The Spectator

Music never dies, but if Adele makes another record, there is going to be a murder. Probably of me, by me, because I can’t take it any longer. Right now, there is no escaping her. In 2015, 25 was the fastest-selling album, ever, on both sides of the Atlantic. Her single ‘Hello’ was downloaded a million times in a week and was the most-streamed song in Spotify’s history. Last week, despite her meltdown at the Grammys, she swept up at the Brits.

Which is stupendous news, if you, like everyone else, love Adele. But I don’t. I can’t. I won’t. I simply hate her. Or, rather, not her. But it – her music. When Coldplay was played this ubiquitously, at least no one ever admitted to being complicit. But Adele’s oeuvre, which is, if possible, even less inventive, is adored openly and by all. No one, but no one, ever complains about her. Except Jack White, who once told Rolling Stone: ‘Adele selling 20 million records? That would not have happened if Amy Winehouse was alive.’

I refuse to blame the Angel Winehouse. If Adele’s voice was like Amy’s, I’d listen to her all day, rapt. But, while Adele’s voice is perfectly pleasant, it does not rank alongside that of Edith Piaf or Sarah Vaughan. Her success can’t possibly depend upon her voice, so it must lie in the songs she writes. Fans must identify with that never-changing tale of lost love that she croons, and re-croons. But unlike ‘Back To Black’, which was a work of raw, lyrical brilliance – very clearly about an actual love affair, with Blake Fielder fingered, almost immediately, as the unwitting cause of it all – no one can identify the man who made Adele so sore.

When the Guardian last asked who he was, she answered: ‘Who cares?Nobody famous, just old boyfriends. I don’t date celebrities. I ain’t f****** Taylor Swift, dyouknowhatImean?’ But however easy it is to dismiss Taylor Swift, as flimsy, ephemeral and attention-seeking, the lyrics Swift comes up with obviously relate to her life as she’s lived it. Swift is embarrassed and defiant and, ultimately, victorious – and it’s real. If Adele really did have her heart broken by a man, the British press would have surely winkled him out by now. For the British press is still very, very good at winkling things out no one wants us to know. Long ago, I came to the conclusion there wasn’t any such boyfriend. And if Adele wants to refute that, she can say so.

Not that there’s anything wrong with inventing romantic heroes. The sexiest men in literature were made up by virgins. But Heathcliff and Darcy and Rochester have endured, because you can feel there was some fevered circumstance that spawned them; that’s why they fascinate and endure. But this man Adele warbles on about, far from seeming real, doesn’t even make sense. Take the song that introduced him, with the chorus of ‘Never mind, I’ll find someone like you.’ What woman ever broke up with a man to a shrug of the shoulders?

Either you’re still madly in love with your ex – in which case you’re still so high off his pheromones that you’re damned sure there could never be another man to match him. Or you’re so devastated at his leaving that you could fry his gizzard and eat it for tea. But Adele has never written a song about wanting to fry anyone’s gizzard for tea. Post 21, she achieves fame, claims not to like it, gets married, has a baby, relishes the lifestyle of a 1950s housewife, and pens another album in exactly the same vein as the last one. There is no progression between each mundane tune. ‘Hello’, if the video is to be believed, is a haunting ballad about losing mobile phone reception.

But though Adele went to the Brit school, alongside – yes, Amy, but also every other pop star of recent times – no one ever accuses Adele of being manufactured and made up like Jessie J or Katie Melua. Even though, as time wears on, she only becomes duller and less imaginative. Take the album titles, 19, 21 and 25. Ostensibly, they flag up the age she was when she produced them, but is this because she’s too lazy to come up with a title that might actually mean something, or a deliberate ploy to remind us she’s not, actually, middle-aged?

To date, the best thing about Adele has been her personality, her continuous swearing and the fact that she was a bit on the fat side and didn’t give a fuck about it. She was glorious. But, now, she appears to be toning down even that. On Instagram she recently posted a selfie of herself in agony at the gym. She was slimming down for her tour and has given up not just ‘alcohol, cigarettes and caffeine’ but, apparently, ‘spicy, citrusy and tangy foods.’

Pretty soon she’ll be living off pap as bland as her music. Pretty soon, there will be nothing extraordinary about her at all. Except, of course, for the extraordinary success of her vapid, deathless ballads.


The Spectator

Lately, people only have to look at me to splurge their deepest, darkest secret. Last May, they did a terrible thing. They voted Tory. Now they’re contemplating greater deviance: voting to leave the EU — if only, they say, the campaign was fronted by someone they could believe in. And who do they want? The answer surprised me. Theresa is no temptation, as it turns out, nor even Boris. No, it’s Michael Gove they fancy.

Westminster types might read this and splutter, ‘What tosh! If there’s one thing we know about the British public, it’s that they hate him.’ But these are the experts who failed to predict the outcome of the general election. Whereas I was sure the Tories would win, simply from talking to my relatives.

First, my state-school-teacher mother voted Tory in homage to Gove, since his education reforms had restored her faith in teaching. The party may have knifed her hero, but still it was the right thing to do. Then my father went all gooey-eyed and started saying weirdly positive things about ‘Dave’.

Then my brother, who works at the BBC, in the heart of socialist Salford, registered to vote for the first time, at the grand old age of 29, to go blue. My friends began to mutter: ‘Cameron may look like a smarmy git but he’s done a bloody good job.’

Shy Toryism among the lower classes isn’t new. It’s a tendency rife among people who don’t like to have their intelligence insulted (and that’s why they don’t like the ‘in’ campaign one little bit). It has existed, to my certain knowledge, since the 1960s, when my working-class, Irish Catholic great-grandmother was rumoured to have included ‘voting Conservative’ in her deathbed confession. Pollsters also called the election result wrong in 1987 and 1992. It was best, socially speaking, to say you’d vote for Kinnock — but potentially suicidal to your self-interest.

When it comes down to it, working-class and lower-middle-class voters are not so foolish as to cast their vote according to who they’d like to share a pint with. They vote for the leader most likely to keep them in a job, deliver decent healthcare and educate their children properly.
And that latter part is why they appreciate Gove. During the election campaign, Lynton Crosby kneecapped and buried him, believing him to be ‘toxic’ to the Tory brand. Thanks to social media, it was believed that voters didn’t want to vote Conservative and absolutely hated Gove, so they ought not to be reminded of his existence. But social media is rife with virtue-signalling. The majority were either silent about their true voting preference — or lying for show.
Teachers may genuinely still despise Michael Gove (although he has his secret admirers). But even so, for every teacher who hates him, there is quite likely a class of more than 30 children whose parents passionately agree with him. They know what Gove knows (and are grateful that he had the balls to state it): it is wrong, plain wrong, that 7 per cent of the population will always rise to the top of society and stay there while the remaining 93 per cent are left to languish in bad comprehensives — not being taught proper grammar or how to add up without a calculator (as I wasn’t).
He was right to restore rigour to teaching, to hope that Oxbridge would fill up with state-school kids (and to insist they’ll get there on merit alone). ‘London schools have been transformed in the past few years — even Labour admits that,’ adds another of my friends, wrestling a Gove flirtation.
Gove understands shy Tories because he grew up in a Labour-voting household in granite-grey Aberdeen. Unlike the Eton lot, whose success strikes the rest of us as dispiritingly inevitable; Gove was adopted at four months old by middle-class parents, and got to Oxford by virtue of being clever and working very hard.
It is this cleverness, and his refusal to hide it, that endears him to voters tired of being patronised. Gove never pretends to be cool. His wife, the columnist Sarah Vine, ribs him very entertainingly in the newspapers, ensuring that he never comes across as phony. (‘My husband got terribly excited when he discovered that Wagner was in the X Factor finals, and subsequently disappointed to discover this didn’t mean Parsifal on ITV but a bare-chested 18-stone Brazilian pop singer with the hair of the Little Mermaid, the voice of Engelbert Humperdinck and the jewellery of Gerald Ratner.’)
But what shy Tories particularly like about Gove is that he does this totally revolutionary thing: he thinks. And once he’s decided what to do, he sticks. He is in many ways reminiscent of that other violently unpopular education secretary. The one who cancelled all the free milk, and was duly re-elected years later by hordes of grateful state-school children, so liberated. (My uncle used to have to drink his by the sink, because he sicked it up afterwards.)
Thatcher didn’t talk down to shy Tories either — but she knew how to woo them. Thrusting, petit bourgeois to her bones, she knew instinctively: no, not everyone wants to live in the condition to which they were born. And yes, they do want the right to buy their own council houses, thank you very much. Such creative insight won her three elections. And all the time, her secret, shame-faced supporters publicly professed to hate her guts.

‘When I’m out of politics I’m going to run a business,’ Mrs T. once said. ‘It’ll be called rent-a-spine.’ In a milieu sadly deficient in backbone, Gove has proved he is vertebrate.

For myself, I’m so disillusioned that I never dream of voting Tory. I just stand in the polling booth, wondering how best to spoil my ballot. But at heart, I’m a girl from a dull town who wanted to make something of her life. So if next time, there’s a box to cross for Gove, I know I couldn’t resist… and I wouldn’t lie about it, either.