Mitt Romney has a good luck ritual that involves writing ‘Dad’ on a piece of paper. What other secret, success-bringing gimmicks there are out there?
Mitt Romney has revealed the secret of his new-found popularity, or rather his wife has. Before he starts to speak at a podium he always writes down a single word on the paper in front of him: “Dad”.
Touching, isn’t it? So touching, it almost allows you to forget that he is a Mormon. And it is certainly an improvement on Sarah Palin’s autocue, which read “new clear” to remind her not to pronounce it as “noocular”.
Thinking of his father, who was a businessman, seems to give Romney strength. He wants to become president and change the country, for his dad. “He loves his dad, respects his dad. Doesn’t want to do anything that would not make his father proud,” Ann Romney told CNN.
I’ve been in America this past week and was struck by two things, one more profound than the other. The more profound one is that this election is actually being fought between two British economists: Obama is a disciple of Keynes, who believed you should spend your way out of a recession; Romney is a devotee of Hayek, who didn’t.
The less profound thought is that instead of concentrating all their energies on the usual “attack ads”, the Republicans seems to have realised that their guy is actually a pretty good public speaker. Presidential even. They keep wheeling him out to be interviewed on television, and it seems to be working.
Anyway, it got me wondering what other secret, success-bringing rituals there are out there. Is it possible, for example, that since his US Open victory, Andy Murray has thrown away his secret weapon by smiling too much? His scowl might have been the source of his strength. I suspect he shared this secret with Victorian Beckham. Even now that her fashion business is a huge success, she rarely cracks a smile. Their want of smiling seems to have been the equivalent of Enoch Powell’s full bladder. He always made sure he had one when making a speech. “You should do nothing to decrease the tension before making a big speech,” he once said. “If anything you should seek to increase it.”
All successful people seem to have these little secrets. Indeed, there is an entertaining book of miscellany and quotes about to be published (I Didn’t Get Where I Am… How the Rich and Famous Achieved Their Success, by Charlie Croker) which offers up some more examples. Frédéric Chopin slept with wooden wedges between his fingers to increase their span, apparently. Marilyn Monroe wore shoes with one heel slightly lower than the other to exaggerate her sexy walk. And Thomas Edison invited prospective research assistants for a bowl of soup. Any who seasoned the soup before tasting it were rejected – he didn’t want people who were too ready to make assumptions.
I am also indebted to Craig Brown, another connoisseur of trivia, who reveals in The Spectator that Jack Straw believed the key to his success was having highly polished shoes, a “fetish” he shared with Neil Kinnock and Tony Blair.
One of their Labour forebears was even quirkier. We all know that Harold Wilson preferred cigars to pipes, which were just for show, but less well known is his partiality to Lucozade. He liked to sip the stuff while giving speeches. And he took his own blue glasses to drink it from, as he worried that in a clear glass the Lucozade would look like scotch.
On the subject of secret work habits, Andrew Motion, I’m pretty sure, likes to have a Lemsip in the morning to get him in the melancholy mood for writing poetry. While a number of novelists — Martin Amis, John Lanchester, Colm Tóibín and Philip Hensher — like to write their first drafts longhand with fountain pens. It is something to do with ink being like blood.
Julian Barnes, meanwhile, has to stare at a blank wall, and type on an old typewriter. Ian McEwan sits in a tilting chair so that he can lean back whenever he needs to think through a knotty plot problem. And as PG Wodehouse finished each page, he would pin it to his office wall at a height indicating how good it was. Pages still needing work were lower down; the aim was to get the whole manuscript up to the picture rail.