I love stories of badly-behaved houseguests – and Julian Assange has raised the bar

Hadley Freeman


Everyone knows that like fish, guests need chucking out after three days, and while other people’s awful relationship stories are always interesting, I’m far more fascinated with terrible overstaying houseguest stories. There is something about the shamelessness of such people that I find simultaneously repulsive and inspiring, probably because my overdeveloped self-consciousness means I find it embarrassing to use other people’s bathrooms when I visit their homes. So, while everyone else got very excited by the Anna and Miles love story in the 90s houseshare drama This Life, my favourite plotline was about Delilah, who moved herself in, binge-ate everyone’s food, nicked their valuables and then refused to leave. Never mind your Game Of Thrones, tense house meetings about who ate someone else’s yoghurt are my kind of edge-of-the-seat TV drama.

So I thank Julian Assange (not a phrase I’ve used before, ever) for raising the bar on nightmare houseguests, with the frankly enthralling details emerging from his almost seven-year stay in London’s Ecuadorean embassy now that he has, finally, been ejected. Emotions run high when it comes to discussions of Assange. But surely no one is feeling – and possibly has ever felt – any emotion as intensely as the happiness currently experienced by the staff, and especially the cleaners, at the Ecuador embassy, now that they’ll no longer have to deal with Assange’s – and let me adjust my reading glasses so as to better savour the details provided by Ecuador’s foreign minister, José Valencia – “hygienic” problems, including one that was “very unpleasant” and “attributed to a digestive problem”.

According to Ecuador’s president, Lenín Moreno, Assange “accessed the embassy’s security files without permission”, and WikiLeaks “threatened the government of Ecuador”. You know, I think I once had a French exchange who behaved like that. But Ecuador’s UK ambassador, Jaime Marchan, put the cherry on my cake with his claims that Assange “ignored repeated warnings not to leave half-eaten meals and unwashed dishes in the sink” (classic bad houseguest) and once, as a protest, “put excrement on the walls and underwear with excrement in the lavatory” (possibly just classic Assange). Just the thought of the house meetings inside the embassy – “Come on, guys, he’s one of ours now, he has to stay”; “Ex-CUSE me, have you SMELT the bathrooms recently?!” – makes me want to quit my job and write a TV drama. I think I’ll call it This Embassy.

Related: My walk to work shows me how homelessness is transforming Britain | Hadley Freeman

My life and internet bandwidth are too limited to fight with Assange’s online army of defenders about his politics, but surely we can all agree that he probably won’t be commissioned to write an etiquette guide any time soon. And if any Ecuadorean embassy staff members wish to share further stories, please consider me the WikiLeaks of your bad houseguest stories.

Assange is not the only one outstaying his welcome these days. Everyone knows that awful guest who refuses to leave at the end of the party, and hangs out in the kitchen, surrounded by empty bottles and cigarette butts, expecting people to be fascinated by his dull anecdotes when everyone wishes he’d just naff off in a minicab already. This is what David Cameron’s memoir is to book publishing schedules.

Last week it was announced that the book – which reportedly runs to more than 400,000 words, none of which presumably are “I’m sorry for breaking the country” – has been delayed, again. This time until autumn, due to the extended Brexit deadline, because, hmm, remind me who got us into this mess in the first place and never bothered to put a plan in place in case leave won? The saga of Cameron’s book has been the one bright light of comedy in the dark tunnel of Brexit apocalyptic hell: from the, not one, but two £25,000 garden sheds he needed to write it in, to the claim of an unspecified “friend” that Cameron was “bored shitless” these days. It’s that kind of relatable content that prompted his publisher to fork out £800k, I guess. And so, the book continues to squat on publishing schedules, unloved, unwanted, but hopefully at least not shoving dirty pants down toilets.

As ever with bad guests, the really telling story is why the hosts tolerate this nonsense. Cameron’s book provides an insight into the follies of book publishing, overpaying big names who few want to read, then getting stuck with literary white elephants. Poor Ecuador is merely the latest in a long line of those who reached out to Assange only to find their hospitality kicked back in their faces by a chaos-loving narcissist.

Plenty of journalists, wealthy liberals and book publishers can share Ecuador’s pain. But you’re free now, Ecuador, and next time a man turns up on your doorstep seeking to evade sexual assault and rape charges (which he, of course, denies), bear in mind the wise and slightly paraphrased words of American novelist Edgar Watson Howe: the ideal guest stays at home.