Being a woke vegan doesn’t excuse Moby his Natalie Portman jibes | Barbara Ellen

The singer’s claims to have dated the movie star sparked a Twitter storm once she denied it. Who to believe?

So, the Moby/Natalie Portman story went dark quickly. For those needing a recap: US singer/songwriter Moby wrote in his memoir, Then It Fell Apart, that they briefly dated when he was 33, and she was 20.

However, Portman said she’d been 18, a fan (Moby was massive at the time) and denied dating him, saying: “I realised that this was an older man who was interested in me in a way that felt inappropriate.” Moby then insisted that they’d dated, with the self-deprecating caveat: “I would probably regret dating me too.” He also tweeted a startling (backstage?) photo of himself shirtless and grinning manically, with an arm around Portman, who seems to me to be “smiling” with her mouth, but screaming with her eyes.

Still trying to be charitable, I wondered if this could be a misunderstanding (Moby’s) – a modern cautionary tale about deep-rooted delusion (again, Moby’s). Perhaps he had different ideas to Portman about what dating entailed, or built up their encounters? But Moby kept tweeting, with increasing sullenness, about people believing “lies and accusations” over “actual photographs and evidence”, before declaring he was off to save animals and the planet. Oh Lord, I thought, with a shiver, he’s one of them.

I suppose by “them”, I mean precisely the kind of self-avowed arty liberal type who’d react with peevish thin-skinned anger to being rejected, even if it’s almost 20 years after the fact. Going by Moby’s recollections in the memoir, alarm bells are ringing – even away from the sizeable age difference, him writing about their encounters at all, or describing not becoming Portman’s boyfriend as a “relief” (just double-checked, and Moby doesn’t mean a “relief” for Portman). He writes: “I was a bald binge drinker and Natalie Portman was a beautiful movie star, but here she was in my dressing room, flirting with me. I was 33 and she was 20, but this was her world.”

Decoding this is a grisly business, but someone has to do it. Strip away the thick top-coat of humble-bragging, and what Moby is making clear is that Portman was flirting with him, it was “her world”, and he was mere woke vegan putty in her hands – not merely entitled like other male celebrities you could mention.

Let’s be clear, we’re not deep in Ryan Adams “wolf-abuser in liberal-sheep clothing” territory. Moby at least seems aware that fame made him more attractive, which makes him about 99% less delusional than most famous men. (Philip Green is probably still convinced that all those women loved his cheeky banter.) However, what first looked like epic wistful thinking on Moby’s part gets more complex, with his sulky reactions to being corrected.

It seems no accident that his tweets include a reminder (animals! environment!) that he’s one of the “good guys”, as if to say – “So, what’s the problem?” The problem (for Moby) being that, along with all other men, liberal arty types no longer get a free pass.

Once again, carers are found to be doing anything but

Whorlton Hall care home in County Durham.
Whorlton Hall care home in County Durham. Photograph: BBC/PA

The Panorama documentary about the maltreatment and abuse of people with autism and learning difficulties at Whorlton Hall, County Durham, run by Cygnet, was profoundly grim and upsetting. Professional carers couldn’t be faulted for exercising a certain amount of gallows humour – serving as a kind of safety valve. However, that wasn’t going on here.

It depicted vulnerable, distressed people being mocked, taunted, berated and threatened with violence, and staff referring to them as “mongs” and boasting about knocking them over. These “carers” appear to be the lowest of the low – bullying and humiliating people without the power to complain.

Eight years ago, abuse was uncovered at another specialist hospital for learning difficulties, Winterbourne View in Bristol. It was shut down, and the Tory government under David Cameron committed to closing other specialist hospitals, saying that there should be care in the community. Is this always the right approach when so many of these struggling people, and their desperate families, end up getting next to no “care” in often mythical “communities”? The official investigation into Winterbourne View also warned about the excessive use of restraint – but incidents of seclusion and restraint have almost doubled since 2017.

In eight years, it seems that not enough has been learned or accomplished. This is also about how, along with all the good, committed, hardworking people, the caring professions sometimes hire people you wouldn’t trust to look after a dehydrated spider plant. Put bluntly, it’s so badly paid they’ll take anyone on. If places such as Whorlton Hall are to still exist, is there an argument for 24-hour CCTV being made available to patients’ families and a supervisory outside body?

It’s not enough for these inhuman outrages to be exposed – they must be stopped.

We may be doomed to repeat history, but the perm? Never again

Kevin Keegan in 1970
Kevin Keegan in 1970: ‘Football was blighted by the male perm for decades.’ Photograph: Colorsport/REX/Shutterstock

Just when you thought that modern life couldn’t get any tougher, the perm is coming back. All young women out there, please listen to the wisdom of your elders. Perms are the work of Satan – end of discussion. I still can’t hear the words “demi wave” without being transported back to spending an entire school term resembling Oscar Wilde’s slightly more masculine younger brother.

Nor were men immune – football was blighted by the male perm for decades. Was the sacrifice of those brave experimental men for nothing?

It’s being claimed that this is a different “new wave” kind of perming – with softer, more natural curls. Yeah, whatever. That’s what they said to me 25 years ago, when I fancied my chances as a pre-Raphaelite, emerging looking as though my hair had been electrocuted and then deep-fried in a chip pan.

And yes, I did end up pathetically tipping the person who did it to me, even though I stumbled out of the salon, sobbing, and then had to have it permed straight again.

But that’s another story. Young people, please be aware of this new threat in your midst. Step away from the perming lotion while you still can.

• Barbara Ellen is an Observer columnist


Barbara Ellen

The GuardianTramp

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