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Stop moralising about British history, Zadie Smith tells fans

Zadie Smith (Hoda Davaine/Dave Benett/Getty I)
Zadie Smith (Hoda Davaine/Dave Benett/Getty I)

Pity Zadie Smith. The author has just recorded the audio version of her new novel The Fraud and quickly realised she had made her main character Scottish. “I can’t do a Scottish accent so Penguin had to hire a voice coach for me to do the Edinburgh accent,” she said at the Southbank Centre this week. “I also had a mouth brace in so it’s a bad Scottish accent and a lisp, so enjoy nine hours of that.”

On a more serious note, Smith sniffed at what she sees as historical moralising, particularly about British history. “I get the impression people are scared to know the truth of British history but it’s so fascinating. And to be honest, it’s not about you, it’s about them. What you will find when you go back is not only acts of terrible destruction and exploitation but also intense reforming energy. Incredible movements. I just don’t relate to the idea of being ashamed or proud of history,” she said, adding, “I don’t consider history a personal matter. I consider it a matter of the facts. To be a functioning society, you need to know the facts of where you’ve come from. Writing this book did not make me hate England. It was really fascinating how this country struggled towards some sort of democratic idea. How long it took, how brutal it was and how many people were involved.”

“History is not a football game - You win, I lose. It’s not like that. History is not about your self esteem. It’s a thing that happened to people and the very least you can do, when it comes to other people’s suffering, is bear to hear about it,” she said.

Despite her left-wing credentials (she recently said she would walk smirking to the polls at the next election in the hope the government falls), Smith has broken from some of her moralising allies. Earlier this year she said she was “severely triggered” by people who say Chaucer was misogynistic or Virginia Woolf was racist, and blamed the internet for corrupting the critical faculties of younger readers. “I am of that generation whose only real shibboleth was: ‘Is it interesting?’” she wrote.

Smith also spoke about her decision to live without a smartphone and social media, asking the audience: “Do you remember who you were before 2008?” The iPhone was released in 2008. “Because you were nothing like this, you were a different person. I don’t like submitting to mass behaviour modification experiments controlled by hyper-capitalists in Palo Alto, it’s just not my vibe.”

Mellow Gordon Ramsay swears by his new book

Gordon Ramsay (Zodee Media)
Gordon Ramsay (Zodee Media)

Yesterday we had the good fortune to sit down for lunch with Gordon Ramsay. In and out of the kitchen in his chef whites as he oversaw the preparation of the meal, the most sweary chef in Britain gave a warm welcome and waxed fondly about his forthcoming book Restaurant Gordon Ramsay: A Story of Excellence, pictured. It celebrates 25 years of his three Michelin-starred restaurant.

“Chef Ramsay”, as he was once quiveringly called by the trainees he terrorised on Hell’s Kitchen for the amusement of TV audiences, seems to have mellowed markedly in recent years. Far from slapping two slices of white bread around the Londoner’s head and forcing us to confess we are “an idiot sandwich”, Ramsay was on smiling form.

In his speech we tallied only five swear words (four f***s and a s***), and he spoke at length about homely topics such as doing the kids’ school run and how their canteen now serves croissants. But he still has bite. The opening of the restaurant back in 1998 was, he recalled, “a f***ing disaster, a s**t show” and of some of the elaborate recipes in the book, he quipped: “Don’t f***ing bother to make the dishes at home, they’re a nightmare.” Noted.

The mystery of Chiles

Adrian Chiles (Getty Images)
Adrian Chiles (Getty Images)

Whither Adrian Chiles? He began as a sports journalst before spiralling into a £1 million deal with ITV to present a short-lived breakfast TV programme and now he finds himself one of the most read columnists at The Guardian. This week it published his thoughts on Napoleon and the narrative bounds of historical films (historian Dominic Sandbrook called it a “first-class piece”, others were less impressed). No subject seems off-limits, and we wonder when Chiles will give his take on AI. In an article, Will Self recently mocked Chiles’s apparent lack of expertise on some subjects, tepid curiosity and fondness for referencing his at-home urinal in columns. We reckon Chiles, whose everyman persona disguises an apparently large fortune and an A-list social circle, is having us on a bit. His zinging response to Self’s attack — that he would print out the article and hang it above the personal urinal in his flat — had a heavy touch of nod-and-wink about it, suggesting Chiles is not as ineffectual as he seems.

Playing to the gallery

Sir Ian McKellen (Dave Benett)
Sir Ian McKellen (Dave Benett)

Sir Ian McKellen’s new play opens today and he says he is looking forward to performing in “a gay love story”. He stars alongside Roger Allam in Frank & Percy. “There was a time not that long ago when it was illegal to be what you were born. But when these two guys kiss there’s a roar of approval, from a perfectly ordinary theatre audience which makes me think that theatre audiences are probably the best people in the world,” he told the Evening Standard Theatre Podcast in a wide-ranging chat with Allam and our culture editors. The Evening Standard Theatre podcast is available wherever you get your podcasts.

Tory Bible goes red

The times they are a-changing at the Labour Party conference, which kicks off in Liverpool a month today. The Spectator magazine, the Tory Bible, tells the Londoner it plans to throw “a little soirée” on the city’s waterfront. It will be the mag’s first event at Labour conference in decades. And who can blame the magazine’s journalists for wanting to rub shoulders with the politicians who are expected to win the next election? Left-wing magazine The New Statesman has long had a monopoly on the first party of conference, but we reckon Labour big-wigs will be drawn to the Speccie bash for two reasons: novelty, and the fact that they serve better champagne.