Give me general election stress over life as a hermit anytime

John Crace
Stan Vanuytrecht has won the right to live in this place. I couldn’t think of anything worse. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images


Prince Harry has managed to do more to raise awareness of mental health issues in one newspaper interview than many psychiatrists achieve in a lifetime. But the prince’s disclosure that he needed therapy to help him come to terms with his mother’s death also revealed how much more there is to be done. For anyone who has suffered mental health problems, it would have been self-evident that a vulnerable 12-year-old boy who was born into the royal family, whose parents had a very public and spectacularly unpleasant separation and whose mother was killed in a car crash with her new boyfriend while being chased by the paparazzi would be in desperate need of help. It’s great that Harry finally managed to get help, but it doesn’t reflect well on those close to him that no one either noticed he was in trouble or took steps to get him some therapy.


What a difference an hour makes. At 10am I was dawdling at home contemplating a leisurely commute into Westminster because parliament wasn’t due to start business until 2.30pm. Then I checked my Twitter feed and discovered the prime minister was making a statement in Downing Street at 11.15. I threw on my suit, jumped in the car and made it with 20 minutes to spare. Just in case there was anyone she hadn’t caught on the hop, Theresa May nipped out the front door to make her statement nine minutes early. The tactic certainly worked. Not only were many of the parliamentary reporters missing, the prime minister also wrongfooted many of her team. One of her senior press secretaries was on her way back from a weekend in the country, blissfully unaware her boss was about to call a general election.


It can’t have come as a surprise to the Globe. Emma Rice had never made a secret of her Shakespearean vision when she was appointed to be the theatre’s artistic director, but the Globe’s board called time on her after just one season that had played to near-capacity audiences. The reasons cited were that she had dared to use artificial lighting, and had admitted she found Shakespeare tricky in places. A year on, as she gets to the end of her notice period, Rice has managed to exact her revenge with an open letter published on the theatre’s website. Addressing her yet to be chosen successor, Rice writes: “I chose to leave because, as important and beloved as the Globe is to me, the board did not love and respect me back. It did not understand what I saw, what I felt and what I created with my actors, creative teams and the audience. They began to talk of a new set of rules that I did not sign up to and could not stand by. Nothing is worth giving away my artistic freedom for, it has been too hard fought for.” Pure class.


Stan Vanuytrecht, a former artillery officer in the Belgian army, has seen off 49 other candidates to secure a position as one of Europe’s last hermits, and will move into a 350-year-old hermitage built into a cliff above the town of Saalfelden in Austria this month. I wish him well, but I can’t think of anything worse. As stressful as I find the general election – it can be a nightmare dashing around the country trying to make sure you are in the right place at the right time – it is nothing compared with being made to stay in the middle of nowhere. A girlfriend once persuaded me it would be a good idea to camp out in the middle of the Maasai Mara. I was terrified and spent the night listening to wild animals roaring and snorting on the other side of the river, convinced I was about to die. I didn’t sleep a wink. She slept like a baby. We split up soon afterwards.


I first met Ayesha Hazarika three years ago when I became the Guardian’s parliamentary sketch writer. She was sitting in the House of Commons press gallery with her head in her hands, groaning in despair as Harriet Harman mangled yet another of her killer punchlines. Ayesha was a special adviser to the Labour party between 2007 and 2015, and one of her jobs was to prep Ed Miliband and Harriet for PMQs and ministerial questions. It was a thankless task, especially for someone with so much natural comic timing. Finding herself out on her ear in 2015, Ayesha has gone back to her original day job doing standup, and last night I went to see her at the Soho Theatre in London, where she is starting a UK tour. Not only is she extremely funny, but she uses her inside knowledge of the Labour machine to deadly effect. Though always sharp and on the money, she is never cruel and manages to create a world I never thought possible. One where Ed was a leadership colossus. You never know what you’ve got till it’s gone. Catch her if you can.

Digested week digested:
Four elections in four years