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Ben Schott: I’m Tony Blair’s brother (according to Google)

I was there at the very beginning, when Olivia Colman starred opposite her husband-to-be in a 1995 Cambridge production of Alan Ayckbourn’s Table Manners

January 9, 2020

11:12 AM

9 January 2020

11:12 AM

The globe (Golden and otherwise) has rightly fallen h-o-h for Olivia Colman who, before The Crown, The Favourite and Peep Show, had an early role as Bev in the ‘Bev-Kev’ ads for AA insurance. But I was there at the very beginning, when she starred opposite her husband-to-be in a 1995 Cambridge production of Alan Ayckbourn’s Table Manners, directed by the incomparable Kate Pakenham. I was in charge of the sound and lights, which weren’t very elaborate, given the 80-seat Corpus Playroom could be lit with a 100-watt bulb. But I did have one minor creative triumph. Act one, scene one opens in an empty dining-room in late afternoon, and I persuaded Kate that as the lights faded up, so should Radio 4 — allowing Olivia to switch off the radio as she entered. And so each night I recorded the opening fragments of the PM show, and watched the audience grin as they recognized that day’s headlines. This tiny humble-brag serves merely to cheer on Olivia, and request the BBC reinstates PM’s fabulous jingle.

Bloomberg has finally entered the race after [selflessly avoiding splitting the vote] / [bottling the opportunity of a lifetime] in 2016. Forbes guesstimates Mike’s fortune at $52.4 billion — which would place him at no. 19 on the Bloomberg Billionaire Index, were he not too coy to list himself. And this raises an interesting question: if you’ve a fortune equal to the GDP of Serbia, why run? Admirably, Mike wants to end America’s gun epidemic. As president this would be almost impossible, but as a billionaire he could simply buy up every gun manufacturer, and halt consumer sales. The US firearms industry is worth around $8 billion — but even if this figure were tripled, Mike would have enough cash left over to buy Twitter and kick off the Nazis. And, it would be deliciously MAGA if the Second Amendment wasn’t repealed, but made redundant via a hostile takeover.


I recently dined with a chap who didn’t ‘believe’ in medicine. Illness, he said, is cured by soil, doctors kill millions a year, and cancer is caused by…the polio vaccine. ‘I haven’t seen a doctor in 10 years,’ he boasted. Had he been ill in the past 10 years? Reader, he hadn’t. Such magical thinking has two interlocking causes. The first is a lack of imagination, which allows personal experience to be extrapolated into iron-clad generalities. Denying a phenomenon because you’ve never encountered it is like covering your eyes so the monsters can’t see you. The second is a failure of memory. Surely it’s because measles, mumps and rubella became so rare that people felt confident in rejecting MMR. Can you imagine such blithe self-denial with ebola? Two of the most consequential phrases of recent times are Take Back Control, and Make America Great Again. Both conjure a fairytale age when belief was truth, and rejecting expertise seemed like clever dinner-party chat. Which brings me back to my friend, who had (it transpired) just taken two aspirin for back pain. ‘Doesn’t that count as medicine?’ I asked. ‘Absolutely not!’ said Dr No.

It turns out I’m Tony Blair’s brother. Google ‘Tony Blair’s brother’ and up I pop. Google ‘Ben Schott’s brother’ and up pops Tone. Try it, before they fix the algo. It’s hard to tell if this is a Wikipedia hoax gone rogue, or a rip in the space-time continuum. Bing and Duck Duck Go give no such results, but Google is adamant, and Google, to many, is God. Naturally this was something of a crumpet-dropper to me — and to my parents, who are sticklers for the rules-based international order. What’s ironic is that my actual brother, Jon, is a professor of neurology with a speciality in dementia. One of the questions he sometimes asks patients is: ‘Can you name the current prime minister?’ Let’s hope they don’t google the answer.

This diary was scheduled to run in the UK Christmas edition, but at the last minute I got bumped by Boris. We ink-slingers are used to such indignities — but for those who doubt the PM’s dedication, it’s nice to know he’s committed to shafting each of us individually, one by one.


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