Tuesday, 27 July 2010


One of those days comes where I discover an artist that I have somehow missed, and I thus experience a revelation.

The artist is Janelle Monae, and even on paper, her inspired fusion of science fiction and old school soul would be enough to pique my attention.

‘Tightrope’ opens with her proclamation that she will “take your pain away”, and indeed she did, and does, and will undoubtedly do from herein. The lyrics and message of this track, combined with the most sublime ‘afrofuturist’ jive and funkiest horn section in Metropolis – “we call that Classy Brass!” – inject a truly wonderful feel-good factor. The accompanying video only intensifies the whole self-empowering party bliss of it all. I intend to keep tipping the tightrope, as best I can.


Her new album The ArchAndroid was promptly ordered, and I awaited the arrival of it with considerable glee in my anticipation. In the interim, I relished in various offerings on youtube, including her beautiful rendition of the classic ‘Smile’.

Following on from her first solo ep, entitled Metropolis: The Chase Suite, she now brings us The ArchAndroid, which comprises of Suites II and III in her concept album quartet, all placed in the year 2719 in the megacity Metropolis.

This is the setting for Monae's alter ego, Cindi Mayweather, an android with “a rock-star proficiency package and a working soul” , who goes on the run after illegally falling in love with a human; and elevated to messiah status by her fellow kind.

“Accessibility is clearly a concern and Monae achieves it by firmly straddling her sci-fi evangelism with a supernova like display of talent and a giddy round of genre hopping.”

Charles Ubaghs, www.thequietus.com

Music artists can often bring us excitingly fresh creations when they draw passionately from the past, and here lies no exception. It is familiar and new in equal measure, like being wrapped up in your favourite blanket whilst doing high kicks on an underwater rollercoaster, in that it is a warming delight and hypnotic dream.

In a recent interview she said: “I'm busy on focusing on what I need to be doing; creating transformative music because I think that we're dying to be transformed. We're dying to hear an album that evokes emotions that we have not been in touch with for a long time, and that's why the ArchAndroid is an emotion picture. It promotes the individual and if you allow it to transform you, it will.”

Aiming to transcend, to become all that I am and more than I am is something I strive for, and I thank Janelle Monae for now becoming another arsenal in my army towards an ambitious further-accomplished self. Nietzsche once put it that “Without music life would be a mistake.” Well this enthralling creation of rhythm and poetry in the air ensures life is anything but.

I know for sure that what we dwell on is who we become.

Become the change you want to see - those are words I live by.

Oprah Winfrey

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

A Nightingale sang in Bloomsbury Square.

I didn’t know what to expect, or rather, didn’t have any expectations. Like many, I was now familiar with his sublimely slick old-school electro-soul smash. Familiar to the extent that I was often caught singing along to “’cause if you’re not really here, then I don’t want to be either. I want to be next to you… (all together now) Black and Gold, Black and Gold.” Instantly addictive, dark as it is shiny with it’s question on what is probably the biggest one of them all. Disco, but deep.

But other than this, I knew nothing of Sam Sparro’s music, and I accepted the possibility that the next hour or so might drag a little. It didn’t. Though I can’t comment on the albums prowress (I will, I promise), as a live act, as music to elevate you to move, to dance, Sparro is an accomplished songbird.

Growing up, Sam sang in church, and this clearly shows in that, like the best of live performers with a similar background, he can belt out with an extensive range and power. Of course, this rule doesn’t always apply. I myself was quite a gifted chorister but pop-success has somehow eluded me. Clearly, it has worked for him. With his father being a recording artist in his own right as well as a gospel minister, at an early age he was singing along with the likes of the Grammy-award winning Howard McCrary, and it was no doubt here the legendry Chaka Khan exclaimed “Damn, that white boy can sing!” Yes, with a three octave range that can take him from baritone to falsetto in an instant, he most definitely can.

From the moment he strutted on to the stage he had me hooked, and from the intensifying roar of the crowd after his opening number of ‘Too Many Questions’, I know I wasn’t alone. Clad in a black ensemble that was pure Gil Gerard’s ‘Buck Rogers’ ready to funk on down with Pamela Hensley, and a pair of over-sized white glasses that were matched by the whole band, three fierce backing girls included, Master Sparro rocked in with ferocious sensual soul. Here was music that was both familiar and new, and I had to dance, happily wearing Ardala’s horny head-piece had it been there. Boy, do I love a good space disco!

Obviously, launching as he is with his first album, there wasn’t a great canon of work to draw from, though as Sparro himself is heavily influenced by an abundance of eighties electro-soul and post-punk funk he easily stamped his mark as no one-hit wonder. He knows how to come up with a a good melody and a killer-chorus, a man equally at home being the producer as he is the exuberant showman, both the brains and the face. It was evident that he loves performing, and as his slight nods to the likes of Prince, Cameo, George Michael and the like pulsated along, he seemed genuinely touched and exhilarated by the ever-increasing warmth of the crowd.

Following the rousing chant and foot-stomping, he returned to the stage for his encore, sealing the deal with one fantastic tribute – with the “right on time” refrain from Loleatta Holloway’s ‘Love Sensation’, more often remembered as Black Box ‘Ride on Time’, and the equally unforgettable ‘Gypsy Woman’ of Crystal Waters with that “LaDaDee LaDeDa” hook. Everyone was to leave on the best of natural highs, having just seen a true showman near the start of his stratospheric climb. There is a smouldering sexuality there that, unlike many who have come before isn’t clouded by ambiguity, and I’m meeting more and more folk who have a little crush, which is a good thing for any rising pop star. And that is exactly what he is, bona fide pop. Loud, bold, glamorous and you know a little bit naughty. Young, undeniably rather fine on the eye and, for all his abundant homage to those whom have come before, still very much his own, Sam Sparro possesses ‘IT’, and I would not be at all surprised if his star remains in continuous ascension for quite some time to come.

Sam Sparro was at the Bloomsbury Ballroom, June 25th 2008


Gay Presidents, Gay Emperors, Gay Gods.

Back on the eve of the millennium, in her customary festive speech, The Queen quoted Winston Churchill. “The further backwards you look, the further forwards you can see.”Some people believe that the past is just that, and should be left there, only moving forward. Of course, I believe in the moving forward bit, but history need not be the tedium it may have been at school. Just take a look at the British Museum recently. First we had the fascination of the Emperor of Qin’s Terracotta Army; then followed ‘Hadrian: Empire and Conflict’. Hadrian was the Roman Emperor who built the second most famous wall of the ancient world, and I’ll get to him in a moment.

First, across the Atlantic and to the United States of America.

As the 2008 race pounded along for that prime place in the White House, there was no doubt that we were in the midst of one of the most exciting periods of U.S.A. political history. Throughout America’s growth into the Empire it is today, both women and African-Americans have taken on an arduous battle to achieve equal status with their white male counterparts. Even if the final outcome had proved to be John McCain, the fact that both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama stood as prospective candidates undoubtedly proved them to be symbols of triumph over adversity.

Back on that December day in Alabama, when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus and so took a monumental step for liberty, I doubt she or anyone believed that in just half a century a billionaire called Oprah would count as arguably one of most powerful and influential woman in the world, let alone that her country would vote in a black president.

Some may argue that it really shouldn’t matter what gender, race, or orientation the president is. That surely to focus on that seems rather archaic. The only thing to truly consider, ultimately, is: who is the best candidate for the job, who is best for the country, and indeed – though we over here hold no sway on the decision – best for the world. I’d like to imagine a world where at no point we were judged because of our religion, place of origin, colour, class, wealth, physical beauty or sexual history. That none of that was viewed as an indication of the person we were, could be, what we hold within: our spirit. But that is a utopia. Though there might not be so many whippings and lynching, racism and prejudice is still very much alive, albeit in a more psychological way. So the question of a female, or even farther reaching, a black Commander-in-Chief did and does matter, because it challenges the status quo, pushes boundaries, and perhaps even leads to some enlightenment.

So, what next? A gay president? Though American society may well have progressed to the point where it can seriously consider having a black or female president, it is still utterly unthinkable that what someone does in bed should not concern them. Some four million US citizens may have rallied together under a $20 million budget to fight Obama’s election, in fear that he’d remove their right to collect guns, but you can bet with full assurance that if his partner was Michael rather than Michelle the outcry against him would have been deafening. Yes, homosexuality is growing to be more accepted, and in a recent poll 55% of Americans said they would not object to a gay Commander-in-Chief (despite the current “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy of the armed forces), though I doubt many of those in favour came from the ‘Bible Belt’. In the big hangover of religious fervour, sex is still a big issue.

Not that it has ever held others back from holding the highest office. The previous incumbent of the White House, whilst not only having past issues with alcohol and cocaine, and in many eyes across the world being thoroughly ill-placed and just plain wrong, has managed to have scant attention paid to the alleged sex scandals that took place while he was Texas governor. Both women ‘disappeared’ – one by suicide, the other, well, she simply vanished.

Clinton had no such luck, memorably impeached for his fiasco with a cigar and a stain, but has subsequently gained a statesman-like quality that has had no ill-effect on his wife’s ambition and career. Franklin D Roosevelt quietly managed a hat trick of affairs whilst in office. Then, most famously, there is J.F.K. His are almost too numerous to mention: Marilyn Monroe, Angie Dickinson, Jayne Mansfield, the stripper Blaze Starr, mobsters molls and secretaries. Naturally, at the time these conquests were kept quiet, but we now know what a serious serial adulterer he was.

Yet perhaps the one that stands remarkable above all is Thomas Jefferson, whose affair with the African-American slave Sally Hemings produced six children. One would have thought that this alone would have moved the civil rights movement way ahead, but it still had some hundred and fifty years to come into being.

However, an important fact here is that, no matter the moral frowning at such actions, all these indiscretions involved women, and though some may wish to uphold the sanctity of marriage, sex between men and women is fine because it is the Judeo-Christian way. At least a quarter of Americans are evangelical Christians. With a good many of these you could do well to translate this as “fundamentalist”. Be it political or religious, with a prevailing ferocious intolerance of diversity, fundamentalism is always a problem, because unless you’re like them, agree with them, you’re not just wrong, you’re more or less worthless. It is not a quest or a defence of truth, fails to look inward, and its negative effects carry waves of violence throughout our world. As Soren Kierkegaard once put “The mind is like a parachute, it only functions properly when it is open.”

Whilst ‘fundamentalists’ may not necessarily have issues with women (or having relations with more than one at a time), or people of a different colour, they do generally have one with gay people, to the level of insipid hatred. Of course, they are also still screwing themselves over the shock 2006 revelation of Reverend Ted Haggard, ex-leader of the 30 million-strong National Association of Evangelicals, who, it was revealed, whilst vehemently condemning same-sex union was also enjoying methamphetamine and regular trips to a male prostitute. They subsequently spent a year trying to ‘cure’ him, and failed. Scratch a fundamentalist and you’ll often find a hypocrite.

There is already much consternation going in relation to Obama holding the interests of “radical homosexual activists” in high regard. His relaxation of certain ‘traditional’ values, ‘anti-biblical’ views on truth, sex, and family – it is both disturbing and very much out there.

Having said this, there have actually been, according to many sources, a couple of ‘gay’ presidents already. James Buchanan (the 15th President) lived for many years with William Rufus King, an Alabama Senator. The two men were considered inseparable. However, life was rather more ‘sanitised’ in regards to homosexuality in the 19th century, and rather like the Cary Grant/Randolph Scott bachelor pad set-up in the 1950’s, despite some hushed mockery behind closed doors, Buchanan’s infatuation was never deemed to be at the level of scandal, and due to the destruction of their personal correspondence, can only ever now stand as speculation.

Then old Abe himself. Abraham Lincoln and Joshua Fry Speed slept together nightly for four years in a shared bed above the store where Lincoln worked as a young man. Fair enough, this may have just been out of necessity and not held any sexual component, yet a handful of other men were, it has been suggested, also intimate with him: William Greene; Army Captain David V. Derickson (who frequently shared the president’s bed when his wife Mary was absent); Ephrim Elmer Ellsworth; A. Y. Ellis, who also ended up in his bed… Of course, some scholars say that it was all innocent and above board, yet many now concede that they cannot say he was not bisexual.

The absolute truth will never be assured, but suffice to say that as much as some vehemently deny such a possibility, some, those of an evangelical persuasion, now call for Lincoln’s face to be removed from the face of Mount Rushmore, replaced with say. Ronald Reagan. A female president? Not just yet. A black president? History has been made. A gay president? That is probably quite some time away yet.

But imagine if you will, for a moment, just that. A man taking the ultimate role in office, furthering his ‘empire’ as the forerunner in the world. Fed up with the guerrilla warfare after his predecessor engaged in a pointless war, he removes his troops from Iraq, and ushers in a new era of peace. He shows interest in all the lives of the all the millions who live under his rule, genuinely and personally concerned with their well being and improving their lives. A superb leader who had long gained the love and admiration of his military. General, Diplomat, Artist, Architect, Financier, Scholar, Poet, Philosopher, Athlete, Priest, Mystic, Traveller, Lover… a world leader of legendary stature. And a homosexual.

It was not uncommon in the classical age for a man to take male lovers alongside his wife, indeed it was generally deemed acceptable and, with the Greeks, the ultimate bond. However, what made Hadrian so unique was in making his love “official” in a way that no other Head of State has done before or since. I have long thought that, in some ways, the majority of the classical world had a far healthier approach to that universal matter of love and attraction then is so in this day and age. They certainly didn’t have it right, but philosophy was in its golden age and impacted on everything. To them, the concept of “straight” or “gay” would have seemed alien, if not ridiculous, and obsessing about ethnicity equally so. Sure, Romans were snobs when it came to cultural superiority, but skin colour was irrelevant. Woman too, though undoubtedly under the heel of patrician rule, had some status – for example, it was far easier for a wife to divorce her husband than the other way round.

Hadrian toured the world with his beloved Antinous constantly at his side. Whilst visiting Egypt, the young lover, whose only great claim was being the most beautiful vision of masculine perfection, drowned in mysterious circumstances. Consumed by grief, Hadrian lost any stoical tolerance and, in a wave of shocking violence, swept into Judea, slaughtered 500,000 Jews and re-named their homeland as Palestine; a rash move still haunting the world so deeply today. He also chose to immortalise Antinous in the form of a god, the only way he felt he could truly honour his lost love. He became not only the last god of the pagan world (and one the Catholic Church did its best to eradicate the memory of), but more statues were made of him than any other figure in Rome’s history (ironically, the most breathtaking of which now stands in the Vatican), and he was worshipped in some eighty countries for over six hundred years. Most of us these days don’t believe in the idea of human divinity, so this seems rather absurd to say the least. Yet when you consider how we seem to idolize beautiful celebrities tragically taken in the prime of their youth, perhaps the idea that Antinous took his ‘place among the gods’ seems less ridiculous. But what of a gay president?

Now in his second term of office, Paris has a gay mayor, Bertrand Delanoe, who may well lead the Socialist charge to France’s next presidential election, challenging Nicolas Sarkozy who, he accuses, “treads on individual freedoms and ignores collective freedoms.” If he manages to set such a precedent, perhaps the idea of the same happening in the U.S.A may become a little more plausible, after all there are already several openly-gay leading members of Congress who could step up to the challenge.

Once again, in reference to my earlier point as to why this should matter, in some ways it does not. But that would, I say, greatly depend on whether one has struggled under and had to fight against prejudice. It was little problem for Hadrian, so perhaps it is indeed a case that “the further backwards you look, the further forwards you can see.”


Hadrian: Empire and Conflict was at the British Museum from the 24th of July through to the 26th of October 2008.

My play ‘LAST OF THE GODS’, about the relationship between Hadrian and Antinous, is available for production.



We were not approaching the ancient Mecca like those before us did, by horse, camel or foot, but surely we matched them in our wonder and awe. The fourth largest, and perhaps most culturally diverse, city in the world – a fascinating combination of ancient and modern, east and west. Byzantium, Constantinople, İstanbul: by any name as glorious. After all, this is where Jason and the Argonauts set sail from in search of the Golden Fleece!

Admittedly, on first impressions this sprawling almost ramshackle mass that seems to go on forever is, though impressive in magnitude, not particularly glorious, and the city’s heavy traffic and dust hardly appeal to the senses, but once settled in its vibrant heart you realise this is a place to be explored by foot, and it is then the charm of the place truly hits you.

Our home for the duration was in a modern serviced apartment near the striking landmark that is the 220ft Galata Tower. Built in 1348 this huge, cone-capped cylinder dominates the skyline as if straight out of a childhood fairytale. It is from here in 1638 one Hezârfen Ahmed Çelebi made aviation history by leaping off and successfully flying over two miles in hand made wings, two-hundred years ahead of the Wright Brothers. Had political and religious intolerance of his brilliance not seen him exiled, who knows what else he may have achieved.

The observation deck at Galata is spectacular, giving the opportunity of a 360 degrees of vision across the ever-stretching expanse below, and became something of a friend – serving us as a great compass in getting back home as we wandered care-free.

It stands in the heart of the historic Beyoglu quarter, located at the north side of the Golden Horn (not an enticing club of gleaming Turkish rams, but the wide inlet that divides the city with a natural harbour). Winding streets with beautiful medieval and 19th century buildings that would not look out of place in the artist districts of Paris or Genoa, with a multitude of cafes and restaurants ranging from the traditional çay bahçe (tea garden) to something straight out of Soho. It was here in the sylish mirror-bricked House-Café we would have our breakfast of perfect eggs benedict, or the more traditional fine fare of milk, honey, olives and delicious cheeses on sourdough bread. A couple of fine meals at the end of the day were had here too, and it is at night that the district takes on a richly hypnotic air, comfortably crowded and accompanied with a chorus of chit-chat and laughter. Here too is the famous İstiklal Avenue, an elegant pedestrian street (save for a single gracefully-gliding tram), approximately two miles long, which houses all manner of exquisite boutiques (Oxford Street could learn a thing or two) – ultimately leading you up to Taksim Square – the hub of modern Istanbul, though just a bit too on the burger/hotel corporation side for my liking.

Walking everywhere is, of course, the only way to discover a place. Not only do you get the lay of the land, but you’re less likely to miss anything, and here, around every corner, there was something to delight the eyes. I’m not talking pretty or awe-inspiring, just undeniably charming; the run-down little houses that looked like they’d starred at the heart of a tornado (it looks like nothing is ever demolished here, they just wait until it falls down), the quaint little stores where a living is earned by recycling one persons rubbish for another ones use. Your walk is accompanied five times a day by the call to prayer sung out from the minaret of every mosque. No-one seemed to take great heed of this, yet it continually punctuated our day with a wonderful sense of harmony. As we strolled, more and more we noticed how here many of the businesses tend to gather on the same street; at first we were amused, yet I can’t deny it makes the most logical sense; ‘Musical Instrument Street’, ‘Car Spare-Part Street’, ‘Bicycle Street’, ‘Lighting Street’, ‘Catering Equipment Street’… and ‘Mannequin Street’. Never have I seen so many mannequins, not just of people but animals too, and of every colour, including ‘him and her’ mirror-ball versions! One would hardly think such stores of any interest, but then everything here, even the multitude of street dogs and cats, is utterly enchanting Understandably it helped that, after leaving a grey and wet London in April, we were now strolling under the warming embrace of a hazy sun. Should that sun get too cloying, get yourself down to the water.

There are plenty of cruises to be taken from the Golden Horn and out to the Bosphorus, the strait that connects the Black Sea with the Sea of Marmara and forms the boundary between the European (Rumelia) and Asian (Antolia) parts of Turkey. From the Maiden’s Tower, a multitude of palaces and villas to the huge European Fortress which was constructed by Sultan Mehmed II in 1452 before he conquered Istanbul. Do it! There is so much to see, and all the history that comes with it. Be it for one hour or several you won’t be disappointed, though I wish we’d had the time to take one at night also.

We also frequently took the ferries that cross over to the Southern side, a matter of minutes that provide a welcome cooling breeze, and swift passage to the “must sees”: Topkapi Palace, residence of the former Ottoman Sultans, the 5th Century Hagia Sophia – church, mosque and now museum, and the equally stunning Blue Mosque – an early 17th Century triumph of majestic elegance with six minarets and a breathtaking marble courtyard where the ablution fountains are located, the colossal proportions are equalled inside with the 260 windows and blue tiles that give the building its unofficial name numbering in the tens of thousands.

These three treasures are all conveniently next to each other, more for the laziness of the Ottoman Rulers than the ease of the modern tourist I expect, but it does fortunately mean that with planning they can all be covered in a day, with still time to shop! Even shopping in this area is steeped in history, with the Grand and smaller Egyptian (or Spice) Bazaars which have been a centre of trade for half a millennia. Here is where you haggle, and you’ve just got to do it – expected, tradition, and fun. Play the game, shop around and you won’t be rinsed as a naive tourist. Lamps, saffron, turkish delight, or just jovial exchanges with the local traders are all an essential part of the trip. Though if you’re after something decidedly more modern, Istanbul is proud to have both “europe’s largest” and “the world’s best” shopping malls. We didn’t have time to visit these, nor the ‘Versailles of the East’ is the Dolmabahce Palace, last seat of the deposed Ottoman rulers. Indeed, though we saw much, we felt we had only begun, another week would have been ideal. Away from these dustier streets, we did manage to visit Bebek further down the coast. It took a while, the traffic is heavy here, like any city, so don’t be in a rush. Bebek, another land entirely, is one of the wealthiest districts – full of stylish promenade apartments, bars, yachts… and a crowd of folk far more LA polish than babushka, though in fairness, cultural influence on style exists all aound.

History and culture put to the side, night falls and now the party truly begins. For dining, a plethora of places catering for every taste and appetite, from the traditional to the hip and everything in between, all at a good price. With this, you have to try the Raki, a potent aniseed drink which, when diluted a milky consistency, which has led it to be known as lion’s milk, as it is claimed it gives you the power of the beast. It certainly carries a punch. “Sherefe!” (the country’s toast “to your honour”) It is generally only with alcohol (or the designer goods in up-market boutiques) that you’ll find yourself paying something closer to London prices, but then this is a Muslim country after all. After dinner, embrace the fact that one of the city’s passions is music and dance into the wee hours. Get to know people. As with any city, your best guide to the hidden twilight treasures is a local – ours was in the form of Sera, a fascinating woman who literally did seem to know everywhere and everybody, which gave us a wonderful ‘vip’ feeling in this foreign land. Many of the clubs, regardless of clientele, still seem to be totally in love with smoke, strobe and oiled-up go-go boys, and you can’t help but be charmed at how, even if the latest dj is over from the West, they still want some of their home-grown Turkish pop thrown in too, singing along with contagious effervescence.

Though obviously predominately a city of the Islamic faith, history has long established the welcoming of other religions – this is perhaps the only place in the world where a mosque, synagogue and catholic church reside together in the same small square, something much of the world could well take something from in this current climate – though it is not just in this capacity of East and West embracing that sees Istanbul as one of the most warm and interesting places I’ve ever come across. A mass of extreme contradictions – classical and modern, developed and underdeveloped, rich and poor, dirty and shiny, as much as it sounds the cliché of the enamoured traveller bewitched by the exotic, everywhere we went we found the people warm and welcoming, a smile everywhere you looked. They all seemed eager to share their culture, their history with a pride of a people who have journeyed both hardship and pleasure. I only came away with two small sorrows; that I wanted to say longer and that this is a gateway to a land I wish to discover so much more of. Both of these sorrows I can, and will, resolve with a return visit, sooner rather than later, perhaps chartering a yacht to tour the many hidden gems. Chosen as joint European City of Culture for 2010, one feels this city of a thousand ages is on the dawn of a new one. Catch it now.

MAY 2008

We stayed at The House Apart – www.thehouseapart.com

Prices starting from 80 euro per night including breakfast at ‘The House Café’ located close by.


“Some people say that maybe I’m being too idealistic. But if we don’t try, if we don’t reach high, we won’t make any progress.”

There are moments etched in time, indelible to all who bore witness. The assassination of JFK. The death of Princess Diana. 9/11. Some are much more joyful, like the release of Nelson Mandela, or the too-aptly named Bolt’s 9.69 second 100 metres in the 2008 Olympics.

January 20th 2009 was another such event, one of monumental historical significance. With a resounding response that transcended all variables – multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multi-generational – it was perhaps the finest seal on the most prolific rise in politics that has ever transpired upon the world’s stage. Barack Hussein Obama became the 44th President of the United States of America. It is important to remember the relative speedy trajectory of what has transpired in a nation’s lifetime and, to quote an unknown: “Rosa Parks sat, so that Martin Luther King could dream, so that Barack Obama could run, so that his children can fly.” The emotion intrinsically entwined in this election was extraordinary, and has fuelled hope that a nation and a world may be on the dawn of a new age.

For, along with his official role of government, many have also placed upon Obama’s shoulders the unenviable and impossible task of healing the entire world, a job beyond even a god. A visionary he may well be, but unfair to believe him a deity. Indeed, with his seemingly effortless ‘cool’, he is very much the “people’s president”, one who as Commander-in-Chief you could also imagine happily chatting away in a coffee shop to everyday folk, who breaks free of the inevitable White House bubble each night by reading 10 letters selected by his staff from the some 40,000 received daily. He was needed, a leader with the ‘common touch’. So he embarks on reshaping his country as best he can, leading it anew in to a new era, that, if it works, this will surely only serve to ripple further afield, his outlook and outreach, perhaps more than any of his predecessors, world-encompassing. Damage to America’s international reputation was considerable under Bush, and Obama is committed in making it be known that the US is ready to re-engage and restore responsibility, to break down walls of mistrust and resentment and to become a true global leader.

The man doesn’t have it easy, beginning his term as he has with much of the world in economic crisis and his own country embroiled in two wars. When he began his run for office, the latter he knew of, though none could have forseen the biggest economic downturn since the Great Depression that would have to become his priority, and it is perhaps unfair that the recovery of this is what he will be marked upon. But to have witnessed his hugely motivating and soaringly moving inaugural address, one may well believe if anyone can achieve this, achieve true greatness, Obama can (in some ways, by his very taking of office, he already has).

His power as an orator undoubtedly fired his rise in prominence, and though some have dismissed such skill. Yet rhetoric is an art, studied as a central part of Western education since ancient Greece through to the 19th Century. In this recent age, many of us neglect the wonder of word. The beauty of language is not to be underestimated – to paraphrase Rudyard Kipling, words are the most powerful magic we possess; to inspire in such a way, to bring about the passage of ideas, this can indeed bring about revolution.

Obama has just passed the 100-day marker, which is the first full examination of a President’s progress. Of course, it is too early to say much, though this is seen as a barometer and, for the most part, the reports are favourable: the sheen is not lost. To quote the 35th President, who equally mesmerized with charisma and eloquence: “All this will not be finished in the first one hundred days. Nor will it be finished in the first one thousand days; nor in the life of this Administration; nor even perhaps in our lifetime on this planet. But let us begin.”

What precedes an external revolution? An internal one. The very ethos of his approach is that we all can change, and for the better. What happens from herein we cannot know, but to be fuelled with hope, to believe that now famed chant of “Can we change? Yes we can!” has to be a good thing, doesn’t it? We have to be hopeful in our endeavours, to be bold and daring in faith that things, all things, can be better. This is a cynical age we live in, where idealist thought is often frowned upon, laughed at, derided. As some did with Obama, though he silenced those critics (for a while at least). To have hope, to inspire others, this is greatness. It is perhaps too simple to say that a revolution has begun, that we are in some new age dawn, but is it not plausible that each of us can try, that we can reach high with our head in the clouds and our feet on the ground? We must do that for ourselves, and so for those we love. Let us make the rhetoric work. For like every stone thrown into the pond and rippling out, may it reach ever further, so that we “cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself.”

Giles Addison – April 2009.

Hello world!


Welcome to ‘Giles World’. Grand salutation and fond felicitation to you, and thank you so much for popping by.

‘Giles World’ is a collection of my writing. Articles, opinions, thoughts, extracts from my plays… and anything else that may be. I hope you enjoy your time here, so much so that you choose to return.

(my previous blog was hacked - so here I am beginning again)



The moment the picture was out it whizzed around the globe appearing on news-stands and websites worldwide. This was major change, a hot talking point, sure to be discussed throughout the day. Mrs.Obama had gone and got a new hairstyle.

Now if this sounds facetious, it is certainly not meant with any disrespect to the First Lady. For a start, I happen to think she wears her new Rhianna-style bob with the style and grace that gives good face. The matter of a star changing their hairstyle has always been headline news since, well, probably since the Polish-born hairdresser Antoine de Paris created the then-revolutionary bob back in 1909. It was the same look that made Louise Brooks an icon of the 1920’s, and gave ‘POSH’ Beckham much-desired trans-Atlantic column inches. But is the wife of the President to the USA a star? Of course she is.

Michelle Obama is now set to be one of the most photographed women on the planet, so the matter of her changing hairstyles is all just part of the territory. Fashion pundits, editorial comment and every Tom, Dick and Jane will now make her sartorial elegance a topic of debate; whether she likes it or not, it goes with the territory. She is not following Jackie O’s every sartorial step, but I bet she gave her some study.

Clothes do not make the man, or indeed the woman, but the role of fashion in today’s society is not to be underestimated. And she knows it. The way that you look and dress is, rightly or wrongly, the first impression that people have of you, and personal style is a great way to express not only who you are but also what you stand for. For the First Lady of a new era in U.S/World Politics, image is an important aspect of her role, one that speaks volumes.

Right from the outset of the campaign trail, Michelle Obama used hers to send out a subtle yet powerful message that perfectly complimented that of her husband – that she is, very much, the “people’s first lady”. She buys clothes from the high-street, buys the family dog from a rescue home, mucks out in soup kitchens and is not afraid to get her hands dirty in the (first ever) White House kitchen garden. She stood in direct contrast to the brash and crass ‘pitbull in lipstick’ Sarah Palin with her $100,000 clothing bill, or the ‘how many houses do we own’ multi-millionaire wealth of Cindy McCain. Here was an intelligent down-to-earth woman you’d want as a friend, and would probably be great to go shopping with. On the night of the inauguration she didn’t choose one of the ‘great’ fashion houses, she chose an unknown designer for her gown that would dance through ten balls, and therefore made it’s creator an overnight sensation.

And it is from here that the game steps up a gear. Personal style is one thing, but upon the world stage, the power of iconography to make waves of social change is not to be underestimated. One need only look at the late Princess Diana to see that. Yes, too much energy was spent commenting on her beauty or troubled personal life, but she also pushed wide open the doors of a long-established class structure. She was rich, she was royal, but she was also seen as one of the people. She rocked centuries of pomp and tradition to the core, and she embraced with a reach envied by any world leader. Inadvertently, in some ways she was, and remains, a statement and a standing that is imperative for a leader who truly wants to be ‘World Class’.

If you think drawing comparisons between Diana and Mrs.O is a little too much, just think back to the recent G20 summit in London: ‘Hug-Gate’. Though a few arms of the old guard might have been thrown up, aghast in horror, at seeing Royal protocol being breached, for the most part people loved seeing Michelle’s arm gently placed around the waist of HM The Queen. It showed a fondness, a warm bond, and it said far more than any posed formal picture ever could. It is perhaps worth mentioning that The Queen has met more leaders in her 56-year reign than any other person alive or dead, that she must be an astute judge of character, and that she readily returned the unprecedented gesture.

At a time of economic crisis, at a time when America and indeed the world needs some hope and reassurance, here came the Obamas stepping up to the mark. They are giving us the audacity of hope, and as is said ‘we like their style’. Of course, it is the action behind the rhetoric that really matters and only time can prove, but right now, looking at the Obamas, and Michelle with her Rhianna-style bob, I’d say it is mighty good to be standing underneath that umbrella ella ella eh eh eh.

Giles Addison – May 2009


I was at work yesterday and there was an event on by Unilever, dealing with stress and stress relieving products and solutions. Apparently they had a great time.

The synchronicity came via my email inbox, in the form of one of the weekly updates from Change.org Weekly

This past week, Vaseline launched a controversial Facebook application that encouraged users to lighten the appearance of their skin. The application was targeted at users in India, who were asked to upload their profile photos and whiten their faces.

This isn't the first time Unilever -- which owns Vaseline -- has used less-than-discreet attempts to market the virtues of white skin in India. Back in 2008, the multinational began hawking a skin-whitening product called "White Beauty."

The difference now is that by using Facebook, Unilever has the potential to reach its more than 500 million users around the world, and spread its racially charged message that white is beautiful.

The skin whitening industry has taken off across India and other Asian countries, and creams are sold on shelves in black neighbourhoods in the U.S. as well. The last thing we need is a tool on Facebook to extend this disturbing trend online.

While Unilever's application is offensive, it gives Facebook the opportunity to draw a line in the sand of what sort of applications it is willing to host, and what kind of values it hopes to advance. As the largest social network in the world, the company has an unprecedented opportunity to advance tolerance and understanding. Let's make sure it serves that purpose rather than serving as a platform for prejudice…”

I’ve long known of this practice, which I find both sad and quite unfathomable. Though I have no issue being of pale skin, I can’t see in anyway why it could be viewed as more attractive than a darker skin tone. Of course, the root of this in society is deep, if not, thankfully, universal. Yes, everyone is entitled to individual choice, so Unilever could argue they are merely serving a demand; but any reinforcement of the notion that fair skin equates with beauty, success and prosperity is not only farcical nonsense, it is insidious prejudice to the extreme.

One of their official lines is:

Vaseline Men BE PREPARED What kind of look should Shahid sport? Chocolate Boy or A Lean Brawn?

I’d laugh, if this wasn’t absolutely genuine, and therefore so truly offensive.

Other posts include:

Vaseline Men BE PREPARED doesn't transform you. It unleashes what is hidden under your skin. It helps in getting rid of 5 types of dark spots and patches and gives you a naturally clear looking skin.

…Make yourself more presentable by reducing the dark patches and spots on the face. VASELINE MEN is the solution to all these worries…

…See the dark spots vanishing and your skin tone getting fairer…

Aside from the very basic premise in this misguided belief of paler equalling better, and the huge psychological wrong in that, there are the long term side effects such as skin cancer, liver damage and kidney damage to consider.

Though Unilever may argue that their product is not physically harmful, which I would doubt, it still serves to perpetuate a myth that leads to people using poorly labelled under the counter products not knowing what dangers they are letting themselves in for.

These products are not make-up. They contain Hydroquinone and Mercury, to actively alter the melanin scattered within the basal layer of the skin. Hydroquinone is a severely toxic and very powerful chemical used in photo processing and the manufacture of rubber, and Mercury (in the form of Mercury Chloride & Ammoniated Mercury) is carcinogenic, that being a substance that tends to produce cancer.

Both products perform a similar process. In the short term they will initially cause the skin to lighten by inhibiting the production of melanin. Without melanin formation in the basal layer no brown pigmentation will be visible. Mercury will slowly accumulate within the skin cells striping the skin of it’s natural pigment leaving behind the tell tale signs of gray/ blue pigmentation in the folds of the skin. In the long term the chemical will damage vital organs and lead to liver and kidney failure and mercury poisoning. This is Sixteenth Century England all over again.

For many years beauty has been associated with being fair. Though of course it can be, many of us thankfully truly see beauty in all skin colour, though clearly there are still millions of people who feel that they must pursue ‘whiteness’, at whatever psychological or physical cost.

It would be wholly ignorant of me to talk of this simply from the perspective as a White Englishman, with no referral to The Hindu Caste System.

Hinduism’s primary emphasis is on a universal family, that we are all one. That in itself is quite wonderful. However, as is so often with religions, they become mastered and moulded by those who desire power, and in the case of India, this weakness lay, and remains so, in the caste system. We must understand this, and acknowledge that there is perhaps no other nation in the world that is as openly racially (namely, colour) prejudice as India. That it seems abhorrent to me that one would be viewed as ‘unclean’ because of darker skin, this still lies fundamentally embedded in the Hindu faith, and it is nigh on impossible to argue against another’s faith. Perhaps once, in simpler times many centuries ago, the caste system served a purpose for some good, but surely this is no longer the case, and yet ‘untouchability’ still remains in many forms. Democracy, equality, freedom and individual rights should belong to all.

Banning such products will not stop them. The only way we can make a positive impact on preventing this ‘disease’ from spreading is through continuous campaigns raising awareness via the media and governments. To shout out that all colours, all creeds are equal in their beauty.

And so to Unilever – that is a good way to truly start relieving stress.

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Light Of The World - London Town



“When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.”

Samuel Johnson, September 20, 1777

Some have said that the quote above, by the man who gave us the first dictionary of the English language, is a rather pompous, boastful, stupid remark. Well let it not be read as some marker that this place is the centre of the Universe, just merely as a celebratory acknowledgement of this great city and the multitude of treasures it has to offer both visitor and resident alike. After all, though this is undoubtedly the most famous of his comments on the capital, he also said: “If you wish to have a just notion of the magnitude of this city, you must not be satisfied with seeing its great streets and squares, but must survey the innumerable little lanes and courts. It is not in the showy evolutions of buildings, but in the multiplicity of human habitations which are crowded together, that the wonderful immensity of London consists.” Like many of the world’s most interesting cities, London has been truly cosmopolitan for centuries.

Living here, following the routine of our individual daily grind, it is all too easy to forget what joys and wonders are here right on our doorstep; however, it is just as easy to remind ourselves of them all too.

I am a man for all seasons, embracing each of them for their individual beauty and magic they hold, though here I write of now: undeniably a glorious summer in this city brings it further to life in a most vibrant way and thus far, the season upon us is proving to be a golden one. Hot halcyon days stretch on into balmy nights; and, putting aside those times when one may have to endure the sweat, stench and compounded frustration of rush hour travel, or work through the hours when freer pleasures see us yearn freedom from the shackles of duties; this historic capital truly shines in these warmer months.

I need make no argument that this fair green isle of ours is known for its changeable weather, just as we the inhabitants are known for our obsession with it. Be we experiencing rainstorm or sunshine, our conversations, and our national press, make so much of it, in a way that is probably unique to our culture. Of course, by very content I am doing the same here.

I’ve never really quite understood why many will refer to grey clouds and precipitation as ‘miserable’, giving what is perfect and natural an emotion to influence our own. However, there is no denying a good dose of Vitamin D exposure is truly one of the most powerful healing therapies in the world; nothing comes close to the rejuvenating power of natural sunlight.

So, recently, stepping out into this golden embrace, some of my most favourite tunes playing upon the ipod, I wandered my new stomping ground of central East London, eagerly effervescent, on a voyage of discovery as if I was walking these familiar streets for the first time, reawakened to the splendour of St.Paul’s and abundant charm of Spitafields; Summer is upon us, and it feels GOOD.

As these rays indulge us by warming our bodies and caressing our souls so boldly, no-one would need me to tell them to embrace it fully; you know there is something in the air right now. Just gently perambulate those pavements, explore with ease, take rest in our beautiful parks – and – should you have never done it, step aboard a boat and take a journey upon the River Thames.

A deserted beach of glistening water and honey-due sand may be what we want most on such days as these, but we would be foolish to forget the inherent beauty that is the sun-kissed aqua vitae right here on our doorstep; perhaps not to swim in, or indeed drink, but to float upon nonetheless.

“Water, the Hub of Life… Water is its mater and matrix, mother and medium… Life is water dancing...”

Albert Szent-Gyorgyi

So step aboard and DANCE; a trip upon Old Father Thames brings the metropolis to you in a majestic new way; from the estuary’s awesome beginnings in Essex, passing on to Greenwich, under Tower Bridge and along all the way to Kew Gardens and the tranquil waters of Richmond. I’m not suggesting you take this entire voyage all at once, that would be a day in itself. Make instead for a relaxing way to travel to an exciting destination that is much better approached by the greatest highway we have. I myself have journeyed by catamaran, paddle steam, Oxford punt and good old rowing boat – perhaps my next will be with the billow of sails.

Friday, 25 June 2010

27 – Make A Change.


Someone said to me you’ve got to strike a balance, so here I am trying to do that. If you’re feeling more fun and frivolous right now, that’s okay, just come back later. But please do come back.

I’m asking you for a few minutes here. Not as many as 27 minutes, probably less then half of that. I ask you to put aside whatever you are doing and to take just a little time to read this. It is something important to me. I hope that you find it important to you too.

As a child growing up near Hull, the birthplace of William Wilberforce, I was at an early age made aware of the horrors inflicted upon millions during the years of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. In 1807 Wilberforce finally won his crusade to end Britain’s role in this barbaric trade, and in 2007 events took place to commemorate the abolition of slavery here in the UK. Change takes time, but this eventually led to the International Slavery Convention of 1927, outlawing slavery throughout the world. What happened is a shameful time in history, where millions suffered unimaginable torment. But what I put here does not concern that. Though detestable, this history is the past, it cannot be altered.

It is now 2009. Though not laden onto sailing ships in chains and sold in open markets like cattle, the trafficking still goes on. Indeed, today the problem is worse than ever.

Throughout the world, at this very moment as you are now reading this, there are 27 million slaves existing in a living hell throughout the world.

You read that correctly. Today. Now. Twenty-seven million.


That is more than twice the number of slaves seized from Africa in the entire four centuries of the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

I’m not talking of those in poverty, the estimated 2 billion people who live on the equivalent of less than £2 a day.

“The curse of poverty has no justification in our age. It is socially as cruel and blind as the practice of cannibalism at the dawn of civilization, when men ate each other because they had not yet learned to take food from the soil or to consume the abundant animal life around them. The time has come for us to civilize ourselves by the total, direct and immediate abolition of poverty.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

That great leader of civil rights was of course correct, but in this world of million-pound bonuses and bank bail-outs I doubt we’ll be eradicating the imbalance any day soon. What I’m talking about are the 27 million people in slavery.

By slavery, I mean someone who is forced to work without any pay, under the threat, and most often treatment, of violence, unable to walk away from the suffering they endure.

To acknowledge that debt bondage, forced labour and imprisoned prostitution flourish around the globe is one disturbing fact, even harder to believe that pure chattel slavery still exits – where a person is the property of another – for life, bought and sold, traded and inherited, branded and bred. They work in factories, in fields, in homes, in mines, in brothels… everywhere. Were you yourself so inclined, you could buy a slave TODAY for as little as £5. This small sum would add to the traffickers coffers, who collectively made around £20 billion last year. Indeed, the profit is so large that slavery has now become the second-largest illegal international trade, topped only by illicit arms dealing.

If this doesn’t yet shock you or trouble you, perhaps this will. Half of these 27 million are under the age of eighteen. They are children. Robbed forever of any true childhood.

I’ll apologise now if the following disturbs you further, but it is the best way to hit home. Think of a child you know, that you love. Really think of them. Of how much you love them. Of their innocence, their freedom.

Now imagine if that child you love so dearly had to swap places with one of these:

The 5 year old camel-jockey in the United Arab Emirates, fed only bread and water to keep his weight down. Abused by his captors, his injuries or death of little consequence, for he can be easily replaced by one of the thousands of others who share his fate.

The 12 year old girl who is kept in a cage under a brothel with several others, brought out as and when a man wishes to use her, like the ten who have already and the thirty more who also will that day before she has the fleeting escape of a few hours haunted sleep.

The 10 year old boy trained to kill in the name of ‘holy war’, his spirit broken, his mind brainwashed as he is forced to beat and shoot dead his own mother and grandparents

People sometimes say to me this is a far-off problem that is not our concern. India, Thailand, Sudan, Uganda, Burma…exotic places far from our reach? We cannot use the argument that because these places are far away we can do nothing. Nor can we think of slavery as something that only happens “over there”, wherever “there” may be. It is everywhere. An estimated 5,000 child slaves exist in appalling circumstances right here in the UK.

If you are now thinking “what can I do?” – I’ll let an abolitionist, David Batstone, answer you.

“I believe in the power of individuals to change the world. Social movements take root and blossom when enough individuals take personal action. When you tell yourself that there is nothing that you can do to arrest the global slave trade, you underestimate your own potential and abandon hope for those trapped in captivity.”

Slavery affects every one of us, we are all complicit in the trade and abuse, and we must educate ourselves to ensure that each time we make a purchase we are not unwittingly fuelling the exploitation. A surprising number of retailers source their products at a cheap cost that inflicts suffering upon millions. That beautifully-embroidered top or cushion or rug may seem such a bargain, but would we see it as such with the awareness that it is stained with the suffering of a child? In fact every time we go to the high street or supermarket we are potentially fuelling this boom in human trafficking and slavery – in which the greatest victims are children.

Do you like chocolate? More than 40% of the world’s cocoa supply comes from the Ivory Coast, where thousands of young boys are forced to work on the plantations that harvest the cocoa bean. Tricked, or sold into slavery at an average cost of about fifteen pounds each, these innocent children are barely fed, beaten and whipped regularly and often punished by having their feet cut off or being forced to drink their own urine. Most do not even know what chocolate tastes like, even though they have worked to the bone to produce it. Many major chocolate manufacturers have been guilty in using this tainted cocoa, including many of our most favoured brands.

But they are not alone in their inhumanity.

So, I implore you to try, as I am, to discover what products and industries have direct or indirect links to cheap profit made from unvalued life. Those who seek power also seek profit, so the best we can do is deny them this. As global citizens we need to say ‘no’ to products made with forced labour; to do no business with those countries that engage in slavery-like practices; and to press our government to act against slaving nations.

It is the right of every person to be born in freedom and live in liberty. It is the duty of every person to fight injustice and oppression.

One day, I hope, no single being will suffer in hardship, and every mouth will feed and every head will rest in comfort, and joy and peace will dominate our world. That is a dream far beyond our lifetime. However, we CAN and we MUST take the steps closer to this ideal, by ensuring that humanity once and for all brings an end to slavery, and that it truly becomes something of the past.

There is no doubt that this most illicit trade of human life cannot be stopped without a mass movement. That means that each and every-one of us has to make a stand say ‘NO’ to the sale and slavery of children, women and men, and see complete abolition become a reality.

I’m an abolitionist – are you?

Thank you. You gave me less then 27 minutes. Hopefully we can work together to make 27 million slaves our past, instead of a terrible fact in the present.


(first published July 2009)