Tanya Gold

I can't read about Russell Brand without thinking of Georgina Baillie

After Sachsgate, he should have been shunned from public life


BEVERLY HILLS, CALIFORNIA - NOVEMBER 19: Russell Brand attends Friendly House 32nd Annual Awards Luncheon at The Beverly Hilton on November 19, 2022 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Jon Kopaloff/Getty Images for Friendly House)

September 20, 2023 11:04

I can’t read about Russell Brand without thinking about Georgina Baillie, the young woman who, in 2008 and due to him, became the subject of a carnival of misogyny.

After what he did to her, I don’t think he should have been on the airwaves, or published, again. Not by edict: I’m not really for banning things. I prefer for them to be despised. People just should have stopped listening and reading. But they didn’t. I only read or listened to him for work – Brand is easy to write about, he designed himself for it – but I did. I wish I hadn’t.

Brand was always unserious – he reinvented himself from comedian to bogus political thinker a decade ago– and he was terribly cruel to Baillie.

The runes were all there, just unread. It was gossip of the most destructive kind – lashon hara – attracted by fame. Baillie is of Jewish descent and her maternal grandfather is the actor Andrew Sachs, a name always followed with the caveat “Manuel from Fawlty Towers”.

In fact, Sachs is more interesting than the hapless waiter he impersonated in one dazzling season: in 1938, when he was eight, his family left Nazi Germany for Britain and Andreas Siegfried Sachs became Andrew Sachs. He was a refugee – he died in 2016 - and a very skilled actor: for Brand, who seems to resent anyone else excelling, he was the victim of a joke. Comedy is always a kind of theft: no victim, no joke. The principal victim was Baillie.

Sometime before autumn 2008 Brand was in a relationship – I euphemise – with Baillie. She was then 23 – Brand was 10 years older. He also had a BBC Radio 2 show, The Russell Brand Show. In his 2014 autobiography I Know Nothing! Sachs said he was invited for an interview on the Russell Brand Show, but declined because he was busy. Instead, Brand and Jonathan Ross, his co-host that day, rang Sachs’s home during the pre-recording and left offensive messages on Sachs’s answerphone.

Ross, who was nearing 50, shouted, “he f***** your granddaughter!” The pair managed, though obliviously of course – they are not thinkers - to perform a masterclass in turn-of-the-millennium misogyny. They betrayed Baillie’s confidence; they mocked her for her sexuality; they sought to shame her by revealing her private life to her elderly grandfather.

She was not a person in her own right but the used lover of one and the grandchild of another: Misogyny 101.

In those pre-#MeToo days, Baillie couldn’t win. She was judged for being sexual. If she had been a prim kind of person, she might have been more kindly treated when the story broke. But why should she be prim? She wouldn’t have been less hurt. She wasn’t a prim person. She was troubled, and she has since said she suffered problems with substance abuse.

She was an entertainer, too: a Sally Bowles figure. She was in a burlesque dance group called the Satanic Sluts, made for tabloid condescension, and that is what she got. Unforgivably, the radio programme aired. Jonathan Ross was suspended without pay for 12 weeks: he deserved worse. The BBC was fined £150,000: it should have been more. The broadcaster received 40,000 complaints. The controller of Radio 2 resigned and so did Brand, though he should have been fired.

“What’s worse?” Brand asked, during a segment that later aired in which he attacked the Daily Mail for its brief support of Hitler. “Leaving a swear word on Andrew Sachs’s answerphone or tacitly supporting Adolf Hitler when he took charge of the Third Reich?”

He apologised, but I don’t think he was sorry. In his last BBC radio show, he called the episode “funny”. He went on to reference it in his stand-up comedy: he got more powerful.

Baillie and Sachs did not speak for eight years: that is the damage it did. In his book, Sachs called himself, “a rather private man. As a child refugee from Nazi Germany, I’d learned not to reveal too much about my deepest feelings. It’s a strategy adopted by most children who come to a strange country. They learn that there are times when you have to be careful about what you reveal of yourself, in order to fit in”. This explains, at least, his skill in Fawlty Towers: Manuel was the man he repressed.

He quoted Othello: “He that filches from me my good name / Robs me of that which not enriches him / And makes me poor indeed”.

Baillie’s good name was stolen. She was Sally Bowles and Christine Keeler too, who in the 1960s noted that her name had become a “dirty joke”.

Brand has since reformed himself, he has said: he wrote a variant on the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, and eventually, he paid for Baillie to go to rehab. You might say that is the least he could do.

Baillie has been rather more generous. She has asked that Brand not be "cancelled": that YouTube does not stop him monetising his videos. Brand talks a lot about spirituality: Baillie has given him a lesson in it.

September 20, 2023 11:04

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