Best and worst of 2008

Apropos nothing in particular, here’s a random selection of my highlights and lowlights from 2008.

People & events

Scariest person: Sarah Palin, Republican vice-presidential nominee. Proponent of old-fashioned blue collar values. Ignorant of the sensibilities and basic facts relating to the no longer old-fashioned world we now live in. Claimed that being governor of a state (Alaska) whose airspace Vladimir Putin flies through counts as foreign policy experience. Scariest of all: she has significant support within the Republican party to run as their candidate for president in 2012.

Funniest person: Tina Fey, former Saturday Night Live writer and creator of 30 Rock, in her return to SNL as a scarily good Sarah Palin lookalike. Able to successfully lampoon Palin’s largely inept interview performances without actually having to change much (or in some cases anything) from what was originally said.

‘Living the stereotype’ award: Karen Matthews. Looked every inch a chav, turned out to be every inch a chav criminal after it was revealed that she had plotted to have her own daughter Sharon abducted in pursuit of reward money. Single-handedly reinforced what most middle-class people think about the UK’s sink estates. Nice one.

‘Biggest & most pointless bandwagon’ award: The Daily Mail, for fanning the flames in the Brand/Ross/Andrew Sachs/Georgina Baillie scandal and creating the perfect excuse for those people who hadn’t had a good, old-fashioned whinge about something they knew nothing about since Shilpa-gate. Hello, people: nothing Brand said about Baillie was untrue. In poor taste, perhaps; a lie, no. (For instance she is indeed part of a burlesque troupe called the Satanic Sluts.) Anyhow, Baillie had her 15 minutes of fame, and Sachs will appear on Coronation Street later this year. Meanwhile, Ross is heading back to the BBC and Brand, with his bad boy reputation enhanced, has taken on a multi-million pound role in the next Pirates of the Caribbean film. That’ll teach him, eh?

‘Most divorced (literally) from reality’ award: Heather Mills. Wanted £125m of former husband Paul McCartney’s fortune, having contributed absolutely nothing to it during their six-year marriage. Mills’ Wikipedia entry says that, among other things, she stated she needed £176k a year for clothes, the ownership of four homes in Beverly Hills, Long Island and England worth a combined £5.7m, £750k to buy an office for her sister, £500k pa for holidays, £186k pa for chartered helicopters, £43k pa for a chauffeur and £191k pa for ‘professional expenses’. Was ultimately awarded £24.3m in cash and assets, but not before having poured a jug of water over McCartney’s solicitor, Fiona Shackleton. While describing Mills as a “kindly person” the judge concluded that much of her evidence (Mills chose to represent herself) was “not just inconsistent and inaccurate but also less than candid”. Which sounds an awful lot like calling her a deceitful liar to me. Good riddance – which is what I imagine Sir Paul himself probably said too.

‘Soggy firework’ award: CERN’s Large Hadron Collider, built to reveal the secrets of the universe (or, more prosaically, to prove/disprove the existence of the Higgs boson). Nine days after the LHC was activated, it broke down and is not expected to be fully operational again until mid-2009. Not so much Big Bang as damp squib. However, see ‘Best YouTube video’ below.

Entertainment

Best new TV programme: Pushing Daisies. Which ITV invested heavily in and promptly messed up by missing out an episode because they didn’t have enough time before Euro 2008 to show them all. And which has subsequently been cancelled in the US after season 2, despite much critical acclaim. Typical.

Worst new TV programme: Knight Rider. An hour-long Ford commercial masquerading as a re-make of the classic 80s show. This is indescribably bad: the acting, the wafer-thin plots, the ADD-fuelled jump-cut editing. I loved the original as a kid and really wanted this to be brilliant; I gave up after two episodes. Naturally, NBC chose to pick up a full season order despite soft ratings. Avoid. Like. The. Plague.

Best radio programme: Fighting Talk, every Saturday morning on BBC Radio 5 Live. Sporting punditry and banter at its best. Contestants’ answers may be pre-prepared and Wikipedia-fuelled rather than off the cuff, but it’s still exactly the sort of chat you would have with your mates down the pub.

Most & least convincing versions of ‘Hallelujah’: It may have been the Christmas number 1 in the UK, but The X Factor winner Alexandra Burke’s cover of the Leonard Cohen song was functional at best, lacking the poignancy, delicacy and latent sexuality of the original. Vastly inferior to Jeff Buckley’s cover (which an internet campaign pushed to number 2), which Cohen himself declares the definitive version. And not even the best reality TV show cover of the song this year: seek out Jason Castro’s performance on American Idol on YouTube.

Biggest disappointment: Madonna at Wembley. The show itself was actually very good, but she was an hour late onto stage – sorry, that goes way beyond being fashionably rock-and-roll – and there was no encore. I expected better from the queen of pop, impending divorce or not.

Best YouTube video: The ‘LHC Rap’ posted by CERN employee Katherine McAlpine (alpinekat), in which the aforementioned and some of her mates took us on a guided tour of the Large Hadron Collider, to the tune of a charmingly amateur yet informative rap. (“The LHC accelerates the protons and the lead / And the things that it discovers will rock you in the head”). Over 4 million viewers on YouTube: in one fell swoop, science became cool (at least for a week or so).

Sport

Best moment: 2008 was such a great year from a sporting perspective that I struggled to even distil a shortlist of ten, but if I had to choose one it would be the Federer/Nadal Wimbledon final. Usain Bolt’s two world records were the most incredible theatre, but he was head and shoulders (literally) above – and ahead of – everyone else. Lewis Hamilton’s last-gasp F1 title win was perhaps the most dramatic moment, but he did it by finishing fifth in the final race. But Federer versus Nadal gave us the undisputed two best players in the world going toe-to-toe in a final of the highest quality; sporting competition at its very finest.

Most over-hyped star: Or, alternatively, ‘Peacock of the Year’, the ever-preening, self-regarding Cristiano Ronaldo. Don’t get me wrong, he is an immensely talented and exciting footballer. However, he’s also a prat of the highest order in whose comeuppance I imagine many people would take great delight.

Most under-hyped star: Cycling sprint king Mark Cavendish. Winner of four stages at the Tour de France – a feat no Briton has ever matched – as well as two at the Giro d’Italia and a hat-trick of wins at both the Tours of Ireland and Missouri among his 17 wins in 2008. The forgotten man at the Olympics, where he and Bradley Wiggins failed to add to their World Championship gold in the madison event. And he didn’t even make the shortlist of ten for BBC Sports Personality of the Year. Make no mistake: Cavendish was the dominant sprinter in road races just as much as Chris Hoy was on the track. (Runner up: Padraig Harrington. 24 hours before the Open, he wasn’t even sure if he would be fit enough to defend his title – he then went and retained it. Like Cavendish, received no more than a mention in dispatches at SPotY.)