Why Houdini Boris will need escape skills for the perils ahead

PLATELL’S PEOPLE: Why Houdini Boris will need escape skills for the perils ahead

Good news at last. Boris Johnson will not face a criminal inquiry over his friendship with pole-dancing IT entrepreneur Jennifer Arcuri.

The Prime Minister had accompanied her on overseas business trips while Mayor of London, visited her flat for ‘technology lessons’ — and authorised thousands of pounds for her ‘fact-finding’ work.

Many believed Boris was toast. Another affair they thought — though she’s refused to confirm it — but this was different. It involved public money, the alleged misappropriation of taxpayers’ funds.

Now the Independent Office for Police Conduct has declared there’s nothing to investigate.

True, he still faces an ethics inquiry by the Greater London Authority over his relationship with Arcuri. And that’s something that would finish off many a politician — imagine Sunny Jim Callaghan, for instance, facing questions about ‘intimacy’ with a pole-dancing tech expert. But to Boris it’s nothing, now he’s seen off the criminal inquiry. The Houdini of British politics has survived. Again. He really is extraordinary.

Pictured: Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson takes part in the ‘Clap For Our Carers’ initiative in support of the National Health Service (NHS) in Downing Street in London, May 21

That’s not to say life is as rosy as Boris would like it. Yes, he’s got his dream job. But he has lost some of his verve. Hardly surprising since he was in intensive care so recently. He’s not yet back to the man who toured the country with vim and bonhomie before bulldozing his way to victory in the election just months ago.

He’s got a new child to keep him awake all night. He faces a robotic inquisitor at Prime Minister’s Questions in Keir Starmer, and a Labour Party with more zip in its step.

On top of this, we are looking at the worst recession for 300 years and his party’s getting tetchy about his handling of the lockdown. A poll in this newspaper reveals Chancellor Rishi Sunak is the most popular Tory, followed by Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab. Boris is third.

Sunak and Raab represent the true hawkish spirit of the Conservative Party, and want to get the economy running again. But Boris sometimes seems indecisive, flapping around like a wounded dove.

Who would want to be in his position now? Well Boris, for sure — as a child he said he wanted to be king of the world. But our political Houdini will need all his skills to escape the perils ahead.

A survey reveals that more than half of Londoners say they will race to their local pub the minute they are allowed to open again. Which just proves how much people lie in surveys. By my calculation, the pub-rush will involve 95 per cent of us…

Union boss’s lesson in spite  

Having been caught describing pupils as ‘mucky’, germ-spreading and snotty, Mary Bousted, leader of the teachers union blocking kids returning to school, apologised. ‘I am wrong sometimes. Blunt probably too often (it’s a Northern thing),’ she said.

What an insult to Northerners. Having almost married a Yorkshireman and spent many happy years up North with him, I know the thing they have in common is a desire for their children to get the schooling many of their generation never had.

How dare Ms Bousted deny all kids that fundamental right with her naked Left-wing posturing.

Our hearts go out to Kate

News that ITV presenter Kate Garraway’s husband Derek Draper is still in hospital, having been there since the end of March, is so saddening.

Especially when we read social media posts from Kate revealing how her heart — and those of their two children — sink ‘every day’, searching for ‘little green shoots of hope that this dreadful disease is easing and that hopefully soon we might all be able to see each other again and hug’.

We wish the same for you Kate, and for your children, and for everyone going though such agony — and that there will come a day when we can all hug again.

Pictured: Kate Garraway with her husband Derek Draper, who is currently in hospital

Receiving news of his knighthood, Captain Tom said: ‘I’d like to thank Her Majesty. I will remain at your service.’ The ex soldier, who’s now 100, will put Queen and country first until the end. Unlike Captain Wales, who served ten years in the Army, then marched off to a life of luxury in a £14 million grace-and-favour Los Angeles mansion with wife Meghan and baby Archie — abandoning Queen and country not far into life’s journey.

I’ve known Anthea Turner a little for a long time and am happy she’s about to marry again after her bankrupt ex, Grant Bovey, ran off with a younger blonde. There is something unconquerable about the former Blue Peter star’s belief in love. A blue badge? No, she deserves a silver one.

Liz still luscious 

I am in awe of Liz Hurley, 54, who posted a picture reclining on a faux fur rug looking simply sensational in a Versace dress she first wore in her early 30s. Two decades on and she can still fit into it! Crikey, after self-isolation in lockdown, eating fast food — all right, junk food — in my Sweaty Betty stretch leggings, I can’t fit into a designer dress I wore two months ago!


Left: Liz Hurley, 54, poses in a dress she first wore in her early 20s. Right: Liz Hurley, pictured at the 1999 CFDA awards in the same dress

She enjoyed eight years as the First Lady married to President Bill Clinton; four years as Secretary of State; she ran for President herself; and she stood by her man after the Monica Lewinsky affair.

A new novel entitled Rodham by the best-selling author Curtis Sittenfeld poses the question: What if Hillary hadn’t married Bill? To which the answer is: Hillary who? 

Corona shout-outs

  • To my pal Kerry who queued in his car for half an hour to get a family pack of KFC on the first day they opened, then dropped it on my doorstep. I am ashamed to say I ate nearly all of it.
  • To Prince Charles for celebrating the nation’s ‘new-found love of gardening’ that has bloomed in lockdown. Like me, Chas is a life-long gardener and I’ve had to make do with last year’s plants as nurseries were shut. Now I can hardly contain my excitement about rooting around in them this weekend.
  • A shout down to the hundreds of people who flocked to my local Hampstead Heath to enjoy the sunshine on Thursday when it reached 82f. No nimbyism here. I don’t begrudge sharing this wooded wilderness and its lakes. I just wish they’d take their dog mess — left in bags — beer cans and pizza boxes home.

Some of the viewers addicted to the teenage TV series Normal People about angst and young love say they need subtitles to understand the Irish accents of the actors, especially that of County Kildare-born hunk Paul Mescal. Oh do get over yourselves. Most of the sensational six-hour series is just adolescent slobbering, kissing and copulating — understandable in any language.

Pop fan’s brave note

Yesterday was the third anniversary of the Manchester Arena bombing, which killed 22 mostly young people at a pop concert.

Services were held throughout the city, and the singer Ariana Grande, who was starring at the arena when the bomb went off, said with feeling: ‘Not a day goes past that this doesn’t affect you and all of us still.’

Those words would chime with Freya Lewis, now 17, who lost her best friend Nell Jones in the blast and suffered terrible injuries herself.

‘Nell will forever be with me. I’m at times overwhelmed by grief,’ she says — before adding, with such an uplifting sense of human spirit: ‘But I feel like I’ve had a second chance, I feel more grateful for everything and everyone.

‘My main goal for the rest of my life is to be happy and remember how lucky I am to be here.’    

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Essex chief executive suggests regional four-day cricket with coronavirus hitting schedule

Essex chief executive Derek Bowden has suggested short regional four-day cricket tournaments could be staged in 2020 with coronavirus set to wipe out much of the season.

The first seven rounds of County Championship cricket have been lost with the pandemic ensuring the domestic campaign will not begin until May 28 at the earliest.

International and white-ball cricket are set to be the focus when the season does start but Bowden has a novel idea to ensure at least some red-ball cricket is staged this summer.

Bowden told Sky Sports News: “There is an opportunity to be creative with the schedule, try and create opportunity from the crisis and be innovative about how we play the game and entertain.

“Let’s look at regional four-day cricket, maybe four or five regional competitions with round-robin four-day cricket.

“Spectators and members would love that and it would also give us some four-day cricket to support England’s Test series in a very tight schedule.

“Essex could play Kent, Middlesex and Surrey, while Yorkshire could play Lancashire, Durham and one other team, maybe Nottinghamshire.”

Nottinghamshire were due to play six Championship fixtures before May 28, with their Division Two campaign originally scheduled to begin at home to Leicestershire on April 12.

“I feel particularly sorry for our members and supporters as well as our players and coaches, who have all been eagerly looking forward to the new season,” said Nottinghamshire director of cricket Mick Newell.

“It’s a real shame the season won’t be able to start promptly for the many club and recreational cricketers for whom cricket is an important part of their lives, and for those that attend our sessions in the community.

“We are in regular contact with the ECB and will spend the next few days working through the ramifications for us as a club, as a business and for the game of cricket in Nottinghamshire.”

Professional Cricketers’ Association chief executive Tony Irish added: “All players are in this together and as their players’ association, we now need to work for the players collectively in dealing with the ECB and the first-class counties to find solutions to the challenges ahead.

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South Carolina women finish No. 1 for first time

NEW YORK — Dawn Staley and South Carolina are No. 1 in the final Associated Press women’s basketball poll for the first time in school history.

The Gamecocks received 26 first-place votes from the national media panel in voting released Tuesday. No. 2 Oregon garnered the other four votes. Baylor, Maryland and UConn rounded out the top five.

“Our season ended, and we’re No. 1,” said Staley, in her 12th year at South Carolina. “I don’t think it’s up for discussion who No. 1 is.”

Louisville, Stanford, NC State, Mississippi State and UCLA rounded out the first 10 teams, which were unchanged from the previous poll.

Before this season, South Carolina had never finished the season higher than No. 3.

The Gamecocks topped the Top 25 the final 10 weeks of a season cut short before the NCAA tournament by concerns about the coronavirus pandemic. The AP has always released its final poll of the season before the start of the tournament that settles the national championship.

Staley said she wasn’t sure whether the Gamecocks — who won the national title in 2017 — might recognize this achievement with a banner or something else since there was no tournament.

“I want to highlight our year. Only fitting for our seniors, only fitting for our team we put together,” she said. “Fitting to recognize what was accomplished this year for us.”

The Ducks, led by star Sabrina Ionescu, were ranked No. 1 for four weeks during the season. Their previous best finish in the poll was sixth two seasons ago.

“It’s really neat. Going into the tournament, we had the strongest résumé and were playing really, really well,” Ducks coach Kelly Graves said.

UConn’s final ranking was its lowest since the team finished eighth in the last poll of the 2005-06 season. UConn had been No. 4 or higher every season since.

Northwestern, which shared the regular-season Big Ten title, was 11th. It’s the best finish for the Wildcats, topping their 13th-place ranking in 1990. It’s only the sixth time in school history the team was ranked in the final poll.

“It’s been a wild ride,” Northwestern coach Joe McKeown said. “We’ve had so many people enjoy watching the program this year and see it grow. I’m sad we didn’t get a chance to play in the NCAA tournament, but we have a great young group.”

Conference dominance

The Pac-12 has been the top conference in the poll all season and finished with three teams in the first 10 and six in the Top 25.

“I feel like we have been doing that for a while now. I think back to four years ago, I think the conference statistically might have been a little stronger throughout that year, 2017,” said Oregon State coach Scott Rueck, whose team finished No. 14. “It is as good — it is excellent right now, don’t get me wrong. [But] 2017 was crazy.”

Hold that Tiger

Princeton finished the season ranked No. 22. It’s the third time the Tigers have been in the final poll, joining the 2012 and 2015 teams. The 2015 squad — which was undefeated until an NCAA tournament loss to Maryland — was 13th in the final poll.

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ESPN's Chicago Bulls Docuseries May Move Up as Sportsworld Goes Silent

10-part docuseries on Michael Jordan’s final season in Chicago is now expected to air while NBA and other leagues remain on pause over coronavirus

We’re not saying this is inspired by recent events that fill us with terror and insomnia, but we are saying that if you happen to relate to that feeling, here’s a list of very cathartic movies about virus outbreaks to get you through it. Whether you want realism, fantasy, horror or maybe computer stuff, we have you covered. Feel free to take a personal day and not leave the house while you watch. And, before you ask: This whole gallery could have been nothing but zombie movies, so we decided to limit things to just Zombie movies that make the disease aspect front and center.

  • “The Seventh Seal” (1957) – If you haven’t seen Ingmar Bergman’s masterpiece, drop everything and do it now — if only so you can finally understand the context for half the jokes in “Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey.” Set during the Black Death plague of the 1300s, the film centers on a knight who encounters the angel of death, and the game of chess they play for his soul.

  • “The Last Man on Earth” (1964)/”The Omega Man” (1971)/”I Am Legend (2007)” – Richard Matheson’s 1954 novel “I Am Legend” inspired three very different adaptations. All they have in common is that a plague wiped out most of humanity and the survivors, save the main character, have been turned into (essentially) vampires. Will Smith’s 2007 film kept the title but removed pretty much everything related to the book’s big twist. Vincent Price’s charming 1964 film preserves the plot best but has the lowest budget. But we’re most partial to Charlton Heston’s ultra-hammy 1971 film.

  • “The Andromeda Strain” (1971) – Based on the Michel Crighton novel, the film follows scientists investigating an infectious organism that fell to Earth from space. We’ll spoil the ending by telling you they mostly save the day, so relax. Notable for some very innovative cinematography.

  • “Dawn of the Dead” (1978/2004 remake) – George A. Romero’s 1978 classic isn’t just a clever satire of consumerism. It’s also a look at how the zombie apocalypse functions like a plague. And while Zack Snyder’s action-packed remake ditched the satire, it actually expanded the disease element. Both are perfect to watch when you want your global pandemics fictional instead of so IRL you can’t sleep.

  • “Outbreak” (1995) – When a new viral hemorrhagic disease breaks out in a small American town, CDC scientists race against time to stop it from spreading. Unfortunately, they also have to deal with a bloodthirsty Army general who wants the virus for a bioweapon and is determined to prevent a cure. This absurd plot was inspired by a celebrated nonfiction history of viruses like ebola because ah, Hollywood. But at least it’s directed by the great Wolfgang Petersen.

  • “12 Monkeys” (1995) – Terry Gilliam’s sci-fi classic stars Bruce Willis as a time traveler sent back to the 1990s to identify the origin of a global pandemic that nearly wiped out humanity. The portrayal of our world just before, and long after, the (near) end of civilization is harrowing. Luckily, the crazed ecoterrorist wannabe played by Brad Pitt provides much needed comic relief.

  • “Cabin Fever” (2002) – Eli Roth’s directorial debut follows a group of recent college graduates who become infected with a flesh eating virus during a camping trip. It was remade in 2016 but neither version makes camping look any more appealing. 

  • “Resident Evil” Series (2002-2017) – The only things you need to know about this multifilm franchise based on the Capcom video games is that an evil corporation creates a virus that turns most of humanity into zombies, Mila Jovovich kicks a lot of ass, and it’s a go-to for seriously awesome actors looking for paycheck jobs they don’t have to be embarrassed about. It’s great. 

  • “28 Days Later” (2003)/”28 Weeks Later” (2007) – In Danny Boyle’s excellent 2003 original, and its very superior sequel directed by Juan Carlos Fresnadillo, the world is beset by a viral pandemic that turns anyone infected into permanently enraged monsters. Don’t call them zombies but, uh, they totally are. 

  • “Carriers” (2009) – In this postapocalyptic drama, four friends who survived a global pandemic road trip to a place they can hopefully live in peace. Spoiler: Things don’t really work out. But it has Chris Pine, Emily Van Camp, Christopher Meloni and Piper Perabo, plus Kiernan Shipka in one of her earliest pre-“Mad Men” roles. 

  • “Blindness” (2008) – Based on the Portuguese novel by José Saramago, the film looks at what happens when the world is hit by a pandemic that renders people blind. Worth it for the cast alone, which includes Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo, Gael García Bernal, Danny Glover and Alice Braga.

  • “Black Death” (2010) – Sean Bean gets in a warm up session for his career-defining role as Ned Stark here as a leader of a group of knights searching for a heretic during the 14th-century plague. Eddie Redmayne plays a monk who accompanies the knights. Fun fact: Carice van Houten also gets in a “Game of Thrones” warm-up, playing a scheming maybe-maybe-not witch. 

  • “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” (2011) – The reboot of the 1960s-70s “Planet of the Apes” series is anchored by a truly exceptional mo-cap performance from Andy Serkis as the super-intelligent chimp Caesar. It’s in this list because Caesar gets his brainpower from an experimental viral-based Alzheimer’s treatment, which unfortunately mutates into a deadly pathogen that kills billions of humans. Whoops.

  • “Contagion” (2011) – You might recognize this as the Steven Soderbergh film where Gwyneth Paltrow dies horribly from a deadly new virus. It’s also a smart thriller about how diseases spread, the difficulty in finding a cure and the way conspiracy theorists and incompetent or malicious authorities can make it worse. Uh, excuse us we need a drink this is too real.

  • “World War Z” (2013) – If you loved the fictional oral history (written by Max Brooks) of how humanity narrowly survived a zombie apocalypse, you’ll kind of like this in-name-only adaptation directed by Marc Forster. Brad Pitt plays a UN worker racing against time to discover the origins of a sudden global zombie pandemic — who still takes time to make damn sure product placement contracts are fulfilled.

  • HONORABLE MENTION: “Hackers” (1995) – We saved the absolute best for last. It’s not just a surprisingly great ’90s artifact about computer geeks fighting an evil corporate techie. With a dope soundtrack. And a cast packed with virtual unknowns who would go on to huge fame and acclaim, including (no, really) Wendell Pierce, Lorraine Bracco, Matthew Lillard, Jonny Lee Miller and Angelina Jolie. (Plus the criminally underrated Laurence Mason, and the villain played by Fisher Stevens.) It’s also a movie about a virus outbreak. OK, OK, a computer virus. But after all the death you saw in those other movies, “Hackers” is a welcome and much needed fun time. You’re in the butter zone now, baby.

  • Netflix and chill?

    We’re not saying this is inspired by recent events that fill us with terror and insomnia, but we are saying that if you happen to relate to that feeling, here’s a list of very cathartic movies about virus outbreaks to get you through it. Whether you want realism, fantasy, horror or maybe computer stuff, we have you covered. Feel free to take a personal day and not leave the house while you watch. And, before you ask: This whole gallery could have been nothing but zombie movies, so we decided to limit things to just Zombie movies that make the disease aspect front and center.

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