Thursday, June 19, 2014

Happy 50th Boris! From gaffes to girls and grasping ambition, here are 50 of your most outrageous (and hilarious) moments...

Boris Johnson turned 50 yesterday. Here are 50 things about BoJo - some of which even the London mayor with a rhinoceros-hide might find embarrassing...

Boris is a grand-master at turning a humiliating confession into a joke. Famously, he said: ‘I think I was given cocaine once but I sneezed so it didn't go up my nose. In fact, it may have been icing sugar.'

His ability to wriggle out of trouble has led colleagues to nickname him ‘the greased albino piglet'. But he is always making grovelling apologies.

For example, he said of the Tory Party that it had ‘become used to Papua New Guinea-style orgies of cannibalism and chief-killing'.

An apology was swiftly due. ‘I mean no insult to the people of Papua New Guinea who I'm sure lead lives of blameless bourgeois domesticity in common with the rest of us. Add Papua New Guinea to my global itinerary of apologies.'

Centre of attention: Mayor of London Boris Johnson meets the Cheeky Girls

When studying at Oxford, he was accused of copying a Greek translation from a textbook. He admitted to his tutor: ‘I'm terribly, terribly sorry. I've been so busy I didn't have time to put in the mistakes.'

Boris was once asked by his Oxford contemporary, convicted fraudster Darius Guppy, for the contact details of a reporter he wanted beaten up. Boris asked: ‘How badly are you going to hurt this guy? . . . OK, I've said I'll do it, I'll do it.'

He was fired from The Times newspaper's graduate training scheme for making up a quotation.

In 2004, the then Tory leader Michael Howard ordered Boris (Tory MP for Henley) to make a penitential visit to Liverpool after an editorial was published in the Spectator (which he edited) that insulted Liverpudlians several times over. Boris called the trip ‘Operation Scouse Grovel'.

He once described a St Patrick's Day gala dinner as ‘Lefty cr*p'.

Portsmouth, he said, is ‘one of the most depressed towns in southern England, a place that is arguably too full of drugs, obesity, under-achievement and Labour MPs.'

High flyer: Mayor of London Boris Johnson on a zip wire at Victoria Park, east London

When Labour's Alan Johnson stood down as Shadow Chancellor in 2011, Boris said he was upset — ‘not just because he is a nice guy but also for the satisfaction I used to get when I saw a headline saying “Johnson in new gaffe” and realised it wasn't me.'

He has a well-earned reputation for unreliability. His Editor at the Daily Telegraph, Charles Moore, said Boris was like actor David Niven's description of Errol Flynn. ‘You knew where you were with Errol Flynn. He always let you down.'

Boris tried to pay his biographer, Andrew Gimson, not to write his biography when he realised salacious details of his private life would be included.

He has been married twice. His first wife, Allegra Mostyn-Owen, is the goddaughter of Harold Acton, the aesthete who inspired the camp character Anthony Blanche in Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited.

Boris was accused of having an affair with journalist Petronella Wyatt

In 1997, he said of the EU: ‘Look, I'm rather pro-European, actually. I certainly want a European community where one can go off and scoff croissants, drink delicious coffee, learn foreign languages and generally make love to foreign women.'

When the Olympic torch arrived at the Tower of London in 2012, he said, ‘As Henry VIII discovered, with at least two of his wives, this is the perfect place to bring an old flame.'

Boris was taught to disco-dance by blonde TV presenter Ulrika Jonsson, whom he described as: ‘A bit like a nymph descending from Parnassus or Olympus.'

Boris loathes Nick Clegg, who, he says, is in government simply ‘to fulfil a very important ceremonial function as David Cameron's kind of lapdog-cum-prophylactic protection device'. In other words, a condom.

Boris is two years older than David Cameron. At Eton, he was Captain of the School and elected to the elite group Pop. Cameron, achieved neither distinction, which gives Boris a sense of continuing superiority.

Boris and Jeremy Paxman are great friends. Yet he once attacked Paxo on TV for his ‘elephantine' salary, taunting: ‘Why don't you get yourself a proper job instead of just sitting around telling politicians what to do?' Paxo riposted: ‘The usual convention, Boris, is that I ask the questions.'

Boris is a fan of the claret-swilling late Labour grandee and lothario, Roy Jenkins. ‘It's amazing,' Boris has said. ‘He just wants everything — the fame, the power, the girls, the good life.' Characteristics that Boris clearly envied.

Boris has a fine bass voice, and is particularly keen on singing Ole Man River. But he failed Grade 1 piano.

As a teenager, he was a big fan of the Rolling Stone Keith Richards. He says: ‘It was Keith I aimed to emulate at the age of 16 when I bought a pair of tight purple cords and tried with fat and fumbling fingers to plink out Satisfaction on a borrowed guitar; and my abysmal failure to become a rock star only deepened my hero worship.'

He can also paint well — a talent inherited from his mother, the artist Charlotte Wahl, whose canvasses sell for thousands.

His favourite film is the Ben Stiller movie Dodgeball, about a group of underdogs who enter a dodgeball tournament where the cash prize could save their local gym from closing. He also identifies with the cartoon character the Incredible Hulk — ‘The madder Hulk gets, the stronger Hulk gets.'

Unlike David Cameron, he is cheerfully open about his membership of the Bullingdon Club, the Oxford University toffs' drinking club. When he meets old members, he proudly cries: ‘Buller, Buller, Buller!'

Reminiscing about the Bullingdon, he says: ‘This is a truly shameful vignette of almost superhuman undergraduate arrogance, toffishness and twittishness. But at the time you felt it was wonderful to be going round swanking it up. Or was it? Actually I remember the dinners being incredibly drunken.'

He plays tennis regularly. ‘I love it with a passion,' he says. He challenged Boris Becker to a game but the former Wimbledon champ never replied. ‘I bet I could make him run around,' boasted Bo-Jo. On a trade visit to India, local schoolchildren thought he was Boris Becker.

A keen table-tennis player, too — he calls it ‘whiff-whaff' after what he says is its original Victorian name — he has challenged Pippa Middleton to a match, also to no avail.

His other sport is cycling but his trusty bike (which he called ‘Old Bikey') was written off after he rode into a pothole and crashed earlier this year. Telling of his grief, Boris said: ‘Think of Alexander [The Great] grieving for his favourite mount Bucephalus, or Wellington mourning the death of the great Copenhagen.'

As a child, his ambition was to be ‘world king', though he later refined it to ‘becoming a billionaire proprietor of a multiple retail empire and the Jimmy Goldsmith of my generation. Something went wrong'.

He lost his first bid to become President of the Oxford Union, the university debating society. He won the second time. Boris got a 2.1 at Oxford. David Cameron unforgivably bettered him with a First.

Boris is a descendant of George II — making him a cousin of the PM, who's a descendant of William IV.

He and his family live in Islington, North London, in a £3.3 million  house (which he bought in 2005 for £1.9 million) across the road from disgraced actor Angus Deayton.

Boris burst into tears on the streets of Brussels in 1990 (where he was working) when he heard Margaret Thatcher had been kicked out of 10 Downing Street.

Boris admits his ambition can be ‘overwhelming'. In 2004, he said of combining his roles as MP for Henley and Editor of the Spectator: ‘The horses are starting to get further and further apart, and the straddling operation is becoming increasingly stressful on the crotch region.' He added: ‘All politicians, in the end, are like crazed wasps in a jam jar, each individually convinced that they are going to make it.'

He failed to win the Parliamentary seat for Clywd South in 1997. As he put it: ‘I fought Clwyd South — and Clwyd South fought back.'

He once urged men to vote Conservative, saying: ‘Your car will go faster, your girlfriend will have a bigger bra size.'

After the fall of Baghdad, where he was working as a journalist, he pocketed  the cigar case belonging to Tariq Aziz, Saddam Hussein's right-hand man. Five years later, Scotland Yard asked Boris to hand it over under the Iraq (UN Sanctions) Order.

Despite the bumbling and lazy image, he can put in the effort — particularly when money is an incentive. On Wednesday evenings in the early-2000s, he'd write an editorial for the Spectator, attend Prime Minister's Questions, compile a car column for GQ magazine and deliver his Daily Telegraph column for which he'd earn £250,000 a year — a sum Boris has said is ‘chickenfeed', a comment that upset millions of people struggling to make ends meet.

He has consistently denied that he wants to be Prime Minister. ‘How could anyone elect a prat who gets stuck in a zipwire?' he said, referring to his accident during the 2012 London Olympics.

Finally, he's rated his chances of becoming PM as ‘slightly better than those of being decapitated by a frisbee, blinded by a champagne cork, locked in a disused fridge or reincarnated as an olive'.

Monday, June 2, 2014

The pioneering surgeon who healed men scarred by war, a new monument created in his honour – and the remarkable twist of fate that links them

Like many small girls, Adonia Montfort Bebb, née McIndoe, idolised her father. But unlike most, she found that time did not dull the lustre of that image. On the contrary. When, as a young woman in the Fifties, she surveyed his achievements, she turned to him and said: “You’re going to be immortal.”

Alas, it was not to be. Sir Archibald McIndoe, a pioneering plastic surgeon who treated desperately disfigured servicemen during the Second World War, died on April 11 1960, aged just 59. On June 9 this year, however, his achievements will be set forever in stone and bronze, when a monument to him is unveiled by the Princess Royal in East Grinstead, home to the hospital where he worked. And by an extraordinary twist of fate, the story behind the statue is every bit as remarkable as the courage and commitment he and his patients displayed 70 years ago.

Most of those patients were airmen, caught in the inferno of a crashed bomber, or trapped in the cockpits of their Spitfires and Hurricanes as bullet-riddled fuel tanks erupted in flames around them. Such were McIndoe’s efforts on their behalf that his premature death was, even 15 years after the war ended, still the stuff of front pages. As the Evening News recounted in the headline of its tribute, “He Gave New Faces To Battle of Britain Fliers”.

But he did more than that. According to Jack Perry, one of McIndoe’s last surviving patients, who suffered 80 per cent burns in 1944 when his Halifax bomber caught fire just after take off, McIndoe gave those for whom he cared a new sense of purpose in life, a new reason to live.

“I owe him 100 per cent,” said Mr Perry. “He was just an absolutely wonderful man. He put you at your ease immediately. He said: 'You’re going to be OK. We’re going to fix you up.’”

In the end McIndoe and his team in West Sussex “fixed up” 649 servicemen – men who underwent such innovative treatment that they rakishly dubbed themselves The Guinea Pig Club.

Their disfigurement meant the possibility of being shunned by sweethearts and friends, their lives blighted. So McIndoe not only treated them, he also stood up for them. “He had enormous battles with the authorities,” says Montfort Bebb, now 86. “He said, 'You treat my boys properly.’ He even had a keg of beer for them in the ward. He had to give them the odd dressing-down, they were young men – they did misbehave – but they loved him.”

Such devotion suggests that few men more richly deserve being immortalised in bronze than Sir Archibald McIndoe. But by the time, two years ago, that Jacquie Pinney, chief executive of the medical research charity Blond McIndoe, began a campaign to erect a statue to McIndoe, his name and reputation had faded from the public eye.

The charity was founded in 1961 by the industrialist Neville Blond, who lived near East Grinstead and saw McIndoe’s work there first-hand. He admired how McIndoe had taken existing, primitive, plastic-surgery techniques and pioneered new methods that transformed not only the lives of his patients, but also the whole field of reconstructive surgery.

But despite McIndoe’s achievements, there were no statues or monuments to his honour, even in his native New Zealand. “There was nothing,” says Pinney. “I felt it was long overdue.”

Hence when she called Martin Jennings, the acclaimed sculptor of the much-loved John Betjeman statue in St Pancras station, she was worried that he would not know who McIndoe was: “I assumed he would think, 'Who are these weird people calling from East Grinstead?’”

When she got through to him, he went quiet on the line, apparently confirming her worst fears. She need not have worried. “It was amazing,” says Jennings now. “She imagined that I would never have heard of McIndoe. But in fact I knew all about him.”

Over the course of the ensuing conversation, Martin Jennings related how his father, Michael, had been a tank commander in the war. On the afternoon of October 17 1944, with the Allies bearing down on the Maas canal, he was leading a troop of four tanks from the 15/19 King’s Royal Hussars on a push through heavily fortified German positions east of Eindhoven, in the Netherlands.

Suddenly his Cromwell tank was hit by a shell. The driver was wounded but, determined to press on, an undaunted Jennings switched to another tank and continued the advance. He was less lucky second time round. The shell that hit his commandeered tank killed its driver. As the armoured vehicle erupted into flames, Jennings himself was badly burned. He had little time to reflect on his condition.

“In his diary he recorded that the Germans were 'coming on a bit’,” says his son. “I think that’s a euphemism for large numbers of them trying to kill him.”

Under heavy machine-gun fire, he made it back to his own lines. From there he was evacuated to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, where his head and his hands were entirely bound in bandages. He was 23.

His sisters visited and fed him grapes through a mouth‑hole in the wrappings. But he also received another visitor – Archie McIndoe, who was on one of his regular tours of the country to see if there were patients that he might be able to help.

Michael Jennings was unusual for a Guinea Pig, in that he was not an airman. None the less, he was transferred to East Grinstead and, over the course of the next two years, underwent a host of skin grafts and reconstructive procedures at the hands of McIndoe and his fellow surgeon, Percy Jayes.

At the outset, Michael Jennings’s morale could hardly have been lower. His sisters found him staring into a mirror, repeating: “I’m burned to a crisp. I’m burned to a crisp.”

But, as his son notes, “McIndoe had this remarkable capacity to transfer his confidence to his patients.”

Jack Perry can remember that golden touch: “He sat on my bed and kindly spoke to me. He said: 'I see you play a lot of sport. Well, you’re going to play again. Maybe not as well, but you certainly will play.’”

That ability to lift spirits was an essential part of the McIndoe therapy. “His patients, like my father, were such young men,” says Martin Jennings. “They were hoping to get married, have children and a normal life. Suddenly they were plunged into the prospect of a life of passivity and victimhood. But McIndoe was so upbeat. His ethos was that these terrible injuries did not mean that their lives were over.”

Michael Jennings was one of those who, with McIndoe’s help, refused to accept that his life was over. In 1952, he got married, and he and his wife had 11 children.

Today, Martin Jennings describes his family connection and the call from Jacquie Pinney as “an astonishing coincidence”. She had found in the sculptor a man who had long nursed the idea of creating a monument to the man who had cared for his father and overseen “significant improvement to the lower half of his face – to his nose, mouth, lips”.

Indeed it is a hardly a stretch to suggest that without McIndoe, Michael Jennings might never have married, and his sculptor son might never have been born.

It has taken two years since that 2012 phone call for the project to come to fruition. On one research trip to East Grinstead, Jennings asked for records from the war. There he turned up a file featuring a familiar face. For 10 years after he was burned, Michael Jennings refused to be photographed. But there, in the hospital files, were images from that lost decade that McIndoe had taken to plan and perform his operations.

“That was very moving,” says Jennings. “I was looking at pictures of my father, and he was the same age in the pictures as my own sons were in real life. I found myself feeling a sense of paternal protectiveness to my own father. That was very much McIndoe’s spirit. He was a father to these men. This is a story of fathers and sons.”

With that same protective spirit, McIndoe would send the men under his care into East Grinstead, to stroll the town, drink in the pubs, attend parties – just like other young men. And the people of East Grinstead, to their immense credit, learned to welcome these disfigured men in uniform. Now it is known as “the town that did not stare”.

Jennings’s McIndoe memorial is, as a result, an arrangement of two slightly larger than life-size figures. Seated is a airman, his burned hands clawed together, his scarred face turned to one side. Standing behind him, resting a reassuring hand on each shoulder, is the figure of McIndoe.

They are framed by a stone bench. “When the local people sit on that long curved seat, they complete the monument,” says Jennings. “This is a tribute to Archie McIndoe and the Guinea Pigs, but it is also a tribute to the people of East Grinstead.”

Michael Jennings, like many of the Guinea Pigs, went on to outlive by far the man who had so helped him. He died in 2002, aged 82, after a long post-war career as a teacher. He too, will live on in the memorial. Although the figure of the airman is not based on any one man, Martin Jennings modelled the burned hands on those of his father.

The result, says Montfort Bebb, would have enormously pleased her own father, Archie McIndoe. Not that he subscribed to theories of “greatness”.

“He said that greatness is just hard work – attention to detail and a lot of hard work. He probably worked himself to death. But he never mentioned his own health. He was just devoted to medicine and patching up those poor boys.”