Super Injunctions, Scandal & Celebrity

I love celebrity gossip and scandal. But recent debates over CELEBRITY SUPER INJUNCTIONS raises important questions: What is in the ‘public interest’? Do individuals give up the ‘right to privacy’ when they actively court celebrity? Is the need for privacy stronger than the right to publish?

The Duke of Wellington says 'Publish and be Damned!'

The Duke of Wellington says ‘Publish and be Damned!’

This is not a new dilemma. The cult of celebrity may feel like a modern phenomenon, but it exploded during the Regency period (1812-20), when innovations such as the steam powered press enabled the widespread distribution of daily newspapers and caricatures. The parallels between then and now are startling. Gossip became a tradable commodity as Gentlemen of the Press and satirists vied for the next big story. Almost immediately questions were raised about ‘privacy’, and the Duke of Wellington is attributed with the famous quote, ‘publish and be damned’.

Britain's first celebrity couple: bigger than Brangelina

Catherine and William were ‘bigger than Brangelina’

My bookThe Angel and The Cadexplores the blossoming of the tabloid press, together with the problems faced by those living in the public eye. It tells the true story of Catherine and William Long Wellesley, Britain’s first ever celebrity couple. They exuded glamour and wealth, and the public were intrigued by them because they were racy, trendy and exciting. They became household names constantly in the news. As a review in the Daily Mirror points out, ‘They were Regency England’s version of Brangelina, Kimye and Tomkat filling the gossip columns for more than two decades – and OMG! Their scandals would break the internet today.

Mr 'Long Pole' discovers that celebrity has its ups and downs

Mr ‘Long Pole’ discovers that celebrity has its ups and downs

Researching my book was a joy because contemporary newspaper reports were riveting, capturing all the drama and excitement of Catherine and William’s lives. The media deftly branded and packaged them for public consumption – She was ‘The Angel’ all virtue and goodness… He was labelled ‘Mr Long Pole’ due to this notorious sexploits. Their scandals were truly mind-boggling, with episodes of ‘grossest adultery’, obscene decadence, illegal abortions, slashed wrists and attempted kidnap. Nobody was surprised when their antics culminated in a landmark court case.

In 1825 William fought to protect his private life

In 1825 William fought to protect his private life

Wellesley v Beaufort opened in 1825, and the public were thrilled at the prospect of a courtroom drama with a celebrity cast. Evidence to be presented in court was highly salacious, with testimonies from people closest to the couple, including the butler, the valet and family doctor. Unsurprisingly, Mr Long Wellesley did not want details of his exploits in the public domain. With echoes of the current arguments over super-injunctions, he appealed to the Lord Chancellor Eldon demanding a private hearing. Chancery suits were often held behind closed doors and shrouded in mystery. But on this occasion Eldon ruled, ‘in cases of this anxious and delicate kind, a public hearing is preferable, because it is a guard to the conduct of the judge…as well as of public justice’.

The Lord Chancellor ruled for a public hearing to 'guard conduct'

The Lord Chancellor ruled for a public hearing to ‘guard conduct’

Eldon was right to order a public hearing to ‘guard conduct’. He recognized that celebrities are role-models that set trends and influence culture. It transpired that Wellesley v Beaufort was an important trial that set a new precedent in English Law. It also sparked nationwide debate about moral standards and raised the question – is it right to treat women this way? It set a benchmark that helped to redefine the role of men and women as Regency decadence gave way to Victorian values. This shows that the airing of private matters can often be in the public interest, and the lessons learned in 1825 continue to resonate in Britain today. You can read the full story in my bestselling book – The Angel and The Cad

Twitter vs Super-Injunctions as celebrity naming goes viral

Twitter vs Super-Injunctions as celebrity naming goes viral

However, the debate about freedom of the press has been superseded in this new era internet technology. We are no longer reliant on the Gentlemen of the Press for news stories, because social media provides a platform for just about anyone to air their views, whether it’s the truth or not. As a result the struggle for ‘privacy’ will continue to intensify, not just for celebrities, but in all walks of life.

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Regency Heartthrobs

 

1815-regency-proposal-woodcut

 

The Regency seems to be the era for dashing men! Jane Austen’s novels are stuffed full of hunks riding up on horseback to perform acts of gallantry. But then, of course, beware of Regency rakes such as Mr Wickham who are gorgeous but feckless.

My forthcoming book The Angel and the Cad is a true story featuring some of the most delectable men of the period – the Duke of Wellington, Lord Byron and Beau Brummel to name a few. These men are significant because they were hugely influential public figures that helped to shape the era as well as the way we live today.

the times2

Mass produced newspapers enabled celebrity culture

The Regency was a seminal time of innovation and ingenuity, when ideas and ideals were changing rapidly. Inventions such as the steam powered press enabled London to emerge as the first truly modern metropolis with booming consumerism, a buoyant fashion industry, mass media and celebrity culture.

So here’s the low-down on some of the earliest celebrity heartthrobs…

 

  1. William Wellesley Pole – ‘the CAD’ in my book – was considered ‘the finest young dandy’ of the Regency era. He epitomised male desirability. Even Jane Austen was intrigued by him. William was a brilliant athlete, famous for his waltzing, equestrian skills and beautifully sculpted physique. If he was around today he would probably be modelling underwear for Calvin Klein.

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  • Pros:    He’d make you laugh. He’s exciting and utterly gorgeous. He was nicknamed Mr Long Pole – I’m sure you can work out why!
  • Cons:   He’d make you cry. He’s reckless. There’d always be other women.

 

  1. Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington – the great military commander led forces that liberated Spain and Portugal and ended years of conflict in Europe. He was the epitome of a knight in shining armour – valiant, gallant and honourable.

wellington

  • Pros:    He’s so dashing in uniform (swoon). He was so mesmerising that he was always surrounded by a throng of women. One observer noted, ‘the adoration of the ladies for the Duke was given the name “la nouvelle religion”’.
  • Cons:   Too much competition! He’d hardly ever be home – too busy being heroic.

 

  1. George, Lord Byron is regarded as one of Britain’s greatest poets. His work remains widely read and influential, including his romantic short lyric:

She walks in beauty, like the night of cloudless climes and starry skies

 Lord Byron

  • Pros:    The poet was brilliant, handsome and passionate.
  • Cons:   He was ‘Mad, Bad and Dangerous to know’.

 

  1. George, ‘Beau’ Brummel revolutionized the British fashion industry with his sharply cut Savile Row suits. He created the definitive style of the English gentleman – the tailored suit – which remains popular today worldwide. A statue of him now stands in Jermyn Street, in the heart of London’s most select menswear boutiques.

 Beau_Brummell_Statue_Jermyn_Street

  • Pros:    His acid wit and sharp observations were legendry. He was a trendsetter, much admired and copied. He transformed male grooming by persuading men that they should wash every day (hurrah).
  • Cons:   Too critical and high maintenance. He’d be too busy preening to pay you any attention.

 

  1. The Prince Regent (later George IV) – he presided over society, influencing British style, taste and culture. He helped to establish the National Gallery and Kings College London and was instrumental in shaping the landscape of modern London. His favourite architect John Nash designed and laid out public spaces and ceremonial thoroughfares: Pall Mall, Piccadilly Circus, Regent’s Street and Regent’s Park.

 prinny1

  • Pros:    Thomas Lawrence’s official portrait implies that he was rather debonair.
  • Cons:   The reality was rather different (see below) – a bit like turning up for a date and finding the guy is nothing like his profile picture!

prinny2

 

  1. Fitzwilliam Darcy – Okay, maybe this is stretching it slightly! But William Wellesley Pole was hot news when Jane Austen was writing Pride and Prejudice – it is possible that the fictional Mr Darcy is based on the image of William that was built up in the press.

 darcy

  • Pros:    This picture says it all
  • Cons:   Occasionally he’s haughty and proud (but it’s a small price to pay).

 

In conclusion 

Mr Darcy is probably the most compelling romantic hero of all time, and he continues to epitomise male desirability. However, I hope that the real life characters in my book will show why the Regency really was the golden age of dashing men.

The countdown has started – it is now just three months to publication of The Angel and the Cad. I’m very proud that the launch date coincides with the bi-centennial of Waterloo – 18 June 2015. Various talks and books signings are being arranged. I will post a schedule of events in the coming weeks.

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