Nobody expects to agree with The Daily Mail. I have a theory that’s it’s actually a character newspaper, like a paper version of Alan Partridge or The Pub Landlord and is written by a group of very sarcastic left wing hacks. Knocking the right wing ravings of its editorial has almost become a sub genre in stand up itself. The earnest ranting that muslin lesbians from Nigeria were coming over here to spread foot and mouth, the constant referring to World War Two as if, it was not only was still happening but the Allieds might still somehow lose, it’s devotion to their page three blondes; Princess Diana and Madeline McCann. For any budding Mark Thomas, criticising it is like taking candy from a baby, a dead baby. So it’s saying something when even by their subterranean standards, a column that appeared in last week’s newspaper offended so many people that the Press Complaints Commission website crashed. This is, remember, a paper that employs Richard Littlejohn, a man who once pointed out that the Ipswich murder victims were only prostitutes, to write words.
On Thursday last, their charming columnist Jan Moir, took time off from her busy schedule of slagging off middle aged women and Kerry Katona to write a piece about the death of Stephen Gately that was so offensively, unnecessarily cruel and breathtakingly cold that it’s callousness is almost impossible to exaggerate or ridicule. When most people heard that Stephen had passed away on holiday in Portugal, their first reaction was to wonder at the implausibility of it. Tragic early deaths were for serious musicians or doomed actors not cute singers from naff nineties boy bands. It was always hard to take Boyzone seriously. Their first cringe worthy appearance on The Late Late show, their endless cover versions, Ronan’s braying accent that got off the bus somewhere outside Nashville; they always seemed like five men lads who were just having a go. Name the other ones; come on, not Stephen or Ronan or the one who was in Corrie for a while, the other ones. You can’t can you, but you think they’re probably aright, like distant cousins you meet at weddings or funerals. Compared to the professionalism of Take That and the slickness of their successors Westlife, Ronan’s craven ambition aside, they always seemed grateful and surprised they were still getting away with it. Of all of them Stephen was the most harmless. A diddy cherubic faced little bopper, he surprised about three cows in west Cork when he was outed, forced by a kiss and tell in a rival newspaper to admit his preference for men. He followed Boyzone with a brief but successful solo career and then joined the world of musical theatre. He had a gorgeous voice, he looked lovely, everybody seemed to like him.
His complete blandness makes Moir’s viscous attack all the more perplexing. After his sudden death and the normal rumours that surround any young person’s demise, an undiagnosed heart condition was revealed as the medical cause. His remains were being flown home, before his burial on the following Saturday when the journalist decided to launch her own take on his passing. Calmly dismissing the medical reason for his death, she saw it as the only possible result of his decadent lifestyle; death by gayness apparently. She warned any young men who may have looked up to Stephen, in case they were considering homosexuality as a lifestyle option to consider his squalid and lonely death. They’d invited another man back to their flat that night she crowed. She then, using the recent tragic suicide of Matt Lucas’s ex husband as further proof, damned civil partnership as a failure. The gays can’t be trusted with marriage you see. Heterosexual marriage has been booming for centuries, the gays and their “husbands”, inverted commas appearing around the word whenever it’s used in a homosexual context like a pair of gloves holding something dirty, soil it with their horrid ways.
You can say whatever you like about an innocent dead man and let his grieving family be dammed when there’s pages to fill, prejudices to confirm and attention to create. Stephen was buried two days later, surrounded by the family, friends and community that loved, adored and respected him. Moir’s column is subtitled “Are you thinking what she’s thinking?” Thankfully the answer is a baffled and very angry, no.