Category Archives: Features

The Sunday Times Magazine: Every year young British tourists fall to their deaths from hotel balconies. Are the all-you-can-drink party packages to blame?

 

The poolside bar opens at 11am, signalled by an eruption of music, and the BH Mallorca hotel the epicentre of holiday hedonism in Magaluf, blinks to life. On balconies littered with last night’s debris, girls in acid-bright bikinis and groggy boys who look as though they’ve barely left school start to emerge. From now until night, the all-inclusive drink flows. At pool parties with limitless alcohol, girls down cocktails and dance to Beyoncé, as lads with reddening six packs high-five over beers. One boy, dressed as a mermaid, passes out on a sunlounger near the stage where DJs play and former Love Island contestants parade in swimwear to launch their after-show careers.

As evening falls, these balconies become disco boxes. Sounds clash in air ripe with Lynx. Grime meets Come on Eileen, football chants compete with shouted pop lyrics, punctuated by smashed glass and screams. On one balcony, two lads lean over the railings and pour beer on unsuspecting passers-by. I watch them over my balustrade, where a sign reads: “Balconies are the main cause of death and accidents on holidays.”

In 2016, Alexander Forrest, a 20-year-old Scottish charity worker on holiday with friends, fell to his death from his third-floor balcony at this hotel. In May this year, another young man, thought to be 25, fell from another third-floor balcony. His friends tried to grab him as he dropped. He survived, but suffered serious injuries. A month later, a 22-year-old man fell from a balcony on the floor below, breaking a leg and his jaw and losing several teeth.

This year, tens of thousands of British teenagers will embark on package holidays. Tour companies such as Thomas Cook promise them #legendaryholidays, with the motto “Go hard or go home”. So far this season, there have been reports of 16 British people falling from balconies abroad. Eight have died from their injuries.

In June, Conor Morgan, a 19-year-old from Ireland, was found dead after falling from a hotel balcony at the party resort of Aiya Napa, in Cyprus. He had arrived on the island only hours before. The exact circumstances of his death are not yet known. As I write, Tolga Aramaz, a 23-year-old Labour councillor from north London, lies in an intensive-care ward, critically injured after falling from a second-floor balcony in Ibiza.

I began to monitor the growing number of British people dying from balcony falls abroad in 2012, following the inquest into the death of Gethin Williams, an 18-year-old from north Wales. Williams had died nearly a decade earlier, in 2002, at a hotel in the same location as BH Mallorca, then called Fiesta Jungla. He had been one of a group of 15 teenagers from Ysgol Tryfan school, in Bangor, who had been celebrating the end of their A-levels. After a night out, he tried to climb into his room via the balcony, slipped and fell.

In 2013, I saw reports of 12 fatal balcony falls. Seven in 2014. Six in 2015. Ten in 2016. Nine in 2017. This year, I watched horrified as the season began, noticing again that, in most cases, the deaths involved young people, alcohol and package holidays.

Each fall haunted me. These were groups of friends going abroad on their first holidays together. Young people, on the cusp of adulthood, testing boundaries; allowed their first taste of freedom by anxious parents. A modern rite of passage, both scary and exciting, echoed across cultures. In Australia, Aborigines have their walkabout. In America, students go on spring break. For the Amish, it is called rumspringa, from the German verb springen, literally meaning “to jump”.

Williams grew up on a farm on the outskirts of Bangor, near the mountains of Snowdonia, a world away from the vibrant chaos of Magaluf. It is so quiet here, you can hear the wind in the grass, sweeping up the field past the church where Gethin’s ashes are buried.

“It’s very, very vivid,” Nerys Williams says of the day she learnt her son had died. It was early morning. Her husband, Emrys, and their older son, Dafydd, were in the fields milking the cows, so Nerys was alone when she opened the door to two police officers, faces drawn and pale. “They said, Gethin … Oh …” She starts to cry, the pain still fresh, “… and I knew.”

READ THE FULL ARTICLE IN THE SUNDAY TIMES: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/every-year-young-british-tourists-fall-to-their-deaths-from-hotel-balconies-are-the-all-you-can-drink-party-packages-to-blame-68qkz030c

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Sunday Times Magazine: Why did Anna Campbell, a young feminist from Lewes, die on the battlefields of Syria?

 

 

It was the first bright morning there had been in a while. The air was clean and sharp. Spring had come late this year to Afrin, a district in northern Syria, and the endless rolling fields were still lined with the stubs of last season’s wheat stalks. At night, the cold wind bit and was thick with the smell of burning wood and plastic. Anna Campbell, a 26-year-old woman from Lewes, East Sussex, sat in an abandoned house waiting for the order to fight.

The date was March 15, 2018, and Campbell had been in the house for a week with three other soldiers: Comrade Siyar, Comrade Sara and Comrade Serhilan. They knew Campbell as Comrade Helin Qerecox, the nom de guerre she had picked when she arrived in Syria as a would-be fighter the previous year. The others were Kurdish and, like Campbell, belonged to local militias that were trying to halt the Turkish-backed advance on the Kurdish-majority district of Afrin. The house would be their base during the battle. Outside, mortar fire whistled in the air and erupted on the front line about a mile away.

For Campbell, this deployment was the culmination of a year’s campaigning. Since she had arrived in Syria, she had pleaded with her commanders in the all-female Kurdish Women’s Protection Units (YPJ) to send her into battle. They hadn’t wanted her to go. Campbell, though deeply committed to the Kurdish cause, was not an experienced soldier. After a year with the YPJ, she had learnt to fire a Kalashnikov and had practised throwing grenades and shooting a machinegun, but had received no heavy weapons training. To dissuade her, her commanders told Campbell her blonde hair made her look “too western”.

For them, her role was obvious: her value as a fighter was negligible, but her value as a propagandist — recruiting others like her to the YPJ cause — was enormous. Much as young idealists from London and New York were drawn to the trenches and mountain hideouts of the Spanish Civil War, hundreds of westerners, including dozens of Britons, have flocked to join the People’s Protection Units (YPG) and the YPJ since 2014. They were drawn to an organisation that claimed to stand for anti-imperialism, women’s rights (particularly in the fight against Isis) and a true revolution.

As the Afrin operation intensified, several male British recruits were reported killed. Eventually, Campbell’s commanders relented. On March 8, she was assigned to a position on the outskirts of Afrin’s Mahmoudiyeh district, alongside the three Kurdish fighters.

As she prepared to leave, her hair dyed black, her face covered with a maroon scarf, she spoke in a video of her duty to fight. “If you love your own people enough to fight for them and die for them,” she said, “you also love people far away enough to fight for them and die for them.”

READ THE FULL ARTICLE IN THE SUNDAY TIMES: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/why-did-anna-campbell-a-young-feminist-from-lewes-die-on-the-battlefields-of-syria-pqsj9rw3f

The Sunday Times News: Alesha MacPhail death: Bute grieves for its innocence

In the burning summer heat the ferry from Wemyss Bay, Inverclyde, to the island of Bute heaves with tourists. Older visitors in comfortable shoes and children with backpacks lean over the railings watching the water as the boat pulls out. Sitting on the deck are four young policemen, their faces impassive, holding their hats and looking solemnly out at the waves.

Locals travelling home speak in hushed tones about the events that are unfolding. “You put them to bed and you think they’re safe,” one woman says to her friend. “Imagine waking up one morning, coming down the stairs and she’s gone.”

Last Monday at 6.25am six-year-old Alesha MacPhail was reported missing from her grandparents’ home on Bute. Less than three hours later her body was found nearby in the overgrown woodland of a former hotel. On Tuesday the police launched a murder investigation. By Wednesday an arrest had been made. In that short time this peaceful island had changed for ever.

Bute lies in an archipelago off the west coast of Scotland. It is not a remote island (Glasgow is barely 90 minutes away), but the waves washing the ferry across the Firth of Clyde seem to carry it to another world. To a world that is not wealthy but is rich in natural beauty and the warmth of a 6,500-strong community.

On the seafront in the town of Rothesay, where the ferry docks, stone cottages breathe the sweet-salty smell of the sea. Behind them dense woodland becomes majestic hills, which turn blue as the sun fades.

During the day seagulls, their bellies fat with chips, skim the water in the bay and perch on mossy rocks. In the evening the water glows silvery gold.

Bute was once a thriving destination. It still attracts tourists in the summer months. They head to the seaside at Rothesay, with its amusement arcade and bucket-and-spade shops. But it is also a place of tranquil pleasures: a moated castle, a putting lawn on the front, prettily planted flower gardens.

The town feels old-fashioned in a friendly, genteel way. Shops with hand-painted signs are named after locals: Jess May’s florist, Liz’s cupcake heaven, Elle’s hair and beauty salon. “Everybody knows each other,” one woman says. Doors are left unlocked.

“My mum wouldn’t even know where her keys are,” she grins.

Alesha lived with her mother, Georgina Lochrane, 23, in Airdrie, north Lanarkshire, but often came to the island on her school holidays. She stayed with her father, Robert MacPhail, 25, who is separated from Georgina and lives in his parents’ seafront house on Ardbeg Road, north of Rothesay.

Alesha was known by locals and often played with their children. “I saw her on the bus,” one woman told me. “I remember — she had such blonde hair.”

This summer Alesha had come for a three-week stay. One parent, whose daughter was to have a playdate with her on Thursday, described how her grandparents had recently created a bedroom for the little girl on the top floor.

It says something of the island’s close-knit community that when Angela King, 46, and Calum MacPhail, 49, discovered their granddaughter was not in her bed, they first turned to friends.

On Monday at 6.43am King posted on Facebook: “Alesha has gone missing from our house please help look for her.” Worried neighbours shared the post, offering support and help in looking for her, or suggesting where she might be.

That morning, in the Bonnie Clyde cafe in Rothesay, Raymond Yost heard helicopters whirring overhead. He assumed they were taking somebody to hospital on the mainland — their usual job.

At about 9am one of his customers received a text message to say “a wee lassie” was missing. Yost immediately logged on to Facebook to see if he knew who it was. “We’re all one big family here,” he said. “Most of us grew up together, we went to school together, then we came back.” That’s when he saw Angela’s post.

It was amid this social media activity that it seems Georgina learnt her daughter had disappeared — and later discovered that she had died. In a series of increasingly desperate posts, she wrote, “Someone tell me what’s happened that’s my daughter”, and, “Angela answer me now”.

Alesha MacPhail‘s body was found on the Isle of Bute last week
Alesha MacPhail‘s body was found on the Isle of Bute last week
By Tuesday bouquets were piling up outside the house from which Alesha had vanished. Flowers with cards reading “Sleep tight beautiful girl” and “You’re with the angels now” lined the whitewashed garden wall facing the sea, along with fluffy toys and purple balloons floating in the breeze.

Georgina travelled to the island, escorted by police, and visited the memorial. Bending down to read the messages, she sobbed. Beside her, police vans guarded the house.

As police launched a murder investigation, they warned the islanders to secure their homes, to “be vigilant and look after each other”.

One mother spoke about how she had moved her three children here from Glasgow nine months ago because it felt so safe. “We could let our children run free outside. Now we won’t let them out of our sight,” she said.

“My kids used to play in the woods where they found her [Alesha]. The thing that’s so wonderful about it here — the fact you can be all alone — now that’s what’s so terrifying.”

In the bookshop in Rothesay, Alesha’s death was being reported on the local radio news bulletins. In the post office her photograph was on the front page of all the newspapers. Many locals, unsure about speaking to the media, asked not to be named. But when they came together, the case was the only thing they were discussing.

In the pubs and cafes and on the seafront, groups gathered, sharing their grief. “The whole island is in shock,” said one local woman in the pub. “Nothing like this has ever happened before here. It doesn’t feel real.”

It is an island with little serious crime: it is rare for residents even to see police officers on Bute, one resident, Janet Vernal, told me. Now officers were drafted from the Argyll & Bute and West Dunbartonshire division, driving round roads in marked and unmarked vehicles, dotting the coast in their yellow jackets, conducting 24-hour high-visibility patrols.

At times the contrast between the tranquil island and the police activity was so jarring that it felt surreal. Blue-and-white police cordons fluttered across leafy lanes, running between stone walls and ivy hedges. Police vans rolled heavily along the seaside lanes while officers in black uniforms combed the beach near rocks where seals lazed, overturning sun-bleached rowing boats. At night the still, quiet bay was pierced by the shriek of sirens and flashing of blue lights.

Stranger than the police presence was the eerie silence. Last Wednesday night the streets were empty. Residents peered out from behind windows. Although the summer holidays had started, the beach and children’s park were empty.

 

“It’s a lot quieter than it usually is,” one resident told me. “A lot of the children are being kept in.”

One local claimed his children were so terrified that they would not sleep in their own beds.

“Everyone is so shocked. No one can believe something like this has happened here,” said another resident, Elizabeth Taylor.

“It will change it for a while,” Vernal agreed. “Especially for parents with children. They’ll feel it longer and be scared to let their children out.”

Last Thursday a 16-year-old boy was charged in connection with Alesha’s death. It is said that he is known to her family. Police have not released details of how Alesha died.

On Friday the teenager appeared in Greenock sheriff court on the mainland. He was charged with rape and murder. He entered no plea.

Everyone in this small community has their opinion about the tragedy. But nothing will be known until a trial is held.

For now, this once peaceful island and Alesha’s family are left only with questions — and their grief.

https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/alesha-macphail-death-bute-grieves-for-its-innocence-d8vr256ll

The Sunday Times Magazine: Losing The National Trust?

In the oak-panelled Great Chamber at Sutton House, beside a rare example of an original carved Tudor fireplace, a party has exploded. A drag queen dressed as Margaret Thatcher wearing red stripper heels and giant fake pearls is grinding against a young man in a leather jacket to Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s Relax. As the crowd throws shapes under disco lights, Sir Ralph Sadleir, a prominent courtier of Henry VIII who built Sutton House in 1535, looks down from his gilt frame unamused.

In the gift shop of the oldest residence in Hackney, east London, beside the National Trust tea towels, jam and chintzy English biscuit tins, are posters for the Gay Liberation Front. Next to the lemon curd, two men in matching leather jackets chug prosecco and snog.

Somewhere in the Tudor drawing room where courtiers once dined, the author Alan Hollinghurst bops amid the throng. This party, themed on his Booker prize-winning book The Line of Beauty, explores the period of 1980s British history when Thatcher introduced Section 28, banning schools and local authorities from “intentionally promoting” homosexuality. It forms part of the National Trust’s Queer Stories in Britain series, marking half a century since the decriminalisation of male homosexuality. It also represents something else: the controversial new face of the National Trust.

You cannot be British and not have a soft spot for the National Trust. Spending a day being dragged around one of its properties should be part of the citizenship test — it’s as British as a Sunday roast. I hear its name and am transported to a childhood in Wales spent sitting in rainy car parks of castles.

It holds a place in the British psyche no other charity does. “For ever, for everyone” is its motto, and with it a commitment that began in 1895, later underpinned by an act of parliament, to preserve lands and buildings of beauty or historic interest for “the benefit of the nation”. With more than 300 properties and 247,000 hectares of land, it is one of the UK’s biggest landowners. Last year, it played host to an estimated 224m visitors. We love the National Trust — but we also love to be angry with it.

In recent years, rows have erupted like pimples on the trust’s beautifully preserved visage. Stirrings began in 2010 when visitors interested in English Renaissance architecture arrived at Hardwick Hall, in Derbyshire, to be greeted by staff wearing period fancy dress. Accusations of “Disneyfication” were revived in 2015, when the director-general, Dame Helen Ghosh, introduced a programme of “decluttering” houses and installing interactive exhibitions.

As I write, outrage has erupted over how cream teas are served at Lanhydrock House in Cornwall. The staff there have been accused of constructing their scones incorrectly — the Cornish way is to have the cream on top of the jam; vice versa belongs over the Tamar in Devon, apparently.

For traditionalists, such transgressions are the tip of the iceberg. Far fiercer battles are afoot, reflecting the culture wars raging in society at large. Last year, trust members including Sir Ranulph Fiennes campaigned for a vote to stop National Trust land being used for trail hunting — where an artificial scent is laid and no animal is supposed to be captured or killed. This has long been viewed by animal rights campaigners as a way of circumventing the hunting ban. “These hunts are still killing foxes, hares and stags,” Fiennes said. The traditionalists won out; the trust voted against a ban last October.

The charity’s attempts to modernise are regularly met with derision by those who accuse them of “pursuing an obsessively politically correct social agenda”. The focus on LGBT issues last year saw “outraged” volunteers at Felbrigg Hall in Norfolk forced to wear rainbow lanyards or be relegated to backroom jobs. As part of a drive to introduce “queer stories” to properties, Felbrigg Hall’s last lord of the manor, Robert Wyndham Ketton-Cremer, was “outed”, angering his family. The former squire, who was described as “intensely private”, died in 1969, aged 63, just two years after homosexuality was decriminalised. At Kingston Lacy, in Dorset, an installation featuring 51 ropes suspended from the ceiling recalls men who were hanged because of their sexuality. It was labelled “totally inappropriate” by the Tory MP Andrew Bridgen.

This year, the trust’s Woman and Power initiative is proving similarly divisive. In an article for the National Trust Magazine, Laura Bates, founder of the Everyday Sexism Project, described being groped on a bus, infuriating some commentators who questioned whether this was “what trust members really want to read”.

Ann Widdecombe has declared “the National Trust has lost its way completely”. Sir Roy Strong believes it is beginning “to alienate its own public”. Sir Max Hastings has cancelled his membership. Even Ghosh, who has departed for a post at Balliol College, Oxford, admits “some of our more traditional visitors have felt they are not being catered for as they once felt they were”.

“I couldn’t disagree more with those sentiments,” Tim Parker, the trust’s chairman, tells me, shaking his head.

YOU CAN READ THE FULL FEATURE HERE: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/the-national-trust-exposed-has-it-lost-the-plot-75c0vr6nx

The Sunday Times: What Kate Did Next

 

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The most predictable thing about Kate Moss is that she likes to surprise people. Since she first appeared photographed in her pants in a fairy-lit bedsit, a heroin-chic waif in an era of glamazon supermodels, she has broken the mould. So it is fitting that now, aged 41, when we might expect her to start growing old gracefully — and it seemed that she might with her move to interior designing — instead she has installed a young man in her basement.

Just four years after she whirled up the aisle in a cloud of Galliano chiffon to marry the rock guitarist Jamie Hince, the union has been evaporating into rumours of rows and claims that they haven’t been seen together since April. Instead the elfin, model-pretty 28-year-oldCount Nikolai von Bismarck has been spotted sneaking into Moss’s London home.

He accompanied her to the opening of Richard Caring’s Sexy Fish restaurant in Berkeley Square last week and was snapped having lunch with Moss’s friends Sadie Frost and Meg Mathews two weeks ago in a pub near Moss’s Gloucestershire home.

“A lot of people know Kate has been seeing a lot of Nikolai, but she’s never been this open,” a source told The Sun on Sunday. “Their relationship is pretty intense and he has been virtually living at her London home, but has been staying in the basement quite a lot.” (Allegedly so that Kate’s staff and 13-year-old daughter Lila Grace didn’t spot him.)

READ THE FULL ARTICLE HERE: http://www.thesundaytimes.co.uk/sto/newsreview/features/article1623241.ece

The Sunday Times Magazine: The University of Sex (feature)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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2am and the O2 Academy nightclub in Bristol is throbbing with sweaty students — brand new ones, many of them away from home for the first time. Tonight is Freshers’ Night: this week, 12,500 new students arrived in the city. For this future-themed party, girls are dressed gamely in skintight silver jumpsuits, miniskirts and facepaint, while the boys wear canary-yellow T-shirts from today’s freshers’ pub crawl.

Under the stage, dripping bodies are gyrating to purple strobes. In dark nooks of the club — on leather sofas and in grimy stairwells — couples are making out with the fervent passion of teenagers. And teenagers, of course, they are.

Across the city, under the stone archway through which these students passed to begin their university careers, there is a sign that reads: “Sexual assault is not part of uni life.” It is the kind of poster that is now ubiquitous on campuses nationwide; a not-so-gentle reminder of the new era — one in which laddishness, harassment and overbearing sexual pressure is supposed to have ceased. The universities have called time on all that, but has anything really changed?

In the club, groups of lads are downing pints and ordering shots. In a corridor, a boy’s hands circle a girl’s waist. “Be a gentleman,” she laughs, pushing him off. “I was being extra-gentlemanly!” he protests. She wiggles away, slurring: “I need some fags. I can use my feminine charms to get some.” He grabs at her and she giggles. Outside the club, paramedics shine a torch into the eyes of a boy who appears to be unconscious, his leopard-print shirt covered with his own sick.

Universities throughout Britain are on red alert over their “lad problem”: steps are being taken to deal with it — although, judging by the behaviour of some students in that bar, the new era hasn’t begun yet.

In February, the National Union of Students (NUS) held a “lad culture” summit to discuss the apparent epidemic of badly behaved young men. This followed a report, commissioned by the NUS in 2013, in which 50% of student participants identified “prevailing sexism, laddism and a culture of harassment” at their universities. The report, produced by academics at Sussex, described laddishness as “founded upon a trinity of drinking, football and f******”. It suggested that lad culture, spurred on by internet sites such as UniLad and the LAD Bible, had crept from leering banter to harassment and assault. The Sussex report followed a previous NUS study in 2010 that claimed that 37% of female students had experienced unwelcome sexual advances and 68% had been sexually harassed, while 7% had experienced serious sexual assault.

READ THE FULL ARTICLE HERE: http://www.thesundaytimes.co.uk/sto/Magazine/article1615789.ece

The Sunday Times magazine feature: battle of the bulge

 

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Michael Wilcox shows me a photograph of how he used to look when he was 18, skinny and weighing 8½st. In the picture he has sharp cheekbones, slim hips and twiggy arms. For complicated reasons involving a lads’ night out, he is also wearing a dress. “I’ve totally changed since that photo,” says Michael, now aged 20, grinning. “I don’t want to be small any more.” And he’s not. He is 11st and adding muscle all the time. His target weight? 15st.

Michael shows me another photograph of how he’d like to look. It is Lazar Angelov, a Bulgarian “personal trainer, nutrition consultant, fitness model and motivator” — a ripped sirloin steak of a person. Michael found Lazar on Facebook and saved his picture to inspire him. “I can’t explain it, really. It’s the way I want to look. I’ve always been tiny. I don’t like it. I just want to be big.”

Michael, who is unemployed, goes to the gym every day. While heaving a 31kg barbell over his head, he tells me he once trained for eight hours straight. He watches himself in the mirror, his thick biceps accentuated by a skimpy white vest. But Michael’s dramatic physical transformation isn’t just the result of intensive gym sessions. He is one of a growing number of young men regularly taking steroids to achieve their ideal body shape. His compulsion to use them, part of a trend sometimes considered the inverse of anorexia, has a name: bigorexia.

Steroids entered mainstream awareness through stories of professional sportsmen using them as performance enhancers. Mimicking the effects of the male hormone testosterone, steroids increase muscle mass and decrease fat, giving athletes a competitive (and controversial) edge. Now these drugs have emerged from the locker rooms of professionals into common use. They are especially popular among young men.

“It’s difficult to even guess at the number of people using steroids,” says Jim McVeigh, acting director of the Centre for Public Health at Liverpool John Moores University, who has been researching steroid use for more than 20 years. Because steroids are a controlled Class C substance available legally by prescription only (possession isn’t illegal, but supplying them is), it is difficult to find accurate figures for their usage. A conservative estimate by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice), a healthcare body that advises the NHS, suggests that almost 60,000 people aged 16 to 59 used anabolic steroids in England and Wales in 2013. McVeigh believes the real figure to be in the hundreds of thousands — “far more than heroin addicts”.

Read the full feature here: http://www.thesundaytimes.co.uk/sto/Magazine/article1524393.ece#commentsStart