Newtown, Barroso and You English?
A Sideways Look at 2012

Awkward heroes scoop the plaudits


Will 2012 go down as the Year of People’s Heroes? In recent weeks a filmmaker from Bury, a householder from Menie and a cyclist from Kilburn have all been crowned public champions for exercising principle, demonstrating personality and resisting the blandishments of the Establishment. Never mind the Three Wise Men. In the midst of austerity and depression Three Thrawn Men have given us all fresh hope.

Danny Boyle started the curved ball rolling this summer with a stunning Olympic opening ceremony that demonstrated stiff upper lips, deference, jingoism, pomp and empty ritual need never again misrepresent Britain.

The director of Slumdog Millionaire delivered an inclusive, eccentric and optimistic tribute to 2012’s Olympic host nation – and then of course, the athletes delivered.

Against all odds and despite its sponsor-captured origins, the enduring images of the London Olympics were positive and inspiring. Infectious sporting brilliance and bold, radical thinking unexpectedly won the day.

But the bigger they come, the harder they fall. It wasn’t hard to see the predictable path that lay ahead. Danny Boyle would accept the knighthood inevitably dangled before him in the New Year Honours List. He’d explain “it’s not for me but recognition of a brilliant team effort” and those who marvelled at his people’s opening ceremony would struggle not to feel they’d witnessed a cynical, opportunistic sham.

It didn’t happen. Unbelievably, quite unbelievably, Danny Boyle turned down the offer of a knighthood, saying: “I’m very proud to be an equal citizen and I think that’s what the opening ceremony was actually about.”

Nor did Boyle’s inspired pairing of Daniel Craig and the Queen turn out to be a pitch for directing the next Bond movie. “Don’t trust me with huge amounts of money,” he said last week, “I’m much better with a small amount of money, trying to make it go a long way.”

Hooray. At long last, a master of popular culture whose actions remain consistent with his principles – a man brave enough to defy the forces of bland convention and wise enough to keep them at arms-length. Last week though Danny Boyle’s reward did arrive – the Olympics opening ceremony was voted the second most inspiring TV moment of all time, just behind Neil Armstrong’s 1969 moonwalk.

Days later the Awkward Squad triumphed again when Bradley Wiggins lifted the Sports Personality of the Year Award. From the minute he strode on stage looking like a cross between former Who drummer Keith Moon and a young Paul Weller, Britain’s champion cyclist had the trophy in the bag.

Of course, his unequalled Tour de France and Olympic cycling double act made him a worthy winner – but 2012 was a year of sporting greatness never likely to be equalled in our lifetimes.

What made Wiggo a greater sporting hero than Sir Chris Hoy, Jessica Ennis, Andy Murray or the man many others tipped to win – Mo Farah? To suggest it was the sideburns seems to belittle Wiggins’ achievement. And yet it was the sideburns. And the Mod gear. And the refusal to condemn cyclists for not wearing helmets. And the prized possessions – nine guitars, one silver Vespa scooter, and Mohammed Ali’s glove. And even the finger he showed intrusive photographers after leaving hospital last month with a broken rib.

Bradley Wiggins is personality personified – but not a boorish, rampant, unprincipled ego. Take the moment he slowed the leading pack in the Tour de France to let riders affected by tacks on the road catch up again – “It was the honourable thing to do. Nobody should ever profit by somebody’s misfortune.” Or the moment he won gold in the Olympic time trials at Hampton Court Palace and promptly left the venue: “I realised you had to be someone special to have a ticket to be in the palace. The real fans were all outside, so I went out there. That’s what it’s about for me.” Or his post-SPOTY awards guitar-work captured on YouTube when he accompanied a singing security guard who’d been plucked from the crowd.

Or the moment his son brought him back down to earth after winning the world’s most prestigious cycling tournament with the words: “Dad, I need a poo.”

Or the admiration for his wife’s academic ambitions. “She’s very bright is my missus. It’s her turn next. I respect her a lot.” Despite all the hollow promises made to supportive wives in the past, I’m daring to believe this one.

Wiggo has single-handedly put the Personality back into the Sports Personality of the Year Award and reminded us – because we had forgotten – that individual, quirky people will always trump the mute carriers of brands, messages and products.

And of course in Scotland, an unknown Aberdonian beat Billy Connolly, Andy Murray and Sir Chris Hoy to win Top Scot prize at the Glenfiddich Spirit of Scotland awards in November.

Most Scots won’t recognise Michael Forbes by name – they will know him as the man who has dared to stay in his “slum and pigsty” right in the middle of Donald Trump’s golf course at Menie.

The property tycoon’s blustering, bullying performance before a Holyrood Committee revealed a man used to buying his own way. And yet in Michael Forbes the Donald has found an ordinary but supremely stubborn opponent and prompted a million (more) jokes at his own expense with ludicrous calls for a boycott of Glenfiddich.

The man from Menie may lack the charisma of Wiggo and the creative talent of Danny Boyle – but he shares one key attribute with all the People’s Heroes of 2012. He is unbiddable.

In a year when cronyism and greed have flourished – again – what else can the public do to register contempt for a rudderless establishment other than vote in our millions for the unlikely People’s Heroes?

In modern Britain where dog eats dog, BBC executives get “golden goodbyes” and “electric ringfences” are needed to keep punters’ hard-earned cash safe from the next generation of sticky-fingered bankers, it’s easy to be cynical about the motivations of all those who reach the top.

It’s not so easy to believe celebrities might reject a knighthood, snub a millionaire or help a rival just to keep faith with deeply held convictions about fairness and equality.

Mark the calendar – because this year, it happened. To read more - and comment.


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