January 31, 2023

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Shakira to Swift: the spotlight’s gruelling guide to revenge

Shakira has just topped the global Spotify chart and racked up a staggering 111 million-plus views on YouTube for a new song inspired by her ex-boyfriend Gerard Pique. [Source: NZ Herald]

Revenge. It’s traditionally a dish best-served cold. Like gazpacho. Is it though? Not if you’re a prince, Harry. Or a showgirl, Shakira.

And judging from entertainment value alone, I’d suggest revenge is best served piping hot, clouds of steam rising from the bile, like a freshly eviscerated haggis.

Sure, it’s not terribly nice to air the House of Windsor’s dirty linen (upper crusty sheets hitting the fan, as it were) in the pages of a £28 Penny Dreadful.

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Nor would anybody seriously recommend following Shakira’s lead, name-checking your ex-mother-in-law in your explicit break-up song and pointedly placing a life-sized witch mannequin on the balcony facing her house.

But what these shock and awe truth bombs lack in dignity they more than make up for in sheer giddy entertainment. Our bad.

I know the schadenfreude doesn’t necessarily reflect too well on us, but rightly or wrongly (no need to consult the Archbishop of Canterbury, we already know the answer) there’s something about witnessing celebrities’ red mist recklessness that fills us, the hoi polloi, with glee.

Colombian popstrel Shakira, 45, has just topped the global Spotify chart and racked up a staggering 111 million-plus views on YouTube for a new song inspired by her ex-boyfriend, former Spanish, Barcelona and Manchester United footballing legend Gerard Pique.

Her track belittles and ridicules Pique, the father of her two sons, over his new choice in partner – 23-year-old Clara Chia, who works in public relations.

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In the new song, Shakira says she is worth “two 22-year-olds” and likens herself to a Ferrari while Chia, she sneers, is a Renault Twingo, one of the cheapest cars on the market. For good measure, she describes herself as a Rolex watch to Chia’s Casio.

Unfortunately, Pique has smoothly stolen Shakira’s thunder, by turning up to work in a Twingo and persuading watchmakers Casio to sponsor his new venture, a seven-a-side tournament called the King’s League.

By displaying unassailable good humour, he has entirely taken the sting away in an impressive feat of gamesmanship. It’s only human nature to await the next move.

Revenge has always exerted a powerful pull in the popular imagination. As a theme it is ever present within the Greek masterpieces The Iliad, The Odyssey and The Oresteia.

From Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus to John Webster’s Jacobean revenge play The Duchess of Malfi, audiences have lapped up such tragedies.

In the digital age the term “revenge porn” is widely understood – and equally widely reviled.

But some uses are more ambiguous; “revenge dress” was coined by royal watchers to describe the knockout evening gown worn by Diana, Princess of Wales, by way of a wordless response to the 1994 televised admission of adultery by her husband Charles, then Prince of Wales, now King.

Now, it has evolved to mean virtually any dress a woman in the public eye wears after a breakup. More controversial is the term “revenge body” – although generally used in a positive way, when tabloids praise celebrities for their “revenge bodies” it’s a double-edged compliment.

Last year, body confidence influencer Alex Light told Cosmopolitan the focus on the female form – from Adele to Khloe Kardashian’s – is troubling. “The concept is not as positive or empowering as it might seem,” she said. “It’s all so misogynistic. When have you ever seen the term revenge body referenced towards men?

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“This idea reinforces the narrative that thinner is better and thinner makes us, not only more worthy and more successful, but also more desirable and more loveable – that’s a very toxic message.”

Revenge comes in many different shapes, however. Break-up songs are a standard response from those in the music business. Taylor Swift’s We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together may lack the poetry of Carly Simon’s 1972 hit You’re So Vain, but the sentiments are broadly the same.

Little Mix put out the bestselling Shout Out to My Ex, while Beyoncé devoted a whole album, Lemonade, to allegations that her husband Jay-Z had been unfaithful.

Show business types, on the other hand, have to be more ingenious; last year actress and director Olivia Wilde was left “humiliated” when ex-partner, Jason Sudeikis, had her served with legal papers pertaining to custody of their children while she was speaking live on stage at an event.

Since then, the 38-year-old has split from her 28-year-old partner, former One Direction star Harry Styles, but both have kept their counsel.

Strictly contestant and presenter Helen Skelton was more forthcoming. She demonstrated her hurt and anger at the way her husband, Richie Myler, left her four months after the birth of their third child by selling off their shared possessions on a TV auction show.

A dramatic form of retribution but when it comes to acts of revenge, what looks like the ultimate act of catharsis and closure is far more complex.

Sir Peter Graham-Moon of Lambourn Woods, Berks, made headlines in 1992 when his first wife discovered he was having an affair and made her feelings known by pouring paint over his BMW and taking scissors to 32 expensive Savile Row suits and coats. Later she gave away the contents of his vintage wine cellar to neighbours.

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“Still in my dressing gown, I smashed a window to get into his side of the house,” Lady Sarah Graham-Moon later recounted. “Peter had lovely clothes. I hacked at the rows of colour-coordinated suits and got a dancing rhythm going, chopping six inches off every sleeve. As a finale, I tipped his Cuban cigars on the floor and jumped all over them. The smell was lovely. As I dashed round to my own side of the house, covered in blood from the smashed window, Peter arrived. He didn’t say a word.”

A week later she deposited his bottles of vintage wine on people’s doorsteps in the middle of the night and left 40 more around the war memorial.

“By this stage, my weekly exploits had become Lambourn’s favourite soap opera. Peter took vicarious pleasure in regaling everyone in the local pub with tales of his mad wife.”

Maintaining a phlegmatic attitude (in public at least) is the perfect patrician response in such circumstances.

But while there is a satisfaction to be had in kicking up an almighty fuss, to paraphrase 17th-century poet George Herbert; the best revenge is a life lived well.