This is a story of two men, Boris and Tony, both of whom have very similar problems: money worries and being overweight. They share a passion, acting. Tony’s money worries are daily, in effect what can he afford? Can he buy food, or pay for heat, or pay the bills for other essentials? For Boris the money worry is imposture, and has consumed endless column inches and speculation in the media.
Tony is overweight, he has a hernia and mild diabetes. Boris is overweight, his excess has probably come from over-eating rich food, and from lack of exercise over many years.
Tony has been told by his doctor to eat fresh veg and freshly cooked meals, but he cannot afford to do this; while Boris has hired a personal trainer, has the use of the gardens of Buckingham Palace to work-out, and has apparently lost weight. He also has the resources of the Downing Street kitchens to feed him, and his partner Carrie to look after him.
Tony grew up and went to school in Ireland, and like so many other Irish boys travelled to England and commenced working on building sites at the very young age of 16. He was involved in many of the great building projects of the time, but was paid via a system called the ‘Lump’. In effect it was cash; few records in those days were kept, and now virtually on the cusp of retirement this history of incomplete records impacts on his future pension entitlements. A charity is trying to help him sort out his pension, but lockdown has stopped all work. Fingers crossed, in 2021 he might get some good news.
Boris, at the age of 16, was in the most elite fee-paying school in the UK; Eton College in North London where the annual fees are now over £42,000 per annum. His brothers also went to Eton. Boris progressed to Oxford University where he studied Classics. His first job was in journalism, then he entered politics in 2001 at the age of 37 as MP for Henley. In short, he had a silver spoon start to life, with endless money and influence behind him from his Eton and Oxford days. He was on a guaranteed career-path to success in politics and journalism, and with women.
So How did Tony get on? In those early days, he had lots of work opportunities and life was ok. But as he got older, and for health reasons, work opportunities dwindled and friends began to fade away. Surviving on job-seekers allowance became the new normal for him, as did frequent stays in hostels. The physical effects of endless long shifts on construction sites came back to impact his health. Living and just surviving became a real challenge and it was around then that our paths crossed, almost six years ago.
Tony reached out for help to churches in Central London. Staff from one of these suggested trying South London which he did, and a phone call from a priest put us in touch.
I have never met Boris in person but I have met his brother twice, and no the brother did not introduce us a later date. Seeing Boris on TV and listening to him on radio, I feel I know him now as a man who is acting a part. Coupled with this act is an overwhelming desire to make as much money as he can, without an ounce of empathy for the people and the workers of the UK unless of course they are rich, voted Tory and live in the right parts of the country.
So how did I get to know Tony? It took a very long time to get his full name and his family story. He is estranged from his brother who lives in the UK and he has some distant relatives back in Ireland. He is a man of great pride, is private though confident, and is content with his life. He doesn’t ever complain.
We would meet perhaps 2-3 times a year and have phone calls in addition to our meetings. I had the unique opportunity and privilege to buy him some of the essentials we all take for granted, like shoes, socks, deodorant, razor blades, shower gel, shaving foam, towels, shirts, trousers and underwear. I was able to have most of these costs re-imbursed from a charity.
Tony was so engaging to talk to and he would often entertain myself and a colleague who was frequently with me when we met, he told of his acting experiences and the famous film stars he had seen on sets down the years. He loved movies and books and could talk for England never mind Ireland. But his paid acting jobs were very few and far apart and due to early starts in locations away from transport links it is now virtually impossible for him to accept any work that he might be offered. However, his annual membership fee for the actor’s union is still an essential expenditure for him.
But for Boris, every time he speaks it’s like a scene for a movie or play. It’s all a great act; the hands, head movements, the messy hair, and the flowery flamboyant words all to distract from whatever his message was. He never comes across as confident or genuine or with an ounce of empathy.
Back in late September Tony called the Parish Office and I phoned him back after getting the message. Tony needed some new bedding, a new duvet, and some pillows. Could I help him?
After bit of probing he said he slept between two duvets, now very old and ragged like his pillows, he had no bed sheet, no duvet cover, and no pillow cases. Sharing this back to the Parish Secretary resulted in a new complete set of linen, duvets covers, four pillows and covers, new towels and two very warm blankets. All bought for him out of parish funds, plus some very generous additional donations of blankets from the secretary’s friends who helped.
This level of generosity was overwhelming. Tony was not a parishioner and had never attended mass in the area, but the parish dug deep to look after him and the Parish Secretary went way beyond that and had more promises in the wings if needed, such was her genuine desire to help. All the donations filled the boot of my car, and putting in so many items was an emotional experience. A huge act of kindness from someone the secretary had never met.
Tony is so proud he hates asking for help and always says there are so many others who are worse off than him. He volunteers at a charity in London; manning the library, sorting new books received, and handing them out. He loves it as he is on a rota and has a few buddies. There he is valued. He would never reveal just how badly-off he actually is as he doesn’t want people to know.
For Christmas Tony will be on his own as he was last year, with virtually no money. He is on the list to get a Christmas hamper from the charity he volunteers with; in the hamper will be tins, bottles, chocolates and biscuits, and other treats but little food in reality. All welcome gifts, though he needs so much more than that. But he is cheerful, happy and always positive with a story to regale you.
So, what of Boris? What kind of Christmas will he have?
Will he be in the Downing Street Flat or the opulence and grandeur of Chequers, where he can invite friends and extended family over for lunch and a sleep-over? Will he be thinking of his many financial problems and wondering when he can resume his weekly Telegraph column (where it is reported he was paid £250,000 a year) and his other speaking opportunities for which he was paid thousands each time? The really good times are just around the corner for him as soon as he steps down from his current role. He does have multiple obligations to several ex-wives and children from those marriages, and of course his current fiancée Carrie and the new baby. But it would appear he is also ‘just about managing’ on his salary of £150,000 and can only afford one cleaner.
We live is a deeply divided society and the Trussell Trust estimate there will be an extra 670,000 people destitute by this Christmas, many of whom have lost jobs this year due to the Pandemic. They will be relying on the growing network of food banks right around the country to feed them, and the struggle and worry for all will be immense over the festive period.
Between these two men who are both ‘just about managing’, who will be the most content and happy on Christmas Day?