One of the lead characters in my novel Frightgeist, set in an alternative “London, lately”, is Aloysius St Devine, a self-made property tycoon and a star of a hit reality TV show called Nude Entrepreneur.
Saint, as he is known, is campaigning to become Mayor of London as an independent candidate, and has emerged as the main challenger to under-pressure Labour incumbent Lorraine Linton. He has a popular touch and the gift of the gab.
Saint’s first appearance in the novel comes early on, when he is interviewed by a young female TV reporter next to a new block of flats he has built. The following excerpt has been slightly edited to purge it of a plot spoiler. Could such a candidate stand a chance of becoming Mayor in real life? You decide.
Saint winked at the young female reporter from Your London TV and turned to his right-hand man.
‘Kev, have you got my weeding trowel?’ He turned back. ‘Bear with me for a moment, would you, sweetheart? I can’t relax until it’s sorted. I’m a bit kinky that way.’
Kevin produced the trowel. They were standing at the foot of sixteen floors of New London Vernacular, its elevations starkly wan as if in a sandblasted state of shock. Glass balconies jutted like open drawers.
Saint made his way across the forecourt, trowel held purposefully erect as he closed on his prey. The cameraman accompanying the reporter filmed his progress. Saint lowered one Hugo Boss knee to the paving slabs, caressed the weed between finger and thumb, slipped the trowel into the crack, eased out the rogue foliage and held this trophy aloft, pinky finger raised in a parody of daintiness.
‘I didn’t do that just for your benefit,’ he said to the reporter, sauntering back. ‘That’s just what I’m like, right Kev?’
‘Perfectionism is your byword Saint,’ said Kevin, taking the trowel back.
‘Precisely,’ Saint agreed. ‘Has been for all fifty years of my adult life. The Saint can’t be having it. Punters move in, what do they not want to see by their front door? A flora and fauna invasion! A triffid insurgency! Truth is, and make sure your viewers get this young lady, the Saint is consumed by the sin of vanity.’
The young reporter laughed. ‘OK, noted.’
Saint dropped the weed, crushed it beneath his heel and flicked its corpse into a flowerbed, the toe of his handmade shoes scraping the textured walkway expensively.
‘And that’s the end of him. Or her, I suppose. It’s hard to tell with a weed, don’t you agree?’
‘Absolutely,’ said the reporter, laughing again. The cameraman smiled. Priceless footage. A TV natural. The Saint made their job easy.
Saint held the reporter’s gaze. ‘It’s rude of me, I’m sorry, what’s your name again?’
‘Tanu,’ said the reporter.
‘That’s it – Tanu. What a lovely name. So, tell me Tanu, what can I possibly tell you that you don’t already know?’
‘Do you ever lie?’
‘I’d be lying if I said no. But in the big things I tell the truth. My word is trusted. And in my trade trust goes a long way.’
‘Do you believe Mayor Linton has been lying about the true number of plague deaths as protesters claim?’
‘How should I know? I’m just a humble builder.’
‘So could the conspiracy theories be true?’
‘I’m not saying they’re untrue. Anything’s possible these days.’
‘Is it true you have a drink problem?’
‘Only when I’m pissed.’
‘What about drugs?’
‘Why, have you got some?’
‘You are best known for Nude Entrepreneur. Can a reality TV judge be a serious candidate for Mayor?’
‘Look at the opinion polls. And don’t forget, I was successful long before that show. Came up from nothing, London Irish through and through. I am this city’s story, Tanu – as perhaps are you.’
‘Does owning a property empire make you a man of the people?’
‘The point is, I build things,’ said Saint, ‘and not just buildings. I have know-how. I know how and I know who. I can deal with the government. I can handle the Tube unions. I can sort out the Met police. This city has been ravaged by disease. It needs a new Mayor who can think big and build big, and break a few rules if he has to. It needs a truly independent Mayor unconnected to the political establishment and its slow and muddled ways. I believe that someone is me. Now, let’s have a look inside.’
Saint ushered Tanu towards the entrance to the block. They walked in step together, the cameraman scuttling backwards before them.
‘Ask me anything, Tanu,’ said Saint. ‘My life is an open book.’
Tanu fought to keep a foolish grin at bay. The reception area was small and little more than functional, though an artificial palm tree lounged next to the lift and a framed photo adorned a wall. It showed a beaming Saint with a beaming Sikh family in front of their newly built home.
Kevin, small, perky and in his early middle years, called the lift as Saint said, ‘Now, I’m just thinking Tanu. Put me straight if I’ve got this wrong. What do I need to win? A million first preference votes, you think?’
‘A million would probably do it,’ Tanu replied.
‘A million votes!’ said Saint. ‘I mean, imagine that – a million people, more than a million – would want me to be their leader! What an honour! What a privilege!’
‘It would be quite a win,’ Tanu agreed. ‘And a shock to the political system.’
‘Wouldn’t it, Tanu? If there’s an Irish bar in Heaven my old ma and pa would be in there slurping the Murphys. What do you think, Kev?’
‘Not in doubt Saint,’ Kevin confirmed. His phone rang. He looked at it. ‘Excuse me,’ he said and took the call.
‘Lovely manners he’s got,’ said Saint. ‘Been with me since he was a lad. I don’t hire riff-raff.’
‘Fuck me,’ Kevin told his caller. ‘Right, OK. And no idea what caused it? All right. Got it. I’ll brief him.’
Kevin hung up. ‘A word in your shell-like boss,’ he said and beckoned Saint back outside.
‘Better do as I’m told, Tanu,’ said Saint. ‘Don’t go away.’
He followed Kevin, leaving Tanu and the cameraman alone.
‘What do you think?’ said Tanu.
‘Is he drunk do you mean?’
‘Ha, ha! I suppose.’
‘Hard to know.’
‘Isn’t it always?’
John Vane is a pen name used by On London publisher and editor Dave Hill. Follow John on Twitter.