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A fantasist philanthropist

A fantasist philanthropist

05 September 2014 | Lloyd Hughes

I was browsing my Twitter timeline the other night when I was forced to do a double take. Then a triple take. Then a quadruple take. After rubbing my eyes for several minutes I checked again and saw that Tony Blair had won ‘philanthropist of the year’ at the GQ awards.

Yes, Tony Blair.

Many people regard Tony Blair as a war criminal for his role in instigating the Iraq war, which saw the UK and US Governments ride roughshod over UN concerns about its legality. Now the finer details of this matter are for the ridiculously drawn out Chilcot enquiry to reveal (despite being conducted between 2009 and 2011 its findings have yet to be published), however it’s fair to say that, regardless of the eventual conclusions, Tony Blair isn’t widely popular.

By definition, a philanthropist is a person who ‘seeks to promote the welfare of others, especially by the generous donation of money to good causes.’ Tony Blair, according to GQ magazine, has set up three charities since leaving office as Prime Minister in 2007, which is all well and good you might think. However the clue to the man is the fact that two of them are named after him.

I regard Tony Blair as a self-serving narcissist with a messiah complex so it’s no surprise that he chose the names ‘The Tony Blair Africa Governance Initiative’ and the ‘The Tony Blair Faith Foundation’ for his noble-minded ventures. He’s made a vast personal fortune since stepping down as PM so can afford to be magnanimous. His after dinner appearance fees are rumoured to be close to a quarter of a million pound per time, which makes ‘giving’ to charity a whole lot easier in his case.

But enough about my thoughts! Twitter and the wider media have reacted in a similarly open-mouthed fashion, which has lead to widespread mockery, indignation and not a little outrage.

Lads’ mags have faced a tough old time of it in recent years with online rivals calling time on the magazines’ golden age. Nuts and Loaded are no more, ZOO is on the brink and FHM is in serious decline. Not so GQ. The publication has coped admirably with the adverse conditions precipitated by online advances, and has been helped in no short part by the rise of metrosexuality in its target demographic. So whilst Nuts magazine and Loaded went under and ZOO flounders, the style and fashion advice offered by GQ has seen it rise to second place in the lads’ mags market, second only to Shortlist, which, being a free publication, isn’t likely to be overtaken anytime soon.

The GQ awards attract a real A-list crowd, with Cara Delevigne, Kim Kardashian, Kanye West, Pippa Middleton, Gerard Butler and Benedict Cumberbatch to name but a few of those on the guest list. So with a wealth of stars in attendance then, it was sure to generate press inches and raise the profile of the magazine. However it seems that GQ really wanted to make sure that its awards ceremony grabbed the headlines. Step forward, Tony Blair.

By lionising such a controversial figure the publication has probably thrust itself into the limelight a little more forcefully than it intended. Even MPs have come forward to express concern that it ‘sends the wrong message’ and to criticise the award. GQ has been forced to defend its decision admitting that it likes to have celebrities at the event who ‘cause a bit of a stir’. Now that’s putting it mildly.

So whilst Tony Blair might have done some good works for charity recently, he doesn’t come with a clean slate. The current turmoil in Iraq has put the Middle East firmly in the public eye; meaning Blair’s previous actions and decisions are once again under scrutiny.

Did GQ go too far? Some commentators certainly think so. The award has undoubtedly generated publicity, but whether it’s good for magazine sales in the long run remains to be seen.