Beware turning Russell Brand’s story into a conspiracy theory in its own right

Russell Brand
Russell Brand

Whatever your views on the Russell Brand scandal - and there are four serious allegations of rape, assault and “emotional abuse” against him, the decision by YouTube to suspend the comedian and actor’s ability to earn money from a platform where he has 6.5 million subscribers is just appalling. Chilling, actually. As is the behaviour of the BBC, which says it has removed some content featuring their former favourite bad boy from iPlayer, “having assessed that it now falls below public expectations”. Oh, please, spare us the primly shuddering disclaimer! As Brand himself told ITV presenter Lorraine Kelly, when she suggested that some of his sleazy exploits may have been enabled by his employers, “Yes, I suppose if you’re in a position of some success, people will let you be a nutter as long as they’re making money out of it.”

The nutter and self-confessed sex addict whom the BBC and Channel 4 treated like a pet tarantula for years, the latter making millions on the back of Russell’s brand of Mephistophelian mayhem, is dropped with cowardly alacrity once there is a media storm. Not only does this Orwellian unpersonning of Russell Brand violate a fundamental tenet of a free society – these are still only allegations, remember – it makes the prospect of a fair trial, should he ever be charged, unlikely.

The story has already taken a depressingly tribal turn. The Left, seemingly delighted to have an “alt-Right” scalp, draws absurd comparisons with Jimmy Savile. (Whatever Brand’s misdemeanours, he is hardly in the same league as Britain’s most prolific child sexual abuser, a fiend who violated hospital patients in their beds. Nor is he “our Harvey Weinstein”. I observed the terror that the movie mogul inspired close up; Harvey used his immense power to stymie the careers of women who wouldn’t have sex with him. No one is claiming Brand did that.)

Meanwhile, people like me on the Right wonder a little about the timing. Why was this “open secret” ignored for so many years? Brand’s remorseless priapic opportunism, his reputation as a Lothario was public knowledge, certainly within his industry  although, as one TV veteran told me yesterday, “We knew Russell was an operator with a big mouth but we never heard any rumours he was a rapist… Nothing like the stories that went around about Savile.”

Admittedly, it is a long and painstaking process for reporters to build the evidence needed for this kind of exposé. (I have been trying, and failing, to acquire similar material on another creepy BBC star. People are afraid to go on the record.) But if Brand were still a Socialist pin-up invited to guest-edit the New Statesman, instead of a “far-Right” turncoat spouting “conspiracy theories” about Covid, Big Pharma and the military industrial complex to a vast audience on social media, would there have been rather less enthusiasm to bring him to book?

It is perfectly possible that there is some truth on both sides. Brand, who has admitted having sex with at least a thousand women, and at the height of his fame was catnip for the birds, insists all his encounters were consensual. But accusers told The Sunday Times and Channel 4’s Dispatches that the rampant narcissist’s legendary charm took a darker turn on several occasions; it would be no surprise if he struggled to hear the word, “No!” And, although it was legal, an account of a thirtysomething TV star dating a 16-year-old schoolgirl does make me shudder.

The comedian leaving the Troubabour Wembley Park theatre at the weekend
The comedian leaving the Troubabour Wembley Park theatre at the weekend - James Manning

As it happens, I have never much cared for Russell Brand, especially since that cruel stunt back in 2008 when Brand and Jonathan Ross, a  guest on his Radio 2 show, made prank calls to the actor Andrew Sachs (Fawlty Towers’s sublime Manuel). The pair left lewd messages on the78-year-old’s answerphone about Brand’s relationship with Sachs’s granddaughter Georgina. A “relationship” with Brand back then could last as long as a week, although many girls barely clocked up half an hour. Russell Brand was famously a “five a day” man: that’s sex, not vegetables

Carried away by his own flight of fancy, and forgetting he was broadcasting on the BBC (or, more likely, not giving a damn), Brand sang to Sachs: “It was consensual and she wasn’t menstrual.” That’s Russell for you. Go for the naughty, clever rhyme and to hell with good taste or respect for women.

As a former English teacher, I rather relished Brand’s Rococo vocabulary. The exuberant way with words matched his Byronic, preening-popinjay persona and it was a welcome change from the brain-dead “awesomes” of so many of his reality-TV contemporaries. But it was clear he didn’t know when to stop, I think. A former heroin addict, the hyperactive star lacked a “pause” button, although that sense of danger, of social norms being gleefully trampled under pointy-toed boots, endeared him to many younger people - including my own kids, when they were teenagers

Sachsgate provoked a furore. Russell Brand lost his job at Radio 2 after an avalanche of listener complaints. Commentators on the Right, like your columnist, took the star to task for his horrid behaviour, but there were Left-leaning newspapers and TV channels who defended him. They accused the BBC of caving into “a baying, irrational mob” and generally over-hyping the story when there were far more important things in the world to worry about. “Stop witch-hunting Brand,” ran one headline.

That supportive piece was in The Guardian. Don’t forget, the Russell Brand of 15 years ago was still putting the libido into liberal. A self-styled social justice warrior, he even won praise in 2015 from an infatuated, doe-eyed Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, who was desperate for some of Brand’s stardust to rub off on his dandruffy shoulders. Labour, generally so censorious about misogyny and inappropriate behaviour towards women, gave the man who was named Shagger of the Year (by The Sun) no less than three times a court jester’s pass.

Well, you won’t find any Leftist apologists for Russell Brand today. (Ed Miliband must be busy deleting his bromance snaps.) It is the turn of certain Conservatives to cry foul, complaining, as their political opponents once did, about trial by media and, yes, a politically-motivated “witch-hunt”.

One thing that both sides avoid mentioning is the fact that Brand was a hugely successful womaniser and his success was enabled by the girls who threw themselves at him in huge numbers. A friend who went to the same clubs as Brand back in the day attests to his extraordinary animal magnetism “despite that awful smelly hair”. (“I think he is guilty of very bad behaviour when he was an addict,” she says, “I do not believe he raped anyone”.) Are the females who fell for his weapons-grade flirting and lascivious quips, for that vampish slash of Kohl under the beady, greedy eyes, all victims of “emotional abuse”? Or did they possibly make really bad choices, as most of us have done at some point, ignoring the fact that the Shagger of the Year was unlikely to turn into Mr Darcy just because he pretended to take your phone number after you’d had sex with him in the hotel opposite his gig?

A production person who worked on Big Brother’s Big Mouth told Dispatches that she frequently fielded calls the day after from Russell’s conquests; they were disappointed, suddenly realising that they’d been “used” and that they were not, after all, The One who would tame the bad boy.

This is known as “victim shaming” now, but it is a true account of how young women felt about a famous, magnetic male who flattered them. And it would be more honest, perhaps, to admit that certain girls will always throw themselves at powerful, sexy, exploitative men, no matter how much their sisters in The Guardian may disapprove.

I don’t know if Russell Brand committed the hideous offences several women claim that he did. If the police go ahead, the merit of the allegations must be tested in court. There is a world of difference between a “shagger” and a rapist. No political partisanship should lure us into excusing the latter as laddish behaviour. What I do know is that our system holds that a man is innocent until proven guilty. The attempt to unperson Russell Brand is almost as disturbing as the sins of which he stands accused.

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