Plummy-voiced Roy Plomley made Desert Island Discs a famous brand. Its current incumbent, Lauren Laverne, has been criticised for taking it too far downmarket and even in the direction of ‘down with the kids’. Schoenburg and accounts of how Isaiah Berlin changed the direction of the subject’s life being too often replaced with Alesha Dixon.
On the latest episode the first thing Ian Wright, the holder of 33 England caps and the mantle, for eight years or so, of being Arsenal’s top scorer, said after Lauren’s intro was “I’m welling up.... “. It was downhill from then on (admittedly he did start with a token bit of highbrow in the form of the duettino Sull-aria from the Marriage of Figaro which he would have us believe he used to listen to to calm his spirits on the way to Highbury on matchdays). For Wrightie wears his heart on his sleeve, and, embarrassingly, on his gloves, his cap, his jacket, his T-shirt, his trousers, socks and shoes. For him it’s emotional incontinence qua sign and proof of virtue and amiability. And, it has to be said what Theodore Dalrymple calls “the toxic cult of sentimentalism” goes down a storm these days. Lauren Laverne of course carried out her role as obliging midwife to this blubbering confessional to perfection.
Of course we know that Wright is BLACK and had a tough upbringing on a rough estate near Peckham in the unfortunate company of more than one violent and feckless father-figure. He later admits to having fathered eight children on more than one woman himself. Fortunately one of the pearls of wisdom he casts before during the broadcast is “Do as I say, not as I do".
There is a choice to be made, it seems. Does one opt for the ancient dignity whereby adulthood, especially in men, is equated with, not the obliteration, but the mastery of emotion and the relegation into irrelevance of demographics one has risen above; or does one, Rousseau-like, go in search of sympathy for all the trials and disadvantages of one’s life? One is left in little doubt as to the surging striker’s decision finding himself tossed on the horns of this particular dilemma.
Wright casually slipped into the conversation that “viral YouTube video “of his primary school teacher, Mr Pigden, ‘the first man to love him’ who rated Wright’s appearance for England above his own fly-past in the cockpit of his Spitfire over Buckingham Palace to celebrate the end of the Second World War.
One of his track-choices, the name of which, even, demands our maudlin sympathy, spoke volumes. It was Stormzy’s Heavy is The Head, in which everyone’s favourite Union Jack stab-vested ‘grime’ artist puts on a vulnerable and pseudo-tender voice to moan about the burdens of being 'the voice of the young black youth' and getting rained on at the Brits.
Wright links this song, casually dropping it into the conversation, with the era when the dramatisation of Alex Haley’s Roots was on TV. He doesn’t want us to feel sorry for him though.... Breaking down in tears two or three times during the program he mines his victimhood for all it’s worth, recommending himself to us as a kind of national treasure of tremblingly raw vulnerability while not of, course, in any sense, mining his victimhood, you understand. Essentially, in exchange for lots of telly payouts, like a proper Uncle Tom to Gary Lineker’s white plantation-owner, he obediently plays the role of everyone’s favourite black boy made good and dares us not to emote along with him in an orgy of compassion. Gold dust these days......
Picture credit: Ronnie Macdonald from Chelmsford and Largs, United Kingdom - Ian Wright & Lee Dixon interview 1, CC BY 2.0,