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In case you’ve missed the earlier posts in this series, here they are: parts 1, 2, 3 and 4.

The best known of the minority MPs from David Cameron’s premiership — 2010 to 2016 — is Rishi Sunak, who is Chancellor of the Exchequer.

He represents the Richmond constituency in Yorkshire.

Early years

Rishi Sunak’s grandparents moved from the Punjab province of India to East Africa. Rishi’s mother Usha was born in Tanzania. His father Yashvir was born in Kenya. Both are Hindus.

Both sets of grandparents migrated to the UK in the 1960s.

After marriage, Usha and Yashvir settled in Southampton, on the southern coast of England. Usha worked locally as a pharmacist. Yashvir was a general practitioner.

The couple have three children: Rishi, another son Sanjay, who is a psychologist, and a daughter Raakhi, who works on COVID-19 strategy for the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office.

Rishi Sunak went to the renowned public (private) school Winchester College, founded in 1382, where he was head boy and editor of the student newspaper.

He then went to Lincoln College, Oxford, where he graduated with a First in 2001 in PPE, which is nothing to do with hospital gowns, rather Philosophy, Politics and Economics. Whilst at Oxford, he did a brief stint at Conservative Campaign Headquarters.

During summer holidays he worked at a curry house in Southampton.

Sunak began his career at Goldman Sachs, where he worked as an analyst from 2001 to 2004.

He then decided to study for an MBA at Stanford University in California, where he met his wife, Akshata Murthy, the daughter of the Indian billionaire N. R. Narayana Murthy, the man behind Infosys. The couple married in 2005. Sunak, a Fulbright Scholar, completed his MBA in 2006.

Sunak and his wife settled in England and have two young daughters.

Prior to entering politics, Sunak worked for two hedge funds and was also the director of one of his father-in-law’s companies, Catamaran Ventures.

Political career

Former Conservative Party leader William Hague represented Richmond, which has been a safe seat for the party for over a century.

Rishi Sunak was elected comfortably to his first term with a majority of 19,550 (36.2%). Once in Parliament, he was appointed to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee.

Sunak was also committed to Brexit and was an early advocate of free ports, having written a report on the concept in 2016, the year of the referendum.

In 2017, with Theresa May as Prime Minister, Sunak won re-election with an even greater majority of 23,108 (40.5%). In Parliament, he continued to support Brexit, voting for Theresa May’s deal and against a referendum on a final withdrawal agreement in 2019.

That year, Theresa May stood down as PM. Sunak supported Boris Johnson in the ensuing leadership contest.

That autumn, during the general election campaign, he appeared on a television debate, representing the Conservatives:

I am sure Sunak did better than Iain Dale gave him credit for:

He also participated in a seven-way debate on ITV.

On December 12, Sunak further increased his margin of victory at the polls to 27,210 (47.2%).

The coronavirus Chancellor — and some inside scoops

Then, in February 2020, Prime Minister Boris Johnson replaced Sajid Javid with Rishi Sunak as Chancellor:

He gave his first budget less than a month later, on Wednesday, March 11, which I wrote about at the time.

The following Monday, March 16, Boris announced social distancing rules and the closure of pubs, restaurants and events venues. Rishi spoke at one of Boris’s televised coronavirus briefings with news of a generous financial package:

Guido Fawkes posted the full video and remarked (emphasis in the original):

You wouldn’t guess he’s only been in the job for five weeks…

Full details are here. Sunak also issued a Twitter thread with a summary:

Then lockdown came a week later on Monday, March 23.

A few days later, Boris was struggling with his bout of coronavirus, as was Health Secretary Matt Hancock:

The Conservatives soared to record approval ratings in the polls:

Early in April, Boris was quietly rushed to St Thomas’ Hospital in London. Rishi did another coronavirus briefing to reassure an anxious nation:

The well-spoken, gentle Sunak appealed greatly to the folks at home. The Independent did not like that one bit.

Society magazine Tatler began running articles on Sunak in March. They could see he would quickly become a cult personality.

On March 18, the magazine posted an article by Annabel Sampson, ‘Everything you need to know about Britain’s new Chancellor, Rishi Sunak’.

It begins with this (emphases mine):

The virtues of 39-year-old Rishi Sunak have been extolled many times over; for his charming demeanour, his razor sharp brain and his acute financial sense. Now the man who has come to be recognised as the ‘Maharaja of the Dales’, thanks to his Indian ancestry and Yorkshire home, has been appointed to the highest office in the country, to Boris Johnson’s Cabinet in the role of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the second biggest government job; and the second youngest person ever to take the position.

The appointment follows the ‘Cabinet Reshuffle’ that occurred in February when Savid Javid, the former Chancellor, resigned when he was asked to get rid – reportedly a request linked to Dominic Cummings – of his closest aides. Rishi Sunak’s star has been rising for some time now, so his appointment to the position will have baffled few.

The article has several photos, including one of Sunak in the Yorkshire countryside and one with his dog, which resembles Boris Johnson’s Welsh rescue pup, Dilyn.

Sunak and his wife had a traditional Indian wedding:

Rishi and Akshata were married in her hometown of Bangalore, in a two-day ceremony attended by 1,000 guests.

Akshata is a working mother:

Akshata runs her own fashion label Akshata Designs and is also a director of a venture capital firm founded by her father in 2010. Her designs are wonderful; she’s been profiled by Vogue India and been credited for creating clothes that are ‘vehicles to discovering Indian culture’ – comprised of chic silhouettes with bold, Indian design.

Did we know that the Sunaks throw great parties? We do now:

With their combined wealth, they understandably have a generously sized home in Northallerton, North Yorkshire (in Sunak’s constituency). The Daily Mail reports that their annual summer garden party is a county highlight; where uniformed staff loft around serving ice cold champagne and canapés (no doubt prepared by the prestigious Yorkshire Party Company).

Sunak is a natural at politics:

According to the Daily Mail, ‘While many MPs stutter and trundle their way through their maiden speech in the Commons, Mr Sunak’s at-ease manner provided a glimmer of what was to come’. One ally in parliament told the Telegraph: ‘He’s ferociously intelligent and thoroughly decent at the same time’

He was one of the few Conservatives who were let loose on the air waves (14 times in total) and allowed to make public appearances during the election campaign last year. He has even been dubbed the ‘Prime Minister-in-waiting’, we’ll see. His first big challenge was the March budget; and now he is juggling the unprecedented complexity of the impact of the coronavirus on the economy. The UK are in safe hands.

The article also has a photo of him supporting Yorkshire County Cricket at Edgbaston.

Early in July, Tatler‘s Ben Judah travelled to Sunak’s home town of Southampton and reported his findings in ‘Inside the world of Rishi Sunak’.

Naturally, Judah went to the curry house where Sunak worked during his summer holidays:

The kitchen at Kuti’s Brasserie, not far from Southampton docks, was not the sort of place, in August 1998, you would have gone looking for a future hedge funder, son-in-law of a billionaire and Conservative chancellor.

That summer – the summer of the France 98 World Cup and the Omagh bombing – Kuti Miah, the eponymous restaurateur behind the curry house, went to have a word with one of his waiters. ‘You’re going to be someone, Rishi,’ he said. The future UK chancellor flashed his famous smile. He was, adds Miah, ‘a brilliant talker’. Rishi Sunak, then 18, was about to go to Oxford, but that holiday he waited tables for Miah, a close family friend, to earn some pocket money. ‘I saw him grow up,’ says Miah. ‘His father used to bring him in his carry cot.’

Miah was fast friends with Yashvir and Usha Sunak, both Hindu Punjabis born in colonial Kenya and Tanzania respectively, whose parents had migrated from India. After India’s independence, both families left East Africa for Southampton in the mid-to-late 1960s. Yashvir and Usha met in Britain and married. He became a local GP and she ran a pharmacy. They were ‘brilliant conversationalists’ and ‘very strong believers’ who ‘worked very, very hard’, according to Miah, who also recalls that they were ‘passionately British’.

Rishi, the eldest of their three children, was cut from the same patriotic cloth. Not only did the young Sunak fall in love with the game of cricket, he fervently supported England over India at any opportunity. His career, too, has followed one of the most traditional and storied of England’s paths to power. Like five chancellors of the exchequer before him, Sunak was schooled at the ancient and distinguished Winchester College; and like three of those same Wykehamist chancellors, he went on, as was expected, to study at Oxford.

The article includes a photo of Sunak with his wife and in-laws.

Ben Judah had met Rishi Sunak before, in 2015, just before the general election that year. They met up in Northallerton, North Yorkshire:

We were a long way from London – from where Sunak had been ‘parachuted in’ for the seat. During the interview, I had a distinct sense of being the only person in the cafe who knew that this slight man in a Barbour jacket was running for parliament. ‘I tell this story when I’m out and about,’ he said, coffee in hand, ‘that you can come to this country with very little… My grandparents came with very little from a village in northern India, and two generations on, their grandson has this enormous privilege of running as a candidate for parliament. For my family, the route was education.’

Well said.

Sunak’s candidacy in 2015 raised some eyebrows:

He was vying for a seat once presided over by Tory grandees William Hague and Leon Brittan. But I had spent days in Richmond and the surrounding area, reporting on the resentment his sudden arrival had stirred up among certain local Tory notables, who felt the seat in the Dales was rightfully theirs. ‘There was a very acrimonious constituency battle,’ claimed one source, with a lot of hostility to an outsider coming in.

Sunak’s wife had also met with some resistance on the campaign trail, says Judah.

However, Sunak’s father-in-law enthusiastically flew to England where he helped to campaign:

Sunak’s billionaire father-in-law, NR Narayana Murthy, however, has been so enthusiastic about Sunak’s parliamentary career that he’d flown in, and had even been leafleting on his behalf, wearing a Rishi sweatshirt. ‘To be honest,’ said Sunak in Costa Coffee that day, ‘I think it’s patronising to assume minorities should only run in minority seats.’

The article discusses Sunak’s property profile:

On 7 May 2015, Sunak won, with more than 50 per cent of the vote (a Ukip vote of 15 per cent had appeared from nowhere). He put down roots in his new constituency of Richmond, North Yorkshire, augmenting a £10 million property portfolio (metropolitan digs in London – a Kensington mews house, a flat on Old Brompton Road – and a place in California) with a £1.5 million Georgian manor in Yorkshire set across 12 acres, including an ornamental lake. Here, he now entertains the constituency membership with lavish summer parties at which uniformed staff serve champagne and canapés. He has been repeatedly dubbed by newspapers the ‘Maharajah of the Yorkshire Dales’.

The general public know less about those details. Nonetheless, Rishi Sunak has become a household name:

In a swift few years, Sunak has become known as many things: Dishy Rishi to the tabloids; one of the richest MPs in Westminster; the second-youngest-ever chancellor of the exchequer, presiding over a £350 billion package to boost the economy (the largest ever recorded in peacetime); and a former hedge funder whose profile has risen faster than stocks in a vaccine manufacturer.

However dazzling all of this is now, things were very different when Sunak entered Winchester College as an adolescent:

… Winchester would come at a price for the Sunaks. No sooner was he accepted than Rishi’s good fortune immediately foundered: he missed out on the expected scholarship. Desperate not to let the opportunity go to waste, his parents decided to take on the high fees themselves, picking up extra work and making what the chancellor has called considerable ‘sacrifices’. His brother would later follow.

One of his classmates discussed Sunak and described Winchester in the mid- to late 1990s:

Tim Johnson, now a lawyer, was in the boarding house next door. ‘Rishi was a good chap, in boarding-school idiom,’ he recalled. Sunak, he said, was a ‘reasonable cricketer’, who stood out in friendliness; and he was a solid, but never number one, student. ‘Rishi was always expected to do something,’ Johnson remembered. But exactly what, beyond Winchester, was vague. ‘He was always expected to be head boy as he was clever enough, reasonable enough and well behaved enough.’ This became Sunak’s thing – hard work and attainment, becoming the first Winchester head of school from an Indian background.

Sunak was different to other sixth formers in Winchester: a lifelong nondrinker, he wasn’t distracted by the allure of the pub. But there was something else that marked him out from the herd. He was a conservative in every sense: not only in his outlook and demeanour but in his religious attitudes, too – a practising Hindu who avoided beef. At school, where few boys were political, Sunak was clearly ‘associated with the Tories’, said Johnson. It was 1997, The Chemical Brothers were topping the charts and the mood was rebellious. Counterculture, New Labour and ripped jeans were in; the Conservatives were out. ‘That wasn’t his intellectual jam. Rishi didn’t play that game,’ Johnson explained.

‘Everyone was chipper about it when Blair won,’ Johnson said. But not Rishi. His family’s story was closer to Margaret Thatcher’s than that of his bourgeois Labourite classmates. Watching the early results of the landslide on election night 1997, Sunak sat down to write a gloomy article for the school magazine, The Wykehamist, lamenting the news. His main complaint: Europe. ‘He revels in the label of a patriot,’ he complained of Tony Blair, ‘but has plans for the possible break-up of the United Kingdom and membership of an eventual European Superstate.’ The seeds of Brexit were already in his mind.

‘Already,’ fretted Sunak, ‘the New Labour rhetoric sounds worryingly pro-European and avid pro-Europeans are being sent to Brussels’

Later, at Oxford, Sunak had a low profile, unlike his predecessor as MP, William Hague:

He was nothing like the young William Hague, who arrived at Oxford fêted and almost a Tory celebrity, or the young Boris Johnson, the blond beast who tore apart the Oxford Union. At Oxford, Sunak was a nobody, much like Tony Blair.

He continued to eschew strong drink:

Oxford acquaintances remember him as a nerdy teetotaller who was ‘just very clearly going into business’. He would ‘make this big thing’ out of drinking Coke in the pub. ‘Rishi was unknown to the student politicians, that gossipy overlapping world, who all knew each other,’ said Marcus Walker, then-president of the Oxford University Conservative Association, now a clergyman. Sunak was never a member.

It is hard to remember how irrelevant and demoralised Tory circles felt after 1997, but some do recall Sunak as a ‘Thatcherite’ and ‘Eurosceptic’. ‘That was absolutely par for the course,’ said Walker. ‘If you were still a Tory after 1997, you were a Eurosceptic. That was all you had left.’

Nevertheless, Sunak did develop a network from his Winchester College and Oxford days. Graduates from Winchester are called Old Wykehamists:

These days, socially, Sunak has been placed by some in Westminster’s Spectator set. He was best man to his lifelong friend and fellow Old Wykehamist James Forsyth, political editor of The Spectator, at Forsyth’s politician-studded wedding in 2011, to Allegra Stratton, the national editor at ITV Newsand gave what one guest recalled was ‘one of the most touching best man’s speeches I’ve ever heard’. (In fact, Stratton has recently announced she’s leaving ITV News for a job with Sunak at the Treasury. Some have seen this as very Cameron-esque in its ‘chumocracy’.)

Allegra Stratton, also a good friend of ITV’s Robert Peston, now works for Boris Johnson as his notional press secretary, although she has not yet begun to give press briefings, probably because of coronavirus.

Imagine the son of immigrants having ties to Britain’s two oldest — ancient — magazines: The Spectator and Tatler. Wow.

Tatler‘s Ben Judah also spoke with people who had worked with Sunak during his hedge fund days. They painted a similar character portrait of the Chancellor:

After two years in California completing a CV-topping MBA, he returned to London and Mayfair in 2006, where a new type of boutique finance was booming: hedge funds. He was hired by Sir Chris Hohn at The Children’s Investment Fund (TCI). It was a dream job: a big role at an activist firm off Berkeley Square at the peak of their fame. ‘He appears to have been trusted,’ said a source. Indeed, Sunak was made a partner two years later. Contemporaries remember him ever-ready to meet and greet; a mixture of a junior, deputy and a bag carrier; the perfect foil to Hohn’s bolshy swagger. ‘Ridiculously nice.’ ‘Affable.’ ‘Approachable.’ ‘Charming.’ These are the words that come up again and again among Mayfair types who knew Sunak. The charm was of a particular kind: ‘There are two kinds of people at hedge funds,’ said one source. ‘Handsome and thin smooth-talkers who are always on the phone or going out to lunch with clients, getting them to part with their money. And then quants in the back room with their shirts buttoned up badly.’

Sunak was one of the smooth-talkers, his charm honed on calls to investors, getting them on board with whatever drastic moves the fund wanted to make. The kind of charm that prizes clarity and persuades people to part with their money. It worked: but hedge-fund charm is designed to hide as much as it reveals. The atmosphere at TCI was buccaneering and bold; it both led and profited from a controversial banking raid that eventually meant a £45.5 billion public bailout of the Royal Bank of Scotland. (The Treasury and TCI say Sunak was not involved in the deal.) He left when TCI split in 2009, and joined the breakaway hedge fund Theleme Partners. His new firm’s reputation took a knock when its founder was revealed to have used a notorious tax avoidance scheme. The Labour Party researched Sunak’s past during the 2019 election. ‘But he was too little known for us to use it,’ said one source

His reasons for entering Parliament are equally obscure. Those who know him have different opinions as to why. One thing that everyone agrees on is his penchant for order:

Many in Westminster see his motivation as status. ‘He’s not an ideologue,’ said one Tory source. ‘He wanted to enter politics in that old-fashioned way, because it was seen as the good thing to do.’ Good, as in socially ambitious. Whether that’s true is another matter, because first came a stint at Policy Exchange, leading a unit researching black and minority ethnic attitudes. The scruffy but influential Conservative think tank world is seen as a de facto holding pen for future special advisers, but it was nonetheless an unexpectedly technical way into Westminster for someone with means.

Sunak quickly made an impression. ‘He’s got that Blair-like ability to hold your eye,’ says Nick Faith, who worked with him there. Sunak cut a snappy figure amid slovenly suits. ‘He’s into his clothing.’ His is not the fusty establishment Rees-Mogg or Nicholas Soames style, but more the wiry Emmanuel Macron look. Everything Sunak wears, many remarked, is immaculate, even at the end of a Treasury work day, and fits perfectly. Faith says that ‘everything, from how Rishi dresses to how he structures his life, is very well organised’. Sunak’s elegant house in London, with a touch of Indian decor, reflects that. ‘Nothing is out of place. For someone with two small kids, that’s quite an achievement.’

Having learned from his background in finance, Sunak also knows how and when to place his bets:

‘His mind works in Excel,’ said one City contemporary. But like all hedge funders, it also works in bets: and the two biggest bets that Sunak has made in his career have paid off spectacularly – Brexit and Boris. David Cameron knew the gravity of his predicament when Sunak came out for Leave. ‘If we’ve lost Rishi, we’ve lost the future of the party,’ he reportedly said. The same thing played out in reverse in June 2019 when Sunak came out for Boris in The Times with two other MPs during the party leadership elections. This was widely seen in Westminster as a decisive turning point: the one where Johnson won over ‘the sensibles’ and pivoted the backbenchers. The PM seems to agree: all three have been handsomely rewarded.

In Parliament, he keeps a low profile but, to those who know him, is loyal:

‘He’s unknown in parliament,’ said one MP. ‘He doesn’t play the parliamentary game at all.’ Tory Remainers are sceptical of him. ‘It’s Star Wars,’ said one MP, referring to the chancellor’s strange and classically ‘geek-chic’ hobby for minutely detailed models of spaceships and video games. ‘Most of his political philosophy comes out of the Star Wars trade wars that are about the independence of various kingdoms from the Empire. He’s not someone intellectual.’ Loyalty has been his strongest suit. Sunak is a No 10 man. ‘He’s a grown-up,’ said one MP. ‘The only grown-up in Downing Street, despite him being 20 years younger than them.’

At the height of tensions over Brexit last year, he was cheerfully going around Westminster saying he would back ‘no deal’ if push came to shove. He struck the right note, in the right place, at the right time. Tensions between Boris Johnson and Sajid Javid’s teams exploded in February, when the then-chancellor resigned after refusing to fire his own special advisers and submit to an unprecedented joint team with Downing Street, effectively under the stewardship of Dominic Cummings. It was Sunak, with high skills and no clear agenda or faction behind him in parliament, whom Downing Street turned to. He quickly agreed to the joint team, once again becoming the perfect foil for an outsized boss

Even now, it’s still too early to say whether Rishi Sunak will become a future leader of the Conservative Party and, as such, a possible prime minister. A week is a long time in politics.

When Boris’s erstwhile special adviser Dominic Cummings broke coronavirus rules in travelling from London to Durham and back during Boris’s time in hospital, Sunak tried to calm the ever-turbulent waters surrounding Cummings, who was never popular with the Remainer media. He tweeted this after Cummings’s lengthy press conference in May:

In June, Sunak was tactful about the reopening of shops and businesses in Britain after the first coronavirus lockdown:

He also warned that his generous financial package could not go on indefinitely:

A few weeks later, in early July, pubs were allowed to reopen:

The Government launched the Enjoy Summer Safely campaign. Pictured below is Piccadilly Circus:

On July 8, he issued a Summer Economic Update, with financial help continuing (more here):

This included the launch of his Eat Out To Help Out plan, which lasted to the end of August:

A lot of Labour MPs didn’t like the plan. I don’t know why. Leftists own restaurants, too.

He cut VAT for the hospitality industry, too.

He also issued a detailed jobs plan, including an apprentice scheme:

Some men in the media were taking a shine to Dishy Rishi, including the leftist Owen Jones of The Guardian and Channel 5’s Jeremy Vine:

At that time, the attention being given to Sunak and Boris Johnson got the better of Conservative MP Caroline Dineage, a Culture minister, who was questioned on masks, which were strongly suggested (mandatory only on public transport) but still optional in what now look like heady days. This was from a BBC interview:

asked why the Prime Minister and Chancellor Rishi Sunak had not worn one in public, she snapped: “You’d have to ask the Prime Minister and the Chancellor that, with respect.

“But it is something that is advised and we keep it under review.”

At the end of September 2020, the coronavirus crisis dragged on. Talk intensified about a winter lockdown.

On September 24, Sunak issued a Winter Economy Plan, about which I wrote at the time. When he presented it in the House of Commons, he advised all MPs to live ‘without fear’.

By October 6, Sunak was being blamed for an uptick in coronavirus ‘cases’ (positive test results, not necessarily hospital admissions) for the Eat Out to Help Out scheme:

A US study, which did not cover Britain, showed that hospitality venues were shown to be responsible. However, the study did not cover workplaces or hospitals. Nonetheless, it is still a contentious point even to this day.

The Sun‘s Harry Cole rightly, in my opinion, defended the Chancellor’s restaurant promotion.

Then talk of hospitality curfews emerged. Fellow Conservative MP Matt Vickers defended the Chancellor’s Eat Out to Help Out programme, which had come to an end five weeks earlier.

The calls for a winter lockdown grew. The Chancellor rightly opposed them:

By then, more areas of England had moved into tiers, indicating more coronavirus cases. Sunak increased financial support to those cities and counties. He also offered more help to businesses, including the self-employed.

By November, some thought a storm was truly brewing between Boris and Rishi. Despite all the talk from the Government about people being able to meet loved ones at Christmas — for the first time in months, for many — a pessimistic undercurrent, which turned out to be accurate, seemed to be part of every news cycle.

Rumours circulated that Sunak was ready to resign. However, on November 1, the Daily Mail reported:

A source said there was a ‘collective decision’ to back a second lockdown, and that Mr Sunak ‘accepted it’ – and he did not threaten to resign, as some whispers around Westminster were suggesting yesterday.

The November lockdown was supposed to prevent a Christmas lockdown, but that was not to be. There was a brief re-opening before Christmas, and on December 19, the hammer fell once more.

Interestingly, the minority MPs in Cabinet shared Sunak’s concerns.

By the middle of December, Sunak was clearly worried about how long the borrowing could go on. On Saturday, December 19, the day when Boris announced Christmas was cancelled, The Spectator reported what the Chancellor said about borrowing and quantitative easing (QE):

‘Are you or anyone else going to guarantee me that, for the duration of this parliament, rates might not go back to 1 per cent?’ he asks, pointing out that this almost happened in March, before the Bank of England started printing money to bring rates back down. There is this very large QE thing that’s going on. No one has done that before. There are plenty of smart investors who are also thinking about the risks of inflation over the next 12 months. Because we are now so levered, small changes have huge cash implications. If I have to come up with £10-£20 billion a year in a few years’ time because things have changed — well, that’s a lot of money.’

To Sunak, it’s not just an economic problem but a political one. ‘If we [Tories] think borrowing is the answer to everything, that debt rising is fine, then there’s not much difference between us and the Labour party,’ he says.

The media criticised him for going to his constituency of Richmond for Christmas. To be fair, he did work while he was there, visiting a local hospital and a vaccine centre. He did not rush back to London.

On February 3, 2021, Sunak rightly accused scientists advising the Government of shifting the goalposts regarding lockdown:

This might be causing a rift in Boris’s Cabinet:

On a brighter note, Time magazine has included Rishi Sunak on its list of 100 ’emerging leaders’. On February 17, the Daily Mail reported:

Under the ‘leaders’ category, Chancellor Rishi Sunak landed a spot on the list, being described as the ‘benevolent face of the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic’ by Times reporter Billy Perrigo.

The Chancellor’s profile piece discussed the furlough scheme, describing how he approved ‘large handouts’ for people whose jobs had been affected by coronavirus.

The piece also paid respect to Sunak’s Eat Out to Help Out scheme, which the magazine described as an attempt to ‘revive the economy’ by subsidizing dining out at restaurants.  

Although his profile acknowledges that Sunak bears more responsibility than most for his calls to ease lockdown restrictions, Time’s profile for the Chancellor admits he has earned himself a ‘legion of fans’.

Sunak’s accompanying profile points to a YouGov poll showing him to be the nation’s most popular politician and even tips him to be the bookmakers’ favourite as the next Prime Minister.  

Again, a week is a long time in politics. We shall see about the future as and when it happens.

For now, Sunak is focussing on the budget, to be delivered on March 3. He is asking industry leaders for their thoughts.

Michelin-starred chef Gordon Ramsay was one of those leaders:

If Rishi Sunak ever tires of being an MP or Chancellor, a job in media awaits.

He is an excellent interviewer and researched Gordon Ramsay well. The 15-minute video is worth watching.

The list of minority Conservative MPs continues. All being well, more tomorrow.

series title over a blackened landscapeSpouseMouse and I have been enjoying ITV1’s Jericho, an eight-episode drama which began earlier this year.

I hope that PBS or another American network shows it eventually. It would also be nice if ITV were to renew it for another few seasons.

Jericho tells the true story of the construction of Yorkshire’s Ribblehead Viaduct in the 1870s. In the show, it is called the Culverdale Viaduct. British viewers will connect Culverdale with Calderdale.

Jericho is the name of the settlement of navvies (manual workers), innkeepers, publicans and prostitutes. They live in wooden buildings or in tents.

The Blackwood family, who struggle to finance the viaduct, live on a grand estate some miles away. Their agent lives in Jericho and runs it for them on a daily basis.

Amazingly, there is no law enforcement in Jericho. Ralph Coates (The Wire‘s Clarke Peters) is the Blackwoods’ agent. He pays the navvies and has the final say over boarding houses, the pub and the canteen. Everything — including the provision of food and drink — starts, moves or stops with him.

Coates arrives on the scene in the first episode with a reference letter. He is looking for work. He explains that he has 30 years of experience on the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad. A few episodes later, he tells his full story — a freeman who later fought for the Union in the Civil War and was mistakenly taken into slavery before Emancipation. He was able to escape and sail to England.

Coates works as an assistant to the railway agent. Before long, he is in the top spot.

The idea for Jericho came from Steve Thompson, who previously wrote scripts for Sherlock and Doctor Who. Thompson lives in Cambridge but his mother was originally from Huddersfield, and he remembers travelling by train across the Ribblehead Viaduct.

Thompson told The Yorkshire Post:

It gives me goose-bumps even remembering those journeys. I must have mentioned that in conversation to someone at ITV, and they said ‘Well, if you think that you can get a drama series out of it, let’s go and have a look at a few locations’.

He told the paper that there really was a Jericho railway settlement. All of these working communities had unusual names. The navvies chose the name, some of which came from where they had fought in the Crimean War: Balaclava and Sebastopol, to cite but two. Other names, such as Belgravia, were ironic. Others, like Batty Wife Hole, a bit quirky or fun.

Whilst the Midland Railway Company financed the building of the Ribblehead Viaduct, the business consortium led by the Blackwood family is in charge of Culverdale Viaduct. We discover in Jericho how precarious the Blackwood investment is, even though it will make the family very wealthy afterwards. Looking for new investors when one is flat broke is a continuous financial challenge which trickles down to Jericho.

The navvies are a rugged, violent, capable bunch. There are no guns but plenty of fist-fights. Someone complained to the Radio Times that there are no Irish navvies in the show. The response from Jericho‘s team said that Ribblehead had very few Irishmen on its crew. They’d checked the records beforehand.

It took seven years to build Ribblehead and, because of the physically strenuous work and lack of health and safety standards, 100 died. More died of disease and epidemics which spread through the settlement. Jericho reveals that there was no resident doctor; one had to go on horseback to fetch the nearest physician several miles away.

In real life, those who died building Ribblehead were either buried on the moors or in the churchyard of St Leonard’s in Chapel-le-Dale.

Thompson told The Yorkshire Post that finding outdoor settings for authenticity was difficult:

We had a pretty decent budget, but even ITV couldn’t run to building a new and very solid viaduct. We had to cheat a little. But one day, I did have the most extraordinary experience of my entire career. Last February I walked into an empty field in Yorkshire, with the producer, director and the designer, and they turned to me and said, ‘Here it is then, where would you like us to put your town?’. They built an entire shanty town in the middle of nowhere between Huddersfield and Sheffield, in fact, it was so far from any facilities, that the cast and crew became shanty-dwellers themselves.

Weather conditions complicated filming. Clear days meant that parts of Sheffield showed up in the camera shots. The film crew used CGI to remove those. Mists and fog, on the other hand, deadened the sound, making a clear audio track challenging.

Another issue was finding a suitable house for the Blackwood family and their servants — their ex-slaves who work for room and board but no pay.

Fortunately, one of the production crew volunteered the use of his family home, currently for sale but vacant. Whilst it is no Downton Abbey, it doesn’t need to be. It’s a perfectly suitable Georgian house with ample gardens. Thompson had period furniture and curtains installed. It works remarkably well.

As for the people who lived in the settlements in real life, Thompson explained that they were people looking to forget their pasts and build a new future. We see this rather dramatically with Annie Quaintain (played by Jessica Raine), a widow with two children. She is flat broke after paying off her late husband’s debts. They have no choice but to leave their town and move to Jericho to scrape by as best as possible.

Coates’s character, Thompson said, was based on a real-life navvy known as Six-fingered Jack. Peters, who plays Coates, told The Independent:

“It was a surprise to me to learn that more African-Americans were living here before the American Civil War than after,” the US star said. “I hope the series sparks more investigation into a history which has been closed off to us. It might help address some of the problems we have today.”

He told the Radio Times:

“There were hundreds of black cowboys, but because we look at what Hollywood puts out, we feel, ‘that’s the cowboys’. Hell, no! Hell no!,” Peters said.

“We are at a point where I see that we have all been educated with certain information that perpetuates the stifling of people of colour and class.”

How true. Peters also told the magazine that Thompson wanted to write other story lines, had he ‘been left to his own devices’ (‘Cowboys of the Dales’, 2-8 January 2016 issue, p. 16). For now, it looks as if those will have to wait.

Jericho is the first drama of its kind. Although people travel across incredible viaducts such as Ribblehead every day, television and cinema have left the story of navvies and others in railway settlements largely unexplored. It really was like the Wild West, only in Yorkshire. As such, it is a fascinating subject for television.

The Express tells us:

The Ribblehead viaduct – 104 feet high, 440 yards long and with 24 soaring stone arches – towers majestically over the moor just across the border from Cumbria into North Yorkshire.

By the time the first series of Jericho ends, it will only just have been started.

Here’s hoping the series will be back next year for Season Two. It’s much more interesting than watching street gangs and brooding detectives — and it’s based on fact not fiction.

Wedding bands ehowcomNorman and Joyce Johnson celebrated their 75th wedding anniversary a few days ago in July 2015.

The two grew up in the same area of Sheffield, South Yorkshire, and met early in adolescence.

Joyce was quite taken by Norman. When she found out he was attending night school, she, too, enrolled, although they took different courses.

They were married during the Second World War. Norman requested weekend leave. The ceremony took place on Saturday, and Norman returned on Sunday night.

He was among those safely evacuated from Dunkirk. In his pocket was a photo of Joyce which he’d wrapped in a 100,000 Deutsche Mark banknote to protect it.

Amazingly, although he had to swim to the rescue boat, the banknote and photo survive to this day.

After the war, Norman worked for the English Steel Corporation. Joyce took in laundry.

They have two daughters, Carol and Sue, seven grandchildren and ten great-grandchildren.

Although they went through the same life experiences as any other couple of their time, Joyce said:

we lived happily ever after.

Norman explained:

the secret to a long and happy marriage was ‘being easy-going with each other’.

He said: “I can honestly say we’ve never fallen out. We’ve been very happy indeed.

“We’ve done very well really.”

Congratulations to the happy couple!

Let’s take a few pages out of their marital notebook!

Until a few days ago, I’d never really thought much about the piano.

My maternal grandparents had an upright, which my late mother and aunt learned how to play. My late paternal aunt owned and played a Yamaha baby grand. I could read music and play a bit myself.

However, lifting the lid off the piano reveals a world of science and nature many of us haven’t contemplated.

The French newsweekly Marianne recently reported on the intricacies of the piano, from sound to brand dominance (‘Un Steinway, sinon rien?’ [‘A Steinway or nothing?’] by Emmanuel Tresmontant, 24 – 30 April 2015, pp. 80-83).

Hundreds of manufacturers, now gone

There was a time when every Western nation — even a US state — had its own piano manufacturer. Wikipedia has a nearly complete list here. (My grandparents had a Gulbransen, not included.)

Very few of them are still in business. A handful of survivors have moved production to the Far East.

The French manufacturer Pleyel was the most recent to stop production. That was in 2013.

Interestingly, around the time Pleyel was winding down, a new company in England, Cavendish Pianos, launched. Named after the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, Cavendish being their family name — and partly financed by them — the company makes five models from uprights to grands. They are located at Bolton Abbey in Yorkshire and use the county’s finest expertise, wood and wool in manufacture.

However, most of us know only the Steinway and Yamaha brands. And there’s a reason for that. More in a moment.

What classical composers used

The Marianne article tells us that in the 19th century, Paris had over 100 piano manufacturers (p. 81).

The pianos were made in various shapes depending on the sound desired: pear, pyramid, cube and even a giraffe! Some pianos were able to indefinitely carry the sound of one note played until the person playing lifted his finger. If you try this today, you’ll be disappointed. The sound fades out even with your finger on the key.

Pleyel pianos were developed by the classical composer Ignaz Pleyel. He introduced the upright model to France in 1815. This piano was developed from models popular in Britain at the time. By 1834, Pleyel et Cie employed 250 workers who constructed 1,000 pianos each year.

Chopin composed and played on a Pleyel, said to have a singing sound quality. Liszt used a piano made by rival Erard, thought to have been even better in tonality. Pleyel bought Erard and another pianomaker Gaveau in the 1980s.

Today, only a few models made by these companies and others around the world exist. The classical pieces we hear today from other pianos lose some of the earlier subtleties in the original compositions.

Steinway’s world dominance

These days, most concert pianists play a Steinway, the leading brand of piano.

French music critic Alain Lompech explained Steinway’s evolution, which began in the 1800s (p. 81):

The genius of Steinway & Sons, founded in New York in 1853 by Heinrich Steinweg, a German, was to take the best innovations of the other manufacturers and integrate them in a harmonious unit. At the first Universal Exposition in Paris in 1867, Steinway took three gold medals from Pleyel and Erard. The most unbelievable bit is that Steinway pianos are made the same as they were in 1880! Nothing has changed since the patents were granted. It’s an absolute miracle.

Philippe Copin, arguably one of Europe’s best piano technicians, told Marianne why Steinway dominates the market (p. 82):

Steinways distinguish themselves by their capacity for resonance. They can project sound in concert halls with 3,000 seats, which had never been done before. Steinway also knew how to accommodate from the start the demands of composers such as Liszt, Prokofiev and Rachmaninov who needed more percussive pianos: a fortissimo from Prokofiev does not have the same impact as one from Mozart or Beethoven.

Copin adds that few professional pianists know how to get the best from a Steinway:

They don’t know how it’s made and how this affects its timbre. Most often, they all ask for the same thing: that their piano be adaptable and allow them to play all repertoires … In order to respond to all these demands, it has been observed that only one brand can meet them: Steinway! Add to that that a grand piano for concerts costs €140,000 whatever the marque. You then understand why there is so little diversity.

Marianne points out that other manufacturers ended up trying to imitate Steinway to meet the demands of pianists. For example, the sound from the Austrian make Bösendorfer started out as ’round and soft, deep’ (p. 82). Not so long ago, concert pianists complained that Bösendorfer wasn’t powerful enough, so the maker altered its hammers in response, resulting in a ‘hard and metallic’ sound.

Incidentally, Yamaha bought Bösendorfer in 2007.

Musicologiest Ziad Kreidy told Marianne that he is sorry the original sounds which distinguished one piano manufacturer from another are history (pp. 82, 83):

… to satisfy demand on a global scale, piano manufacture has become extremely automated and standardised.

Modern pianos have such heavy, sonorous and rich basses that it’s impossible to respect the pedals played, for example, by Chopin in some of his Nocturnes.

This also holds true for Beethoven’s Concerto No. 3:

On a modern Steinway Beethoven’s instrumentation is impossible to achieve. A too-insistent resonance ruins the sound and the interplay becomes cacophony. On an old Pleyel, by contrast, you had only to respect the pedal indications for the melody to unfold naturally.

He went on to say (p. 83) that, previously, each manufacturer had their own notion of tonal

warmth, clarity and the natural which made the reputations of Pleyel and Erard, handmade by passionate artisans, depositors of a savoir-faire completely lost now …

With these instruments, as rare as they are fragile, we enter into another poetic universe. The sound is natural, round and golden, as if it were amber.

Concert virtuoso Alain Planès was fortunate enough to play a 1836 Pleyel which he said sounded

totally authentic … exactly as Chopin intended.

He was also able to record Debussy’s Préludes on an 1897 Bechstein which left his heart pounding with excitement.

Yamaha, the only real rival

Marianne noted that, whilst the Italian manufacturer Fazioli and the German Bluthner still make ‘excellent’ pianos, Steinway’s only real rival is Yamaha, especially with their newest model, the CFX (p. 82).

Only time will tell.

Hammers and wool

Modern Steinways have much harder hammers than the old, beloved makes of piano (p. 83). This affects the sound quality, making it bold, percussive and heavy.

Another factor contributing to sound is the sheep’s wool felt used on the hammers. Alain Planès said that the late, great pianist Rudolf Serkin who died in 1991, surmised that modern felt is considerably different to that of the old days:

He thought that today’s sheep are badly nourished, that their wool no longer has the same quality as their ancestors’ and that this, naturally, has a direct influence on the sound coming from the piano.

An interesting theory, one which might be true.

It is interesting to note that the earliest covering on piano hammers was leather. Felt replaced leather. The first piano felt manufacturer was JD Weickert, based in Leipzig:

In 1847 the first felt for piano hammer was made in Germany by the Weickert factory. This felt was successful[ly] tested and used by the piano factory J.G. Irmler. Piano Felt Factory J.D. Weickert was the new name of the company.

The existing and newly founded Piano factories at that time caused an increasing demand for Piano Felt. Even today well-known companies as Steinway, Blüthner, Bösendorfer , Ibach, Bechstein or Rönisch were already customers of the Felt factory. The factory had to increase the capacity and had to add on new facilities. The number of staff increased by 50 in year 1860 to 350 employees at the beginning of the 20th century.

In the late 19th century, The Guardian tells us:

more people were employed making pianos in London than in any other manufacturing business.

Highly technical

None of us doubts that manufacturing a piano is an involved process.

So is being a piano technician. Philippe Copin spent ten years training at Yamaha’s factory in Japan. It can take a highly trained technician up to two days to properly tune and adjust a piano before a major concert (pp. 81, 82).

This video describes some of what is involved in adjusting individual key’s temperaments:

Wikipedia has an excellent entry on Boston’s Timothy Gilbert and his piano patents from the 19th century, which were very technical and highly successful.

The technology and mathematical calculations behind piano hammers is discussed here, complete with illustrations.

Today, at Cavendish Pianos, owner and founder Adam Cox told The Guardian that:

With each piano made up of as many as 20,000 parts, the suppliers include hardwood sawmills, feltmakers and a hand-spinner of piano strings, all within easy reach of the ex-cowsheds.

“China and the far east have many advantages but we can beat them,” says Cox, whose favourite statistic is a reminder of the glory days of British piano sales.

Whilst many reading this will say, ‘Keyboards get the job done, too,’ Cox says:

Keyboards and the like had a novelty but people are realising their limitations compared with a real piano.

When it comes to music, nothing’s grander than a grand — or even a standard upright piano! Expensive, yes, but well worth it. And now we know what’s under the lid.

What a great sporting event for the first Bank Holiday in May: the first ever Tour de Yorkshire!

Tour de France enthusiasts will recall that the 2014 Grand Départ took place in this beautiful English county for the very first time. It was so successful that planning quickly began for a short three-day race in 2015.

The Tour de Yorkshire planners did a marvellous job in attracting sponsors, teams, television coverage and an official artist.

The race was televised in more than 100 countries around the world. In the UK, ITV4 and Eurosport carried both live coverage as well as highlights. We watched ITV4, whose commentators and former riders — Chris Boardman and David Millar — did a great job of bringing the race to life. Millar, in particular, did a star turn in giving us a younger rider’s perspective on what today’s races are like. He was a welcome addition and we hope that he will be a regular in the Tour de France commentary team this year.

The stages reprised part of last year’s Grand Départ route. Stage 1 began in Bridlington and ended in Scarborough, via the North York Moors. Stage 2 started in Selby and ended in York, one of the cities in last year’s Tour. The final stage began in Wakefield and ended in Leeds, also in the 2014 Tour.

Eighteen teams took part. Each had eight riders. The 2012 Tour de France champion Sir Bradley Wiggins formed his own eponymous team. He placed 59th, and told ITV4 that the course was ‘very hard, very hard’ work.

Team Sky’s Lars Petter Nordhaug was the overall winner.

The Tour de Yorkshire generated the same enthusiasm among spectators that the Tour de France did last year. A quarter of a million turned out for Stage 1. Stage 2 attracted 450,000 bystanders. Stage 3 saw between 500,000 and 750,000 lining parts of the route.

The BBC reported:

Race organiser Gary Verity said: “This has exceeded all our expectations.

“To get so many people out to see the first ever Tour de Yorkshire is incredible. I cannot thank the people of Yorkshire enough for their support.”

Even Prime Minister David Cameron managed to catch some of the action, visiting the village of Addingham, near Ilkley, in a break from election campaigning.

Let’s hope another Tour de Yorkshire will take place in 2016!

Although cycling fans in Britain were disappointed that we had no chance of winning this year’s Tour de France, nonetheless we enjoyed three weeks of suspense.

Thankfully, the Tour took the decision a few years ago to make it more challenging, the way it was a century ago.

Outside of Vincenzo Nibali’s reign at the top, the rest of the overall classification turned out to be as unpredictable as the stages.

From the start, favourites dropped out because of injury. Crashes were frequent. Mark Cavendish collided with Simon Gerrans near the finish line of Stage 1 in Harrogate. Cavendish went on to hospital and an urgent operation a few days later. Gerrans hung in there until Stage 17.

The crashes happen anyway, but perhaps never involved as many team leaders and other stars as this year’s. Chris Froome, last year’s winner, was out on Stage 5, causing team Sky to rethink their strategy. Andy Schleck was out on Stage 4. Alberto Contador — another favourite — crashed on Stage 10. Andrew Talansky left on Stage 12. Rui Costa dropped out on Stage 16.

The weather was surprisingly sunny in Yorkshire and unusually rainy in France. Moist tarmac and slick paving stones created havoc, causing collisions and flat tyres. Even when the sun was shining, the mountain stages — several of which were unfamiliar to the riders — proved relentless with their many steep gradients.

That said, for those riders fortunate or savvy enough to persevere until the end, the feeling of accomplishment was palpable. The overall winner of the race, Vincenzo Nibali, announced in Paris on Sunday, July 27:

Those past few days, when I was asked which one was my best moment of the Tour, I anticipated that no feeling of happiness could be compared to what we feel on the podium at the Champs-Elysées. It’s even more beautiful than what I could imagine.

Alessandro De Marchi, winner of the Combativity Prize, was at the other end of the spectrum in some ways, yet, was delighted with the result:

I’m very happy and proud to be part of the protocol ceremony on the Champs-Elysées. It’s been difficult to ride the way I did during three weeks but I want to continue racing aggressively in the future …

We have much to look forward to next year with regard to the high quality of French riders. AG2R La Mondiale won the team prize with all nine of their riders present on the podium in the Champs Elysées.  Their Jean-Christophe Peraud came in second place and Romain Bardet sixth.

Peraud, who crashed but recovered in Paris — proving the final stage is more than ceremonial — said:

I had realised yesterday already with the tears, I was aware of the importance of my performance. I never do things simply, I added a little last-minute handicap. I had that idea that something would happen. I was used as a skittle, I was pushed aside by the whole peloton. According to Christophe Riblon, there was a bottle on the tarmac that cause a big wave and I was taken down. It added a little bit of stress. I needed a little bit of spice on the last day.

It was above all moving after the time trial, now I put things back in perspective and I could take advantage of the nice view of Paris …

Bardet sounded apologetic for coming in sixth, then predicted great things in future:

… it’s only my second Tour de France, I lack a little bit of experience at times. But 6th is early a great performance. There is really a big generation in France. With Thibaut [Pinot, see below], we’re going to battle it out in the years to come, but there is also a good international opposition. To ride that fast and that young at such level, it’s good for the future. Now we’re going to spend a good evening together with the team and the family. We achieved a great collective performance in the first place.

Thibaut Pinot from FDJ (Française des Jeux) won Best Young Rider and came third in the overall classification:

The objective was the top 10, we knew the white jersey would come along as well. It’s the way I am, I love to attack, I love to have fun in the climbs. That’s bike riding the way I see it …

Bernard Hinault was the last Frenchman to win the Tour … in 1985! Could 2015 be France’s year? I look forward to finding out.

In closing, this year marked Jens Vogt’s farewell Tour. Aged 43, he’s participated in 17 and will be sorely missed. He went out in style with a brief one-man attack on the Champs Elysées.

Also worth mentioning is this year’s lanterne rouge, Cheng Ji, China’s first participant in the Tour. Although he finished 164th and crashed in Paris, he provided useful pacing for his team, Giant Shimano, throughout. We wish him well in his recovery from his left elbow and knee trauma. It was a relief to find that he was able to finish the stage and avoid disqualification.

Roll on 2015 — vive le Tour!

Those who watch the Tour de France at home could be forgiven for not thinking very much of the podium ladies who present the stage awards and the various coloured jerseys on each day’s stage.

After all, we only see them at the end.

Yet, as Le Monde‘s blog En Danseuse — ‘standing on the pedals’ — explains, they have a full time job just as everyone else involved in this three-week endurance race does.

Henri Seckel interviewed the podium ladies who present Tour sponsor Antargaz’s daily award for the Most Aggressive Rider. This presentation isn’t usually shown on television, but it is for the rider who does his very best — despite physiological and environmental conditions — to finish a stage. However, he must put strategic and aggressive effort into his performance.

The ultimate winner of this accolade, officially known as the Combativity Award, is announced in Paris on the final day of racing — Sunday, July 27, 2014. One lucky losing rider will be in pocket:

Prize money: € 20,000 for the overall winner (€ 58,000 in total).

By contrast, the overall Yellow Jersey winner, who, this year, will be Vincenzo Nibali, will win over €1m.

More on Nibali in a minute.

The Combativity Award

First, to Henri Seckel’s interview with the ladies, Priscilla and Ophélie, who present the Antargaz award. The title of the blog post states that the Combativity Award is not a rubbish prize.

Ophélie explains that it goes to someone who has:

the courage, the pluck, the genius that gives the impression that he could be a stage winner or the best sprinter or the best climber. As there are riders who would like to win this award, it has value.

Becoming a podium lady

Now on to how the ladies got started with the Tour.

Ophélie says that she initially applied to be a driver:

I didn’t realise you had to have such a lot of experience. They said, ‘You won’t be able to do that, but we have something else for you.’

Priscilla had worked on the publicity caravan:

and if you really love the Tour, you want to know everything about it. But I told myself I probably didn’t have the right profile [for the podium].

When asked what the desired profile is, Priscilla said there wasn’t really any of which to speak. Ophélie said:

You have to be tall, at least. Then, not too ugly.

Seckel asked them if they feared being seen as airheads. Both said they were kept quite busy throughout the day, it’s just that most people don’t see them. Ophélie explained:

In the morning, we help prepare the stage departure, we’re running around, we’re welcoming Antargaz’s guests. Then we go to the middle of the stage where there are more guests; we welcome everyone, distribute gifts, then it’s on to the finish. The podium is only two minutes in our day. 

Easygoing and friendly

Seckel then fielded questions about women’s temperaments. As to whether there were ‘wars’ between hostesses from different sponsors, both women said that all the ladies were easygoing. Priscilla added:

The recruitment criterion is for easygoing people. We’re not tearing each other’s hair out.

But, Seckel asked, what about the women who present the yellow jersey? Was there any envy on the part of those who weren’t selected for that?  Ophélie said that no one makes a big deal out of it:

Of course … it’s highly prestigious. But the day-to-day job is still the same.

When asked how they were treated by spectators or guests, Priscilla said that the ladies who work only in the caravan suffer any number of verbal insults, but the podium ladies are treated with great respect. The riders, she makes clear, are nice to everyone.

Post-Tour blues

Such is the experience of the podium lady that, post-Tour, it’s a bit of a wrench getting readjusted to normal life. Ophélie explained:

It’s such a huge event — you’re in a bubble, in a little cocoon. The first time, they tell you: ‘You’ll see. By the end, you’ll be in tears.’ Because you’re totally taken care of, lodged, fed, made beautiful, and then, all of a sudden, that’s it. You’re on the way home, on the train, all alone, no one recognises you because you aren’t carrying anything branded Antargaz, no one smiles, no one says hello.

Priscilla felt the same:

The first year, I said, ‘Nah, I won’t cry, I’ve only known you for three weeks.’ And, frankly, I never cried harder in all my life. The Tour family is not a myth. We see each other afterward, go on holiday together — it’s really impressive.

Podium choreography

I suspect that people who watch a stage all the way to the end for the podium presentations are those who insist on watching all the credits at the end of a film. I am one of those people.

Those of us who do watch the podium presentations know how well synchronised they are. Nothing is out of place. Everything goes like clockwork.

Priscilla and Ophélie said that everything is rehearsed again and again, down to the last detail. It’s not unusual for the podia to be marked for positioning one’s feet and one’s distance from the rider.

They both said that even the slightest faux pas must be avoided, including touching one’s hair. Hence the need for lots of hairspray pre-podium.

Watch the 2013 final awards in Paris (at 1:00 in) to see how the women stand, how they applaud in a ladylike way and how expertly they do this aspect of their job, including the accomplished airkisses they give the riders:

Yet, one Yellow Jersey podium lady bucked the trend this year. In Sheffield, at the end of Stage 2, Vincenzo Nibali won the yellow jersey for the first time in his career. He’s gone on to win it every day since.

Huffington Post has a seconds-long replay in slow motion. The brunette with the bouffant made it look as if she were giving him a kiss but actually only grabbed his neck, pulling him towards her, leaving him covering for the incident by adjusting his collar.

You can see more in a news report via YouTube:

 

No one knows the dynamics behind her refusal to kiss him. Please note that Nibali did not say anything publicly afterward, certainly not as HuffPo’s title might imply. That particular remark came from someone online.

Although not asked about this incident, Le Monde‘s Seckel did want to know about the riders’ hygiene post-race. Ophélie told Le Monde that they are very clean by the time they reach the podium:

At the finishing line, they get into a little camping car where they have a nice wash, change their jersey and so on, so that when they arrive on the podium they’re spick and span.

I shall miss these insights — as well as the Tour — come next week. They’ve become part of my life, too.

As yesterday’s post stated, this year’s Tour de France Grand Départ was such a success that a high profile Tour of Yorkshire could take place as early as May 2015.

We owe these two grand days out (as Wallace might say to Gromit) to Gary Verity, the chief executive of Welcome to Yorkshire. The yellow ‘Y’ seen frequently during the Tour’s coverage of the first two stages is his organisation’s symbol.

The Guardian tells us that Verity had an early career in the City — London’s financial district — before starting a new life as a sheep farmer in Coverdale. He and his late wife Helen moved to Yorkshire when she was diagnosed with cancer in 2009.

After Helen’s death, Verity threw himself into promoting Yorkshire as a tourist destination and got the Tour de France idea one morning whilst he was shaving. His fellow Yorkshiremen thought the idea was daft; after all, they reasoned, big events belong to rival Manchester, not Leeds, Harrogate, York or Sheffield.

The Guardian describes how events unfolded (emphases mine):

In the runup to the 2012 London Olympics, Verity sat on the nations and regions group and argued that Yorkshire needed its answer to Manchester’s 2002 Commonwealth Games …

He had borrowed a helicopter from a friend to fly in the French organisers of the Tour, including race director Christian Prudhomme. After a glass of lager and Yorkshire-pudding canapes, two stretch limos took the party on a tour of Middleham Castle, home of Richard III, Swinton Park and Harewood House. Dinner was provided by a Michelin-starred local chef and among the guests of honour was [Brian] Robinson, the first British winner of a Tour de France stage, back in 1958.

In the light of the Tour’s traditional links with the French equivalent of the National Farmers Union, Verity carefully stressed the agricultural angle, but the delegation’s visit ended with an urban coup de théâtre. On a walk through Leeds, the big television screen in Millennium Square switched from showing BBC News to a promotional film for Yorkshire’s bid, ending with a personal plea from cyclist Mark Cavendish.

“Christian Prudhomme’s jaw hit the ground at that point, and he later told me that was when he knew we could deliver the Grand Départ,” Verity has recalled. On the way to the Eurostar, Prudhomme confirmed that he was impressed. “Yorkshire,” he announced, “is very sexy.”

England has hosted Grand Départs before, most recently in London and Kent in 2007, with upwards of 1m spectators lining the routes each day. However, they are few and far between. Prior to 2007, these events took place in 1994 and 1974.

The British government favoured Edinburgh as a host city. After Bradley Wiggins won the 2012 Tour and won a gold medal at the London Olympics, Yorkshire ramped up the lobbying. By December that year, Verity had signed a contract with Tour organisers Amaury Sport Organisation and the government allocated £10m to Yorkshire, including £1.75m from UK Sport.

Verity told The Guardian that he even found Amaury Sport Organisation’s fee ‘incredible value for money’.

The impossible is often possible: where there’s a will, there’s a way! A knighthood for this man, who clearly deserves it.

ITV4 commentators told their viewers that schools, businesses and private individuals banded together to make July 5 and 6, 2014, a success. And so they were!

An estimated 4m people lined the routes from Leeds to Harrogate and York to Sheffield. To those of us watching the coverage, however, it looked like most of Yorkshire showed up. The roads were not only lined with people but also resonated with a wall of noise — everywhere — from the cities to the Côte de Buttertubs and Côte de Blubberhouses. More than one person remarked that English names sound so much nicer in French!

Stage 1 began in Leeds with a ceremonial start (départ fictif), riding through the city for the 280,000 spectators there. The official start took place at Harewood (pron. ‘Harwood’) House where the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry greeted the riders and everyone enjoyed the magnificent flypast by the Red Arrows. A brass band played the French and British national anthems, the Duchess of Cambridge cut the tape at the starting line — and the riders were off.

The climbs on both stages pleased the riders whose physiques are suited for such challenges. The weather co-operated in making Yorkshire’s welcome a special one. The density of people and narrowness of the roads added to the excitement which sometimes turned tense as riders made their way up hill and down dale.

Mark Cavendish had a Stage 1 win in mind, as his mother grew up in Harrogate. She was in the VIP stands there, near Prime Minister David Cameron. Unfortunately, just before the finish line, Cavendish tried to squeeze in front of Simon Gerrans in a ‘gap that wasn’t there’ and both of them hit the ground. Marcel Kittel went on to win the stage as Cavendish was taken to hospital. Gerrans is still in the Tour. Cavendish underwent surgery on his shoulder on Wednesday, July 9, and will probably need six weeks of recuperation.

Stage 2 began in the heart of York and went on to include nine climbs in five counties, including a small part of Greater Manchester. Once again, the scenery was beautiful everywhere and the spectators wildly enthusiastic. Those of us fancying the ambitions of the three remaining English riders hoped Chris Froome, last year’s Tour victor, would win the stage which concluded in Sheffield, but that privilege went to Italy’s Vincenzo Nibali.

For those who have not seen the Tour de France before, watching an afternoon of televised coverage is better than an hour of highlights. The Tour is about much more than 192 men cycling; it’s also about the terrain, the people and the festive atmosphere. Yorkshire had it in spades.

French journalist François Thomazeau filed an article for The Guardian after the first two Tour stages. He concluded:

In 2007, the passion for cycling was already spreading, but nobody would have believed that two local riders could take the yellow jersey to Paris within six years …

Cycling is now a household sport and Britons know almost as much about the Tour as we do. Perhaps even a little more. At least they know how to win it, something we have not been able to do for 30 years.

It seemed as though the whole of Yorkshire had left their homes to form a guard of honour to the peleton. Entire villages had used their best French to write banners cheering “Le Tour”, while union jacks and tricolores were flying proudly side by side in the light breeze.

Will cycling really be coming home on Tuesday when the Tour heads back to France? I am not so sure any more.

Christian Prudhomme, the Tour’s director, said the first two stages had been:

very special. [Five-times tour winner] Bernard Hinault said to me it is the first time in 40 years on a bike that he has seen crowds like we saw this weekend.

What you did was good for Yorkshire, for sure, but what you did was also good for the Tour. When you said you would deliver the grandest Grand Départ it was the truth. You have raised the bar for all future hosts of the Tour de France.

Let’s hope this brings many more tourists to Yorkshire and future high profile cycling events.

Tomorrow’s post looks at Stage 3 from Cambridge to London.

Official 2014 Grand Départ MerchandiseThanks to the wildly successful Grand Départ of the 2014 Tour de France, Welcome to Yorkshire and Amaury Sport Organisation have submitted to the UCI a proposal for a three-day race scheduled for May 2015.

The event is provisionally called ‘Tour of Yorkshire’ and would be classified as a 2.1 UCI Europe Tour. This means that it would be aimed at attracting the world’s best cyclists as participants.

If the UCI approve the race, organisers hope that it would be a relatively regular feature on the cycling calendar.

The aforementioned press release includes enthusiastic quotes from Christian Prudhomme (Tour de France), Gary Verity (Welcome to Yorkshire) and Jonny Clay (British Cycling) on what could turn out to be an important and tangible legacy of the Tour de France for this beautiful English county, highlighted to the world on the first weekend in July.

The Grand Départ 2014 site also has a number of grateful tweets from Tour de France participants. Yorkshire gave them a superlative welcome, that’s for sure!

More on that tomorrow!

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