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Derek Tucker: I’m sorry I got something wrong – but are Rita Ora and Kay Burley?

To go with story by Jamie Ross. For Joe Churcher column. Picture shows; Kay Burley and Rita Ora composite.. Unknown. Supplied by Shutterstock Date; 13/12/2020
To go with story by Jamie Ross. For Joe Churcher column. Picture shows; Kay Burley and Rita Ora composite.. Unknown. Supplied by Shutterstock Date; 13/12/2020

As this is my last offering of what has been, for the most part, a thoroughly miserable 2020, I feel I have to break with tradition and offer an apology.

Anyone who has ever worked with me will tell you what a rare phenomenon that is, for I’ve always lived life according to the mantra 1) I’m always right; and 2) In the unlikely event that I’m wrong, rule one applies. So, putting aside my natural aversion to an admission of fallibility, here goes.

In this very platform a few months ago, I lamented the fact that apologies were no longer sufficient when people made mistakes and, in particular, referenced Deputy First Minister John Swinney, who had made a mess of this summer’s school exams, and the editor of the Scottish Sun, who recognised a headline in his newspaper was particularly crass and apologised in writing for it. The point I was trying to make was that we should cut people some slack when they hold their hands up and say they got it wrong. I believed fervently that a sincere apology should, in most cases, be the end of the matter. Events since then have forced a rethink on my part, accompanied by the realisation that too many so-called apologies are actually nothing of the sort.

Meaningless contrition

By way of illustration, two prominent public figures have in the last month made very high-profile breaches of the coronavirus guidance and, once caught out, issued apologies, accompanied by explanations which just do not bear scrutiny. Singer Rita Ora threw a party for 30 of her friends at a London restaurant to celebrate her 30th birthday, breaking just about every lockdown rule in the process. Inevitably, news of the event found its way into the media, forcing an apology of sorts from Ms Ora, together with an assertion that it was a “spur of the moment” decision to hold a party. Leaving aside the scarcely believable proposition that 30 mainly high-profile celebrities could just drop everything and turn up at an event which the host venue managed to pull together at a moment’s notice, this supremely selfish young woman had apparently forgotten that she was also supposed to be in quarantine, having just returned on a private jet from a singing engagement in Egypt.

Faced with such a blatant breach of the rules that mere mortals have to follow, she volunteered to pay the £10,000 fine which can be levied for such transgressions and pledged to donate her fee for the private engagement to charity. That should, according to my earlier column, be sufficient to repair the damage, but I’m afraid it isn’t. Writing a cheque for a few thousand pounds means nothing to someone who has earned millions and a token gesture like that, together with a statement via a faceless spokesperson, doesn’t come close to repairing the damage her irresponsible behaviour had caused.

Ms Ora could perhaps seek to excuse her behaviour by claiming ignorance of the admittedly confusing rules governing what can and can’t be done in the various tiers applicable across the UK, but no such defence can possibly be put forward by Sky News presenter Kay Burley, who has forged a reputation as a harridan by her brutal demolition of people, mainly politicians, who fail to meet her own very high standards. She, possibly more than anyone outside government, must know the rules inside out, yet still thought it was acceptable to break them so she could celebrate her impending 60th birthday with some fellow media luvvies.

A number of them ended their day of partying with a final illegal flourish at Ms Burley’s home, after she had ensured maximum Covid contravention by calling in at a second restaurant, apparently just to “spend a penny”. Had she transgressed just once during this celebratory extravaganza, her subsequent apology might, just might, have been sufficient. But the fact that she knowingly drove a cart and horse through the rulebook renders such an act of contrition meaningless. At least, in her case, her employers took decisive action and effectively suspended her for six months. That provides some mitigation, but, make no mistake, her behaviour was on a par with that of Dominic Cummings in terms of undermining the efforts to control the virus.

Having bitten the bullet and got that particular apology off my chest, I’ll just sign off by wishing everyone a merry – and safe – Christmas, and express the hope that 2021 will be much more enjoyable than the year we are about to leave behind.

Derek Tucker is a former editor of the Press and Journal

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