Neknomination: A craze gone too far…


Monday 17 February 2014

A young Geordie man grins into the camera as he twists open a bottle of Listerine for his neknomination challenge. “I’m going to show you a proper drink now with no alcohol included”, he says as he deposits a large helping of mouthwash into a pint glass. “This is gonna keep you fresh as it goes down, see? Keep you nice and minty inside.” The mixture is then augmented with a dash of Mr Muscle, a splash of fake tan – perhaps not surprising for a Tyneside bacchanologist  – and a splattering of Tango Shower Gel and absinthe before being “necked” in less than five seconds.

Whilst watching this video, it’s hard not to marvel at the man’s ability to string two sentences together before drinking the stomach-churning concoction, let alone afterwards. Yet the video was buoyed and championed by hundreds of Facebook users, which in turn transformed the young man into a viral sensation overnight.

Neknomination is an online drinking game believed to have originated in Australia early last year. The premise was simple: drink a pint of an alcoholic beverage in one go and share the footage on the web. However as the game gained popularity, the objectives became increasingly extreme. The Australians approach neknomination with their customary, irreverent jocundity, a harmless dare for the blokes; the British have yet again lived up to their binge drinking culture and taken the game too far. What started as a pub game for the digital age has instead degraded and become a voyeuristic challenge with social media users finding amusement in the potentially lethal antics of an inane few.


The more outrageous the feat, the more shares it gets. And yet despite the tragedies that have ensued from this recklessness over the past month, students across the UK continue to embrace the drinking game, with popular student website The Tab recently publishing a list of some of the “best” neknominations from universities up and down the country.

Jason Boardman, a first year student at Chester University, says, “I’ve seen quite a few people from my university do the neknominations and I don’t see the point in it. I was nominated a few weeks back but didn’t do it. People are adding things like dog food to it and I just think it’s pointless.”

Emily Paterson, a second year student at the University of Salford, also refused to take part in the online drinking craze. “A lot of students are nominating each other, and while some of the challenges are just good fun, others are taking it too far, which in turn puts pressure on whoever is challenged to out-do their performance.

“I didn’t do my nomination and I got quite a bit of criticism for it, but I’m not going to be pressured into it. I enjoy a drink at the weekend, like the majority of students do, but I want to drink on my terms and on my level, not because someone has challenged me to drink silly amounts for a Facebook game.”

Whilst some users do adhere to the “Don’t be an idiot. Drink responsibly,” motto adopted – apparently without irony – by neknomination advocates, others seem hell bent on encouraging participants to be as outrageous and extreme as possible in the pursuit of such gutter entertainment.

Four deaths in Britain and Ireland have been linked to the drinking game in the past month, but this has not deterred the craze. Last week, a man from Kent achieved Internet notoriety after blending dead mice, stinging nettles, spiders and grasshoppers into his pint glass. Another man in Newcastle filmed himself drinking the blood of an elk, and a pallbearer at Lady Thatcher’s funeral was criticised by the press for downing two live goldfish for his challenge. And only Sunday, the drinking craze claimed a fifth life with 20 year old Bradley Eames drinking two pints of gin after proudly proclaiming to the camera; “This is how you drink.”

Whilst the majority of us will quite happily hold our hands up to being inebriated during fresher’s week – and will all readily point the finger at Ring of Fire as the catalyst of such intoxication – this new age online drinking game desensitizes social networkers and encourages crass irresponsibility amongst the vulnerable, idiotic and foolish. More than that, it is costing human lives.

Job losses feared as Manchester student union deficit reaches half a million pounds

My original article can be found at The Independent;

Manchester University students’ union has been forced to make drastic cut-backs after it was revealed that they have built up a deficit of over half a million pounds.

During a recent staff meeting, employees were informed that their jobs “may be at risk” and that staff redundancy could be an “eventuality” as union executives agreed £400,821 of budget cuts in light of the crippling deficit, still leaving £130,000 worth of savings to be made.

Other cost saving measures will include campaign budget and society grant budget cuts, reducing staff training and travel budgets, replacing student staff with permanent staff and the closure of the popular Biko’s North Cafe on North Campus.

In a statement posted on the union’s website, Grace Skelton, the general secretary, said that the situation was regrettable but necessary.

She said: “Following a review of the first two months of trading activity, the board have confirmed concerns over a deficit, and a restructure of the business has now become necessary due to financial pressures.

“During our meeting, staff were consulted with and asked to come forward with any suggestions or ideas that could help bridge the gap. Short of that, we may have to concede that job losses will be an eventuality and the union will be in the regrettable position of initially having to implement a voluntarily redundancy programme.

“This is a measure that has been considered very carefully and is something we may have to do in order to support the student union’s ongoing viability.”

It is not yet clear what caused the significant deficit, but an investigation is underway.

“The Trustee Board is in the process of investigating the causes of the financial situation however at this stage our priority is to deal with the ongoing consultation process,” said Skelton.

Tension amongst students is running high, with many claiming that the deficit has come as a direct consequence of the union’s spending in its own department.

William Marlow, studying second year pharmacy, said: “I think it’s unfair that there will be reduced opportunities for students, both extracurricular and educational, when it is completely out of our control. Maybe if senior staff took voluntary pay cuts themselves they could save a few thousand pounds and some jobs in the process.”

Georgie Callé, an NUS delegate candidate studying at Manchester University, said: “It is appalling that this has been allowed to take place. When you take into account the union’s extensive business assets such as the academy venues and the direct payment every student has to give the union each year, there appears to be no excuse for this situation. The union needs to take drastic steps to make sure that it doesn’t happen again.”

The union could not be reached for comment.

How to spend Valentine’s Day on a tight budget…


My original article can be found here at The Independent;

Few things strike as much trepidation into a man’s heart as the prospect of Valentine’s Day on a tight budget. For students, the issue is a sticky one – both literally and figuratively – but one that can be solved.

Any annual occasion that requires the splashing of cash is easily side-stepped by students. At Christmas, Secret Santa eliminates the predicament of actually having to buy thoughtful gifts for all your friends, and on birthdays a pint at the local is usually a sufficient substitute for an expensive present. Attempt to buy your significant other a pint of bitter for Valentine’s Day however and it may well be the last drink you ever buy them.

But fear not: lacking deep enough pockets for that dream date in a top restaurant doesn’t mean you have to fret. There are plenty of other ways to show your crush that you care about them without breaking the bank.

Create a floor picnic

While sitting on your beer-stained carpet might not seem like the obvious choice, don’t write it off just yet. When planned correctly, an intimate floor picnic can be just as meaningful to your partner as an evening spent in a lavish restaurant.

Spread a blanket on the floor, switch on a romantic playlist, light a handful of tea lights – although try not to burn down your flat – and impress them with your array of pre-packed Tesco sandwiches. Preparing your own selection of food is of course more conducive to the ‘perfect date’ scenario, if you’re willing to put in the extra time and effort. Incorporate all their favourite sweet treats and chocolates into the mix, coupled maybe with a selection of mini pizzas and delicious wraps, and you’re on to a winner.

A tantalising treasure trail

Although this idea may work perfectly in the movies, be wary of prying housemates when arranging an assortment of presents throughout your place. The idea is to purchase lots of small tokens of affection: tiny teddy bears, flower petals and Cadbury Roses will all work perfectly. For the true romantics amongst you, incorporate mementos from your time together with things such as concert tickets, the receipt from your fist date and photographs of the happy couple.

But tread carefully, for just as all roads lead to Rome, all rose petals must lead to the bedroom – you wouldn’t want an unsuspecting housemate following the trail up to your door and ruining the mood for all parties involved. To avoid this, simply pull your friends aside beforehand to explain your innovative plan.

But what about the gift?

Valentine’s gifts conjure up images of expensive jewellery, tickets to shows, chocolates and the habitual teddy bear clutching a love heart to its chest. But why not go a different route? Novelty gifts are far more engaging and often require a personal touch that adds a little more sentimental value. is packed full of quirky gift ideas. The “We First Met Here Postcode Jigsaw” is sure to impress your partner, primarily because they will be entirely taken aback at the fact that you managed to remember such trivial information in the first place. If, however, you are not dating someone three times your age, you may wish to consider a present that could equate to an altogether more exciting evening; aphrodisiac massage oil, adult board games and “romantic rewards” gift boxes are but a click away on the website.

Still out of your price range? Then go for the simple but heartfelt notion of creating a slide show crammed full of your favourite pictures together overlaid with some romantic music. Put this on a USB stick and gallantly press play just as their face drops when you tell them you couldn’t afford an expensive gift. Do make sure they haven’t spent a ton of money on you in advance; otherwise your loving presentation will look slightly tragic in comparison.

Whether you’re luring your loved one to bed with a trail of treats, offering them a feast fit for a glam camper or gearing yourself up to be a cut-price Casanova; they’ll simply be glad you’ve made the effort. Because let’s face it, nothing says “I woke up in a blind panic” more than petrol station flowers and a bottle of Lambrini. And that’s hardly going to lead to a night of passion…

Glyndebourne Festival Celebrating Another Year Of Success

The word festival conjures up many images: muddy wellington boots, pop-up tents and endless supplies of beer, either chugged back or chucked around with as much vigour as the artists throwing their guitars across the stage.

There is, however, a festival in England catered towards the classical conscious that harbours none of the things above. Glyndebourne is an operatic festival staged annually in the enchanting backdrop of idyllic Sussex. It is a summer long classical spectacular and a much loved and highly coveted occasion. One which is cherished amongst its dedicated following.

John Christie inherited the illustrious Glyndebourne estate in 1920. He felt that opera was “non-existent” in England and so resolved to put his estate to good use by announcing that he would be the man who “ought to bring it here”.

Glyndebourne 0579 Leigh Simpson Glyndebourne Festival Celebrating Another Summer Of Success

Fourteen years later, after careful planning and deliberation, the curtain eventually rose for the first performance at Glyndebourne in 1934. Christie’s original ethos for the festival is still echoed in the concert hall at the estate today; “To present not the best we can do, but the best that can be done anywhere.”

The true spirit of Glyndebourne is found not only in the sensational operas on stage, but amidst the lavish grounds that the festival inhabits. Attendees dressed head to toe in evening wear, whatever the weather, congregate in the grounds with picnic hampers and blankets, to enjoy opera and the temperamental British summer, in a truly romantic setting.

Opera house Leigh Simpson Glyndebourne Festival Celebrating Another Summer Of Success

“Glyndebourne is a marriage between the grounds and the opera stage,” says head of Membership and Development, Andy Higgins. “We have a team of specialist gardeners who strive to make our grounds as beautiful as they can be all year round. Whether our festival goers are enjoying a spot of lunch on the lawn or watching the sun going down over the hills after a magical performance; it all adds to the escapism and the magic that Glyndebourne supplies.”

It’s no secret that opera is considered inaccessible to a large proportion of the population. It is widely perceived to be exclusively for the enjoyment of either the elderly or the aristocratic. Glyndebourne is working hard to break down barriers and banish the stereotypes that dissuade people from taking an interest in opera.

Hippolyte et Arcie credit Bill Cooper Glyndebourne Festival Celebrating Another Summer Of Success

“At the heart of this festival there is a pioneering approach to opera. John Christie would fondly recognise many of the classics that are staged here but we’re always seeking to commission new work and to update or find a unique spin on traditional operas.”

This year people across the world were treated to cinema screenings and online live streaming of performances ranging from the comical Falstaff to the magnificent Hippolyte et Aricie, which is the first opera of Rameau’s to be featured at Glyndebourne.

Fisheye Leigh Simpson Glyndebourne Festival Celebrating Another Summer Of Success

Everyone involved with the festival, both backstage and front stage, have a deep and diligent love for opera that they wish to prolong and pass on to the next generation. By showcasing spectacular performances outside of the theatre and on to different platforms there is an underlying desire to inspire the sopranos, tenors and baritones of the future.

Andy Higgins’s vision is to look for ways to bring Opera to more people, particularly young people, who would perhaps not have taken an interest in it before. “From presenting community operas to arranging study events and creating work with schools and youth centres – our education outreach programmes seek to gage appreciation for opera and provide opportunities for young people’s work to be created and staged.”

Don Pasquale credit Bill Cooper Glyndebourne Festival Celebrating Another Summer Of Success

The Glyndebourne education outreach programme provides an initiative to inspire teenagers and under thirties to join in the festivities. Their under thirties membership scheme offers reduced ticket prices, booking priority, invitations to pre-performance events and exclusive invites to London concerts. They encourage young people from all walks of life to share their passion for opera and become involved.

The performances at Glyndebourne are lavish and thoroughly polished without being stuffy and wooden. With the longest rehearsal time of any other operatic performance in the world, and with the performers staying at Glyndebourne over the summer months, the whole production team live breathe and love the work they are doing.

“We’re all working hard to pay homage to John Christie’s legacy. This is a labour of love and the fun certainly doesn’t stop when the summer months are over. We have our encore week to look forward to and after that we will focus on taking Glyndebourne performances on tour across the UK.”

The tour will take to the road in autumn with three large scale productions: Donizetti’s “L’elisir d’amore” and Humperdinck’s “Hansel and Gretel” will be on show along with “The Rape of Lucretia”, written by Benjamin Britten, which was granted its first performance at Glyndebourne in 1946.

 Text by Helen Frances Vaudrey

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Hats off to Xerjoff perfume collection at Fortnum and Mason


The original article can be found here;

Finding the right fragrance can be a long and lugubrious task for the best of us, with many people never quite seeking out the perfect scent to suit their skin type. The Xerjoff fragrance collection at Fortnum and Mason is a rare and cherished gem found in the heart of London that seeks to eradicate this problem.

Purchasing the perfect perfume is not merely a ‘grab and go’ occurrence; at Fortnum and Mason, time and effort is put into finding the right fragrance for you, your skin and even your disposition. Ornate and avant-garde perfume bottles stand proud and majestic on the counter and entice even the most passive of pursuers to the stand.

The perfume house describes its brand as “a journey to the most precious realm in the world of luxury perfumes; a place where the magical affinity between the wonders of nature and exquisite Italian craftsmanship is celebrated.”

The man who presides over this illustrious perfume stand at F&M is Costas Poulakis, who works very closely with the founder and creative director of Xerjoff, Sergio Momo. Mr Poulakis believes in giving every customer who enters through the door of the department the “Fortnum experience” and demonstrates a passion and seemingly unrivalled understanding for the brand and the alluring world of fragrances.

“Perfume is a way of dreaming imagination,” says Costas, “it also reflects emotion. If you feel empty after you have tried it then maybe it is not the perfume for you. Every perfume has a story; you just need someone to relate it to you. That is what we try to achieve at Fortnum and Mason; we are here to help you find your dream scent and will assist you in any way we can to discover the one that speaks to you. Once a customer purchases perfume from Xerjoff, they almost always come back for more.”

Xerjoff Shooting Stars Hats Off To XerjoffThe XJ Shooting Star collection is highly coveted not only because of the diverse and illustrious aromatic scents, but also because of the bespoke packaging the perfume arrives in. The collection was inspired by a shower of meteorites that fell in Eastern Serbia in 1945. Each wooden box containing the gold plated perfume bottle also comes with a real meteorite fragment that fell from the original shower in Russia.

Our personal favourites from the Shooting Star collection include Oesel and Lua. Oesel is a sophisticated floral blend that encompasses acacia flower and jasmine sambac sourced from India into its woody floral scent. Lua is a fruity blend with notes of melon and orange.

For a more masculine scent, look no further than the spicy Modoc concoction. Tweed suits, the traditional English countryside and saddlery are all evoked through the spicy carnation elements of the mixture.

Perhaps the most exciting development at the luxury perfume house in recent years has been the launch of the Join The Club perfume line. The collection of ten fragrances on offer is associated with a luxury pastime such as cigar smoking, sailing, horse riding and golf. Once you have aligned yourself to a particular perfume line, your will obtain a unique serial number and members card and will be eligible to receive exclusive offers and invitations to respective clubs and organisations. What is more, the collection is exclusive only to Fortnum and Mason and you cannot get in anywhere else.

JTC blu 02 Hats Off To Xerjoff

4o Knots is unsurprisingly a homage to the sailing pursuit. Different wood notes combine to create fresher chords that remind the wearer of the rejuvenating freshness of the seas. Ascot Moon alludes to horse riding and emanates a herbal scent reminiscent of freshly cut grass and spicy earthly aromas.

This collection was designed with a younger clientele in mind and this is reflected in the accessible price made. Join The Club is a credit to the founder of Xerjoff, Sergio Momo, who demonstrates the desire for his brand to create a closer connection to his loyal customers.

Sergio had a clear vision in his mind when he founded the perfume line: “The inspiration for JTC was to give customers the opportunity to experience, and indeed be part of their own club and to offer something that has never been done before. We wanted to create our club within a club, so when someone purchases their desired perfume, they are then accepted into the exclusive JTC world.

We wanted to encourage the wearer to connect to the perfume, or moreover connect to an ambience using their own perception of what a private club means to them. So often people will dismiss a scent because of an ingredient, hence our removal of what goes into each perfume. Afterall, the artistry is in the blending, so never dismiss a perfume on a particular unfavoured ingredient – it may well surprise you!”

Words by Helen Frances Vaudrey

From Club to Catwalk; the new exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum

My original article can be found here;

Fashion entered a new era in the 1980s. The punk influence had finally lost its momentum, but the young people of London had no thoughts of conforming to a more formal style in the wake of Thatcher’s Britain.

Fashion movements such as high camp, new romantic and fetish wear were born. These styles, however, did not emerge from the glossy pages of magazines – they were created, paraded and promoted by the clubbers of London.

The new exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum pays homage to this prominent time in our fashion history. More than 85 outfits from couturiers who were inspired by the 1980s London club scene such as John Galliano, Vivienne Westwood and Katharine Hamnett are on display alongside accessories by some famous designers, including Stephen Jones and Patrick Cox.

Steve Strange, lead singer of the highly acclaimed 80s pop group Visage, was a prominent club host and promoter before achieving international musical success. His clubs, such as Blitz and The Camden Palace, were two of the most popular and flamboyant night haunts of the decade. Steve witnessed countless celebrity comings and goings and innumerable fashion statements and faux pas during his time as a club host.

“The greatest thing about style in the 80s was the fact that people were free to be their own person,” said Steve, in an exclusive interview with Semperey. “I was glad to be part of a movement which motivated and inspired these people to be creative and discover their own style.”

“Kim Bowen always had the most incredible style. She used to turn up in this 1940s film star look, with accessories like gloves, a cigarette holder and mink shawl. Princess Julia was always rather stunning. She had a unique flair for whatever she wore back then and certainly dictated, rather than followed, fashion. I also remember a party where the theme was blonde. Fashion writer Ian R. Webb arrived in a striking androgynous blonde outfit, it was quite amazing.”

Pioneering clubs such as Taboo, Blitz and The Camden Palace were regarded by many creative individuals as an opportunity to set the style statements and trends that would later light up the capital’s catwalks.

“Many fashion designers used to visit the clubs in London to find inspiration for their work. They would then water down the looks which caught their attention so that it would be accessible for the high street shops.”

Fashion designer Stevie Stewart, of pioneering clothing brand Body Map, said: “Each group of people, whether they were fashion designers, musicians or dancers, filmmakers or whatever, living together, going out together and at the same clubs had a passion then for creating something new that was almost infectious.”

John Galliano, an aspiring fashion student at St Martins School of Art at the time, recalls the prominence that club nights took in the minds of his peers: “At night, young designers’ imaginations were sparked by a vibrant London club scene. Thursday and Friday at St Martin’s and the college was almost deserted, everyone was at home working on their costumes for the weekend.”

The impact of underground club culture, from the music to the wild and wonderful clothing, was felt far beyond the club doors in the 1980s. It spilled on to the streets of London and spread to cities worldwide; putting British fashion on the map. In 1984, London held its first Fashion Week and finally gained the well-deserved recognition and respect from forefront fashionable cities such as Paris, Milan and New York, which hosted its first fashion week in 1943.

But why did that particular period in the XX century see such a surge of individuality, creativity and personal identity?

“I think this was mostly because of the hardships of the time.” said Steve, who is a founding father of the New Romantic movement.

“The recession really took its toll on people. People looked to things like the New Romantic movement and the Blitz club as a great form of escapism. It allowed people to focus on something outside of the drudgery of daily life. The creativity and freedom of expression stemmed from much of this.”

A highlight from the exhibition is undoubtedly the collection of customised Levi jackets that were originally commissioned by British style magazine Blitz. Twenty-two London designers contributed to the collection; amongst the most eye-catching jackets are Leigh Bowery’s design, covered in golden hair clips, and Vivienne Westwood’s bleached and distressed ‘Blue Sky’ jacket.
From Club to Catwalk runs at the V&A till February 2014.

Text by Helen Frances Vaudrey

Images (c) Victoria and Albert Museum

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Ralph Lauren salutes British style at Wimbledon

Originally published for Semperey Magazine;

The traditions of Wimbledon are as ingrained as the etchings on the championship trophy. From the delicate scoffing of strawberries daubed in cream to the not so delicate quaffing of Pimms on centre court, it has maintained its quirks and quintessential British style throughout its long history.

How ironic then that this nostalgic fashion is brought to us by our American counterparts, and not from one of our own designers. Polo Ralph Lauren took up the reigns (or should that be the racket?) as Wimbledon’s official outfitter in 2006 and is the first designer in the tournament’s history to do so.
“Wimbledon is a premier sporting event and we are honoured to be a part of such a long-standing tradition in the history of tennis,” said David Lauren, Executive Vice President of Advertising, Marketing and Corporate Communications, and son of Ralph Lauren.

“We were inspired by the elegance and sophisticated heritage of English tennis; the commemorative polo shirts are designed with an embroidered logo and crest in purple and green, reflecting the traditional colours of The Championships.”

Ralph Lauren turned to the stylish twenties and thirties for inspiration when designing this season’s sporting line, along with early pictures of students at Oxford and Cambridge.

“We’ve always been inspired by England; my father’s first stall was there. There has always been an international sensibility for the company and it was named Polo, which people think of as an English sport. Our Polo clothing line has always had an old-fashioned aristocratic English feel. We love British style culture and history and really respect their traditions and want to maintain them. ”

From the ball boys in their preppy polo shirts to the sporting spectators donned in striped Wimbledon blazers, the line is undoubtedly a homage to more sophisticated times in fashion history, for fine tailoring at least.

It is not only the tennis players and staff who must follow a strict dress code on Wimbledon’s sacred and civilised greens. Dare to turn up wearing short skirts, jeans or (heaven forbid) flip flops and you stand the risk of being sternly judged from beneath the rims of jauntily angled Panama hats.

Ribbed sleeveless shirts, immaculate navy blazers and pinstriped oxfords are the signature looks of the tournament, as well as the ever present crested polo shirts. The look evokes the image of tennis legends of old such as Fred Perry who was instrumental in bringing Brideshead elegance to the championships both on and off the court.

Tennis is certainly a sport cherished by the fashion conscious amongst us. Much like cricket, the games are founded and upheld by factors beside the competitive nature of sport; such as sportsmanship, style and the ceaseless waving of British flags. We’ve also been gracious enough to welcome the innumerable Scottish flags being waved around lively and blithely amongst the union jacks in recent years; though this admittedly requires considerable more helpings of Pimms to tolerate.

Text by Helen Frances Vaudrey
Images (c) Polo Ralph Lauren