Andy Richardson: Playing God and handing an iron to the gods of rock
So now we know what really happened. Matt Hancock thought he was God, Boris Johnson was three sandwiches short of a picnic and Dominic Cummings had levels of contempt for the civil service that are usually reserved for warring parties during a divorce.
The WhatsApp messages that have been shared during the Covid inquiry have given an insight into the way the powerful operate. They’ve confirmed what we already knew – that the people who were supposed to be in charge didn’t have a clue what they were doing, or how they might make things better.
Mind you, sharing private WhatsApp messages is never a good idea. Because context is everything, and once that’s gone, the results are dangerous, weird, mad, or just plain daft, as we’ve seen from Boris, Matt, and Shoudda Gone To Specsavers.
Here’s my favourite, from today: ‘Taken the microwave to work, just today and tomorrow.’ That was me; to She Who Is Always Right. Because, let’s face it, who doesn’t need to tell their partner that they’ve nabbed a kitchen appliance, put it on the driver’s seat, and taken it to the place where they earn a few quid to warm an autumnal rice pudding?
Still, it’s weird, innit? ‘Taken the microwave to work…’ In a straw poll of 50,000 readers, I’m reasonably sure than precisely 0.00% would ever have sent a WhatsApp that said they’d done that. Maybe taken the kids to the park, the dog for a walk, the in-laws to the shops, or their mate to the pub. But never driven a cooker to work.
There’s context, of course. Because there’s always context. The beneficiary of said microwave was a pop star with a penchant for pies. And the dressing room he was due to sit in on the evening I, erm, took the microwave to work, didn’t have an oven. And my microwave, fancy thing that it is, has a convection oven built-in. Clever, eh?
While the rest of the world was watching Match of the Day, drinking pints of real ale, opening a cheeky bottle of Saturday evening Prosecco or eating their bodyweight in chocolate while watching Strictly, I took a microwave to a dressing room and starting heating – not eating – pie. I wonder what the Covid inquiry would have made of that?
Still, that’s far from the strangest rock’n’roll facilitation that’s ever gone on. Riders are legendary, in rock’n’roll circles, and provide an interesting window into the predisposition of performers.
The Beach Boys famously requested 48 large bath towels (presumably for all the swimming they do backstage) in their riders along with Marlboro Lights in a soft pack with a child-safety-free lighter that absolutely could not be green, Werther’s Originals, and a 50-foot roll of Saran Wrap.
Pharrell Williams undertook an Australian tour and demanded that his entourage of 26 people were to be entertained in his dressing room by belly dancers while they drank through 20 crates of Grey Goose vodka, 15 magnums of Perrier Jouet Belle Epoque champagne, and to top it off, 20 crates of Bacardi rum.
The original and the best, Van Halen legendarily requested a bowl of M&Ms with ‘all the brown ones taken out’. But – like taking a microwave to work – it wasn’t as bonkers as it seemed. While the request has passed into rock’n’roll lore, epitomising outrageous rider demands, it was placed there by the band for good reason. Van Halen had a complex technical stage setup and they wanted to check the promoter was paying close attention to the stage specifications. Well, that’s their side of the story anyway. And we believe them. Because rock’n’rollers always tell the truth.
Still, nothing tops the legendary, great, and best-of-all-time rockers: Led Zeppelin. Famed for their sex’n’drugs’n’rock’n’roll lifestyles, the wild and untameable bad men of rock asked for an iron and an ironing board when asked by promoters what they’d like in their dressing room. Was it merely to iron their clothes, or did they want to straighten their hair? Only they – and, presumably, the God-like Matt Hancock – will ever know.