So Russell Brand was baptised in the Thames, and all his sins were washed away. Cheaper than a lawyer, I suppose | Marina Hyde

A hazmat dredger, please, to the stretch of the River Thames on which Russell Brand was recently baptised, in an event apparently conducted by TV adventurer and chief scout Bear Grylls. I know, it’s incredible: Thames Water is no longer responsible for the biggest piece of shit in the river.

In his mystical biography of the Thames, Peter Ackroyd observed: “There are some parts of the river that create or harbour distinct properties that are not susceptible to rational analysis.” And I think we might be dealing with one of those properties right here. Rational analysis deserts me as I survey a recently released photo of a topless Brand, a topless Bear, and the unidentified owner of what appears to be an S-reg Japanese hannya mask back tattoo embracing in the waist-deep current. Then again, it’s possible the third figure is actually identified. The Brand-penned caption on this Insta-trocity runs: “Me, Bear Grylls, The River Thames and of course, The Holy Spirit.” Sorry, but does the Holy Spirit now have a back tattoo? Game’s gone.

Theodicy is an attempt to reconcile a just God with a world of suffering, but in this case the problem is having to explain how on earth this lot weren’t made to suffer far more, with at least E coli, for this ludicrous spectacle. But before we go any further, a reminder that Brand has been accused of rape, sexual assault andemotional abuse by at least four women in a joint investigation last year by Channel 4’s Dispatches and the Sunday Times. He has been questioned twice under caution by the Metropolitan police and denies all the allegations. On the other hand, the Sachsgate alumnus will always retain goodwill for his endorsement swinging the 2015 general election for Labour.

Russell Brand in Los Angeles, January 2020. Photograph: Lester Cohen/Getty Images for The Recording Academy

It’s fair to say this was not explicitly touched on by Grylls in his stated reflection on the baptism, which simply declared: “Faith and spiritual moments in our lives are really personal, but it is a privilege to stand beside anyone when they express a humble need for forgiveness and strength from above.” Righto. Has Brand asked for forgiveness from the 16-year-old schoolgirl who alleges he sent cars to her school to bring her to his house (he denies it all), or is he focusing on “from above” as a useful generalised covering-off device – the Notes-app apology of taking responsibility? Or indeed, speaking of tattoos, the “Only God Can Judge Me” tattoo of taking responsibility? (I very much enjoyed the intro to a news story last year which ran: “A man whose many tattoos include Tupac Shakur’s “Only God Can Judge Me” appeared before Miami-Dade judges on Thursday and Friday in bond court.”)

Anyway, back to the Grylls statement on the Brand baptism, which concludes: “Friendships when we go through tough times are worth so much.” What twee twattery is this? Please picture it cross-stitched into a sampler and wall-mounted in whatever five-star Costa Rican hotel room Bear’s staying in during the filming of upcoming Netflix series Bear Hunt, presented by former This Morning co-host Holly Willoughby. Poor Holly. You travel half the way across the world to escape brand contamination, then your co-star comes down with Brand contamination.

As for Bear, his decision to yoke himself to Brand is intriguing. Their friendship seems to have begun last year, when Russell filmed an episode of his Apple show Running Wild With Bear Grylls in the Hebrides, although that was before The Unpleasantness emerged. To see it persist afterwards has raised a number of eyebrows. But of course Grylls is, famously, a great advocate for embracing risk in life. And with this latest buddyship, he definitely runs the risk of troubling his employers at the Scout Association who, for obvious historic reasons, probably don’t feel an immense need for their chief scout to be creep-adjacent.

Yet the question of what really draws the two men to each other is arguably less obscure than it seems. Certainly neither is held back by self-doubt. Both are prone to emanating a certain sense that the rules that apply to lesser mortals are an affront to themselves. Discussing his financial affairs, Grylls once told an interviewer: “I find it demoralising to pay income tax at 40 per cent when I work really hard and spend a lot of time away from my family.” Mm. Can’t help feeling he should toughen up a bit.

There’s not a whole lot less appealing than someone now worth an estimated £20m whining about paying his fair share like everyone else from nurses to teachers. That said, I’m a huge fan of people who talk about making extremely lucrative TV shows like it’s a tour of duty in Afghanistan. Appallingly, Bear’s only got an OBE. Where’s his George Cross for taking down Una from the Saturdays in the Central American jungle?

Concluding with Brand, his spiritual journey has been what you might expect of a bog-standard sex-case-turned-wingnut. He was previously a Buddhist, then earlier this year began endorsing a Roman Catholic prayer app called Hallow, and seems to have settled for now on whichever branch of the Anglican faith permits telly survivalists to rebirth you. “Week one as a Christian has been amazing,” Brand said the other day, adding that he felt “changed, transitioned”. Onlookers are unlikely to spot the difference. He still has a conspiracist TV portal in which viewers are treated to material on the deep state /Bill Gates /the plandemic – in short, all the usual suspects of the usual suspects. It’s hard to know how long his conversion will last. But you can’t help thinking there will only be room for one messiah in that relationship – and unfortunately, it won’t be Jesus.

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The Guardian