Hilary Mantel – author of the famous Wolf Hall trilogy and two-time Booker Prize winner – has declared in an Italian newspaper, La Repubblica, that she is “ashamed” of the UK government and its treatment of migrants and refugees. The irony of announcing this in an Italian newspaper – a country hardly famed for its accommodating immigration policies – seems to have escaped the writer.
She said she is intending to become an Irish citizen – she had Irish grandparents – in order to “become a European again”.
Mantel also expressed horror and confusion at the British population’s love of the monarchy, saying: “The popularity of monarchy as an institution is something that baffles me”. A cruel critic could say the same of Mantel’s novels.
But Mantel is not the only public figure to express shame about the country that has brought them so much success and plan a move abroad.
Alan Sugar announced he would leave the UK if Jeremy Corbyn was elected. Luckily the truth of Lord Sugar’s statement was never tested, and the country did not have to fire its favourite entrepreneur.
Emma Thompson left the UK over Brexit for the sunlit uplands of Venice in February 2020. She moved back to the UK all of three days later when the Italian lockdown was introduced. La dolce vita maybe wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.
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Andrew Lloyd Webber was also said to have declared that he would quit the UK if Labour won the general election in 1997, but 24 years later and we’re yet to see the back of him.
Similarly, John Cleese announced he was moving to the Caribbean in 2018 over the acrimonious Brexit debate, promising that he would come back only when “we get proportional representation”.
Perhaps the figure that will resonate most with Mantel – an author of historical fiction – is Oliver Cromwell. He claimed he would have sold all his property and moved to America if the Grand Remonstrance had failed to pass in 1641. But maybe it’s easier to make these bold statements after you know the bill has passed. It remains to be seen if Mantel will stick to her guns.