Being a proud Englishman is not such an easy card to play these days. Fraught with dangers for its connotations and connections to lots of unpleasant isms; nationalism, colonialism, imperialism…
England are currently the world champion cricketers and last weekend, we had the chance to reign over the Rugby Union world also and this would have been a remarkable feat, albeit both sports being little known outside our colonial past, so not such a big deal really and a dubious thing to even celebrate?
Of course we lost very badly to South Africa – as I predicted would happen in my last blog post but only to continue my form of always being wrong. What a time for such a vein of form to end.
And how the rugby world would have cheered on the Springboks in the final. Anyone but England seems to be the code and even so for the people of the United Kingdom; the Welsh and the Scots and the Irish too, all of which rankles with some of my countrymen but not me. I tend to be a little more sanguine and view this in less unsavoury terms; friendly rivalry perhaps and even as a compliment since such antithesis is very probably borne out of jealousy. And why not? Certainly, England is a country that is easy to be envious of. A tiny country over-endowed with prosperity and advantage: the world city of London. Our judiciary and Parliament (albeit, not so great of late depending on which box was ticked in 2016). Dickens. Shakespeare. Turner. Constable. The Cotswolds. Aston Martin. The Lake District. Wordsworth. James Bond. Football. Tennis. The English language. Oxford and Cambridge. York Minster. The Beatles…
I could go on and on and even more extensively if I happened to mention that I am equally a very proud Brit.
But keeping with England for this short post and specifically my home city of London. Last week, people of instagram might have seen that I played a dinner at the world famous Savoy Hotel – straddling the river Thames and the Strand, it remains a world hotel and a playground for the rich and famous.
Anyone who is anyone has a relationship with The Savoy. In my green room last week, portraits of Bing Crosby, Marilyn Monroe and Marlene Dietrich in the very same room as me.
Downstairs in the bar area adjacent to the ballroom and where I was waiting to go on stage, the list of portraits in-situ was endless and if anything, a little distracting. Monroe again. Laurence Olivier. The Beatles. The Stones. Frank Sinatra. Aretha Franklin. Louis Armstrong…
And then a photo that stopped me in my tracks. An old man with white hair giving a speech at The Savoy who I did not recognise and I needed the help of the accompanying caption.
Charles Chaplin no less. The Charlie Chaplin.
His daughter, Geraldine Chaplin had a small but significant part in The Impossible and I recall at the time being remarkably proud that my son was sharing celluloid with a Chaplin.
Charlie Chaplin was one of the original comedians and a world icon of show business. A star in the true sense of the word. A career which spanned 75 years in which his status was unassailable. Not bad for a boy born in to poverty in South London.
And as an old man – with all his accomplishments, he visited The Savoy to give a speech. Accepting an award most likely or promoting his memoirs and no doubt, the owners of The Savoy would have been delighted to host him and keen to get his portrait on their illustrious wall.
And now I too have my own connection with The Savoy. That I have spoken in the same room as Charlie Chaplin. Not that I am expecting my portrait to join him of course but nonetheless, it felt like an achievement for me.
I felt similarly when I performed at The Royal Albert Hall – thinking of all the greats who have done so before me.
Which is what I mean by London and England and indeed, Great Britain.
What a fabulous place it is. The only place in the world where I would ever want to live.
A magnificent little island of which I am very proud – no matter what ‘ism’ this means I might be accused of. For it has produced far more to be proud of than to be ashamed of and why I am always curious when people run it down.
Like so many people, I would have dearly liked to have seen England prevail in the rugby but that said, I can see the greater benefits of the epic South African win. Better for the game of rugby. Better for a country with greater needs than our own. A rugby team being captained by a black man, Siya Kolisi – to a victory which hinged on three black players – the prop Tendai Mtawarika and two imperious wings – Cheslin Kolbe and Makazole Mapimpi.
If England were to lose to anyone, I can see that such a loss to such a country and in such circumstances is a good loss.
So with heavy heart – my heartfelt congratulations to South Africa.