Television

James Delingpole falls in love with Grayson Perry - and almost comes round to Chris Huhne

1 November 2014

9:00 AM

1 November 2014

9:00 AM

I love Grayson Perry. You might almost call him the anti-Russell Brand: a genuinely talented artist who also has some very interesting stuff to say — as he’s demonstrating yet again in his highly entertaining new series Who Are You? (C4, Wednesdays).

It ought to be ghastly and it ought to be pretentious: a trendy ceramicist known at least as much for his transvestism as for his wackily decorated, hugely fashionable pots meets up with people from diverse backgrounds so that he can explore the theme of identity and then exhibit creations inspired by them at the National Portrait Gallery.

When I tell you that one of those people is a reality TV star called Rylan (winner of last year’s Celebrity Big Brother; he came fifth on The X Factor in 2012, in case you wondered how he got to qualify as a celebrity), your heart will probably sink still further. But I urge you: catch up with last week’s episode on More4, if you haven’t seen it already. The scenes involving another of Perry’s subjects, Chris Huhne, are among the funniest and weirdest you’ll see on TV all year.

Grayson Perry: Who Are You?
Grayson Perry almost makes you like Chris Huhne: some feat

Perry first meets Huhne at home on the eve of the perjury trial verdict which will decide whether or not he’s going to prison. Odd, you might think, to spend your condemned man’s final dinner (lentils, pan-fried fresh tuna) not à deux with your beloved (in this case Carina Trimingham), but à trois with a pushy, nosey, cheeky-chappy artist (plus TV crew) who wants to peer into the deepest recesses of your soul.


But that’s because Huhne is odd. Seriously odd. There’s something remote and otherworldly about him, like he’s been sent to earth from another planet with an incomplete rulebook on how it is that normal human beings ought to behave and, perhaps more significantly in Huhne’s case, feel. So while Carina is — rightly as it turns out — trepidatious and agitated about the next day’s verdict, Huhne is plainly oblivious. And Perry, percipient fellow that he is — with a true artist’s ruthlessness to boot — sees a problem here. How do you capture the true identity of a man who is, au fond, just an empty vessel?

His witty answer is to create one of his exquisite pots (biographically themed on Huhne’s life), smash it with a hammer, then have it put together by a professional restorer. When Huhne, now released from his stint in prison — which appears to have left him totally unfazed — comes to view the piece for the first time, Perry is a little nervous. Not least because one of the motifs he has used to represent him is a repeat pattern frieze of a penis. (Possibly to symbolise Huhne’s sex scandal; possibly because he thinks that that’s what Huhne basically is.)

Once again, however, Huhne is serenely detached from the whole experience. ‘Ah, a phallic symbol,’ he notes thoughtfully but slightly unconvincingly, as though impersonating someone he has seen once somewhere being an appreciative art critic but whose emotional response he can’t quite emulate. The strange effect was to make you rather like him. Or at least feel sorry for him. An impressive achievement by Perry.

I liked what Perry had to say, too, about Rylan, with regards to the nature of celebrity. His theory went like this: the urge we have to seek fame — obsessively so in Rylan’s case — is a throwback to our period as hunter-gatherers where we lived in communities small enough for everyone to know everyone else. (‘There’s Ug. He is a mighty hunter’ and so on.) In other words, back in the good old days, absolutely everyone was famous — and for much longer than 15 minutes. And we’ve never really got over this loss.

Perry’s mischievous streak (together with, again, that merciless artistic temperament which enables him to push things further than most of us would dare go) also brought alive his encounter with Kayleigh, a white single mother of five — and self-confessed former complete slag — who had given up drink and casual sex for the higher calling of fundamentalist Islam.

It became fairly clear that Islam’s principal appeal to Kayleigh was as a means of temperance-enforcement and child-control. Every time a disciplinary problem arose, she would simply explain to her various kids that Allah saw everything and that they’d better behave or else. Kayleigh, of course, had persuaded herself that her religious calling went deeper than that. And in your average Channel 4 documentary on Islamic converts she would probably have got away with it.

This programme, though, delivered the masterstroke of calling in Kayleigh’s brother to tell us what he thought of his sister’s conversion. Unimpressed wasn’t the half of it. But the best thing was that though he looked like just another, young inner-city lout, he interrogated like Jeremy Paxman.

Brother: ‘OK but why not Christianity?’ Kayleigh: ‘I don’t believe the Bible.’ B: ‘Why do you believe the Koran then?’ K: ‘The Bible’s been changed so that it contradicts a lot of Christians. The Koran has stayed the same from the first day it was written.’ B: ‘So you’ve basically chosen your religion off of “The book’s not been changed”?’ All right, maybe not such a difficult target. But this was documentary TV such as they don’t often make these days: unpredictable, insightful, provocative.

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Show comments
  • John Carins

    Perry disarms his victim and observers with good old fashioned charm.

    • Haloge

      Absolutely.

  • Chris Huhne

    Unfortunately, James Delingpole’s premiss is simply wrong, so the rest of the argument rather falls flat. It was not odd to meet Grayson Perry “first on the eve of the perjury trial verdict” for three reasons. First, the charge was not perjury, but swapping speeding points which counts as perversion of the course of justice. Secondly, there was no trial because I pleaded guilty. Thirdly, I met Grayson Perry for the first time on 4th March 2013, and I was sentenced on 11th March. So it was not “the eve” even of sentencing. Chris Huhne

    • John Morlar

      “simply wrong” — Think I’ve heard that before somewhere.

    • balance_and_reason

      Its not an argument….more of an observation.

      • goatmince

        Love Grayson, hate that Hirst shite.
        Also an observation of rather more poignant relevance.

    • steveherts

      Unfazed by his stint in prison-thats because unfortunately it was too brief and not in a real prison-but a pretend “open prison” Why only 2 months of an 8 month sentence for perverting the course of justice? Mercifully, however, it took one particularly unctuous member of the self-serving liberal Oxbridge elite out of circulation.

    • archwavian

      Is this a parody account or is this the real Chris Huhne? I ask because his ‘factual corrections’ are so ludicrous as to beggar belief:
      a) There was a trial, because Huhne did not initially plead guilty during the pre-trial hearings. At the trial he subsequently did plead guilty, leading to a verdict;
      b) The charge was not perjury, but it involved perjury – in his sentencing verdict the judge said Huhne had ‘lied again and again’.
      c) ‘The eve’ does not always mean the day before.
      So what he has posted here is exactly the kind of flim-flam that got him into trouble and which he STILL imagines people won’t see through..

    • FrankS2

      No doubt the word premiss has its own special meaning for you, Mr Huhne, since JD’s argument doesn’t hinge on such legal niceties as whether or not the court case was a trial.

  • John Morlar

    I’d seen Perry on the TV a couple of times and was struck by his quick wittedness, so I thought I would check this programme out. I gave up after about a minute when Perry told us that his portraits of these second rate people were going to be displayed in the National Portrait Gallery and that this was something he was looking forward to because the gallery is “the holy temple of British portraiture” and is full of “White, middle-aged, heterosexual men.” Perry was looking forward to thumbing his nose at British history and culture.

    What is it about such people that drives them to subvert cultural norms? Is it simply that they fear deep down that their art isn’t good enough to stand on its own merits and therefore needs to be seen in opposition to works that have stood the test of time in order that they might prop it up?

    Might give it a second chance though on the strength of your review.

    • John Morlar

      Just watched it. Load of rubbish.

      • Haloge

        Nonsense.

        Thank God for Grayson Perry. One of the few original British artists working today.

        Never thought i would ever agree with James Delingpole. Just been slagging him off on Daily Telegraph blogs.

        Bloody Hell!!! Another miracle.

        • you_kid

          Britbored – the last beacon of hope where bored ‘free speech’ Brits speak their minds, all by themselves.

          • Haloge

            “all by themselves”

            Waaaaaa

            Is that possible?

          • you_kid

            all by himself …. itself?

            WWAAAHAHAHA!

    • StupidWhiningMen

      Ah another one of those, white man’s preference = merit brigade.

  • John Hawkins Totnes

    They are all pricks, taking themselves so seriously.

  • dalai guevara

    Grayson Perry must be one of, if not the, greatest British contemporary artists around today. What makes him that? A combination of many things. He is a sociologist, an antropologist, a designer with a technical brain, an engineer, a preacher. That’s a pretty good list considering I just made that up. And he appears not to be in bed with bankers or someone’s bored wife.

    Grayson Perry manages to depict real people as we are, with the utmost accuracy. One of the gobelins he crafted some time ago will show the dimetrical opposite of what the author of this piece stands for … no , not an antidote to our hooded hijab friends, no way, how could you even think that? I am talking about this lot:

    http://www.artfund.org/assets/what-to-see/exhibitions/2012/07/GP361_The-Annunciation-of-the-Virgin-Deal_2012-FULL.jpg

    • balance_and_reason

      have you been smoking crack?

      • dalai guevara

        I have crackheads like you for breakfast.

  • NedMissingTeeth

    I like you Grayson Perry. Not as much as the BBC but definitely a bit.

  • Paddy Kilshamus

    FFS! This is the same old leftist narrative: White privilege, Gender Fascism, Identity Politics. The cutting edge in art, politically engaged with all the corrosive forces, a little more acid, a little more poison drip fed into the national psyche. When are these people going to called out for what they are? Purveyors of poison, merchants of cultural and spiritual suicide.

  • Sean L

    I can’t stomach him; same old leftist politics; as to his insights, you could hardly set the bar much lower than documentary TV. . . I heard him on Radio 4, just couldn’t bear to listen – it’s not his being on the left as such. Melvyn Bragg is Labour. But he’s a genuine truth seeker. This man just seeks to subvert British cultural norms, that’s to say what makes it possible to call this place *ours*, to no end but his own self-advertisement.

    • post_x_it

      Are you talking about Huhne or Perry?

      • Sean L

        Good question!

  • StupidWhiningMen

    “Self-confessed former complete slag”

    No, a self-accusing one.

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