Harry Says Chapter 6: Mr W’s Testament

It is imperative that I leave a Testament.  I must set down my thoughts during those times when my mind is clear.  The things I will write about will be a warning.  Putting my ideas down on paper might finally set my mind at rest.

The later and brilliantly successful career of The Master is well known, almost the stuff of legend. People speak of it with awe, and so they should. But few know the details of his early life.  I can tell you that, somewhat implausibly, The Master began life as a trapeze artist in a travelling Spanish circus.  Both his parents were trapeze artists and he followed in their footsteps.  It was a profession that he was well-suited to in his youth.  He was supple and athletic, quick to learn and, when necessary, courageous.  Note that from an early age he was habituated to performing in front of crowds.  The skills that would take him to the top of the political tree were developed early and quickly became instinctive.  Performance became second nature.  He began to develop the key skill sets associated with emotional intelligence and prophylaxis.

There was of course not even the slightest inkling, not even in his own mind, of the brilliant course of his future career.  That would develop gradually, even organically, over many years.  But we should look with interest at every stage of The Master’s career.

The next stage of his career is better known.  As his physique developed he became unsuitable for the trapeze.  He became taller and more muscular, heavier.  At the age of seventeen he was already six feet four inches tall and was to grow another two inches.  A weedy and gangling teenager, he soon developed an impressive physique through a disciplined workout routine. He began a new career as a circus strongman, a role that gave him ample opportunity to develop his talents.  By the age of twenty his appearance was much as it is today.  He was six feet six inches tall and gave the impression of great power and athleticism.  Even when young he was very good looking.

The Master first came to the attention of the general public through the reality TV programme Strongmen in the Jungle.  This programme followed the usual tried and tested but ever-popular format.  Five strongmen from different walks of life were decamped to a jungle in South East Asia. Or, at least what appeared to be the jungle.  It was really a patch of land less than a quarter of a mile away from a luxury beach hotel.  The other competitors included a weightlifter, an Olympic bronze medal shot-putter, a wrestler and a boxer nearing the end of his career.  Every week one competitor was voted out by the public, who registered their votes via premium rate phone lines.  Though crucially for The Master’s success, the small print stipulated that the phone poll of the public was only something the producers were to take into account.  Their decisions about who stayed and who left were usually influenced by the need to maintain ratings and a healthy income stream from the phone calls.

The competitors had three main ways of ingratiating themselves with the public.  First, their behaviour in the camp was monitored twenty four hours a day.  This footage was then edited for a daily highlights show as well as being broadcast live in two-hour-long sub-prime time slots.  Second, the competitors made a daily address to the public in a “confession booth”, where they talked straight to the camera.  Third, the competitors were issued with challenges – feats of strength – and were filmed carrying them out.

The Master emerged as the surprise winner of this competition.  He used and further honed the skills that would stand him in good stead in his future political career.  He was able to subtly undermine his opponents while maintaining an appearance of jovial disinterest.  The Master was the very soul of bonhomie.  He presented himself to the public as open and honest.  In the confessional he bared his soul, or enough of it as he thought necessary, to an increasingly adoring public.  With his physique, good looks and high emotional intelligence, he particularly appealed to women.

While The Master was forging ahead his competitors floundered. Bill Swift, the Olympic Games bronze medal hammer thrower, and it was said a potential gold medalist, had been the pre-show favourite.  A Community Policeman from Glasgow, he was a well-known and popular figure, especially because of his work for charities that helped kids in inner city areas.  But prolonged exposure to the cameras revealed hitherto unsuspected flaws in his character.  Exposure to the hardships of the camp emphasised a stoical element in his personality that had gone undetected in previous sound-bite-sized media appearances.  His sessions in the confessional booth were likewise on the dull side.  He went about his tasks of strength in a way that was focused but undemonstrative.  As the show developed he failed to grip the attention of the nation. 

On the other hand, when The Master entered the confessional booth the nation reached for a cuppa.  The Master possessed that rare ability, the ability to create an intimate relationship with the viewer through a mechanical and distant medium.  And he did not seem anxious to bare his soul.  He was not slick.  Far from it, his confessions contained many pauses and reflective silences.  During these he seemed to be searching the depths of his soul, perhaps reflecting on the wisdom of being so unguarded. He would start on some revealing comment and pause mid-sentence or even mid-word, as if unsure how to continue, unsure of the consequences of such artless sincerity.

One possible difficulty was posed by the tasks of strength. In spite of his muscular appearance, The Master was not that strong physically.  He looked the part, but he was no stronger than an average manual labourer.  His strongman act had been based as much on the skills of the illusionist as on exceptional physical ability.  It was easy to create feats of strength that were in reality not as difficult as they looked.  An audience could easily be convinced that a burden was much heavier than it actually was.  Call out a member of the audience: get them to test a weight.  It’s really heavy, isn’t it?  Test it for yourself.  But in the jungle there was no escape from the difficulty of the tasks posed to the competitors.

The Master’s first task was to chop down a tree (the presenters emphasised that it was not a protected species), saw off a specified length and drag it back to camp using only ropes.  It was a formidable task.  Swift had tackled it with great determination and succeeded but with only a monosyllabic self-commentary.  Swift managed to get his section of tree back to the camp and then sat down on a log.

“That was tough – bloody tough,” was all he said as he sat getting his breath back.  The Master failed at the same task, but through a skilful self-commentary drew the viewer into the unfolding drama.  He was not theatrical.  But he made the task into an empathetic drama, where he was the central character.  Audiences loved it.  And competitors were not being crudely scored on their degree of success at their tasks.  It was essentially a popularity contest and one that the other contestants began to realise they were going to lose to The Master: but without knowing why.

That evening in the confessional The Master was the soul of modesty, of sportsmanship.  He exuded admiration for his fellow competitors.  He congratulated them on their achievements, while very subtly insinuating that success at this task was not of any particular value.  He suggested that his failure was at least as admirable as the others’ successes.  And so it continued.  He remained on the show until he was the only survivor and the winner.  His career as a celebrity was launched.

For several years The Master continued with his career as a minor celebrity.  He kept himself in the public eye and made several well-judged moves that helped him climb some rungs of the ladder.  He had a few cameo roles in popular soap operas but had the good sense not to linger too long in those credibility-reducing shallows.  He was a popular guest on TV chat shows.  A major move forward was made when he divorced his Spanish wife of ten years and married the socialite Cassandra Selby Welby, a member of the prominent banking family and a well-known figure in the media.  From then on The Master began to build a network of solid alliances within the media aristocracy and beyond.

Gradually it dawned on The Master that with his skills there was virtually no limit to how far he could go.  There is no need to give the details of the remainder of his rise to the top.  This is all in the public domain and has received extensive coverage elsewhere.  A year after his second marriage he was adopted by the party as a parliamentary candidate in an unwinnable seat. He did not win that election but impressed with his campaigning skills. Two years later he entered parliament through a by-election victory.  Five years later he was made party leader. After leading the party to victory at the next General Election he became Prime Minister.

It had been a long way from Strongmen in The Jungle to 10 Downing St, never mind from a travelling circus.  I had greatly admired The Master during the early phase of my own career.  I too hoped for a meteoric rise and had directed all my energies towards that end.

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