Ed­i­tor’s Let­ter

Esquire (UK) - - Contents -

A few years ago, when he was still re­cently in­stalled as chan­cel­lor of the ex­che­quer and I was newly ap­pointed to my own po­si­tion of na­tional emi­nence, it was oc­ca­sion­ally pointed out to me — not al­ways with as much tact as you’d imag­ine — that I bore rather more than a pass­ing re­sem­blance to Ge­orge Os­borne. We were both slightly podgy, slightly pasty English­men in early mid­dle age, that much was in­dis­putable. The fea­tures on our fiz­zogs were not en­tirely dis­sim­i­lar: small­ish mouth, shifty eyes, more chins than strictly nec­es­sary. We both wore sober blue suits and un­re­mark­able ties.

I knew there must be some­thing in this com­par­i­son when it was men­tioned in com­pany and kindly peo­ple — women, mostly — quickly (but not quickly enough) ad­justed their star­tled faces into looks of puz­zle­ment and said words to the ef­fect of: “Oh, no! No! I can’t see it at all. You’re much more… erm… you know… younger-look­ing?” To para­phrase Rod Ste­wart, I could tell by their eyes that they’d prob­a­bly been lyin’ for­ever.

But what am I say­ing? I knew there must be some­thing in it when I peered into the mir­ror and a Ge­orge Os­borne looky-likey peered back at me. I didn’t need in­de­pen­dent con­fir­ma­tion. The truth was — yes, quite lit­er­ally — star­ing me in the face. There’s no way to say this with­out be­ing rude about him — maybe you don’t think that mat­ters — but as a boy who grew up hop­ing to one day be mis­taken for a mus­cle-bound ac­tion movie star or a dash­ing sport­ing icon or some other heroic fig­ure — yeah, fat chance — I was not in a rush to ac­knowl­edge, far less em­brace, the Os­borne re­sem­blance. (The Os­borne Re­sem­blance: sounds like a Robert Lud­lum novel, no? Maybe I’ll pitch it as a movie for Matt Da­mon. He can play Ge­orge. Or me. No, wait! He can play both of us!) Doubt­less if Os­borne were stand­ing next to me now he’d say that he’s not rush­ing to em­brace the simil­i­tude, ei­ther. And then he’d point out that he’s a good few inches taller than me. And I’d counter that I’m not re­viled by mil­lions for my aus­tere pub­lic spend­ing poli­cies. Swings and round­abouts, re­ally.

As I say, The Os­borne Re­sem­blance is not some­thing I was overly keen on draw­ing at­ten­tion to. Al­though, ev­ery­thing be­ing copy, I have, of course, writ­ten about it be­fore. Hubris­ti­cally, the last time I did so I was writ­ing from a po­si­tion of some smug­ness: a few years ago I lost a bit of weight — it’s not like I was Robert Pat­tin­son all of a sud­den, but I was a bit less Ge­orge Os­borne — so I felt fine mak­ing fun of my former, porkier self. And then, of course, like the to­tal git that he may or may not be — I don’t know the man — Os­borne went and hired an im­age con­sul­tant and lost a tonne of weight him­self, and got a smart new hair­cut and was fit­ted for some spiffy new suits. So now The Os­borne Re­sem­blance had a se­quel. And in it I still look just like him, and not at all like Matt Da­mon, though Matt Da­mon would do for the part, if he’s in­ter­ested. (Just putting it out there, Matt.)

Ap­pear­ances apart, I sup­pose the main sim­i­lar­ity be­tween Ge­orge Os­borne and me, in the early days of his time in gov­ern­ment, and mine at this mag­a­zine, was that he was a rich and pow­er­ful man of his­toric sig­nif­i­cance, and I knew all the words to “Wham Rap!” Now that he is him­self an ed­i­tor, al­beit a rather more prom­i­nent one than I, I fancy we’re not quite so far apart, ca­reer-wise, as we once were. But who am I kid­ding?

For bet­ter or worse, Ge­orge Os­borne is a rep­re­sen­ta­tive fig­ure of the age. He might not be a style icon or a screen heart­throb — and you may feel, as many do, that the poli­cies with which he was as­so­ci­ated were en­tirely wrong­headed and ter­ri­bly dam­ag­ing — but he’s not boring. Chan­cel­lor for six years un­til July 2016, when he was sacked by Theresa May, Os­borne was in­stalled as ed­i­tor of the Lon­don Evening Stan­dard last March, to the ini­tial be­fud­dle­ment of most jour­nal­ists I know, in­clud­ing me. Some of us, also in­clud­ing me, now admit he has been do­ing quite a good job, in that a paper that had been drift­ing for a num­ber of years is sud­denly lively again, largely be­cause Os­borne ap­pears to be us­ing it as a cud­gel with which to beat strug­gling May and her fee­ble gov­ern­ment. Re­venge, it turns out, is a dish served not cold, but hot off the press.

Ed Cae­sar’s pro­file of Os­borne, on page 140, at­tempts to un­der­stand how and why and what this un­usual man is do­ing edit­ing a news­pa­per, rather than run­ning the na­tion’s fi­nances, and what that means for him and us. It’s a crack­ing story, one told with typ­i­cal verve by Ed, who is among the very best non-fic­tion writ­ers in the game, and whose work you may have seen in The New Yorker and else­where. He and I have worked to­gether in the past but this is his first piece for Esquire and it’s a thrill to have him writ­ing for us. I’d go on a bit more about his many qual­i­ties, and how en­vi­ous I am of them, but the one that re­ally ran­kles is that he looks noth­ing at all like the former chan­cel­lor of the ex­che­quer and cur­rent ed­i­tor of the Lon­don Evening Stan­dard. What a bas­tard.

Re­venge, in Ge­orge Os­borne’s case, is a dish served not cold, but hot off the press

Alex Bilmes

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