‘I didn’t know they were prostitutes’ (…and other lame excuses)

Badly behaved luminaries have perfected the art of making excuses. Find out who said what in our quiz.

Opinion is divided as to whether Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the former head of the IMF, has come up with the best excuse ever made, or the worst. When asked about his alleged participation in a series of orgies with prostitutes in Brussels, Paris and Washington, DSK (right, with his wife Anne Sinclair) said he didn’t know they were prostitutes “because they were naked”.

On the face of it, this remark might seem rather insulting to prostitutes. It’s the equivalent of saying that all prostitutes dress like, well, prostitutes. But perhaps his point is more esoteric (he is French, after all). Perhaps he means that without clothes we are all the same, even if some of us do have more tattoos and navel piercings than others.

Some excuses have become so famous they have entered the language. It is hard to look at Bill Clinton without the words “but I didn’t inhale” floating to mind — his excuse when it was revealed that he had smoked cannabis as a student at Oxford. Again, it is hard to work out whether this is a good excuse or a bad one. Legally, it might seem to get him off the hook, but at what cost to his reputation? Confessing that you don’t know how to inhale smoke is like saying you don’t know how to chew gum.

In his long and colourful career, Clinton went on to turn excuse-making into an art form. “I did not… have… sexual relations… with that woman… Monica Lewinsky,” he said, slowly and haltingly, so that there could be no ambiguity. Being a lawyer, what he meant was that oral sex is not the same as sex-sex. When asked “What is your definition of sex?”, he answered: “It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.”

Excuses come so thick and fast among the rich and famous these days it is easy to lose track of who said what. Try this quiz to see if you can recall the correct excuse, or match the excuse to the celebrity who said it. We’ll start with an easy one that is still fresh in our memories.

1 What excuse did Captain Schettino give for abandoning the Costa Concordia?

a) ‘I was only obeying orders.’

b) ‘Look, I’d been a having a bad a week, OK? My wife she was a giving me a hard a time back at home, and my mistress was a giving me a grief on the ship.’

c) ‘I tripped and fell into a lifeboat.’

2 In 1975, Jeffrey Archer was accused of shoplifting two suits from a store in Toronto. What was his excuse?

a) ‘I thought they were being charged to my account.’

b) ‘I’d wandered into another shop through an interconnecting passage.’

c) ‘Poppycock! I could afford to buy that store three times over, why would I want to steal their suits?’

3 What excuse did Jack Straw give for shaking the hand of the dictator Robert Mugabe at the UN in 2004?

a) ‘He seemed like a nice man.’

b) ‘It was quite dark.’

c) ‘I thought he was Nelson Mandela.’

4 In 1999, a chauffeured car was used to transport John Prescott (left) and his wife 300 yards from their hotel to the venue of the Labour Party Conference, where Prescott gave a speech on how to encourage people to use public transport. His excuse?

a) ‘We were late, now stop asking such daft, bloody questions.’

b) ‘It was just an opportunity that presented in a limited way and that happened and as soon as we were there I didn’t deny it I just said ‘that’s it’ and I had to go and explain it where they went out in.’

c) ‘My wife doesn’t like her hair blown about.’

5 Which celebrity failed to report the alleged theft of his property with the excuse: ‘The police, since my trouble, have not worked out for me.’

a) Tiger Woods

b) OJ Simpson

c) Woody Allen

6 Dick Cheney dodged the Vietnam draft in the Sixties. What excuse did he later come up with?

a) ‘I had other priorities.’

b) ‘I was a pacifist back then.’

c) ‘I was exempt on account of my flat feet, and, er, my colour-blindness. Yeah, that’s right, I remember now. Colour blind. You can check my files.’

7 What excuse did the leading ‘Stop Global Warming’ activist Laurie David give for flying in a private jet?

a) ‘There were no other flights out of there that day.’

b) ‘The truth is, I’m not perfect. This is not about perfection.’

c) ‘Look it’s not my plane. It’s my husband Larry’s plane. Take it up with him.’

8 Which celebrity gave the excuse ‘I didn’t have a professional bodyguard’ after failing to appear in court on a drug-possession charge?

a) Whitney Houston

b) Snoop Doggy Dog

c) Courtney Love

9 When Winona Ryder (left) was arrested in 2001 for shoplifting more than $5,500 worth of designer clothes and accessories from a store in Beverly Hills, what was her excuse?

a) ‘I was doing research for my new movie.’

b) ‘I was intending to pay for them but I got distracted.’

c) ‘I thought they were giving them to me for free in return for an endorsement.’

10 ‘I was just giving her a ride home.’ Which film star gave this excuse after being pulled over by the police for picking up a transvestite prostitute?

a) Eddie Murphy

b) Charlie Sheen

c) Hugh Grant

11 In 1998, what excuse did the Labour MP Ron Davies give for going back to a stranger’s flat after meeting him late at night on Clapham Common, only to be mugged at knifepoint?

a) ‘He said he had some etchings he wanted to show me.’

b) ‘He invited me back for a meal.’

c) ‘He said I could use his phone to report the theft of my wallet and mobile.’

12 When the Sri Lanka cricket team lost the 2001 ICC Champions Trophy final to Pakistan, what excuse did their captain Sanath Jayasuriya give?

a) ‘There was bad light. The umpires admit they should have offered us the light.’

b) ‘Our clothes were too tight.’

c) ‘Shoaib Akhtar had been tampering with the ball.’

13 Liverpool goalkeeper David James came up with a bizarre excuse for letting in three goals against Newcastle in 1997. What was it?

a) ‘I was getting carried away playing Tekken II and Tomb Raider for hours on end.’

b) ‘My girlfriend distracted me.’

c) ‘My gloves were too big.’

14 In 2003, five years after his ‘moment of madness’ on Clapham Common, married MP Ron Davies was revealed as having visited a well-known gay cruising spot near a motorway lay-by. What excuse did he give for being there this time?

a) ‘I was picking daffodils.’

b) ‘I was asking for directions.’

c) ‘I was badger-watching.’

15 What excuse did Janet Jackson give for exposing her breast during a dance routine with Justin Timberlake in the Super Bowl half-time show in 2004?

a) ‘I did it to get some publicity because I have a new album out.’

b) ‘That wasn’t my nipple, that was Justin’s thumb.’

c) ‘It was a wardrobe malfunction.’

16 Which manager gave the following excuse when his team went 3-0 down: ‘The jerseys were causing bad luck.’

a) Alex Ferguson

b) Harry Redknapp

c) Fabio Capello

17 In 1972, during the Vietnam War, Jane Fonda went on a trip to North Vietnam and was photographed wearing a helmet and sitting on an anti-aircraft gun that North Vietnamese forces otherwise used for shooting at American planes. How did she account for this?

a) ‘Someone led me toward the gun and I sat down. It had nothing to do with where I was sitting. I hardly ever think about where I’m sitting. The cameras flashed.’

b) ‘They kept calling me Hanoi Jane so I thought, what the heck, why don’t I start acting like Hanoi Jane?’

c) ‘That was a gun? It didn’t even look like a gun. I thought it was some kinda big telescope.’

18 At the Masters snooker final at Wembley in 1997, Ronnie O’Sullivan built up an 8-3 lead, then lost seven straight games and the match. His excuse?

a) ‘I had the wrong contact lenses in.’

b) ‘A streaker broke my concentration.’

c) ‘I suddenly realised what a pointless game snooker was and lost the will to carry on.’

19 What excuse did a naked and intoxicated Charlie Sheen (left) give in 2010 for smashing up his hotel room at The Plaza after a hard night’s partying?

a) ‘I had an adverse allergic reaction to some medication.’

b) ‘I was looking for the book I’m in the middle of reading. The Brothers Karamazov. Have you seen it anywhere?’

c) ‘When the seagulls follow the trawler, it is because they think sardines will be thrown into the sea.’

20 After Michael Jackson dangled his baby out of a hotel window, he gave what excuse?

a) ‘I wanted to teach him that there is no need to fear heights.’

b) ‘What can I say? We are the world. We can touch the sky.’

c) ‘I got caught up in the excitement of the moment.’

21 When George Michael was arrested in 1998 for committing a lewd act in a public lavatory, what excuse did he give?

a) ‘It comes from, I think, an abandonment issue… if I feel a mistrust, then… all my cards go down.’

b) ‘I didn’t know it was a gents. Honestly. I thought it was an underground nightclub.’

c) ‘The cop enticed me into a game of ”I’ll show you mine if you show me yours’’.’

22 Which sportsman, upon failing a blood test for doping, said: ‘I have two kinds of blood because my twin died in utero’?

a) Olympic sprinter Ben Johnson

b) Olympic cyclist Tyler Hamilton

c) Olympic swimmer Michelle Smith

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Answers

1) c, 2) b, 3) b, 4) c, 5) b, 6) a, 7) b, 8) c, 9) a, 10) a, 11) b, 12) b, 13) a, 14) c, 15) c, 16) a, 17) a, 18) b, 19) a, 20) c, 21) c, 22) b