can stay close to home and have the females flock to him. He can service up to 200 mares a season, and travelling time would cut into his precious productivity. (Yes, 200 is more than the number of days in the season. Stallions can perform up to three times a day, no Viagra required.)
A mating goes like this. A virginal horse (or maiden mare, as they are known) might first have her hymen ruptured by a vet to ensure ease of passage for the rite of passage. Then she will be placed near a “teaser” stallion. As she comes on heat, he will come on to her. She will sidle up to him and raise her tail; handlers will see her vulva moving.
A vet will be called in and will give the mare a rectal ultrasound to confirm that she has follicles ready to release eggs from her ovaries. On day three or four of her cycle, she will be mated.
She will be in a shed with a handler at her head holding a “twitch”, a long piece of wood or pipe that has string or rope at the end of it. This is twined around the fleshy part of the mare’s nose to discourage her from “misbehaving”.
“It probably borders on rape, but it’s not,” Mr Becker said. “You know she’s receptive. She’s heavily in season.”
But she might be nervous if she is inexperienced. “Stallions are very virile creatures who roar and tuck their necks in and bluster – just like a normal bloke.”
The stallion will sniff her and rub himself against her before rearing up on his back legs to mount her. A young stallion might need a helping hand if he is to find his way. The whole process takes about five minutes and the serious action only about two. “There’s not a lot of pillow talk,” Mr Becker admitted.
Sometimes stallions knock back a mare they don’t fancy, Mr Messara says. “Some stallions prefer grey mares. You can liken it to blondes.” A stallion who is unhappy will refuse to mount or fail to get an erection. The lady, on the other hand, “doesn’t get a choice – sorry about that. They express their dissatisfaction by kicking, but we hobble their hind legs in big leather shoes.”
Makybe Diva might keep a little more of her feminine self-respect. Her strapper, Christine Mitchell, yesterday said she would pity the first stallion the triple-Melbourne Cup champion met as a brood mare. “She’s got a wicked kick in her back end.”
All of which leaves open the central question about equine reproduction for anyone who has passed paddocks in springtime. How sizeable, exactly, is the stallion’s virile member?
Mr Messara was dumbstruck. “I’ve never paid that kind of attention to it.”
Perhaps if he were to ask a female strapper, who might have more of a sense of wonder about it all? “I’d get my face slapped!”
But in the interests of accuracy, he telephoned his stud manager who was in a breeding shed at the time. The answer came in the old parlance: two feet.
Another reason to take one’s hat off to the Diva.

First published in The Age.

How the ghost of Kennett loomed over Doyle’s first day Election 2002

Robert Doyle is being selective when evoking Jeff Kennett’s legacy, reports Karen Kissane.

Managing the ghosts of premiers past can be a tricky business, particularly when that premier is Jeff Kennett. Yesterday Robert Doyle did his best to pick the cherries out of the Kennett chocolate box.

For his first news conference of the campaign, Mr Doyle appeared duly pancaked and scripted. He talked quickly, not yet master of the measured tones of the political trouper, and threw voters sweet reminders of how the Kennett government had turned around the state’s finances.

“I think it’s easy to forget where we were in 1991-92,” he said. “We were a laughing-stock . . . We were on our knees economically. Within two terms of government we were a prosperous state again . . . I’m very proud of that.”

But Mr Doyle was careful to avoid anything that voters might find hard to swallow, such as hints that the Kennett government’s style might be resurrected.

“We have learnt how we got out of touch with the communities, and we have learnt that we need to keep in touch with their priorities,” he said. “I’m a completely different bloke from Jeff Kennett and I lead a completely different party.”

There have been other kinds of differences too. When Mr Doyle made his lunge for the Liberal leadership in August, Mr Kennett was scathing. “He is not, in my opinion, a leader,” Mr Kennett told 3AK listeners.

“He is not leadership material now and he is certainly not leadership material in the future. Those who back him . . . must accept responsibility for what I consider to be a gross act of disloyalty so close to an election.”

That was then. This is now: “Since taking over he’s done a wonderful job,” Mr Kennett said yesterday in his Richmond office (home base for Jeff Kennett Pty Ltd). “He comes across as a leader, particularly on television, much stronger than Denis (Napthine) did . . . I have a very clear feeling that if Robert Doyle says he’ll do something, he’ll do it.”

Mr Doyle said he and Mr Kennett had mended fences – “My relationship with the former premier is great” – and that he had a morning meeting with Mr Kennett last week that was amicable and constructive. The former premier was welcome to help with the campaign any way he liked, Mr Doyle said. But he seemed to reserve overt enthusiasm for borrowed statesmanship for the prospect of a visit from John Howard.

Mr Kennett said yesterday he had met Mr Doyle three or four times in the past few weeks. He was booked for “a sea of functions” with Liberal candidates but has no appearances lined up with the leader. “He hasn’t asked me to do anything for him,” Mr Kennett said. “We’re going to discuss that.”

Any hard feelings over the way the new leader was distancing himself from the Kennett legacy? “I think that is understandable. Every person who is charged with a leadership position has got to establish their own opinions, their own environment. Robert Doyle is not a Kennett, Steve Bracks is not a Kennett.”

He beamed. “Fortunately, there is only one Kennett.”

First published in The Age.

Bottom-feeders do their sums and rise to the top(less)

SO, WHICH aspect of the royal nipples scandal is the most eye-rolling? That depends, it seems, on which part of the press is pontificating.

The lefties point out the naivety of an heir to the throne who has not yet twigged to the potential of the telephoto lens – after Fergie’s topless toe-sucking pics? – and wonder also about the possibility of confected outrage.

The Observer’s Catherine Bennett filleted the royal response, saying the reports of the BBC’s Peter Hunt developed ”in the manner of a grief counsellor illustrating the seven stages of bereavement”.

She wrote: ”At first, he said, the couple were ‘annoyed’. Also ‘saddened’ and ‘disappointed’. But they were also ‘philosophical’. Then, just when you might have expected them to enter ‘acceptance’ followed with luck by ‘hope’, the labile pair became ‘hugely saddened’, then ‘furious, upset’ over this ‘grotesque’ event, passing through ‘disbelief’ to become ‘angry’ and next ‘incandescent’ to the point of consulting lawyers. By teatime on Friday, legal proceedings had been launched and for William there had to be real concerns about spontaneous combustion.”

All a bit much from a pair who needed to understand that they were ”contracted national pets”.

But the part-owner of an Irish tabloid is not nearly so sanguine. A furious Richard Desmond has promised to shut down the Irish Daily Star for publishing 13 of the paparazzi shots of a topless Duchess of Cambridge sunbathing while holidaying in France.

Mr Desmond’s company, Northern and Shell, co-owns the Star and insiders say he has told lawyers to start the necessary legal action to close the tabloid. He said: ”The decision to publish  has no justification whatsoever and Northern and Shell condemns it in the strongest possible terms.”

The paper’s website has been taken down.

St James Palace has said the publication of the pictures by the French magazine Closer was ”totally unjustifiable”: ”There can be no motivation for this action other than greed.”

Well, yes. Closer, the French magazine that published the pictures originally, has long been a bottom-feeder, as has its Italian stablemate Chi, which has also run with the topless pictures and was previously best known for having published photographs of Princess Diana immediately after her fatal car crash. Both magazines are part of publishing group Mondadori, which is controlled by sleazy former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi.

France has supposedly strict privacy laws but the fines are not high – a maximum of €45,000 ($A56,000). The royals are also suing in the French courts but that might not net them more than €100,000.

So Closer and its colleagues just do the sums. Potential millions in earnings from resale of naughty pix, versus up to €150,000 in slaps on the wrist? No contest. Publish and be damned.

The damnations are coming fast and furious; it is, after all, the only way the British press can get its hooks into a story that must be making its own bottom-feeders salivate. Renaud Revel, media commentator with L’Express magazine, has pointed out that it is hypocritical of British media outlets to denounce the pictures: ”The world’s gone upside down. English paparazzi are totally lawless.”

The Sunday Mirror reports that William wants someone jailed over the photos, and French law does allow for a criminal sentence over breach of privacy. But that won’t stop the photos going viral.

In the absence of international privacy legislation, the internet remains a wild and lawless realm, and royal breasts are safe only in captivity.

First published on

Caviar arrives in fine fettle

LONDONThere aren’t many females who feel up to a bit of flirting after 26 hours on a plane.
But there aren’t many like Black Caviar, either.
Maybe it was the pressure suit she wore to stop her lovely long legs swelling (it worked). Maybe it was the hourly attentions during the flight of her unusually large retinue: veterinarian Peter Angus, track rider Pat Bell, assistant trainer Tony Haydon and also an expert in transporting thoroughbreds such as herself.
But the world’s fastest sprinter was full of life when she was decanted from a mobile stable and into an exercise yard at the animal reception centre at Heathrow Airport on Thursday night. Ears pricked and eyes bright, she tried to peer out of the back of the metal container and into the grey chill of a London evening.
As the back opened she would have tossed her head with impatience — she had been constrained such a long time — were it not for the men holding her bridle.
Once on solid ground again she agreed to stand still long enough to have her Lycra pressure-suit and leg-wraps taken off. Equine vet Peter Angus ran hands over those multimillion-dollar legs, the ones that have brought her 21 consecutive race wins and which might bring her victory at Royal Ascot this month.
“She’s very bright,” Angus said. “After a journey like this they can be so tired that sometimes their eyes are dulled, but she’s as bright as a button.”
Horses can lose up to 3 kilograms an hour during flight and also face the risk of injury, but Black Caviar was glossy and unscathed. “She seems to have eaten and drunk on the flight and is in very good condition. She doesn’t look to have lost much weight, looking over her hindquarters. The next couple of days will tell but she seems very settled and relaxed.”
The good news will probably lead to her already prohibitive odds shortening for the Diamond Jubilee Stakes at Royal Ascot on June 23.

First published in The Sydney Morning Herald.

Half a million sing along to celebrate Queen’s jubilee


Prince Philip couldn’t make it. He was in hospital with an infection after spending four hours in a chill wind watching the jubilee flotilla the day before.

But up to 500,000 others crammed into The Mall outside Buckingham Palace last night to watch the jubilee concert celebrating the Queen’s 60th year on the throne.

The concert started lamely, the baldness of daylight not conducive to glamour.

Annie Lennox pranced awkwardly around the stage in a pair of angel’s wings.

Cliff Richard was a vision in pink, recycling a medley of his hits including Congratulations and Devil Woman (“The same set Cliff did for Queen Victoria!” tweeted one listener).

He ended his set with Long live the Queen! and a saucy flick of his bottom.

Grace Jones was statuesque in a red and black latex bodice that left her long gleaming legs bare. In an amazing feat of respiratory control, she whirled a hula hoop around her waist as she sang her set.

The Victoria Memorial had been converted to a rock arena for the night. Its Perspex roof had long gold spikes that could have been a stylised crown or the cap of a jester, the traditional court entertainer.

Night descended to add a little glamour just in time for our Kylie to appear dressed as a cockney Pearly Queen in hot pants, accompanied by a praetorian guard of dancing girls in tiny silver togas.

As darkness intensified the lighting came into its own, making the stage as bright as a circus carousel.

Coloured lights swept the facade of Buckingham Palace and enormous screens showed grainy footage of episodes from the Queen’s life: riding an elephant, crowning Charles as Prince of Wales, and smiling when she reached Prince William in the line while she was doing a military parade inspection.

Opera singers Alfie Boe and Renee Fleming sang Somewhere from the palace balcony.

The band Madness sang Our House from the roof as light-pictures played across the façade of the palace, turning it into different kinds of stately homes.

For It Must Be Love, Love Love, the lights flashed large pink hearts.

Prince William and his wife Catherine, Prince Charles and Camilla and princesses Beatrice and Eugenie watched the show, with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams.

They and others in the royal box bopped along to the music. Princess Anne and Prime Minister David Cameron joined in with Rolf Harris as he sang Two Little Boys.

Age had wearied some of the voices. Paul McCartney’s was thin and occasionally uncertain, and Elton John’s was not as polished as in earlier days. (And was “I’m still standin’ better than I ever did, lookin’ like a true survivor” quite the right sentiment? Though not as misplaced as Stevie Wonder singing the Queen Happy Birthday when, clearly, this was not the point of the evening).

But Shirley Bassey (Diamonds are Forever, of course) and Tom Jones belted out their classics with undimmed vigour, and Jones’s flamenco version of Delilah had even Prince Harry singing along, generational differences notwithstanding.

The Queen arrived part-way through the concert, warmly wrapped in a heavy dark cloak that looked like one she had worn for a Cecil Beaton photographic portrait in the 1960s.

At the end of the music the Queen appeared on stage with Prince Charles. The cloak was gone, and she shone in a gold dress flecked with Swarovski crystals. Her eyes were suspiciously bright as Prince Charles began a speech.

“Your majesty,” he began. He paused, “Mummy.” She almost smiled, and the crowd let out a burst of laughter.

He thanked the performers and the 600 technicians and thanked God that the weather had turned out fine. At this the Queen, who had shared with Prince Philip the stoic hours watching her rain-sodden flotilla, did laugh.

Prince Charles told the crowd the only sad thing about the evening was that his father was unwell and couldn’t come.

“But if we shout loud enough, he might hear us from hospital,” he said. The audience did its best.

He said his mother’s life had been changed irrevocably at the age of only 26 when his grandfather, King George VI, died suddenly and she became monarch.

“So, as a nation, this is our opportunity to thank her and my father for always being there for us, for inspiring us with your selfless duty and service, and for making us proud to be British,” he said. The crowd clapped and cheered. The Queen swallowed hard.

Prince Charles led three cheers for her and then kissed her gloved hand.

The night ended with the Queen placing a large diamond-shaped crystal into a device that lit the last of 4200 beacons across the nation and the world to celebrate her jubilee.

The beacon flamed six metres into the air, joining a line of 60 along Hadrian’s Wall and one on each of the highest peaks in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Then, it was time for more philharmonic grandeur as the sky above Buckingham Palace exploded with streaks, fans and drizzles of light with 5000 individual fireworks going off in four minutes.

Tonight, the Queen is due to attend a service of thanksgiving at St Paul’s Cathedral. Prince Philip, who will be 91 on Sunday, is due to stay in a London hospital for a few days.

First published on

Britain turns into coronation street


The southern London suburb Peckham can be gloomy even when it isn’t raining – and the rain was steady last night, washing out hopes of holding a party in the street to celebrate the Queen’s diamond jubilee and bring together people who live in the fortress-like tower blocks that rear up into the sky on the local council estates.New venues were hastily created in a small community centre and church hall but there was no way other than soggy street posters to let locals know about the change.

But the organiser Jeanette Macey, who has spent weeks with other locals making homemade bunting from old sheets and hand-painting flags for the children to wave, was still cheery.

She had wanted to ”get the community working together again,” she said, something that had faded since locals had been put into tower blocks where they all stayed behind their own front doors and rarely spoke to each other.

She also wanted to wave the flag for the Queen – she points out her blue and white dress and red cardigan and grins. ”I think she’s done a marvellously good job considering what’s gone on in her life with her family. She’s still held it together, stiff upper lip and all that. Very British, isn’t it?”

Ms Macey has lived on the estate with 1000 other people since 1981. ”I was born in 1952 and I moved here when Diana and Prince Charles married and now I’m here for her 60th. I’m the queen of Peckham, don’t you think, love?”

Her brother Alec Bourne is loyally helping but his loyalty is to his sister, not to his monarch.

”What’s she ever done for the working class?” he says gruffly. ”All they do is turn up and be photographed. I’m not anti-monarchist but I don’t need them.”

Over the plastic tablecloths sat trays of mini-sausage rolls and ham sandwiches. Soufaane Traroe, 8, and his brother Aguib, 5, carried two large cakes made of recycled fabric. ”But there will be real cake later?” Aguib asked.

The director of People Empowering People, Nicholas Okwulu, said the street party had been planned to bring together residents on different council estates, break down barriers between them and work out ways to help each other in the face of funding cuts by government and councils.

Britons had planned to hold 10,000 street parties for 6 million people as part of the jubilee at the weekend, more than for the royal wedding last year. There was an estimated 2000 kilometres of bunting and one of the major supermarket chains was expecting to sell 2 million bottles of champagne, 2.8 million Victoria sponges, 1.7 million pork pies and 1.6 million sausage rolls. The supermarket chain Asda said it had sold a million Union Jacks, enough to cover 462 football pitches.

The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall attended a street party in Piccadilly, in central London.

Braving the damp weather, 500 revellers clapped and cheered when they realised they would be eating with royalty. Guests were asked to bring food to share with their friends and neighbours, with Charles and Camilla offering a Union Jack cake.

A Sunday Times poll reported Britons thought the Queen was more in touch with ordinary people’s concerns (35 per cent) than the nation’s elected leaders (9 per cent), and 73 per cent wanted to retain the monarchy.

First published on

Rowing for her majesty … it’s a wedge issue


THERE were certain delicate issues to be navigated by the Australian surf lifesavers who will row boats in the huge flotilla on the Thames for the Queen’s diamond jubilee celebrations later today.
The women usually wear bikinis in the short races associated with their sport and the men their famous budgie-smugglers. Apparently this was not a goer for this grand event, where they will wear black pants.
The traditional bathers “wedgie up” over time “and being on the river from 9.30 to 5 with a wedgie would be too painful”, crew member Sarah Handley says cheerily.
Surf lifesaving boats also effectively act as modesty panels, which the boats borrowed for the day will not achieve to the same degree, so “we had to wear something more modest”.
They were worried about their modesty? Organisers’ concerns were “not for us, mainly for the Queen”, Handley laughs. She is among four Queensland state rowing champions, from the Currumbin Surf Lifesaving Club, who will row today. They put in an application following a call to oars by the Australian high commission in London. Their winning pitch? “We thought it was really important, as female rowers, to offer representation for our female monarch,” Rachel Kilmartin says.
Twenty-nine Australian lifesavers will be among those in the human-powered vessels that will lead the flotilla of 1000 boats, including a barge, the Spirit of Chartwell, that will carry the royal family.
The flotilla will include 10 herald barges that will play different music, including a floating belfry containing eight church bells, each named after a senior member of the royal family. The largest, which weighs half a ton, is Elizabeth. Church bells along the route will ring in reply.
Another barge will play Handel’s Water Music, while the royal marines will play Sailing. The final music barge will carry members of the London Philharmonic Orchestra who will play themes for landmarks as they are passed: Country Gardens for the Chelsea Physic Garden and the James Bond theme for the MI6 building at Vauxhall.
One group of boats will receive a particularly warm welcome: in the historic section will be the much-loved Dunkirk Little Ships. They are the last survivors of Operation Dynamo, Churchill’s strategy to evacuate almost 400,000 troops from the coast of France during World War II.
In a stretch of the river from London Bridge to Wapping, boats from the era of sail will be moored, including warships, tall ships, square riggers and oyster smacks. A 41-gun salute will erupt from the Tower of London and the flotilla will end with the singing of God Save the Queen.

First published in the Sun-Herald.

A little privacy, s’il vous plait, for a reluctant first lady

It’s not that she’s shy. In fact, Valerie Trierweiler is known at the magazine Paris Match, where she works as a journalist, for slapping a male colleague who made a sexist remark.
She also managed to win presidential hopeful Francois Hollande away from his partner of 30 years and the mother of his four children, Segolene Royal.
And she lashed out publicly when her own magazine featured her and Mr Hollande on its cover last month. “I am angry to see the use of photos without my agreement and without letting me know,” she posted on Twitter.
She followed up with congratulations to the magazine on having reduced her to a trophy partner “on International Women’s Day … (spare) a thought for all angry women”.
Assertiveness notwithstanding, Ms Trierweiler, 46 and a twice-divorced mother of three, will be a reluctant first lady of France if the voting in the election starting today results, as polls predict, in Mr Hollande becoming president.
She might not in any way fill the ballet slippers of glamorous Carla Bruni, the wife of current President Nicolas Sarkozy (Ms Bruni, a former supermodel, always wears flat shoes because she is 10 centimetres taller than her husband).
While she has sometimes accompanied Mr Hollande to political events, Ms Trierweiler stays in the background. She declines to be interviewed and journalists have been told they are not “campaigning as a couple”. The press does not call her Mr Hollande’s “partner” but his “companion”.
Nor is there any serious talk
of marriage, despite the
historic French preference for married presidents.
Asked during the campaign if he intended to marry her if he won, Mr Hollande said, “You do not get married just for reasons of protocol. You get married out of choice. “I stand alone as a candidate before the French people. Alone. It is not a couple standing but a personality who must convince with his ideas, his method … I will do nothing which is against my principles.”
All of which makes this relationship an interesting milestone in the evolution of French attitudes to the sex lives of politicians.
The French have long tut-tutted over what they saw as adolescent Anglo prurience in the obsession of British tabloids, for example, with the love lives of the rich and famous. Traditionally, French politicians were allowed to keep their peccadilloes off stage as long as they were managed discreetly. Paris Match revealed during his time in office that then president Francois Mitterrand had a mistress and a love child but the rest of the French media ignored the story.
The custom largely protected male indiscretions.
But there has been more publicity over Ms Trierweiler. Mr Hollande’s separation from Ms Royal was announced just after the 2007 election in which Ms Royal, also a senior Socialist, had lost her own bid to be president.
A few months later, a French website published news of his romance with Ms Trierweiler, which had begun when she interviewed him in 2005 in a meeting she later described as “a lightning strike”.
Since then, Mr Sarkozy’s flamboyant love life has grabbed the headlines. In 2008, he married Ms Bruni, 12 years his junior and with a colourful past of her own that included affairs with Mick Jagger and Eric Clapton, less than four months after divorcing his second wife.
The courtship was public, including kisses at the Great Pyramid of Giza and press conferences in which Mr Sarkozy meditated upon love and destiny, offending traditionalists who criticised it as American-style tabloidisation of French politics.
Ms Bruni, who is also a singer-songwriter, has also discomfited the French with confessional lyrics about falling in love with her husband, and about her indifference to public criticism: “Let them curse me and damn me/I don’t care.”
If anyone has broken the mould of France’s (unofficial) first lady, it is Ms Bruni.
For Ms Treiweiler, the attempts at distance from Mr Hollande’s public life have not been enough to protect her career as a political journalist from problems with conflict of interest. She had to stop attending editorial conferences at Paris Match during the campaign, saying, “They cannot deprive themselves of a subject and I cannot intervene.” She also recently gave up presenting a TV show called Portraits of Candidates for another on celebrities.
If the last Ipsos opinion poll taken before campaigning ended on Friday night is to be believed, Ms Bruni will soon be exiting the Elysee. It found Mr Sarkozy was narrowing the gap but still trailing Mr Hollande, 47.5 per cent to 52.5 per cent. The poll was taken before defeated centrist candidate François Bayrou told voters to back Mr Hollande.
Ms Bruni last year told the BBC that when she stopped being first lady, she would “just go back to touring, you know. Playing guitar and touring is what I miss the most”.
And her husband? “He’s going to work until he dies. He’s that type of man … After taking care of France in the way he did it, I think you can do absolutely any other job.”

First published in The Age.

Boris, the Tory you have when you’re not having a Tory, leads in London


IN ONE corner is a large, cheery Tory, with mussed blond hair, a wry sense of humour and a notable ability to rise above the bad odour in which his party is currently held. Boris Johnson, 47, is the bookies’ four-to-one favourite to win a second term as London’s mayor in council elections due to be held overnight.
He is expected to vanquish his main opponent, former mayor Ken Livingstone, 67, whose low popular standing is also out of synch with the otherwise rising electoral star of the British Labour Party. This is a contest in which personality has prevailed over party politics.
A YouGov poll published on Monday gave Mr Johnson a four-point lead, even though those surveyed believed Mr Livingstone had achieved more in office (39 per cent to 32 per cent) and was more in touch with the concerns of ordinary people (37 per cent to 14 per cent).
But they liked Boris more; 35 per cent wanted to go out for a drink with him (only 16 per cent for Livingstone) and they also found him more charismatic (51 per cent to 14 per cent) and honest (22 per cent versus 14 per cent).
The campaign has been heated. As a bitter brawl about his non-mayoral income dragged on (Mr Johnson earns £250,000 a year for a weekly column with the Daily Telegraph), Mr Johnson at one point called Mr Livingstone “a f—ing liar”.
At another point, he said “f—ing bollocks” to a BBC camera. This was when he was challenged by a journalist over allegations he had been in talks with James Murdoch while News International was being investigated by police. The result: an instant boost in the polls. It added to his appeal as the Eton/Oxford posh-boy who is seen as being like ordinary Britons.
People buttonhole him on the street. Drivers wind down windows and shout “Go Boris!” — although the occasional driver begs to differ, with “Tory bastard!”
Prime Minister David Cameron acknowledged that Mr Johnson is seen as the non-Tory Tory: “You don’t have to be Conservative to vote for Boris; you can dislike all the political parties but you can vote for Boris because he has a big heart and he is doing the right thing for London.”
He is also doing the right thing for Boris. Mr Johnson, who has a high public profile because of his personal charm and the visibility of some of his initiatives, is thought to have ambitions for national political leadership.
Some have even touted him as a potential Conservative prime minister, and there is speculation that he might take advantage of any byelections that present themselves — though probably not until he has presided over the London Olympics.
His election policies this time round include promises to cut council tax, put 2000 more police on the beat and help create 200,000 jobs.
Mr Livingstone, who was mayor between 2000 and 2008, has pledged to help “ordinary Londoners” struggling with the cost of living.
Polls are taking place in 180 councils across England, Scotland and Wales.

First published in The Age.