Blood Brothers and the Skimmed-Milk Songstress

PLUS: Potties, chickens, meerkats, Des O'Connor and YOUR verdict on The Crown.

I downloaded Kylie Minogue’s new album on Spotify this week. It’s called Disco, it’s her 49th  if you include compilations, live recordings, remixes and box sets, and it isn’t very good.

Actually, I’ll qualify that. The music’s OK – as the title suggests, it’s perfectly serviceable, four-to-the-floor ear-filler; but Kylie’s no Donna Summer. In fact, as my late grandfather would have said, she’s “got a voice like a tin of milk”. 

(No, me neither, but it has an impeccable logic: “What does a tin of milk sound like, grandpa?” “It sounds like Kylie Minogue, son.”)

Kylie’s always had a voice like a tin of milk, though, going all the way back to I Should Be So Lucky (1988). But I didn’t download Disco to hear her sing. I did so because I felt impelled.

Let me try and explain.

It is a rule of nature that, as a man gets older and grumpier, he begins to circle the wagons around people he can still be bothered to associate with – and who can be bothered to associate with him.

In most cases these are friends he has known for most of his life: blood brothers, who talk the same outdated language and understand the same arcane, often offensive references. In his youth he had dozens of them. By the time he hits fifty they’re usually whittled down to a WhatsApp group of about six.

But alongside this small, loyal group of like-minded old gits are a handful of cultural icons who, although he doesn’t know them personally, are equally woven into the fabric of his existence.

For men of my vintage the usual suspects inevitably include the likes of Noel Gallagher, Daniel Craig, Irvine Welsh, Dylan Moran and Johnny Vaughan – blokeish, fifty-something lads we can imagine having 10 pints with before concluding that nothing good was ever produced after 1996 and anyone born after 1975 doesn’t count.

Sometimes, though, a cultural icon gatecrashes the party who is so fundamentally unfashionable it’s almost embarrassing to admit they are part of our DNA.

And in my case, that icon is Kylie Minogue.

Until I found myself downloading her album I never knew she meant so much to me. Looking back, however, it is now clear that the clues were always there.

For a start Kylie’s 52 now, the same age as me, and I’ve known her since we were 19. Me and Dickie Palmer (met when we were nine, now one of the WhatsApp Six) used to watch her in Neighbours, on a black-and-white portable TV in my hall of residence digs (the president of the Christian Society used to hold lunchtime bible study meetings in the next room and once told us off for singing the theme tune too loudly).

With her big teeth and unflattering dungarees she was well cast as the tomboy mechanic, though, and I never envied Jason Donovan his love interest. When Stock, Aitken & Waterman turned her into a pop star a couple of years later, I thought it was some kind of joke. But those were the days when SWA were turning C-list celebrities like Pat & Mick and Samantha Fox into chart-toppers with the monotony of a sausage machine.

After that she completely dropped off my radar for about 12 years. But then one day I found myself unaccountably fretting about her relationship with Michael Hutchence, the Australian rocker whose sleazy reputation preceded and eventually caught up with him.

I dismissed it as a momentary lapse. Kylie Minogue? Why would I care about her? Yet in retrospect, this was a portent of  what was to come

When I Can’t Get You Out Of My Head (2001) reinvented Kylie as an unlikely sex vamp for old men to drool over, I remember it left me feeling decidedly queasy, like seeing your sister in Razzle.

From that moment on, and much like one worries when an old friend loses their job, develops a drink problem, or elopes with a teenager, I found myself increasingly concerned about Kylie’s topsy-turvy career, her  health problems (thankfully in abeyance), and her fitful relationships with wholly unsuitable men. (Her current boyfriend is a creative director called Paul Solomons, 46, who according to the gossip columns could be “the one” – but we’ve all heard that before!)

In fact I would go so far as to say that over the years I have unwittingly clasped little Kylie to my bosom as zealously as I have my closest friends, possibly even more so.

Yet I only realised this when I found myself downloading Disco last week.

Listening to the album was like being a parent watching their tone-deaf child perform I Wish I Could Fly in the school music concert – you don’t want to be there, but you feel honour bound to encourage them from the front row.

Put another way: the WhatsApp Six can’t sing either, but if any of them released an album I’d download that, too, for the same reason. And I know they’d do the same for me if, say, I had a book coming out early next year. We’ve gone this far together, guys, we’re not going to let the side down now!

That said, I haven’t listened to it since. But it gives me a warm feeling to know that the £0.0005p Kylie has earned from me will hopefully go towards the costs of her 50th album, which I will be first in line to download when it comes out.

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FOUL MOUTHS

I will say one thing for Disco: there are sixteen tracks and Kylie doesn’t swear once.

This will please bosses at Radio 1, who have decided that Fairytale of New York is too upsetting for its young listeners and that only the bowdlerised, “radio-friendly” edit can be played. In it, the line “You cheap lousy faggot” has been changed to “You’re cheap and you’re haggard.”

This has greatly amused my daughter, who fits the Radio 1 demographic but doesn’t listen to the station. During the school run she prefers a playlist containing unexpurgated songs by the likes of Dua Lipa, Nicki Minaj and Lizzo. For a sensitive soul such as myself, it’s like being trapped in a car with a bunch of Brooklyn sailors on shore leave.


LIFE LESSONS

Worrying news from Ofsted, which claims that thanks to the pandemic many schoolchildren have shown signs of losing basic social skills.

These include knowing how to use a knife and fork and forgetting how to read and count. Of most concern are potty-trained children who have regressed to using nappies again.

Social skills are indeed important. Even as adults we are expected to know the correct item of cutlery to use at dinner parties, how to read the wine list in restaurants, and that it is regarded as unseemly, in Britain at least, to belch or break wind at the table.

But is Ofsted’s report really as worrying as it makes out? If the children concerned were in the lower sixth, then I’d agree with its dire assessment – but most are nursery aged, so perhaps some perspective is needed.


THE BAT-RELATED RESPIRATORY PLAGUE: A NEW HOPE

The robots discuss the vaccine, and Brian tells a joke.


CHICKEN-CAINERY

Following the abrupt departure of Dominic Cummings from Downing Street the other day, there has been much speculation about what chicanery went on behind the door of Number 10.

I confess I was more interested to know what was in his cardboard box. A bonsai tree? An AA roadmap of Great Britain? 250 cubic centimetres of toxic air? It did seem unusually small for such an important man.

One theory doing the rounds is that the box contained his protégé Lee Cain, the former director of communications, who was also sacked by Boris Johnson.

It makes sense: Cain is, after all, a master of disguise. When he was a reporter on the Mirror he famously dressed up as a chicken in order to bait David Cameron, and nobody knew it was him.

When I was a reporter on the Sunday People I was ordered to dress up as Austin Powers in order to gauge the reaction of people on the streets of London to Austin Powers being in their midst. Apparently the article was well-received.

Unlike Lee Cain, however, my stunt did not lead to a career at the heart of government - something which rankles to this day.


ORLOV THE BENEFITS

One of the nicest people I ever interviewed was Simon Greenall, who is perhaps best-known to TV viewers as Michael, the psychotic Geordie handyman in I’m Alan Partridge.

Unlike most actors, nailing the Geordie accent was a piece of cake for Simon because he was born in Longtown, near Carlisle. But he’s also proved to be a dab hand at Russian: he provides the voices for the CompareTheMarket meerkats.

He admitted at the time it was a lucrative gig – good voice-over artistes earn a fortune. But I doubt even Simon could have predicted Aleksandr Orlov and Co would still be going strong after 10 years.

Then again, who buys insurance in order to get a meerkat toy? Plenty of people, it would seem; enough, certainly, to turn a character from a marketing campaign into a national treasure.

This Christmas the must-have gift is Sleepy Oleg, the latest addition to the Orlov family collection. All you have to do is buy something on CompareTheMarket before December 14 and the toy is yours.

I’m tempted to say people who are thinking about it should really get a life. But in the interests of research I’ve just been on the CompareTheMarket website and discovered I can insure the dog for just £4.46 per month and qualify for a Sleepy Oleg. Assuming I cancel the policy in January, it means someone gets a free present and the dog’s covered if he chokes on a turkey bone.

Simples!


DES AND ERIC

The best obituaries make you laugh, and I had a good chuckle at Des O’Connor’s recently – mainly thanks to Eric Morecambe.

In the 1970s the pair concocted a memorably one-sided TV rivalry. According to Eric, Des was short for Desperate, and his album, The Greatest Hits of Des O’Connor, was two sides of blank vinyl - although according to the obituary Des came up with many of the put-downs himself.

But Eric was the master, even off-screen. Hearing that Des had asked all his fans to say a prayer for him following a near-fatal heart attack, Eric replied: “Yes – and those six or seven people made all the difference.”


THE CROWN: HER SUBJECTS SPEAK

The new series of the Netflix blockbuster is out: but how accurate is the portrayal of The House of Windsor?

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