On Thursday, July 25th at noon, within seconds, I went from being a middle-aged slightly chubby university lecturer and poet, to a man bizarrely christened into the world of Boy Band mega-celebrity. For, as the police report confirms, I was assaulted, that moment, by several members of The Wanted, famous bad boy antagonists to One Direction – and, as linked to manager Scooter Braun, tied into the heady milieu that also includes Justin Bieber, and his balcony-spitting entourage. Cue their hit song “All Time Low”.
What I don’t want to do here is go over old, and stained ground, but to express my astonishment at just how privileged and above-it-all (literally) this celebrity culture is. For, in a sort of grotesque re-run of Marie Antoinette, the “boys” seem to have decided to drench me with a bucket load of champagne as I nonchalantly passed beneath their window.
The undisputed facts of the case are this, according to the police report. I was passing under their second floor window at the five star Marylebone Hotel, and they threw champagne on me. Curiously, while the band admits group responsibility for the assault (the police officer called it “common assault”), none of them has actually individually admitted they held the dab hand that threw the Moet on the poet (as the phrase is going). However, what struck me was not just the heavy volume of liquid, which thoroughly soaked my suit, but the attendant verbal abuse – they called me Barack Obama and made reference to having a gun and intending to use it.
It is a curious fact of English law that the police needn’t inform you of the identity of your assailants. So, when, by three pm, I was sitting in a conference room at the luxury hotel, still wearing my damp clothes, and was interviewed by a constable, I still didn’t know who had done this to me, or why. The officer was kind enough to tell me that the people who had done it (and who I subsequently identified) were in a “famous band”, but neither he nor anyone at the hotel would tell me who they were exactly. As the officer refused to press charges, I was therefore left with no way to seek an apology or redress.
Many friends of mine have asked why the officer didn’t press charges, given the confession by the band. Well, time and money, I suppose. It didn’t seem a very serious assault to the constable. Then again, he had not just returned from a funeral in Canada – nor had he been terrified by the threats, or the sudden dousing in a liquid (was it urine, spit, acid – for a few seconds, as it stung my eyes, who knew?). A week later, I am still finding it hard to sleep. I am also unable to walk under windows without cringing. And I have stopped listening to popular music, something I used to love. I am sad and confused.
I am mostly sad because on the Thursday, I offered my card to the Hotel Manager, and the police officer, and asked them to pass them on to the band, and their management (whose names I did not know). I wanted an apology. A week later, I have not received one directly from the band; a man from a company associated with them called on Sunday and described the event as “horrific”, and said the band would soon be in touch, to support a charity of my choice and apologise. That never happened. I can imagine The Wanted have moved on, as according to subsequent news stories, they have continued to be up to no good.
How much of this is intentional is a good question. For while more narrowly speaking it is a bullying and nasty thing to do, to taunt an innocent passerby just because you are young, rich and presumably pissed, it is also part of the role that increasingly this and other bands are encouraged to play. Once, such raucous actions were the domain of rock stars and punks. It is true that crooners like Sinatra had their own hotel room adventures, but until recently, bands aimed at young teens have been more or less “clean”. However, the Wanted’s TV show description mentions the “mischief” they are prone to. And as we all know, Justin Bieber has been wearing gas masks and spitting on people, doing a sort of Britney.
The Sun ran the story of the incident on Tuesday, and took a light-hearted approach. They ended with the joke the policeman had made at my expense – “at least they didn’t throw a TV on your head”. True – for then I would be probably in a coma, or worse. Instead, I have seen the story memed around the world on the net, spun and smoothed out into a curiously bland artifice, autotuned, as it were. Now the incident is “alleged” (though it was admitted to and there were witnesses to my condition within seconds of the assault); now the bucket of liquid is a dainty, almost welcoming “glass of champagne”, and, most oddly, I think – their open window, which they had to lean out of, making quite an effort to humiliate the man on the street – has become a “balcony” – the story has been Bowdlerised and Bieberised.
For me the broader issue is one of consequences. I am no stranger to drink, and when I was a young man, I did silly things in public too (though I was never interviewed by the police for anything I did) – however, I always apologised. Even now, if I spill something accidentally on someone, I pay for their dry-cleaning. But I am not a member of a band famous globally, managed, protected, insulated, shaped, and ultimately, misdirected, by a whole group of handlers, none of whom seems to think that what they’ve done is anything other than one more tabloid story to spin, like a record.
- Todd Swift is the editor of Eyewear.