x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Battle lines drawn: when former spouses face off

Philippa Kennedy on Oscar exes, piped music, wronged wives and the Spice Girls' Mamma Mia! moment

Everybody loves a Jack the Giant Killer story, or, as it is in the case of the forthcoming Oscars, the tale of an elegantly made low-budget movie such as The Hurt Locker going head to head with the blockbusting juggernaut Avatar. One of the most intriguing aspects of it is that the two directors, Kathryn Bigelow and James Cameron, used to be husband and wife. In fact, their story would make an excellent movie script. Their passionate three-year marriage disintegrated amid stories of artistic differences during the making of the cult surfing movie Point Break, starring Keanu Reeves and Patrick Swayze, which Bigelow directed. Cameron was executive producer.

The four-times-married Cameron is well known for his driven work ethic and bombastic nature, but it seems he has real respect and affection for his ex and has been one of the most vociferous supporters of The Hurt Locker, singing its director's praises at every opportunity. He reportedly even gave orders to his team that in the normally bitchy run-up to the Oscars, nobody was to rubbish Bigelow's movie.

When it was announced last week that both films have been nominated in nine categories, Cameron's first thought was to phone Bigelow. He couldn't get through, apparently, because she was trying to call him at the same time. Quite what Cameron's current wife, Suzy Amis, makes of such a cosy professional friendship is not revealed, but Oscar night is going to be riveting. I can't wait to see the camera panning in on the losing faces. My money is on Avatar for Best Picture, but I really hope Bigelow gets the Best Director award.

It seems to me that she has the best of both worlds. She's managed to keep her influential and successful ex as a friend and adviser but she doesn't have to put up with him and his overbearing behaviour in her personal life. Another of his exes, the actress Linda Hamilton of Terminator fame, recently revealed how he insists that they all spend Christmas together at his Malibu mansion with his four children. Wife number four must really love that.

The cellist Julian Lloyd Webber once described piped music as "an insidious cancer that has spread throughout society". It's almost impossible to get away from it in shops, hotels, airports and everywhere that there are large numbers of people coming and going. For many, it's the single most irritating thing about modern life. There's even a word for it: muzak, a term coined for the ubiquitous acoustic wallpaper that is so hard to escape. In most countries, it hasn't yet reached the transport system. Passengers have enough to contend with on jam-packed underground carriages during the rush hour without having to listen to tinny versions of popular classics on a loop.

Our very own Dubai Metro, however, is an exception. The RTA has inflicted a never-ending rendition of unrecognisable electronic muzak on its travellers and - guess what? - they don't like it. After my first trip on the Metro in September I wrote about how the piped music began to grate after about 40 minutes. I thought perhaps we only noticed it because we were delayed for that length of time in the early days when such glitches were common. Stuck on a stationary train with no prospect of imminent movement, it was no wonder it got on our nerves. Now it seems that it's driving daily commuters potty.

Presumably the thinking behind it is that music has a calming effect. Well maybe music does, but muzak has entirely the opposite effect, especially when there seems to be only one tune. People with hearing problems say it aggravates their condition, making conversation impossible. Even without hearing problems it can cause my blood pressure to soar a few notches and I have to resist the temptation to throw something at the speakers wherever I am. What's wrong with silence, I ask myself? Are we all going to be forced to plug ourselves into our iPods in order to escape this infernal racket? And if we haven't got an iPod, we're going to have to listen to the echoes of someone else's music player, which is even more irritating than the canned music itself.

There's actually an online lobbying group called Pipedown that campaigns rather successfully against piped music in the UK. Maybe we should start a branch in the UAE to try to persuade the RTA to change its tune or just turn it off. If it insists on having it, then the RTA should take pity on its unsuspecting customers and give them some variety, perhaps use the work of local musicians or even let buskers on the trains. Otherwise, it won't be long before we get the first instances of muzak rage, with maddened commuters clutching their ears and storming through the carriages looking for the off switch. I may well be one of them.

I'm writing this wearing a vest, two woolly jumpers, thick socks, Ugg boots and a warm scarf with the central heating turned up as the UK plunges into yet another cold snap. Light snow fell yesterday and I simply can't wait to get back to the UAE and feel warm again. It's not quite the "snowmageddon" that President Obama has been experiencing in Washington, but the weather man is predicting that temperatures will plunge to minus-6°C in some places tomorrow. Remind me never again to complain when my sunglasses steam up with condensation.

Mamma Mia! was such a successful stage musical and film that it's hardly surprising that the producer Judy Craymer wants to do it again, this time using the music of the Spice Girls. I wonder how it can possibly work, but maybe that's because I can't recall a single title of a Spice Girls song. Well, maybe the one about what "I really really want", but I can't remember the tune of that either, even though it was a No 1 hit and the group was a phenomenon, selling more than 75 million records.

Craymer says it won't be a story about the band itself, a great relief to us all, but it will be put together in much the same way as Mamma Mia! using the Spice Girls songs worked loosely around a romantic tale. It will, of course, make Craymer and the Spice Girls creator Simon Fuller even richer. The show will be called Viva Forever, one of the hits, I'm told, and by the time it's ready for the stage in two or three years' time, the little girls who used to love their music will be all grown up with children of their own and plenty of disposable income.

Still, you can't take it away from Geri, Victoria, Emma and the two Mels that they were an unstoppable force with their bubblegum songs and sexy outfits, despite their mediocre singing talent. The incredible marketing behind the girl band made millionaires of them all, influencing pop culture for a decade. I never really got the "girl power" thing, though, and honestly believe it spawned a generation of women whose only ambition was to bag a footballer and appear in Hello! magazine. Nor can I see the likes of Meryl Streep and Pierce Brosnan lining up to take the lead roles. Maybe they'll run a TV show to find the new Posh, Scary, Sporty, Baby and Ginger for the stage show and the movie. And then maybe we'll start all over again with a whole new generation of wannabes.

The two conspicuously unfaithful Lotharios who have been making the news of late may get away with their infidelities after all. The wives of the golfer Tiger Woods and the footballer John Terry have been dropping hints that they may take their errant husbands back.

And who is to say that they won't be able to patch up their marriages? Toni Terry is said to have been taking advice from Posh Spice, who suffered similar public humiliation some years ago when her husband, David Beckham, allegedly strayed. This week sees the serialisation of a memoir from the wife of a top politician who had an affair with his secretary. Pauline Prescott, the wife of the UK's former deputy prime minister John Prescott, decided not to kick her husband of 45 years into touch after a newspaper published details. She says she has never forgiven him either, because to forgive would be to condone.

Mrs Prescott has emerged with dignity, although she acknowledges that their relationship will never get back to what it was. Yet she simply wasn't prepared to throw away years of what she considers to have been a happy marriage because of one stupid mistake. It's not a fashionable way to look at it, but it has worked for her. She still has her husband, her home and her family and the other woman has what she deserves: nothing.

It's Valentine's Day on Sunday and millions of women will be longing for a romantic message from their knight in shining armour. Sadly, the best they're likely to get is a text message or a tweet. A lighthearted survey carried out by a chocolate company has discovered that although the age of chivalry is not yet dead, it's probably on its last legs. Young men need more than a little prompting before they send flowers and chocolates, and although 78 per cent of women would love to receive a handwritten note or a poem, only half of the men asked had ever written one. I still remember the thrill of receiving letters from boyfriends. One used beautiful, thick creamy notepaper and wrote wonderfully romantic letters with a fountain pen that I kept for years. Somehow, a wall message on Facebook or an e-mail just wouldn't do it for me.

Scientists claim to have discovered a Peter Pan gene that explains why some people retain their youthful looks much longer and others look old before their time. Sadly for some, it's all down to DNA and it explains why Paul McCartney and Cliff Richard both look significantly younger than the wrinkly old rocker Mick Jagger.

The good news is that having identified the strand of DNA that speeds up ageing, sooner or later they'll be able to develop a pill that helps to keep it at bay. I expect I'll be long gone before it's on the market, but in the meantime we might as well bin the expensive face creams and stop worrying about it. @Email:pkennedy@thenational.ae