Category Archives: Features

The Sunday Times: Katie Glass: my trans-Mongolian train ride with ‘Judge’ Rinder

judge rinder

I wanted to escape Christmas, and my celebrity best friend wanted to ride the Trans-Siberian railway, which is how, on December 21, I came to be landing in Moscow to spend a fortnight travelling across Russia by train with the television presenter, barrister and one-time Strictly Come Dancing contestant “Judge” Rob Rinder.

The Trans-Mongolian train we caught runs 4,863 miles from Moscow across Russia, through Mongolia, to Beijing. In summer it is the stuff of backpacker wish lists, but in winter, when temperatures plummet to the –30Cs, sensible tourists disappear. Even Muscovites looked stunned to hear about our trip, as we ran around their city buying supplies: caviar, vodka . . . Well, it was Christmas.

When we stepped inside our cupboard-sized cabin for the first time, we wondered if we’d made a huge mistake. We opened the vodka and we rolled out of Yaroslavsky station.

As we travelled, I snapped photographs on my iPhone of Dr Zhivago landscapes and snowy station platforms, where men stood smoking wearing shorts, despite it being –26C. I photographed ourprovodnitsa, the conductress in charge of our carriage, as well as the pretty silver mugs of tea she brought us, and the plates of pickled herring in the restaurant car. I tweeted a few of my holiday snaps, thinking maybe a few bored friends back in London might see them and begrudgingly click “like”.

In fact, as the train rocked me to sleep, my tweets travelled further than I ever would have imagined. Hundreds of Russians, somehow and for some reason, started coming across my posts, reading them, liking them, commenting and retweeting them onto the timelines of a few more hundred Russians, who did the same thing. By the time I woke up, I’d gone viral in Russia, which was not how I expected my 2018 to end.


The Sunday Times: Grab 2019 by the barbells — and try powerlifting to get fit


It was the kind of terrible idea you only have in January, overenthusiastic about a new year. Some readers will recall that as 2017 ended, I underwent a 12-week transformation from fat to … slightly less fat by doing a weightlifting-based fitness course. Much to my amazement, I enjoyed it. I got fit! Even more surprisingly, I discovered an exercise I was actually OK at. “You should enter a weightlifting competition,” someone suggested one day, as I managed the rare feat of looking competent while doing a deadlift. Obviously, I should have ignored them. Instead, I resolved on a new challenge — I really would enter a weightlifting competition.

Later, crying in an Epsom salt bath, feeling like I’d been punched in the head, hit by a bus, run a marathon and then been KO’d by Conor McGregor, I realised how stupid this was. As if I could compete against actual athletes. But then, what are new years for if not to find new ways to humiliate yourself?

powerlifting 2

Week 1
Gymbox is a cross between Pacha in Ibiza and London Zoo: a dark basement with a DJ booth, flashing neon lights and wire walls dividing the space into cages, each housing a different sporting species. In one menagerie, runners pound treadmills; in others, rowers pant back and forth; in another, aerial yoga bunnies twirl through the air. Amid them is the weightlifting area, with its intimidating steel frames and giant coloured weights.

On the first trip I meet Chloe, my coach. She is 28, beautiful, deadly serious and equipped with muscles of steel. She asks if I’m good at mornings. I say “No”. She says she’ll see me tomorrow at 8am.

The first thing I learn is that I will not be entering a weightlifting competition; I will be entering a powerlifting competition. If you think this distinction is irrelevant, you have never met a competitor for either. The differences are multiple, but, basically, while weightlifting involves heaving the weights overhead (in two lifts called the snatch and the clean and jerk), powerlifting involves three lifts: the squat, the bench press and the deadlift.


The Sunday Times Magazine: Having it all: what is it like to be bisexual in 2018?

bi sexual

When did I realise I was bisexual? I suppose the obvious answer is when I fell for a woman but still fancied men. I was 15 years old. Perhaps it should have been obvious earlier, given my mixed bag of teenage crushes: Courtney Love, Kurt Cobain, Germaine Greer and Leonard Cohen. If my first love was a girl, my first relationship was with a boy. Since then, my affections have haphazardly swung between genders with little fuss. As the presenter Courtney Act sweetly says in the new TV dating show The Bi Life (think Love Island with twice the chance of sex): “When I fall in love I don’t think about gender.” Or as I might more superficially put it: “I just kiss people based on whether I fancy them or not.” If my relationships haven’t fallen 50/50, that’s not down to desire, but laziness — going out with women takes so much more effort.

For some, coming out as bisexual is fraught with difficulty. Not for me. I suppose I was lucky growing up. My parents were divorced, so I rarely spoke to my dad about dating. My Ab Fab mother was desperate for a gay child, so I rather enjoyed not telling her when I started kissing a girl from school. If I’d hoped being bi might elicit some shock from my friends, it’s barely registered a flicker as I’ve come out to different friendship groups over the years. The more cynical ones just accuse me of finding something new to write about (as if!). The more annoying straight women see it as a chance to experiment. Someone asked me the other day if my female friends worry I fancy them. I hope not. If anything, being bi has clarified the distinctions between lovers and friends.

As I’ve got older, bisexuality has become less controversial, more fashion statement. As new generations reject traditional labels of gender, race and relationships, so the same thing has happened with sexuality. A YouGov survey in 2015 found that 23% of the population didn’t feel they were totally heterosexual. Among young people, that number jumped to 49% — almost enough for a sexual Brexit. The most recent Office for National Statistics survey into sexuality in 2016 found the number of people who identified as bisexual had increased by 45% in three years. It’s fair to suppose that percentage has only increased since.

I’ve always assumed we all exist somewhere in the middle of this Kinsey scale of attraction. Who doesn’t fancy Brad Pitt? Or wouldn’t experiment with Kate Moss if she tried it on? It rather amazes me anyone still finds bisexuality shocking when Tracey Emin has married a rock. Ritch C Savin-Williams, a psychologist specialising in gender studies at Cornell University in America, believes completely straight people don’t exist and that sexuality lies on a spectrum. He conducted a study of men and women watching porn, measuring pupil dilation, an indicator of arousal, and found even those claiming to be totally straight were turned on by same-sex fumbling. Porn channels regularly report their most popular category among women is “lesbian” (as it is for men).

I’ve often wondered if I’m bisexual for the same reason I became a journalist: I’m nosy. I never want to let an experience pass. Something suits me about “queerness” that stands outside boundaries. There’s an appeal in not having to limit yourself.


The Sunday Times: Smartphone generation give sex the kiss‑off

sex kiss off

We are in a sexual recession. We’re better protected — against sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancies — than ever. Pornography is ubiquitous. And we’re so frantically swiping right, we’re getting Tinder thumb. And yet, statistics suggest, young people today are not getting laid.

This month a long article in The Atlantic magazine by Kate Julian laid bare, in occasionally eye-watering detail, America’s sexual habits. One of Julian’s findings was that the average young adult in 2018 is having less sex than his or her counterparts of decades past. The under-25s are the first generation getting less action than their parents. And it’s not because they’re snowflakes too busy eating avocado toast.

Julian labels this phenomenon the “sexual recession”. Let’s get the awful economics jokes out of the way now. Has a failure to stimulate our assets led to flaccid markets? Have limp-wristed layoffs caused widespread shrinkage? Or has the economy become backed up, deflating our endowments and leading to a lack of liquidity?

Grim as a sexual recession sounds, it’s certainly intriguing — and counterintuitive, when, according to many sources, we appear to live in a sexually fluid Sodom and Gomorrah.

Julian considers various reasons for this sexual drought: economic uncertainty, mental health problems, an obsession with technology, #MeToo having left people reluctant to flirt. Hook-up culture, dating apps and inhibitions caused by social-media beauty ideals also play their part. Porn is a frequently cited factor: first for replacing the effort of real-life encounters with lazy solo relief, and second for teaching men a sort of sex that women don’t want.


The Sunday Times Magazine: Driving: I’m a millennial… Get me through my driving test


It was as we cut up the other learner driver on the roundabout that I knew for sure I’d failed my test. What was really frustrating is that we were only 10 minutes in. I assumed then, once again, I’d never learn to drive. But in the end it took me only a week.

Like Brexit, cannabis and Love Island, driving has divided the generations. Something that was once cool and aspirational — a rite of passage for our parents — has fallen from fashion like Jeremy Clarkson’s wardrobe. Unlike dad jeans, though, driving shows no sign of making a comeback.

We have passed peak car. Fewer young people than ever are driving. According to recent statistics, while in the 1990s almost half (48%) of 17- to 20-year-olds and 75% of 20- to 29-year-olds had licences, by 2014 29% and 63% respectively did.

There are plenty of reasons why people can’t be bothered with driving. And not one of them is that the trains are so good. Today many people have Uber accounts and live in cities with public transport. For once, driving is less convenient. There’s the traffic and the cost — of the car, the speeding fines and the insurance.

Research by Oxford University and West of England University Bristol suggests driving has become less appealing now that digital interactions trump face-to-face meetings. Personally, I’ve always just preferred being driven. Or getting drunk.

Still, I reckon driving’s biggest turn-off is that it’s no longer as sexy as it was. Once it was dangerous, rebellious, phallic and phwoar. Now buying a car is about as edgy as choosing a sofa from DFS. Dirty talk about choking and handling has been replaced by discussions about safety features: airbags and antilock braking.

Driving doesn’t whisper excitement. It says commute. Or car-boot sale. Or school run. Like every celebration of sex and capitalism, driving fell out of fashion in the 1980s, which is why no one’s written a better driving song than Little Red Corvette.



THE SUN: WE’RE BISEXU-ALL Millennials are driving the bi-revolution as number of Brits who date both men and women soars by 45% — but is it easier to discuss?

PEOPLE used to joke that “bisexual” was just a label for people who were desperate – or indecisive.

But now more and more young people (especially women) are embracing bisexuality, resisting the need to limit their sexuality, or who they might go home with.


A recent YouGov survey found half of young people, and almost a quarter of the overall population, defined themselves as something other than 100 per cent heterosexual.

The last ONS (Office for National Statistics) survey into sexuality discovered the number of people in the UK openly identifying as bisexual had jumped 45 per cent.

When I came “out” as bisexual a few years ago, it was seen as so normal it was almost disappointing how little fuss anyone made. If I hoped to shock my friends by presenting them with my new girlfriend, they could not have seemed less fussed. Later, when they saw me dating a boy, they seemed equally unsurprised.

Now, in a nod to how mainstream bisexuality has become, two bi-focused TV shows have launched this month: Courtney Act’s The Bi Life on E! and drama The Bisexual, starting on C4 this week.

rita ora

To many, these will not even feel shocking (almost too little, too late). After all, in the worlds of pop and film, celebrities have been coming out as bi for ages: Jess Glynne, Megan Fox, Miley Cyrus, Mel B, Gillian Anderson and Drew Barrymore all keenly confess they swing both ways.

Long after Katy Perry Kissed A Girl And Liked It, Rita Ora’s trilling about necking red wine and copping off with girls; singing she’s “50-50 and never going to hide it”.

Meanwhile, in her recent memoir, Lily Allen confessed to affairs with female dancers and escorts.

There may be fewer bisexual male celebs who are “out” but Tom Daley (before deciding he was gay) announced he was bisexual in 2013, Made In Chelsea’s Ollie Locke — who announced his engagement to fiance Gareth this month — came out as bi in 2011 before saying he was gay in 2016.

lily allen

And Frank Ocean revealed his first love was a man, then crooned rather eloquently: “I see both sides like Chanel.”

Harry Styles, meanwhile, positioned himself as bi-friendly.

You could argue for pop stars being bisexual is just good business: Widening their target market by broadening their sex appeal. I like to think it suggests a freedom in creative industries that indicates the direction we are all moving in.

As actress Kristen Stewart, who has dated men and women, says: “In three or four years, there are going to be a lot more people who don’t think it’s necessary to figure out if you’re gay or straight. It’s, like, just do your thing.”

Or as Cara Delevingne, also bisexual, said: “Someone is in a relationship with a girl one minute, or a boy is in a relationship with a boy, I don’t want them to be pigeonholed”.


Scientists have long argued that sexuality is a spectrum. Nobel prize nominee Umberto Veronesi once attracted controversy for suggesting the future was bisexual, proposing that as sexual interaction lost its reproductive significance, bisexuality would become the norm.

I suspect the rise of bisexuality is not so much down to biology but cultural change. After all, bisexuality has long been around. Historical accounts stretch back to Ancient Greece. It is said Queen Anne of Great Britain (1665 to 1714) was bisexual and had a passionate affair with the Duke of Marlborough’s wife.

Before that, there were rumours about Richard I of England (1189-1199) and Philip II of France.


Now, we have not so much evolved into bisexuality, rather it has become more socially accepted. As Green Day frontman Billie Joe Armstrong once considered: “I think people are born bisexual. It’s just that our parents and society kind of veer us off into this feeling of ‘Oh, I can’t. They say it’s taboo.’ Now that’s changing.”

It is notable the bi-revolution is most pronounced among Millennials and Generation Z, who are both keen to reject binaries in any part of their lives. A 2016 YouGov poll found 43 per cent of 18 to 24-year-olds did not identify as entirely gay or straight. Now it is easier than ever to experiment, with queer dating apps such as Scissr and Her (for girls) and Grindr (for boys). And dating apps like Tinder let you opt to connect with both genders, so you don’t have to decide.

Haven’t we all dabbled?


When I first saw ads for The Bi Life, I cheered. I also thought: “About time!” I have long been frustrated by the heteronormativity of shows such as Love Island.

My favourite bisexual moment this year came on Vietnam’s The Bachelor, when one girl made the gorgeous confession she had fallen not for the eligible man she was there to meet, but for another female contestant.

That is hardly surprising. Research from the US suggests women are three times more likely to become bisexual than men. A 2015 project found 74 per cent of “straight” women were “strongly aroused” by videos of attractive men and women.

A survey by LGBT charity Stonewall found 49 per cent of bisexual men were not out at work, compared with just seven per cent of gay men.


That doesn’t mean in private they are not interested. According to research by YouPorn, straight men watch gay porn a quarter of the time.

A couple of my exes have had same-sex flings, which is good news for me, given Australian researchers found that “women in relationships with bisexual men say their partners are better lovers and fathers than straight men”.

As bisexuality becomes ever more mainstream, I hope it will only get easier to discuss. After all, haven’t we all dabbled? Or wouldn’t we, given the chance?

The Sunday Times: The super-rich are taking up showjumping


Since the Old Season (Ascot, Henley, the Cartier polo) has lost its cachet, the mega-rich have had to find new sports around which to build their social lives. To fill the gap, showjumping, which used to be synonymous with muddy fields and dodgy burger vans, has lavishly reinvented itself.

At the extreme end of this transformation is the Longines Global Champions Tour, which rolled into London this weekend with a price tag few would believe and even fewer can afford. The tour started in March in Mexico City and runs until December in Prague, and will cover 17 of the world’s most glamorous locations in total.

This weekend, the event is at the Royal Hospital Chelsea in west London.

It is shocking even to contemplate the cost for competitors to transport themselves, their horses and entourages around this worldwide event. But these are billionaires, so nobody cares. Besides, the total prize fund is €35m (£31m).

Among the riders — and guests — are some of the world’s richest people, which these days means Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, Russian businessmen and rock stars.