Sunday, January 29, 2012


Today, I am thrilled and honored to be hosting the wonderful Piper Bayard and Kristen Lamb on this leg of their presidential campaign trail!

If it wasn't for homophobia and mud slinging there would be no political debate thus far in the electoral process; Piper and Kristen have been the only light in the darkness. I hope this interview helps you decide where your vote goes in November! 


     CF.    One of your rivals, Senator Rick Santorum, has bemoaned sex 'being deconstructed to the point where it's simply pleasure.' What's your stand on that?

B/L: He’s doing it wrong.
CF.    The death penalty. Too harsh for health insurance company CEO's or too quick?

B/L: That depends. Will the CEO’s get a bullet to the brain or that famous faulty electric chair in Florida?

CF:    Do you consider cupcakes a terrorist threat? If not, what do you think should be done about the TSA?

B/L: The TSA is a travesty. Those radiation scanners were a sweetheart deal between our government and Bill Chertoff, the former Director of Homeland Security. As Holmes says, “They can’t tell balls from bombs,” and the radiation dose has not been properly studied. In fact, TSA agents, themselves, are now being tested to find if they have been over exposed by just standing next to the machines. The machines will go, and we will institute reverse profiling, seeking out clear stereotypes of people who are not terrorists. We’ve mentioned our Granny Plan Health Care? This will be our No Grannies Plan.

As for the cupcakes, we believe they are only a threat to the security of our belt buckles, and we believe all airlines should provide complimentary cupcakes on every flight.
a plate of terrorist threats - photograph by Joy

             CF:  Sarah Palin appeared recently with a new do - a bumpit and curls. Are you two considering any such makeovers? Beehives? Afro wigs?

              B/L: No. We will continue to maintain our simple hair with red and blonde highlights. We will be too busy running the country to spend the time it would take to do anything that doesn’t involve a scrunchie.

              CF: The GOP candidate Willard Romney uses Mitt as his monicker, which is very charming and homesy. There's even a Newt. Have you thought about using nicknames. Pip? Kris?

              B/L: Kristen feels very strongly against using monikers. We both believe that the American people should know who is leading their country and not get us confused with escapees from conservative 80s sitcoms.

              CF: This one was forwarded to me by someone at Camp David, where I guess you'll be spending most of your time once elected. What's your golf handicap?

B/L: Our biggest handicap is that we don’t play golf, but you could find us on the shooting range, and we’ll allow useless bureaucrats to redeem themselves by holding our targets. As for spending all our time at Camp David, we didn’t even know where it was until you asked us this question, and we looked it up. 
another tough day at Camp David

               CF:  Iran. Invade or go nuclear?

                B/L: Iran is already being invaded by China right now, but the mullahs are too stupid to know it. China wants Iranian oil, and the mullahs think they can somehow control the Dragon. China would love nothing more than for there to be a ruckus between Iran and the US because that would weaken Iran and damage the US and Western nations. This would facilitate their own takeover of the oil-rich region. However, China, unlike Iran, is too smart to go to war with us. It also has no particular axe to grind with Israel so, unlike Iran, it won’t be starting a war there either. Therefore, it is to our advantage to let Iran continue to become China’s b**ch for the moment. Our approach will be to sneak in our popcorn and watch the show. 

              CF: Are you worried about the challenge from Governor Rick Perry?  One, he appeals to many ultra conservatives. Two, he probably has the state of Texas all wrapped up. And three, ... three ... point number three .... oops ... sorry, I'll get back to you on that one.

               We all saw how Herman Cain's campaign got derailed. Before it all gets nasty do you have any secrets that should come out now? Have either of you ever sexually harassed anyone, for instance?

                B/L: It’s only sexual harassment when people don’t want the attention, and trust us, our husbands want all the attention they can get.

                Hey, Baby. Want to play rogue TSA agent and naughty cupcake girl?

               As for other secrets, it’s no secret that Kristen and I have led colorful lives. We prefer to say we have “street cred.” Will we share every gory detail with you? No. We do what good Southern ladies should do. We keep those details private until we can put them together for our memoirs once we’re out of office.

               CF: Governor Rick Perry claims to have shot a coyote while he was out jogging. Do either of you carry guns when you're jogging and if so, have you ever shot any wildlife with it?

                B/L:  We would both rather suck broken glass up our noses than go jogging. However, Piper has a concealed carry license and is prepared to deal with any coyotes that attack her in yoga class or on the elliptical at the gym. Kristen, on the other hand, is convinced she is doomed to shoot herself while looking for her lip gloss. Her husband, being a good hubby, is taking her to shooting classes so that those coyotes in yoga class will need to fear her, as well.
Governor Rick Perry sans coyote. Photograph: Ed Schipul
              CF: Finally, Governor Rick Perry wanted Texas to secede in 2009. Are there any US states you would encourage to go once the people have spoken in November?

              B/L: We will encourage Mexico to secede from the Union. We realize it is not technically a state, but when a country’s second biggest chunk of its economy is American dollars, it might as well be a state. Rick Perry is welcome to take I-35 south to spearhead that cause.

The fact is that most of the soldiers fighting with Sam Houston in the Mexican-American War were, in fact, Mexicans who recognized that the people in power in Mexico were not interested in building a strong Mexican State. They couldn’t get out fast enough. The same was true in California, Arizona, and New Mexico. In fact, it is still true today. Mexicans can’t seem to run north fast enough.

We would love for the government of Mexico to take responsibility for the well-being of its people and build a great economy. With all of its oil and other natural resources, there is no reason Mexico shouldn’t be one of the strongest economies on the planet.

However, the powers that be support ravagers like Carlos Slim, the man who became the richest man on the planet with his monopoly on Mexican phone service, which charges the highest rates on the planet. The Mexican powers that be also perpetuate a hard core culture of corruption by collaborating with the drug cartels rather than devoting themselves to shutting down the criminals and making Mexico a decent place for her fine citizens. We will pressure the Mexican government any way we can for it to become independent of American jobs and American money and instead do what’s right for their own people for a change. Mexicans deserve much better than they are getting from their own country.

We would like to thank Colin for hosting our Campaign Blog Tour Stop today. It’s been fun and an honor.

If you would like to host the Foxie with Moxie pair for a blog stop, please contact Piper at We would love to come around to your blog. 

Bayard/Lamb 2012 – Because We’re Not the Other Guys

I hope you enjoyed the post! If you don't already know their work, you must see Kristen at and Piper at


Friday, January 27, 2012


I received an email the other day from a reader who had come across HAREM, liked the first chapter, and wrote to me: ‘... before I read any more, I want to know if it’s all factual and true.’

Now I understood where she was coming from; she wanted to know if she was reading history or fantasy before she started out on quite a large book. Fair question. And yet ... 

It made me think. Like all my breed I pride myself on the level of research that goes into my books. It's exhausting. Sure I make mistakes occasionally, but generally minor ones and hopefully not very often. But though I know I will never stray from this discipline, I do sometimes wonder: why does it matter more in a book than in a film?

I recently watched a re-run of 'The Untouchables.'  Structurally, it’s brilliant and it has one of the best suspense scenes, for my money, in the history of film-making. There is that wonderful set up at Chicago’s Grand Central Station where the gangsters walk in, armed to the teeth, just as the mother is pulling the baby up the stairs in a pram.

photograph: Vincent Desjardins

Yet a novelist could not get away with the story line. For instance; Frank Nitti never fell to his death after a fight with Elliot Ness - he committed suicide in an Illinois rail yard when he was 57. Ness’s accountant Oscar, who Nitti shoots dead in an elevator in the movie, was loosely based on Frank J Wilson, the Treasury department agent who was the one who really had Capone convicted. He died in his bed at 83. 

And so on.

That giant of English literature, William Shakespeare, got away with murder more times than Capone. The Bard had the same view as de Parma: the play’s the thing

Some people see "Richard III" and believe in life that he was deformed, conniving and immoral. But the unbiased evidence of various chroniclers, both before and after Richard’s reign, describe a just ruler, a caring uncle, and a loyal brother. 

And the hunchback was purely Shakespeare’s invention.

If Hollywood kept to the script, no movie would ever get made. The Deer Hunter, for example; there is absolutely no basis in fact for gambling clubs acting as venues for games of Russian Roulette in wartime Saigon. The film used it as a metaphor for war and did it brilliantly.

It is still ranked as one of the best films ever made. It is certainly one of my favourite movies.

But historically accurate? No.

Or there’s Braveheart; its historical inaccuracies are legion. (William Wallace could not have had a union with Princess Isabella of France and sired a son with her, as she was just nine years old when he died; the Scots did not wear kilts until much later.)

But as Michelle Miller at HISTORICAL FICTION CONNECTIONreminded me, she enjoyed the book so much it made her want to search out the facts for herself. And she, along with millions of others, loved the movie.

It's a point that was also beautifully illustrated in Donna Russo Morin's wonderful post on this subject here.

photograph: Kjetil Bjornsrud

In movies the story is the thing; whereas Ken Follett made one very minor error in 1100 pages of diligently researched material in Pillars of the Earth, (poor people, someone pointed out, did not eat breakfast in the Middle Ages)  and was found out. Novelists finagle with history, intentionally or not, at their peril. Books are subject to quite different criteria to film. It is both the genre’s strength and its weakness. 

When someone reads a good thriller, they don’t ask: is it well researched - they only want to know - is it exciting?

I'm not complaining. I have no desire to shapeshift history. I think it's exciting enough as it is. 

But how far do we go? For example, if we used absolutely historically correct language no one would be able to read it; Middle English is more difficult than Mandarin. And then there’s the social milieu; women for much of western history were regarded as chattels. 

Treating a woman as a domestic slave or a breeding machine is great for the villain in your story. But how will twentieth century audiences react to such behavour from your hero - even when it's historically accurate? 

A lord of the middle ages could have helped himself to every female servant in the castle without reproach from his peers, but it would be hard to make him sympathetic to a modern audience.

Stephanie Dray wrote wonderfully about some of these conundrums in this great post here.

Make no mistake, I advocate good research and historical accuracy wholeheartedly and I won't be relaxing my own diligence when it comes to research. 

So I have no agenda on this subject; I am just inviting discussion on this one.Why do we have a double standard with historical fiction and historical movies; are authors and readers too obsessive? Or are we not obsessive enough?

If you like my post please press my Stumbleupon button below. 

And at last some sanity returns to the Presidential Race! Mitt? Newt? The Bayard/Lamb presidential ticket has two women with proper first names and great ideas, and they'll be stumping up here on Monday and answering the hard questions. Don't miss it!

Until then, I look forward to your comments!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

WHAT'S YOUR AQ? (Australia Quotient)

Tomorrow is Australia Day in my adopted country. Despite my strong ties with England, I have spent most of my life here and I shall be celebrating along with everyone else. The national day of Australia commemorates the arrival of the First Fleet in Sydney Cove in 1788 and the proclamation of British sovereignty over what was then called New Holland.

The first fleet was eleven ships that sailed from Britain in May 1787 with about fifteen hundred people aboard, half of whom were convicts. They were sent to establish the first colony here, using the convicts as labour. It was also a way of freeing up the prisons; an early example of outsourcing problems. 

First Fleet re-enactment, Sydney Harbour 1988

January 26, is a national public holiday marked by public exhibitions of fireworks, concerts and tournament-level drinking. Not for everyone though; it is of course controversial to some Australians. (Some in the aboriginal population refer to it as Invasion Day.)

photograph: JWC Adams

Now many people in the world can’t even find the place on a map; they get us mixed up with Austria. How much do you know. What’s your AQ? (Australia Quotient).

Here’s a quick quiz to find out:

1. An easy one to start with: What is the capital of Australia?
(a) Sydney
(b) Melbourne
(c) Canberra
(d) Vienna

2. Australia is often referred to as “The Land ...”
(a) That Time Forgot
(b) of a thousand blowflies
(c) Down Under
(d) next to Germany

3. What is this building? 

photograph: Phil Whitehouse

(a) the national parliament
(b) the state of the art nuclear facility at Mount Buggery
(c) the Sydney Opera House
(d) the house where the von Trapps lived

4.) Which journey is it possible to drive in less than a day?
a) Iron Knob to Humpty Doo
b) Salzburg to Canberra
c) Sydney to Melbourne
d) Burrumbuttock to Nowhere Else

5) What is this a picture of?

photograph: Brandy Frisky

a) a kangaroo
b) a koala bear
c) a wombat
d) a bull ant

6.). In 1954 a gentleman by the name of Bob Hawke set a world record by sculling two and a half pints of beer in 11 seconds. He later became ... what?
(a) the Australian Cultural Attaché to Paris
(b) a famous artist
(c) the Prime Minister of Australia
(d) Archbishop of Sydney

7). What is this?

photograph: tristan b
 (a) toast covered in sump oil
 (b) toast covered in bicycle grease
 (c) toast covered with a black sticky food spread made of the gooey waste from the brewing process that is a staple for every Australian child at breakfast
(d) ... people eat that?

8. Which two animals appear on the Australian coat of arms?

(a) the shark and red back spider
(b) the box jellyfish and deadly taipan snake
(c) the kangaroo and the emu
(d) the crocodile and the blue ringed octopus

9. What is Australia’s system of government?

(a) a republic
(b) a benign dictatorship
(c) a constitutional monarchy
(d) anarchy

10. What is a pie floater?
(a) ice cream scoop in a glass of coke
(b) a dead cow floating down a stream during the monsoon floods in far north Queensland
(c) a meat pie floating in green pea soup;
(d) a round inflation device used in public swimming pools and so-called because it looks like a pie

Before we get to the answers, here's a video of a typical Australian 'barbie' (barbecue), which you'll find just about everywhere in Oz on Australia Day.

All the answers were (c). 

There is no nuclear facility at Mount Buggery. But there is a Mount Buggery. In fact, there’s two, both in Victoria. One lies on the end of a ridgeline known as the Crosscut Saw between Mount Speculation and Mount Howitt, the other is on the Buffalo River. 

Question 4, in case you were wondering, you can’t drive from Burrumbuttcok to Nowhere Else, because the Tasman Sea is in the way. And Iron Knob to Humpty Doo is a journey of about 1700 miles, so it will take you around thirty two hours of driving.

The picture in (5) is a wombat, a curious animal which is like a cross between a pit bull and a badger. I’d give you half a point if you said bull ant. If you come to Australia and see the ants here, you’ll know what I mean. 

In question 7, (c) is technically correct but I’ll accept (a) (b) or (d). It's called Vegemite. It's an acquired taste.

Question 8, the kangaroo and the emu are the only two wildlife in Australia that will not poison you or eat you, which is why we have them on our coat of arms. 

If you liked my post, please give me a thumb up on Stumbleupon.

I'll leave you with a picture of a pie floater. Happy Australia Day!

Monday, January 23, 2012


Thirty four years ago today, on 23 January, 1978, Terry Kath, the original guitarist and lead singer of the rock band Chicago, died after a party in Los Angeles. Famously, his last words were: ‘Don’t worry, it’s not loaded.’ 

But of course, it was. He had been fooling around all evening with a .38 revolver but the 9mm pistol with an empty clip and a live round in the chamber was his undoing.

That final utterance is probably only rivaled by Civil War General John Sedgwick, who was warned not to show himself above the Union parapet during the Battle of the Wilderness. "Nonsense, they couldn't hit an elephant at this dist ...

Famous last words can be painfully ironic; at other times they are heart-breakingly poignant, and sometimes even funny. Some of the most famous ones are just not true. 

For instance, Humphrey Bogart’s last words were supposed to have been: "I should never have switched from Scotch to Martinis." But in a TV interview Lauren Bacall, his wife, contradicted the claim. She said that she left the house briefly to do some grocery shopping, and the bedridden Bogart’s last words to her were: "Hurry back." 

It sounds more realistic to me. And infinitely more poignant. Although Tallulah Bankhead’s last words really were: ‘Codeine ... bourbon.’

But many supposed last words sound just too ... well, contrived. Bill Bryson asserts in his book, Mother Tongue, that when Dominique Bouhours, the French priest and grammarian died in 1702 his last utterance was: ‘I am about to -- or I am going to -- die: Either  expression is used.’

Well, it’s a good story. Did he have that planned? Some people die with plenty of time to rehearse their exit lines. Like the convicts on Death Row, for example:

James French, the last person executed by electric chair in Oklahoma in 1966, shouted to the journalists assembled to witness the event: ‘Hey, fellas! How about this for a headline for tomorrow’s paper? ‘French Fries’!

There was a precedent for such gallows humour. James W Rodgers, sentenced to death by firing squad in Utah in 1960, was asked if he had a last request. He is supposed to have said: "Why yes, a bulletproof vest!"

Bank robber and convicted murder Frank ‘Two Gun’ Crowley was a touch more prosaic before his execution in 1931. "You sons of bitches! Give my love to Mother."

Another way to write your own epitaph is to put it in your will, like Rabelais, the Renaissance writer and doctor who died in 1553. “I have nothing. I owe a great deal. The rest I leave to the poor.’

But most last words are not quite the final words. Horatio Lord Nelson, for example, did say ‘Kiss me, Hardy,’ while he was dying but said a lot of other things too. His last moments were well recorded and his actual final words were: ‘Thank God I have done my duty.'

Oscar Wilde’s remark: 'The wallpaper is killing me - one of us has to go,’ is true, but they certainly weren’t his last words, which were probably mumbled to a priest while heavily sedated with morphine - not the best conditions for the wit for which Wilde is so famous.

There seems to be some pressure for the rich and famous to say something memorable on the way out. There was a legend that Pancho Villa the Mexican revolutionary said: ‘Don't let it end like this. Tell them I said something.’ In actual fact he was gunned down in a hail of bullets and died instantly.

Often what is remembered by those gathered are not the last words, but the words worth remembering. Lady Astor, for instance, woke briefly during her final illness in 1964 to find her family gathered round her bedside and murmured: “Am I dying or is it my birthday?”

And Ramon Maria Narvaez, when asked by a priest on his deathbed if he forgave his enemies, replied: "I do not have to forgive my enemies, I have had them all shot." 

Some leave us with last words that are neither witty or peculiar, but are nonetheless deeply moving. Napoleon’s last word was ‘Josephine.’ Charlotte Brontë died at just 38, along with her unborn child, possibly from dehydration caused by hyperemesis. She whispered to her husband of nine months, Reverend Arthur Nicholls: “Oh, I am not going to die, am I? He will not separate us, we have been so happy ...”

Just as poignant were the last words of James W Polk, President of the US from 1845-1849. The presidency took a terrible strain on his health - there was no Camp David in those days - and he died soon after leaving office. His last words to his wife: “I love you Sarah. For all eternity, I love you.”

I’ll leave the last word on last words though to Queen Elizabeth the First. ‘All my possessions for a moment of time.’

Poignant indeed. Think about that one: for at this very moment you and I are richer and more powerful than the Queen of England - we have those moments of time, however many they are.

... I wonder what we will do with them?

Friday, January 20, 2012


 After I announced my blog awards recently and posted my seven random details about myself, I was asked in the comments section how I ended up naked and handcuffed in a bar with two bikers.

So here's the story.

To be fair to my ‘mates’, I was not quite an innocent victim. There was a tradition in the little country town, where I lived at that time, to commemorate each other’s birthdays with practical jokes. 

In the year leading up to my abduction, I had been fairly active in these celebrations. I guess it may have been my idea to paint Arnie’s cows pink; I was certainly present when we put a pink tu-tu on one of Andy’s sheep, threw him and the sheep in the cage on the back of his ute (tray top), and left him at the town shopping centre on the holiday weekend with a sign saying NEW ZEALAND WAR BRIDE hanging on the back; I confess now that it was me - as everyone suspected - that kidnapped Thommo’s garden gnome, photographed it in compromising positions with Barbie dolls and then sent Thommo ransom notes using letters cut out of the newspaper; I may have been there when we shackled a concrete block to Pelican’s ankle and left him in a mall parking lot in his underwear.

So I probably had it coming.

I never expected my wife to betray me though. She let my ‘mates’ in the house while I was in the shower; they had the Agran bag all ready. (This is a kind of sack that fertilizer is sold in.) They had cut a hole in the top to put my head through and it fitted very snug especially once my hands were tied behind my back with a ratchet strap. I was then blindfolded and transported naked in Andy’s ute. 

The blindfold was removed in the Animal's Bar of the local hotel.
Despite my somewhat devious turn of mind I thought this was to be the extent of the joke. 

photograph: David Shankbone

They bought me three double bourbons, lined them up on the bar and thoughtfully provided a straw for me to drink through as my hands were tied. They then wished me a Happy Birthday and toasted my future health and happiness.

I was halfway through my second bourbon when they finished their drinks. I looked around and discovered they had suddenly and surreptitiously disappeared. 

I was alone in the bar except for two local bikers, Harley and Dog, who were playing pool in the corner and smoking, stubbing their cigarettes out on their own forearms just for fun.

photograph: Roy Lister
It was a situation that was never covered in my Boy Scouts Survival Training course when I was a kid.

They looked at me. I looked at them. Then Dog winked at me and I decided it was time to leave.

To my credit I did finish my other bourbon first and then did the Penguin Walk out the door. (If you’ve ever been handcuffed inside an Agran bag you’ll know the Penguin Walk.) 

photograph: Michael Griffey II
It was Andy who took pity on me and was already headed back in his ute to rescue me. I jumped in and we headed off to the birthday party leaving Dog behind the eight-ball to dream of unrequited love.

So that's the story. And if Andy, Thommo, Woody, Arnie, Pelican, Bakes, or Wally are reading this; wherever you are, I still miss those days, fellas. Thanks for all the laughs. It really was a lot of fun.

Thursday, January 19, 2012


(This post was carried over from yesterday because of the Internet strike against SOPA)

On this day sixty four years ago, Mohandas Gandhi called off one of the most famous hunger strikes in history.

Shortly after partition, sectarian violence rocked India, resulting in thousands of deaths. Gandhi went on his hunger strike in Calcutta, where the rioting was worst, an act that generated such public shame that the rioting ceased. Gandhi broke his fast as weeping rioters laid their machetes at his feet.

This extraordinary man - Mahatma was not his name but a title he was given meaning Great Soul - was the counter intuitive opposite to the world. He faced down violence with determined non-violence and as such is the antithesis to all our modern thinking, which says that force must be matched with force. 

Yet one of the greatest proponents of non violence was never awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. (It’s thought the Nobel committee didn’t want to upset Great Britain.)

"What difference does it make to the dead, the orphans, and the homeless, whether the mad destruction is wrought under the name of totalitarianism or the holy name of liberty and democracy?"

But if he was a saint, he was also an enigma. He was not afraid of the British but he was afraid of the dark, and always slept with a light burning by his bedside; he lived as an ascetic yet he was financially dependent on the sponsorship of industrial millionaires; he once used a hunger strike to force employees to call off industrial action against one of his patrons.

“I claim to be a simple individual liable to err like any other fellow mortal. I own, however, that I have humility enough to confess my errors and to retrace my steps.”

He also conducted the infamous "brahmacharya experiments," where naked young women would be obliged to sleep with him so that he could prove that he had mastered his sexual urgings. He was obsessive about his own bowel movements. In other words, he may have been a saint, but he was not perfect. 

Yet his stand against violence and advocacy of simplicity in life led him to be eulogized by a world that consistently espouses the antithesis of this message. 

"There is more to life than simply increasing its speed."

Gandhi conceded later in life that passive resistance might not work in every situation; he admitted the British had responded to non violent protest because their government and society had a collective moral conscience. Nazi Germany, he agreed, would not have been so easily persuaded.

"The only tyrant I accept in this world is the still voice within."

Did non violence bring about independence anyway? There are those that argue otherwise. The British had been bankrupted by World War Two, and were already losing their grip on the Raj during the thirties. And despite Gandhi’s protests the revolution did become violent anyway, so much so that he stayed away from independence celebrations in protest.

"As soon as we lose the moral basis, we cease to be religious. There is no such thing as religion over-riding morality. Man, for instance, cannot be untruthful, cruel or incontinent and claim to have God on his side."

And what of this new India? The Hindu nationalism he protested in Calcutta is now rampant in the form of the Bharatiya Janata Party. The country is fast tracked to modern capitalism and hyper nationalism. It is a nuclear power. This was not Gandhi’s vision. It was Nehru’s.

"You must be the change you want to see in the world."

His message resonated far beyond India. Albert Einstein was one of many to praise Gandhi's achievement; Nelson Mandela converted to pacifism in freeing South Africa from apartheid (and similarly watched his own legacy trampled under his successors in the ANC.)

Perhaps Gandhi’s lesson was not for India but for us; that we really can’t change the world - all we can do is change ourselves.  

“As human beings, our greatness lies not so much in being able to remake the world – that is the myth of the atomic age – as in being able to remake ourselves.”

If you believe it, then all we have is what we bring in with us, that mythical twenty one grams of ethereal vapour. It’s all we take out with us, too, and the only thing always under our control. 

But that’s no small thing, as Gandhi’s life shows.

Monday, January 16, 2012


If the mourning for North Korean despot’s Kim Jong Il’s death was largely staged, there was at least one man who genuinely grieved his passing; and that was his look-alike, Kim Young-sik. For years Kim had perfected the wave and the bouffant hairdo, and his close resemblance to Dear Leader led to TV appearances in Japan, a part in a South Korean movie and even a spot in a Middle East chocolate commercial.

Kim was dedicated to his art. He permed his hair every three months, and even went on a diet when the late leader lost weight following a 2008 stroke. Now he says it feels as if a part of himself has died. It is time to hang up the Elton John glasses and go back to being Kim Young-Sik again, engraver of Oriental seals in his little shop in Seoul.

You can pirate books. You can pirate films. You can pirate Gucci handbags. It seems you can also pirate people. 

photograph: Paul Smith/Mark Fox

A company called A-List Lookalikes in London specialises in providing inexpensive imitations of famous people for public events. People just like Kim, in fact. They say the most requested celebrity doubles are Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley - who are both dead, so perhaps Dear Leader II should not throw out the olive green leisure suits just yet.

The latest demand is for faux Kate Middletons - if you’re in London and you see the latest Princess Bride waving to you from inside Buckingham Palace don’t get too excited - it could be just a lady called Louise Lyn hard at work.

UK Big Brother contestant Chantelle Houghton also worked briefly and unsuccessfully as a Paris Hilton look-alike, earning the nickname "Paris Travelodge."

Steve Sires, a dead ringer of Microsoft’s Bill Gates came to public attention when he attempted to trademark "Microsortof", and subsequently got roles acting in Microsoft commercials.

But the oddest job in the business has to be doubling for Callum Best. Callum makes a living by being the son of Manchester United football legend George Best, and is paid to attend lots of parties. But you can get sick of that; so Callum sometimes hires a double to go partying when he’s suffering from overwork. Imagine; there is a living to be made looking like someone no one recognizes. It’s a strange world.

But being someone’s double isn’t easy; competition is fierce and always has been. In the twenties Charlie Chaplin went into a Charlie Chaplin look-alike competition and didn’t even make it to the finals.

third place

Today, competition is probably still fiercest in Hollywood. But it's not face look-alikes that are in demand, but body doubles. I don’t want to disappoint you, guys, but that was not Natalie Portman’s butt in the thong in 'Your Highness.' They were not Isla’s breasts in Wedding Crashers. They were not Julia Robert’s thighs in the opening scenes of Pretty Woman.

They may though have belonged to Alisa Hensley, a blonde blue-eyed American beauty who was named one of the 20 Most Fit Women of All-Time by Muscle & Fitness magazine and is one of a handful of women making a very good living keeping the gifts God gave them in perfect order. 

Alisa has body doubled for Charlize Theron, Cameron Diaz and Nicole Kidman. But she’s not just a pretty butt. She is also one of Hollywood’s most decorated stunt performers, as well.

But sometimes doubling is not entertainment and big bucks; it can be deadly serious.

Stalin employed no less than four look-alikes to mislead potential assassins. They were badly needed; there were two attempts on his life at Yalta alone.

"you don't even look like him."

Just before D-Day ME Clifton James - who looked uncannily like British Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery - was sent to Gibraltar and Morroco to try and deceive the Germans about the location of the upcoming invasion, talking loudly in hotels and restaurants about bogus plans. James had lost his right hand middle finger so he wasn’t the full Monty. The Brits provided him with a prosthesis for his right hand.

His exploits were recorded in a film I was Monty’s Double in 1958. He played himself in the movie along side Cecil Parker and John Mills.

Hollywood ran with this idea in the 1993 film 'DAVE', about a look-alike who is hired by the White House to impersonate the President. At first he is cover for the President's extra marital curriculum, but then panicked staffers keep him on after the President suffers a stroke and is left in a coma. The impostor then discovers and helps take down corrupt officials in the government, (far-fetched, I know), including the President that he is pretending to be ...

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