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Swellboy on… high-achieving contemporaries

Ruminations on a man with a peculiar double life

Swellboy on… high-achieving contemporaries

Image: Brijesh Patel

December 21 2010
Nick Foulkes

One of the disconcerting side-effects of receiving an education is that those contemporaries who achieve prominence in public life have the uncanny knack of reminding me of my lack of achievement. Of course I am not so entirely dunderheaded that I do not realise that measuring myself by the standards that I imagine others to have attained is a warped and stupid barometer of personal development. Still, just because something is warped and stupid, it does not follow that I will avoid it.

My education was not something to which I paid an inordinate amount of attention. It was some time ago and I was not around for much of it; I recall one memorably demanding term which had eight hours of timetabled time, not per day, not per week, nor even per month, but for the entire term. And yet, such was the pressure exerted by my extra-curricular schedule, that I was unable to make much more than half of that.

However, it would appear that others took their tertiary education a tad more seriously: Boris Johnson is now mayor of London and will probably soon be president of the USA and Russia simultaneously; Fiona Bruce seems to present much of the television that is broadcast these days; unless of course it is being hosted by that other contemporary of mine, roadkill celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley Wearnley, who seems to be able to rustle up a Michelin-starred supper out of a couple of conkers and a rancid hedgehog. Elsewhere my contemporaries seem to have carved out wonderful careers as prize-winning novelists who are photographed looking soulfully into the middle distance from their Manhattan loft apartments; or they are rich financiers who have retired to raise cattle and shoot on their Norfolk acres.

However, by the far the most prominent figure is Heston Blumenthal, about whom I have long harboured the suspicion that he is not indeed called Heston Blumenthal at all and that he is instead The Hon Toby Young. Toby is highly intelligent, he took a congratulatory first in something high-flown at Oxford and then sailed into Cambridge where doubtless he gained a quintuple first in Modern Greats and Tripos and was named President’s Wrangler and Warden’s Medallist in Aristotelian Logic. Had he wanted it, I am sure that he could have commanded any chair on either side of the Atlantic; Ivy League, or Oxbridge. Instead he chose to lead the sophisticated double life of west London television punditry and celebrity chefdom.

OK, I may be exaggerating just a teensy weensy bit, but Toby is really clever and he does look very very like Heston Blumenthal, or rather Heston’s resemblance to him is uncanny. Every time I see the king of anchovy marmalade and sea urchin ice cream peering out of some weekend cookery partwork or TV-tie-in cookbook, I am immediately reminded of Toby. I know it is a silly fantasy, but come to think of it, I don’t recall ever having seen them in the same room at the same time.

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