The Press Saturday, June 27th 1998
There's a wonderful story in the Daily Express. I only wish I could believe it: Ozzy Osbourne — and I cannot improve on their description of him as "the bat-munching singer with Black Sabbath" — is supposed to have served his local vicar with a wedge of hashish cake. "I said to my wife 'flippin' heck, he's going to die I'd put about two ounces of dope in that'. He started to break out into this sweat and turned green and wobbled all over the place. He went down like a one-legged parrot I saw him a few weeks later,'' giggles Ozzy, "and he said 'I must have caught some 48-your flu bug when I was at your house. I couldn't see for a few days'."
If there is actually a vicar out there on cake-munching terms with Ozzy Osbourne, who can throw any light on the story, please contact me. We can discuss it over a cup of tea or something.
Whether it is a sign of the times or simply of the influence of Rosie Boycott, the story was told as a joke, in the gossip column, and not as an outrage on the news pages. But as rock stars grow older and curates grow younger it is only a matter of time till the story has the roles reversed. Perhaps Keith Richard only fell off the steps in his library recently because the cucumber sandwiches round at the vicarage had been flavoured with chopped herb.
Still in the dizzy world of celebrity, the Pope has apparently offered an interview to Hello magazine and been turned down. The Marquesa de Varela, the magazine's fixer, told Lynn Barber in the Observer "There is nobody now that I would kill to have. I think Diana's death as changed the whole thing. The offered me the other day an interview with the Pope, but ..
"You turned down the POPE?"
"Well, I didn't turn him down, But it was an approach from someone in Italy who said 'Would you be interested?' And I said 'Listen, I don't think I am the person to do the interview because I am not that Catholic.' There is nobody really today."
It is a real shame that she takes this view. A Hello interview with the Pope would have been a delight to read. But if it is not to be, there is only one spiritual leader who combines importance and glamour in the way that Hello needs. It is not, alas, Frank Griswold ("Just Frank and Jesus: the Presiding Bishop shows us round the sumptuous Cathedral where he shares his life with God"). Promising, but he hasn't got the looks. No, if the Pope is not to do Hello, it is the plain public duty of Cristina Odone.
After a couple of weeks in Sweden, doing sane things like chasing fish and writing books, it comes as rather a shock to return to the manoeuvrings over the age of consent. By releasing a three-week-old statement from the House of Bishops on a Saturday, the Rev'd spin Dr Bill Beaver ensured that it was dealt with by news reporters who don't know how to read these things. Read from the bottom, as Anglican statements on homosexuality should always be, the statement said "7. ON the details of the proposed change a majority of bishops are opposed to the amendment to lower the age of consent." In other words, nothing has changed since the last vote: the House of Bishops is divided, and a minority remains in favour and is still strong enough to keep .
Read from the top, however, the stress was on the fact that Dr Carey opposed the change; and this was the line which the Sunday papers duly took. They tended to report the statement as showing that the House of Bishops as a whole and led by the Archbishops were opposed to lowering the age of consent. Those papers who thought the story more complicated do not seem to have reported it at all. This is what Dr Beaver is paid for, and we should duly admire his skill.
Among the laity, feelings run similarly high. The Daily Telegraph reported a brisk exchange between two Conservative MPs in the debate: "Eleanor Laing, trembling, declared that MPs sometimes had to 'do not that which makes them popular but that which is right.' Nicholas Winterton rebuked her stiffly. 'If the Lord Almighty had intended sodomy to be natural He would have built men's bodies differently' (Hissing and gasps) 'Are you a Christian?' Mr Winterton demanded. 'Eh?'
"Mrs Laing: 'He has no right to ask such a question. But the answer is, I most certainly am a Christian. And it is not for me to question what the Lord Almighty has or has not done'. Mr Winterton muttered insults at his fellow Tory for several minutes."
The saddest story of the week was the suicide of Frank Collins, the former SAS soldier turned priest whose memoirs made such embarrassing copy in the Daily Telegraph under the headline "Yes, you can be a Christian and blow someone's head off." It turned out from a double-page and very sympathetic obituary in the Daily Mail that he had never actually killed anyone in all his army service. But after the book came out he had to resign his army chaplaincy and threw himself into work for a missionary organisation. He found no mainstream post in the Church of England after that, though he seems to have hoped for one. What makes the whole story peculiarly horrible is that reading the Mail's piece, one is constantly coming up against chunks of his garish comic-book prose about killing and toughness and bravery. It's what the readers wanted, but it is so hideously inadequate to the world in which he has left a wife and four children under sixteen.