University Boat Race 2012: Rowing isn"t just toffs having a paddle

Let me stick my oar in: Rowing isn’t just toffs having a paddle



07:37 GMT, 9 April 2012

Growing up in Fulham, West London, my links with the Thames go back a long way.

Back in the Fifties, Uncle Ray shot jerky home movies of my sister and me in hideous bobble hats, running along the side of the river in Bishops Park.

A few years later, as a pupil at Lady Margaret School in Parsons Green, I shunned rowing there (too damp and chilly in winter) in favour of aggressive hockey on the windy playing fields of Barnes.

Janet says targeting the Boat Race as the summation of everything that's wrong with British society is a serious misjudgment

Janet says targeting the Boat Race as the summation of everything that's wrong with British society is a serious misjudgment

Our family are life-long Fulham football
supporters — Dad took me along aged eight, and cousin David recently
held his wedding reception at Craven Cottage, which overlooks the course
of the annual Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race.

We grew all our vegetables on the family allotment off Fulham Palace Road, and would walk the towpath from Hammersmith for a picnic on Sundays. I was astonished that one of Trenton Oldfield’s justifications for disrupting the Boat Race on Saturday was because this part of London is ‘the site of a number of elitist establishments . . . Fulham Palace, Chiswick House and St Paul’s Schools’.

True, there are posh houses and swanky
shops there, as well as supermarkets, vegetable stalls in North End
Road, council estates and state schools, like the ones I attended.

To blame Erica Roe flashed her assets during a rugby international at Twickenham in 1982

To blame Erica Roe flashed her assets during a rugby international at Twickenham in 1982

Yes, the Government is dominated by a
bunch of wealthy toffs — and politicians have never been so despised by
the public. But targeting the Boat Race as the summation of everything
that’s wrong with British society is a serious misjudgment. My heart
sank when I saw this fantastic event (watched by millions around the
world) descend into chaos, because one moron wanted his moment of fame
as a ‘class warrior’.

The hard-up working classes struggling to cope in difficult economic times don’t need stunts to draw attention to the blatant injustices in our society — stunts never produce results, they just spawn a whole generation of copycats.

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I blame Erica Roe — the big-breasted
female who flashed her 40in assets during a rugby international between
England and Australia at Twickenham in 1982. Since Erica, every major
sporting event is targeted by flashers and protesters, desperate for
their fleeting moment of media fame.

Now, outdoor Olympic events from sailing
to showjumping will have even more costly security, and spectators will
endure even more checks. If Trenton wanted to change our democracy, why
didn’t he stand for Parliament

To highlight the Boat Race as an
example of upper-class privilege is naive. A long time ago, I had an
affair with one of the coaches and was lucky enough to watch the Boat
Race from the launch behind his team’s boat. It was one of the most
exciting moments of my life. I saw at first hand that winning is
everything, and a coach seeks out the most talented rowers, no matter
what their background. Rowing, of all sports, is hardly elitist, and
Britain regularly produces world champions.

for highlighting social injustice, I grew up believing everyone has the
right to protest. As a teenager, I joined CND, went on Ban The Bomb
marches and took part in the anti-Vietnam war demonstrations of the late
Sixties, including the huge march on Grosvenor Square in 1968 that
ended in more than 200 arrests.

I support the public’s right to march for a cause, not an unfocused whinge. Sadly, peaceful protests these days are increasingly hijacked by groups with a different agenda — the overthrow of our democratically elected society by whatever means they choose.

In 1990, a peaceful demonstration by 200,000 people against the Poll Tax ended in frightening scenes of chaos in the West End as anarchists caused millions of pounds worth of damage. I was producing a BBC show in Piccadilly that night and had to walk home through the riots — a terrifying experience.

Since then, an increasing number of legitimate protests have been hijacked by a minority hell-bent on causing maximum disruption, the exception being the march against the Iraq War in 2003, when more than 750,000 ordinary people showed Tony Blair what they thought of his policies.

In 2009, the G20 summit saw violent clashes and one man’s death in the City of London, and a peaceful march over student tuition fees in 2010 ended in riots and an attack on a car carrying Prince Charles and Camilla.
If one self-styled ‘guerilla’ in a wetsuit can cause chaos, what chance do you give the Olympics of passing off without disruption Not a hope.

Shingles is no laughing matter

I’m writing this column suffering
from shingles — I’m one of three Loose Women hosts to come down with
this painful condition in the past few weeks. I thought I’d pulled a
muscle boxing, until I saw a horrible rash sprouting under my arm last

This is the second time I’ve had shingles and it hurts my
lungs every time I breathe. As a result, my sense of humour is a little
jaded, so I wasn’t best pleased to read one of my fellow Mail columnists
making a joke about it. She’d better lie low when I get my strength
back and am boxing again, as I have a lethal right hook. Is shingles
funny Please let Amanda Platell know what you think.

In great shape: Davina McCall

In great shape: Davina McCall

Don't be such a moaner Davina

Davina McCall looks in great shape to me, and was (rightly) boasting about her toned abs on Twitter recently.

The Queen of Workouts has had no fewer than five exercise DVDs in the top 50 and her latest topped the sales charts in January.

Mind you, this mother of three works out three times a week, proving you don’t get great results without putting in the hours.

I’ve a soft spot for Davina, whose new series of Long Lost Family starts on ITV this Thursday, but I wish she wouldn’t sound needy in interviews.

I salute the fact she has put drug abuse and a difficult mother behind her and rebuilt her life, but at 44 she’s got a new set of demons.

According to Davina, ‘ageing is hard . . . my face is all right, but I’m getting slightly saggy skin round my body . . . underarm softness’.

Surely not bingo wings It’s a mistake to start focusing on little bits of your body you don’t like, and well-known women shouldn’t air their insecurities in public — it just makes other women feel even less happy in their own skin.

Go and see Hirst for yourself

Before being struck down with shingles, I caught the Damien Hirst show at Tate Modern. Ignore the carping critics, and go and judge for yourself. I can’t stand patronising experts opining what art should and shouldn’t be about — the proof is in the reaction it provokes. Hirst is a brilliant showman — you might find some of his work trivial, vulgar and crass, but there’s no doubt he is an artist with something serious to say.

David Hockney got attacked by critics for his show at the Royal Academy being ‘too big’. It gave huge pleasure to hundreds of thousands before it closed. Damien has the same gift. It might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but he is willing to confront life and death, not trivia. Don’t miss it.

Without the Dowager, there’s no Downton

Dame Maggie Smith's turn as the Dowager Countess of Grantham is the main reason why Janet's gay friends are hooked on Downton Abbey

Dame Maggie Smith's turn as the Dowager Countess of Grantham is the main reason why Janet's gay friends are hooked on Downton Abbey

Dame Maggie Smith’s turn as the Dowager Countess of Grantham is the main reason why my gay friends in the U.S. are hooked on Downton Abbey — they’ve perfected their impersonations of her ruthless put-downs, delivered with pursed lips and much rolling of the eyes.

Although I am tired of the shenanigans below stairs, I can’t wait for the next series of Downton and the clash of the battleaxes in the drawing room, when Shirley MacLaine — cast as the mother of Cora, Countess of Grantham — arrives on the scene.

ITV had been keeping the storylines of the third series, which starts in the autumn, a closely-guarded secret, but one of the American executives on the show (screened on PBS) has been spilling the beans, telling audiences, ‘Maggie Smith is a handful … she’s very difficult. She’s tricky on the set, but she delivers when the time comes’.

Big mistake! In telly, some people are expendable and others are not. I don’t expect this big-mouthed executive to be around much longer. Downton needs the iconic Dame Maggie, no matter how demanding she might be.

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