Category Archives: Sunday Times

The Sunday Times: Style investigates the illegal teeth-whitening industry

I sit back nervously in the dentist’s chair. “My teeth are pretty sensitive,” I mutter. The cold gel hits my enamel and I gasp. Suddenly, I regret letting my narcissism get the better of me. Again.

The cliché about Brits is that we have terrible teeth. But the Hollywood smile once reserved for celebrities, now sparkles from every screen. The desire for a blinding smile has spawned a dazzling industry in teeth whitening, from at-home kits, trays, pens, serums and stick-on strips to celebrity Harley Street dentists charging thousands. The market research company Mintel values the UK cosmetic dentistry industry at £2bn, and another recent report found that, on average, British men and women spend 11% more a month on their teeth than their skincare. But in this white rush, many consumers are unaware that some of the treatments being offered are not merely dangerous, they are illegal.

Dentist Dr Richard Marques has seen the demand for whitening grow exponentially over the past few years. “It’s the selfies,” he says, flashing his own brilliant grin. “People have never looked at themselves or each other so much.” Now they come in asking for celebrity smiles just as we ask hairdressers for cuts. “I had a patient who said, ‘I want Ross from Friends,’ ” he says.

Not all those trying teeth whiteners are bleachorexics, of course. Most want nothing more than a subtly brighter-looking version of the colour they have. “White teeth are associated with youth, vitality. People trust people with white teeth more,” Marques says. However, he worries that the growing demand for teeth whitening is fuelling a market in unregulated treatments.

In the UK, teeth whitening can be carried out legally only by a dental professional registered with the General Dental Council (GDC). There are two methods available. The first and most expensive is carried out in the clinic and involves a solution of hydrogen peroxide and either a laser or LED. Results are near-instantaneous and prices in London range from £600 to £1,000. The second requires specially moulded trays and a similar, albeit weaker, formula that can be dispensed and administered at home. The best results come after approximately two weeks, and prices start at about £300.


The Sunday Times: The Ghost Factory: bloodshed and banter on the streets of Belfast

Twenty-one years after the Troubles officially ended with the Good Friday agreement, echoes of violence still linger. Wounds are unhealed, and questions remain unanswered. The decision last week by Northern Ireland’s Public Prosecution Service to charge one former British paratrooper — Soldier F — with the murder of two people on Bloody Sunday underlines the fact that this conflict stubbornly refuses to move into the past.

The Ghost Factory, the debut novel by the journalist Jenny McCartney, a frequent contributor to The Sunday Times, is set in Belfast at the end of the Troubles. Growing up in the city in the 1970s and 1980s, McCartney was “attuned to the political weather”: her father, the barrister Robert McCartney QC, set up the small, short-lived UK Unionist Party and was a member of the Northern Ireland assembly. The attitude in their house was “not easily stereotyped” because her father was pro-Union but anti-sectarian.

The families of the 13 people killed during a civil rights march on January 30, 1972, have described the decision to charge only one British veteran as a “terrible disappointment”, but for McCartney it suits the complexity of the situation.

“I support the desire of the families to find out exactly what happened and hold individuals accountable,” she says. “But there are many, many people with information on paramilitary killings, for example, who are now in positions of political power and are not divulging that information. So I think if we are going to have a truthful investigation of the past, then, in all conscience, those people should also speak out and bring closure to other relatives.”

McCartney’s book focuses on the vigilante justice meted out by paramilitaries during the Troubles, a subject she covered as a journalist in the 1990s. Youths were beaten and shot by republican and loyalist groups that “policed” working-class areas. She was horrified: “The victim is left with all these injuries and feelings — and what do they do with it?”


The Sunday Times: How to Fail by Elizabeth Day review — even divorce has a bright side

Elizabeth Day’s immensely popular How to Fail podcast is a fascinating, thoughtful, honest, often moving series of interviews with successful people about the moments when their lives went wrong. It is a “celebration” not just of failure, but of learning through mistakes. So, Gina Miller shared with Day not her achievement in taking the government to court over Brexit, but how she failed her law degree. The novelist Sebastian Faulks spoke about his experience of depression, and Radio 4’s Mishal Husain talked about not landing her perfect job. Capitalising on the podcast, this memoir-style book weaves Day’s thoughts on moments of “failure” in her own life into the stories others shared with her in interviews.

It is an entertaining read that mixes confession with interview excerpts. She explores what she learnt from her inability to fit in at school, for instance, alongside Mad Men actress Christina Hendrick’s revelations about her teenage misfit years. She shares her dating disasters with Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who later turned hers into material for Fleabag, her Bafta-winning television show. And she compares her writing career, which only flourished after she left full-time journalism, with that of Dolly Alderton, who found her writing voice after being let go from a TV production job.

In every upset, Day finds potential. In her ineptitude at sport, which sits alongside David Baddiel’s “failure” to become a professional footballer, she learns about not judging yourself. Exploring the “failure of families” through people such as Tara Westover, whose memoir Educated chronicled her life growing up with abusive, survivalist Mormon parents, Day sees an opportunity to gain a new perspective on life. Even her divorce in her thirties has an upside: selling her wedding dress also funds her podcast.


The Sunday Times: Island idyll shattered by a teenage murderer hungry for online fame

Bute seems far from the dark side of modern life — but did Aaron Campbell bring video violence to the savage killing of six-year-old Alesha?

Like many young people, Aaron Campbell wanted to be famous online. Growing up on the Isle of Bute, the teenager dreamed of being as popular as PewDiePie, the world’s best-known YouTuber, whose channel has 86m subscribers. Online, Campbell had a plethora of accounts. It is hard not to look at them now in light of the verdict last week that found the 16-year-old guilty of the abduction, rape and murder of six-year-old Alesha MacPhail — crimes the judge overseeing his trial described as “the most evil in the history of the court”.

The pathologist who examined Alesha found 117 “catastrophic” injuries on her small body, which was found dumped in woodland on the island.


Alesha MacPhail

Now much of Campbell’s online footprint feels menacing: he held accounts on the gaming website Twitch, where his profile page shows a disturbing collage of images that include one of a girl with blood falling from her eyes and mouth, and another of someone standing in a wooden area looking down at a grave.

On YouTube, Campbell — whose moniker was Poison3d Appl3 — posted hours of footage showing himself playing dark video games. In one he creeps through the gloomy corridors of a virtual house, as a crackly radio plays a news report about a man shooting his wife, son and six-year-old daughter. In Campbell’s other grim videos, a girl is heard screaming for her mother, and a dying foetus shown squirming in a sink. On Reddit, Campbell posted a video commentary on a horror game he had created.

Watching these clips makes you wonder what impact such violent video games had on his young mind. Could watching such horror repeatedly have left him immune to violence or led him to commit his crime? Yet, Campbell’s intentions do not seem dark. He used his online platforms to get attention. In videos he begs people to follow him, asking them to “please appreciate the video”, emphasising how long he spent creating them.


The Sunday Times: Katie Glass sings the praises of toyboys


Of all the things Heidi Klum, Kate Moss and I have in common, the least surprising is our taste for younger men. Having just got engaged to a man six years my junior, I’m delighted to find that not only have I signed up for six months of people asking, “So when are you having children?” but also I am on trend. Having a toyboy is in.

The 45-year-old supermodel Klum has just got engaged to a 29-year-old rocker called Tom Kaulitz. They announced their nuptials, as is now traditional, by posting a picture on Instagram with the caption “I said yes”. (As if anyone would be cruel enough to post about a proposal they had rejected.)

Klum’s news follows the blow-out wedding of the Bollywood star Priyanka Chopra, 36, and her decade-younger pop-star husband, Nick Jonas, 26. Moss recently celebrated her 45th birthday in Paris with her 30-year-old boyfriend Nikolai von Bismarck, and Sienna Miller, 37, was snapped in New York kissing Lucas Zwirner, 27 — who, headlines helpfully explained, is her “much younger” boyfriend.

All my favourite women — Madonna, Moss, Joan Collins, the Wife of Bath — know the fun of having a younger beau. They feed you great music, take you to cool parties and explain how TicToc works.

I’ve nearly always dated younger partners. I don’t seek them out, but on dating websites I was shocked by the number of younger men who messaged me saying, “I like older women” — pretty painful for this thirtysomething. They trotted out the cliché that women reach their sexual peak later and told me they were looking for someone more mature than them. “Ha-ha-ha!” I’d cackle. “As if!” Indeed the main reason my current relationship works is that my younger partner is more mature than I am.




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.