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