Controversy was never a stranger to the GQ Men of the Year awards. In their pomp, we held the annual event at the Royal Opera House, a deliberately august venue in which to create a little havoc. We celebrated everyone from Samuel L Jackson and Keith Richards to Yoko Ono and Tony Bennett, from Michael Douglas to Madonna. The awards were like the Met Gala on steroids, and they were a hell of a lot of fun.
One year, however, proved challenging, when I was forced to throw Russell Brand out for insulting our sponsor, Hugo Boss. In 2013 he had pranced onstage, cocky as ever, and started berating Boss for producing Nazi uniforms during the war. Having willingly accepted his award, he used his moment on stage to insult our sponsor, demean the other winners, and make a spectacle of himself. So I threw him out onto Bow Street. The true story of Boss’s involvement with the German fashion label was slightly more complex than Brand had made out, and it transpired days later that he had solicited some Boss clothes for an appearance at an Oscar party earlier in the year.
Brand had already caused something of a stir when he attended the GQ awards in 2006. Having bragged on stage about having “a go” on Rod Stewart’s daughter Kimberly, the singer walked on and called Brand out. “You went out with my daughter, did you? Russell, stand up.”
A sheepish Brand stood and mumbled: “I took her out for one evening.” Stewart asked: “Did you behave yourself?” Brand said: “I never touched that girl.” Stewart retorted: “F***ing right you didn’t. You mustn’t come up here and boast. I speak here as a father.” Brand tried to make amends and they posed for pictures but Stewart later claimed he had no time for the comic. “He’s got to be careful,” he told the Standard. “He might be a bit of a player but he shouldn’t boast. I never did.”
There was a more worrying aspect, however. Earlier that night he had reduced the audience to silence when he spoke of a police investigation into an alleged “date rape” at his flat in Edinburgh during the festival. “I never did a sex attack,” he joked. “At the time the alleged attack was occurring I was having consensual sex with witnesses. Lovely night it turned out to be.”
His jokes jar terribly in light of the claims that have appeared over the weekend, that had been whispered about in the industry for years. At the time, the Noughties were still in part defined by the hangover of the laddish Nineties, where old-fashioned sexism was excused by supposedly post-modern irony, and the humour of the period often had a dark edge. Brand was as guilty as any other blokey comedian of the time, and yet he painted himself as a roué. “I’m a promiscuous singleton,” he would say. “I am obsessed with sex.” Or, “I’m not a difficult lay but I believe women are goddesses and I try to treat them as such.”
I find Brand innately odious, but the social media offensive has been frightening
Was Brand hiding in plain sight? Watching Despatches and reading the Sunday papers was a gruesome experience, and the wealth of testimony made for grim viewing. It’s hardly a surprise there has been such a collective outcry, as the accounts are horrible. But the rush to judgment was swift; I can’t stand Brand, and always felt he was an unpleasant character (I once turned down the “opportunity” to appear on his Channel 4 TV show), but the social media offensive that has already convicted him is frightening. Is he guilty? I’ve no idea, even though I’ve got my prejudices, and even though I find him innately odious. There are very few people who know the truth, and the verdict delivered by the swathe of angry invisible X consumers is the result of hysteria, not a recognised court. Brand himself has vigorously denied the claims in an online video.
The world is awash with stories that appear to substantiate Brand’s enthusiasms. A colleague was standing next to him at a launch event back in the mists of time. They were engaged in a deep discussion, although they were interrupted by pretty young women who wanted to lure Brand away to the lavatory. Brand kept rebuffing these advances until he was approached by two, long-legged girls who wanted him to accompany them to the ladies.
“Hang on a minute,” said Brand. “I don’t think I can turn this one down.”
There’s no doubt there will be many more in the next few days.
Dylan Jones is the Editor-In-Chief of the Evening Standard and the former editor of GQ