x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Best foot forward: this week's roundup

A roundup of news from this week's headlines: Frozen in Hollywood, snowflakes in the UK, snap judgements, royally genuine photographs and an actor who puts people first.

The actor Colin Firth at Madinat Jumeirah this week during the Dubai International Film Festival.
The actor Colin Firth at Madinat Jumeirah this week during the Dubai International Film Festival.

Add snowflakes, not stress, this holiday

For the first time in many years I'm not just dreaming of a white Christmas, I'm going to experience one. I've been singing the old Irving Berlin song all over town at various concerts with my chorus Dubai Harmony before flying home to the UK and now, if the weathermen are to be believed, I'm going to get snow on Christmas Day.

Several of my Emirati friends have never seen real snow, so I've promised to get my camera out and send back pictures.

As for the rest of the day, I'm going to have to deck the halls at top speed and have decided to make it a Marks & Spencer Christmas, right down to the gravy. As a child I remember my mother slaving away for weeks over puddings, cake, shortbread and mince pies, then the day before taking almost all day to singe the feathers off the turkey and stuff it with a chestnut mix at one end and lovely sage, onion and lemon at the other.

The table was always ceremoniously laid on Christmas Eve, with a sparkling white cloth, highly polished glasses, a gorgeous festive centrepiece and crackers. I'll still do all that but the day itself is going to be stress-free.

When you're younger you want to do it all yourself just to prove you can. As you get older all that matters less - and what's important is not to be stuck in the kitchen while everyone else is enjoying themselves.

Unless you're Delia Smith, you can't actually stuff a turkey as well as Mr Marks or Mr Spencer. It's just so easy to buy their fancy vegetables and throw them in the microwave. I can make perfectly good gravy but why bother when the bought stuff tastes so good? I'll probably swish it around the tray I cooked the turkey in, just to give it a personal touch.

Frankly, none of your guests even notices when you haven't done every last thing yourself so why give yourself a nervous breakdown?

An actor with both talent and proper manners

The delightful Colin Firth in the flesh seems like a very nice person. Taller and thinner than he appears on screen, he is naturally charming without being effusive and appears to have the natural good manners that people attribute to Englishmen but which so few have these days.

I sat two rows behind him at the DIFF gala screening of The King's Speech and watched the way he coped with a steady stream of people asking for photographs and autographs and they all went away smiling. One rather beautiful woman, who clearly hadn't a clue who he was - partly because he started the evening sitting eight rows back before being asked to sit in the front row - leaned over to ask him if the seats beside him were taken.

Unfailingly polite, he got up to let her pass and I would have given anything to have seen her expression when the lights went down and his face loomed up on the screen.

He's not your typical "luvvie" - he took time this week to lend his support to the campaign to free Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtianti from an Iranian jail where she still faces a death sentence.

On Monday night his session "In Conversation With Colin Firth" was interrupted when one of the volunteers working at the theatre tripped and fell off the stage. Many stars might have taken "the show must go on" approach and ignored the kerfuffle, but he stopped talking to see if she was all right.

He even talked about how he was worried that he wouldn't bore his audience in the movie that deals with the struggle the late King George VI, father of Queen Elizabeth II, had with a debilitating stammer and the friendship he developed with an unorthodox Australian speech therapist, Lionel Logue.

Far from it, Firth's performance was mesmerising, along with that of Geoffrey Rush who plays Logue and the film has Oscar nominations written all over it. Firth has grown as an actor since he shot to fame playing Mr Darcy in Pride and Prejudice. Few women will forget the sight of him clambering out of that pool dripping wet, in his beautiful white shirt.

The hard-wiring behind our snap judgements

How long does it take you to form a judgement about a person? In my case, it's about three seconds, but one expert says it's actually just seven seconds.

It's not a conscious process, and most of us don't even realise we're doing it, but according to clinical psychologist Linda Blair in her book Straight Talking, it goes back to our primitive roots, when making a wrong decision about someone could mean life or death.

Everything about you comes into play, how you stand, what you smell like. It's all computerised by the brain and an opinion is formed in those seven seconds.

I'm always hoping I'm wrong about someone when I make a judgement based on a first impression and often review my opinion. It's a prejudiced way of evaluating someone but, like most people, I can't stop myself from doing it.

It's helpful to know that others do it too, especially when you're trying to decide what to wear. Dressing appropriately for the occasion is one of the tips the experts give, plus breathing in and out to remove tension and smiling - just make sure you mean it. If the smile fades too quickly or fails to reach the eyes the old primeval instincts kick in and you'll look like a fake.

Pictures worth a royal mint

They say nobody ever learns from other peoples' mistakes but Prince William has clearly learnt a bit about photography and the messages that pictures can send out for years to come. After all, he was taught by a master of media manipulation - his mother.

His engagement pictures with Kate Middleton are delightful mainly because of the warmth, love and informality that shine through. Taken by one of Princess Diana's favourite photographers, Mario Testino, they show a couple very much in love, with William's arms wrapped protectively around his fiancée. Both look truly happy and excited about their forthcoming wedding.

And these photos are markedly different from the photographs taken of William's parents on their engagement, when the Prince of Wales's idea of informality was to take his jacket off. The smiles were genuine enough but he looked smug and Diana looked like a doting fan. Wills and Kate look so much more like a proper couple.

Is Gwyneth Paltrow toeing the Hollywood line?

Oh dear Gwyneth! Not you too. What have you done to yourself?

I really hope it's not the case, but when the blonde actress appeared this week in Los Angeles to accept her induction to the Hollywood Walk of Fame, she just didn't seem to be the same Gwyneth Paltrow whose lovely face brightened up our screens in Sliding Doors and Emma.

Of course, all of our appearances change, but her face had that stretched and puffy look of other actresses who have either succumbed to the surgeon's knife or the Botox needle. It seemed frozen and immobile. Ironically, her star on the sidewalk is positioned in front of Madame Tussaud's waxworks on Hollywood Boulevard.

Actresses -especially in Hollywood - are under tremendous pressure to keep their looks for as long as possible, but if the very thing that makes them stand apart from the herd is sacrificed on the altar of perfection, then what's the point?

The reality is that we all get older and as we age our faces and bodies change. I'd like to think that this lends us extra character, which surely can only add to one's charms.

Don't mess with the hair

Women spend nearly £26,500 (Dh150,000) in a lifetime on hairdos, according to a poll carried out for the bouffant-haired celebrity crimper Nicky Clarke.   It’s a horrifying statistic and one that is making me seriously consider the benefits.

A few years ago when my husband was helping me with my tax return he mentioned that I had spent “x” on having my hair done during that tax year.  “And your point is?” was my icy response.

Men never understand a woman’s need to have her hair cut, coloured and styled properly. If Nicky Clarke’s clients are mad enough to spend that much money on their hair they can clearly afford it.

I’ve had enough follicular disasters in my life to know the value of a good hairdresser. As for products, Clarke has a point when he says most women own at least three styling tools. I have many more than that plus cupboards full of unused creams and potions that hairdressers have sold me over the years. If your hair’s not right, all the designer frocks and Jimmy Choos in the world aren’t going to make up for it.