With the World Cup just six weeks away, the British sports icon hired by the host country to help with its P.R. has a P.R. problem of his own. David Beckham’s reported $170 million deal with Qatar to promote the tournament—and his silence regarding the country’s controversial policies—has struck many as worse than tone-deaf. “Nothing appears to have moved him,” noted The Times of London. “Not the calls from human rights campaigners to raise his voice. Not the revelations that as many as 6,500 migrant workers have died in Qatar since the country was granted the rights to host the tournament. And not the country’s criminalisation of homosexuality, despite Beckham’s support for gay rights in the past.”
Ongoing interest in the suspicious death in 2019 of Marc Bennett, a British travel executive found hanged in a Doha hotel room—officially ruled a suicide—has intensified the criticism. Bennett had resigned from Qatar Airways (the company said he’d sent confidential documents to a private e-mail address), and then was arrested and taken to a detention center, where he later said he’d been “stripped naked, blasted with high-pressure hoses, slammed against walls and subjected to sleep deprivation techniques while held for three weeks,” the newspaper reported. A United Nations mission said it had “received credible allegations of prolonged detention without judicial control and of ill-treatment.” Bennett died a few months after his release, the suicide verdict following what the British press described as a “cursory investigation” by local authorities.
Meanwhile, in a recent promotional video, Beckham toured sunny Qatar’s spice markets, deserts, and sports stadiums. “This will go down as one of my favorite mornings,” he said. “This is perfection for me.”
Holmes once complimented Watson on being “the one fixed point in a changing age.” So, in an offensive way, is the Monaco Yacht Show. The four-day event, which just wrapped up its 31st annual iteration, attracted some $3.8 billion worth of floating ostentation, including 118 super-yachts, as well as 30,000 visitors who came to gawk, if not actually buy, sell, lease, or covet.
“The sanctions against Russian oligarchs, whose conspicuous consumption has kept European shipyards so busy in recent years, have not spoiled the party,” reported The Guardian. “Veuve Clicquot champagne or Whispering Angel rosé is available at some stands for free for anyone with a [$500] ticket to the show.” The editor of SuperYacht Times, Francesca Webster, told the newspaper, “Of course the industry is impacted [by the global economic crisis]. But the number of billionaires has grown over the last two years meaning that there has been a rebalance despite the loss of the Russian clientele.” Well, that’s a relief.
You had us at “I bow to thee, oh motherland.” The government of this Indian state, comprising Mumbai, Bollywood, and 125 million people, has banned employees from greeting one another with “hello” in favor of “vande mataram” (“I bow to thee …”). Maharashtra is ruled by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party, which promotes Hindu culture over Western and Muslim and has declared that “hello” has “[no] specific meaning and does not evoke any affection.”
Nor will the edict, at least among Muslims. “Vande mataram”—it must now be used when answering the phone as well—“derives from a national song which deifies the country as a Hindu goddess, contradicting Islam,” noted the The Times of London. Abu Azmi, leader of the opposition Samajwadi Party, told CNN-News18 that “(Muslims) love our country but we only bow our heads before Allah, we can never say ‘Vande Mataram’, we will definitely say ‘Saare Jahan se Acha Hindustan’.” Which translates to “Better than the entire world is our Hindustan.” Maybe they can all circle back to “hi,” if only to save time.
Royals on film: the timing of the imminent next season of The Crown is “unfortunate,” wrote Damian Whitworth in The Times of London, because the focus will be on the collapse of the Charles-Diana marriage and “many younger viewers will be discovering these events for the first time, just as Charles is trying to make his first vital impression as King.”
Sally Bedell Smith, one of Charles’s biographers, told the newspaper, “It is a beautifully produced, cleverly written work that people believe.... But I think it is important to call out major mischaracterisations and inventions. The consequences of inaccuracies are greater now that he is the monarch.” On the other hand, as one communications expert noted, “four seasons of The Crown had no impact on how the nation has grieved the loss of the Queen; had no impact on how they’ve welcomed the new king. The British people are savvy enough to distinguish between the show on Netflix and the reality of a human being.”
The Sussexes, meanwhile, reportedly want to edit their own upcoming Netflix documentary series “to make it kinder to the royal family,” said The Times. “Prince Harry and Meghan allegedly made the intervention after spending time with The Firm after the death of the Queen.” If true, the doc might slip into 2023, joining Harry’s autobiography, which also has adjustments pending.
French president Emmanuel Macron’s call to conserve energy by turning down the heat has led to the latest fashion rage—at least among image-conscious politicians. The economy minister “released a smiling picture of himself checking his phone at his desk while wearing a polo neck,” said The Guardian. The prime minister wore a quilted jacket to a meeting, and tweeted out the proof. The energy-transition minister “appear[ed] at an event alongside the prime minister wearing a polo neck as well as a thin puffer jacket with her suit jacket over the top.” Inevitably, “political opponents attacked the government’s winter wardrobe messaging as nannying and out of touch with people’s struggles over the energy crisis and cost of living.” The politicizing of the turtleneck—clearly a developing story. —George Kalogerakis
George Kalogerakis, one of the original editor-writers at Spy, later worked for Vanity Fair, New York, and The New York Times, where he was deputy op-ed editor. A co-author of Spy: The Funny Years and co-editor of Disunion: A History of the Civil War, he is a Writer at Large for AIR MAIL