Thames re-branded and “bipolarised”


Lady Lucy motored up through Hambledon Lock on Sunday morning, its crew noting that Russell Brand’s thatched cottage had its doors open and lights on.

We came back in the afternoon, clearly the family was at home. It was raining hard by then

Since this picture was taken Brand has had a climbing frame assembled in the garden and a barge is on the river mooring. The Mirror reports a swimming pool’s been put in at the back (most people use the one at the front).

But to my guests it was just that pretty thatched house,we hadn’t worked out what must have been going on  inside.

It was a quiet Sunday morning with the weather breaking after lunch. Everything was as normal as Breughel’s masterpiece of Icarus falling to earth

Just a mile downstream from Brand’s Medmenham cottage is the site of the former Hellfire Club, it too has a children’s playground  on its riverside lawn. Times have changed,

20 more  miles down river, Windsor’s Theatre Royal had been readying itself for the sold out performance Brand was due to be given tomorrow. Like the rest of his September shows, this has been postponed. Icarus has fallen.

Brand is our 21st Century Lord Byron. In terms of conduct – that is not meant as a compliment.

Like Byron, he is good with words, he has charisma and he is a sexual being. Unlike Byron, he is not a poet- he doesn’t write for posterity. But he is a very good manipulator of digital media and he enchants his public with his self-confidence. We will forget Brand before Byron but right now he fits the bill. .

When it comes to bills, the Windsor theatre did not have to advertise the show. It sold out in a space more used to Ken Dodd and Penelope Keith.

Byron would have understood, there is a prurient fascination for depravity that both he and Brand tap into. Brand has caught the Zeitgeist, he plays to popular conspiracy theory and then some. He is the alternative voice for every would be romantic visionary, the bard of discontent.

So he is an unlikely pin-up for blue rinse Berkshire.  To get to Windsor he will pass through Theresa May’s constituency of Maidenhead. The incongruity of his riverside home set in rural Buckinghamshire and his firebrand videos seems deliberate

He is a throw-back to a different past, a past we have happily escaped from, it’s the past of fast living and beggar the consequence. It is our disgraceful past.

Byron died at 36 in 1824 but did not get a plaque in poet’s corner for 150 years. Byron was and still is a disgraced character in our poetic culture- a rogue genius who was the envy of those who didn’t know him and the ruin of women who did.

But the homelife of a celebrity is never as glamorous as their descent. Breughel’s Icarus falls into the sea without disturbing the plowman or the shepherd. Auden picked up on it.

In Brueghel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.


Up river from Medmenham is Fawley Bottom (“Fawley’s Bum”to John Betjeman) . There the poet, painter and ceramicist , John Piper lived and worked. You can see an excellent exhibition of his work in the Henley Rowing Museum ( I went lastt Sunday). This is the cultural inheritance of Berkshire .

The Henley Rowing Museum is silent on Russell Brand and makes no mention of the Hellfire Club  . They don’t comment on Stanley Spencer down at Cookham either – a little mad for little England.

This is the bizarre paradox of Brand’s kind of fame. He is famous for the image that he now has to disown or – like celebrities from Tate to Trump – embrace.

This vilain who got the BBC to ferry his 16 year old mistress from school to his chamber. The vile casanova who forced himself unprotected on unconsenting damsels. This hedonist, a stranger to the razor, this rake, this Burns-like impregnator. This jack in the box of unspeakable acts brazen in his announcement of his promiscuity. This person who attracts our time and repels our consciences. He is the king of the conspiracy theory, the president of bullshit.

For all this he has his 9m youtube followers.  Brand can make or break politicians. in 2015 he was courted by the Millibands and he delivered powerfully for the Labour party.

But maybe he drove as many of his Maidenhead neighbours out to vote the other way

That’s bipolarisation for you.


About henry tapper

Founder of the Pension PlayPen,, partner of Stella, father of Olly . I am the Pension Plowman
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