When families fall out…

Going public is a sign of impotence, says Joan Smith

The Independent on Sunday, 24 June 2012

By the time you reach a certain age, a certain amount of messy emotional baggage is inevitable. Parents fall out with adult children, people have affairs, new partners live in a state of resentment towards old ones and vice versa. Some of these feuds are resolved, others turn into life-long estrangements, but the modern world offers unprecedented opportunities to take it all to a higher level.

Look at Jimmy Carr, who has spent the past few days trying to calm down a storm about his tax arrangements. Just when it all seemed to be working, the comedian’s estranged father popped up yesterday, writing a long article for the Daily Mail. Jim Carr said he had “watched with great sadness as my much-loved middle son was forced to issue a humiliating apology” about a tax scheme that enabled him “to pay as little as 1 per cent tax on his vast earnings”. No hard feelings there, then.

At the same time, France’s new President, François Hollande, has had his commitment to gender equality in government overshadowed by the behaviour of his current partner, Valérie Trierweiler. She is a journalist and should be a bit more media-savvy, but she recently urged voters to support a political rival to the mother of Hollande’s four children,
Ségolène Royal, who was fighting a difficult parliamentary seat. Royal duly lost, and now Trierweiler has published a book about Hollande’s presidential campaign. Writing about an event when Hollande and Royal appeared together at a rally, she mused on “the François-Ségolène reunion” in terms that suggested she was anything but relaxed. I can’t imagine that’s going to make life easier at the Hollande-Trierweiler breakfast table.

Meanwhile, a new front has opened in the saga of the marriage split of a wealthy couple, Ben Goldsmith and his wife, Kate Rothschild, who owns a small record company. I’d never heard of them until they exchanged hostilities on Twitter a few weeks ago, and I should think it was a relief to everyone concerned when they agreed to sort out their problems in private. Two days ago, however, a rapper called Jay Electronica, who is said to have had a relationship with Rothschild, appeared to blunder into the dispute via the micro-blogging site. His tweets were so parodic, including a threat to “come see you” if Goldsmith didn’t stop talking to the press, that I wondered if his Twitter account had been hacked. Certainly it won’t have helped a fraught situation, which involves the couple’s three children and an allegation of domestic violence.

The late Princess of Wales went public when she could no longer bear her anger towards her husband’s family. If Twitter had been around then, I expect she’d have taken to it like a duck to water – @queenofhearts. But the satisfaction of putting your side of the story may be shortlived, as well as acting as a reminder that there’s another side to the story.

When Jimmy Carr’s father complains that he’s been banned from watching his son perform, it suggests there’s been a breakdown of relations on a pretty awesome scale. In his article, Carr Snr refers to a case in which he was arrested on suspicion of harassing Jimmy and his older brother Colin with abusive emails and letters, and taken to court. He reminds readers that the case was thrown out, but acknowledges it was “a hollow victory, because my sons remain estranged”.

One of the painful things you learn as you get older is that some estrangements can’t be mended. People aren’t always reasonable, or able to see beyond their own hurt and resentment. Going public feels like the nuclear option but it’s really an admission of impotence, a last resort when all other avenues have failed.

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