The original 2007 video “Charlie Bit My Finger,” a standard-bearer of viral internet fascination, has sold as a nonfungible token for $760,999, and the family who created it will take down the original from YouTube for good.
The original video, which has close to 900 million views, features Charlie Davies-Carr, an infant in England, biting the finger of his big brother, Harry Davies-Carr, and then laughing after Harry yells “OWWWW.”
The owner will also be able to create their own parody of the video featuring Charlie and Harry Davies-Carr.
Many duplicates of the video remain online, including one apparently rebranded by the family itself in anticipation of the auction. But the auction allowed bidders to “own the soon-to-be-deleted YouTube phenomenon” and be the “sole owner of this lovable piece of internet history.”
Disaster Girl,” a meme from a photo of Zoë Roth in 2005 looking at a house on fire in her neighborhood, sold last month in an NFT auction for $500,000. Nyan Cat, an animated flying cat with a Pop-Tart torso that leaves a rainbow trail, sold for roughly $580,000 in February. Jack Dorsey’s first tweet sold as an NFT for more than $2.9 million; a clip of LeBron James blocking a shot in a Lakers basketball game went for $100,000 in January; and an artist sold an NFT of a collage of digital images for $69.3 million, among other headline-grabbing auctions.
During an NFT sale, computers are connected to a cryptocurrency network. They record the transaction on a shared ledger and store it on a blockchain, sealing it as part of a permanent public record and serving as a sort of certification of authenticity that cannot be altered or erased.
There were 11 active bidders in the battle for the NFT that was driven mainly between two bidders named 3fmusic and mememaster. When the bidding ended Sunday, mememaster was outbid by 3fmusic by $45,444. A person with the same name also bought the “Disaster Girl” meme NTF.
years after it was first posted. It was written into a Gerber spot and a “30 Rock” episode and was the subject of countless parody videos. But it’s still well known for setting off a genre of contagiously shareable videos.
Howard Davies-Carr, the father of Charlie and Harry, told The New York Times in 2012 that even though he didn’t think of his sons as celebrities, they had nonetheless become a brand. The family was recognized in random places, like on the subway in London.
In an interview with the brothers in 2017 on The Morning, a British talk show, Howard Davies-Carr said he was filming the brothers growing up “just doing normal things” and that Charlie bit his brother’s finger while watching T.V. after a busy day in the garden.
“The video was funny, so I wanted to share it with the boys’ godfather,” Howard Davies-Carr said, adding that their godfather lived in America and that the video was initially private, but people, including his parents, had asked to see it since it was difficult to share, so he made the video public.
A few months later, when the video had at least 10,000 views, Howard Davies-Carr said he almost deleted it. Profits from the video and other opportunities allowed the family to send Charlie, Harry and their two other brothers to private school, said Shelley Davies-Carr, the boys’ mother.
The video with humble beginnings, which Charlie and Harry decided to sell, helped Shelley Davies-Carr stop working full-time when her fourth child was born.
“I was just watching TV and just decided to bite him,” Charlie Davies-Carr said in the interview. “He put his finger in my mouth, so I just bit.” Harry Davies-Carr couldn’t remember the pain from that bite.
LONDON — Disrupter, fixation, opportunity. The pandemic has been all that and more for jewelry fans and designers alike.
Just ask Sabine Roemer.
The German-born designer has two brands: the high jewelry line that carries her name (one-off pieces priced from 10,000 pounds, or about $14,095) and Atelier Romy, which sells trendy pieces like stackable chain necklaces and ear party studs online for £50 to £500.
And now that England is easing restrictions, she said, both lines are emerging as direct-to-consumer businesses — and are linked more closely to her own identity as a craftswoman.
“Workmanship is absolutely apparent in everything Sabine does,” said Marisa Drew, a senior investment banker in London who has jewelry from both of Ms. Roemer’s brands. “There’s always a personality in her pieces and she really approaches her designs with a story in mind.”
Ms. Drew said she likes Ms. Roemer’s transformable designs and strong attention to detail, features that also resonate with Sarah Giovanna, a managing director at a private equity firm in London.
“She sits down with you and really creates something that fits you. For me, it’s all about flexibility,” said Ms. Giovanna, who also wears both lines. “I work in a high-intensity environment, dealing with big businesses, and I want pieces that I can dress up and down. Both brands deliver that.”
Last year’s lockdown, however, was “a make-and-break moment,” Ms. Roemer said, especially for Atelier Romy, which was only three years old when the pandemic hit.
“I was forced to look at every single aspect of the business, and not just entrust it to others,” the 41-year-old designer said, admitting she had focused on creation and clients. Suddenly she couldn’t just help clients dream up high jewelry pieces like a pair of diamond and pearl earrings topped with 17-carat citrines or work on a philanthropic collaboration like the jeweled rendition of a postage stamp she created for the Queen Elizabeth Scholarship Trust in 2017 to celebrate the queen’s 65 years on the British throne.
In March 2020, Ms. Roemer canceled her shipping agent. She hadn’t been entirely happy with its service and decided fulfillment should be handled in-house. “I packed, I shipped and tied the ribbon around every box,” she said. “I needed to learn everything — my accountant joked that it was like McDonald’s, where you have to start in the kitchen and work your way up.” (A handwritten card now accompanies every order.)
Ms. Roemer and her team also focused on Atelier Romy’s social media presence, creating stronger digital content and visuals that highlighted Ms. Roemer as the maker behind the jewels. She wouldn’t share sales figures, but Ms. Roemer said shoppers must have liked the changes, as sales increased fivefold.
It’s the kind of online marketing that is here to stay, said Juliet Hutton-Squire, head of global strategy at Adorn, a jewelry market intelligence firm.
When consumers couldn’t spend on travel, she said, they began spending more on luxury items and investment pieces. Fashion brands were well positioned to capture those sales, thanks to their early investments in digital, and “brands with an online presence or shoppable content on social media were even further ahead of the curve as mobile phones became the way we shop,” Ms. Hutton-Squire explained. “That is just going to continue. We are not going back from this.”
In many ways, Ms. Roemer’s early career — which began as a 15-year-old goldsmith apprentice in Germany — led to her roles as a businesswoman and jeweler today.
Crafting jewelry, she said, is not all about “tools, craft and creation,” as she had once imagined. “You soon realized you also have to be good at physics and math, chemicals and chemistry. Thankfully, those were my favorite subjects at school.”
Atelier Romy has exercised her mathematical brain even more. “I love data,” she said. “I find it fascinating sitting at home in lockdown and just looking at data and who’s coming into the virtual shop.”
After graduating from Pforzheim Goldsmith and Watchmaking School in Germany, Ms. Roemer joined Stephen Webster, a London designer she said she particularly admired as “a craftsperson and not just a designer.”
More work for other Bond Street houses followed, plus orders from private clients — turning the early 2000s into something of a golden era for Ms. Roemer’s high jewelry career. Her philanthropic work also was recognized, especially several custom pieces she made in collaboration with the Nelson Mandela Foundation, like a gold, diamond and emerald bangle inscribed with the South African president’s prison number; Morgan Freeman wore the piece to the 2010 Oscars as a best actor nominee for “Invictus.”
Ms. Roemer said the experience showed her how jewelry could be a form of storytelling. “The easy thing to do was put a bling diamond piece that gets attention, but I wanted to put Mandela’s story on the red carpet,” she said. “In the end, jewelry is emotional — you wear it every day on your skin. I don’t wear my grandmother’s handbag every day but I do wear her ring. It’s close to me, and really carries that emotional value.”
That same year, her first high jewelry collection debuted at Harrods.
Atelier Romy — a name inspired by the birth of Ms. Roemer’s first daughter, Romy — was created as an affordable ready-to-wear line to be sold exclusively online. “I wanted to portray something a bit different,” she recalled. “Something with strong bold designs but still modern and zeitlos” — German for ageless — “depending on how you’d layer and make it your own.”
Soul and purpose
Valery Demure, the London-based brand consultant who represents several independent jewelers (but not Ms. Roemer), said: “Sabine interests me because she doesn’t come from a jewelry family. Everything she’s learned has been through hard work by herself, and the fact that she has all these skills. She is a woman with a real soul and purpose.”
That sense is increasingly relevant in a post-pandemic world. Ms. Hutton-Squire said the pandemic’s “enforced pause button” highlighted the importance of sustainability and the environment, spurring jewelers to act online in more authentic ways. Whether that was creating, for example, a playlist for meditation or sharing home recipes, “it wasn’t all about sell, sell, sell,” she said. “That really kind of separated the authentic bands from the less authentic ones.”
That also explains the growing demand for craft — something Ms. Roemer said she had experienced prepandemic with some of her high jewelry line’s female clients. “They have a very different mind-set: asking who made it and what it is. It’s less about the stone, how big it is and the carat size,” Ms. Roemer said. “They just want to express themselves and their personalities through jewelry.”
She has been bringing the sentiment online. Atelier Romy now has weekly drops of “how to style” videos and footage of Ms. Roemer at the workbench, cutting, soldering and shaping metal, always among her most popular posts. “Few people really know how jewelry is still made,” she said. “It was nice to take people into the workshop and show them the process.”
In March, Ms. Roemer introduced Cornerstones, her first high jewelry collection in more than 10 years. The extra time in lockdown has been a creative boon, she said (“I always found the best pieces happen in the workshop when you don’t have a plan”) and the collection of nine pairs of earrings were muses on travel, with multifunctional pieces like sea-inspired blue topaz, aquamarine and diamond transformable earrings that Ms. Drew purchased.
Ms. Roemer said she hopes to resume meeting clients from both brands, which, thanks to the pandemic, feel more complementary than ever. “It’s like having two babies — you can’t pick a favorite one, they’re equally important,” she said. “But also very different.”
LONDON — Before the pandemic hit Britain last year, Michelle Hedley could only go to her local theaters in the north of England if they happened to be doing a captioned performance.
That happened five times a year — at best, said Hedley, who is deaf.
But during the pandemic, suddenly, she could watch musicals all day and night if she wanted, as shuttered theaters worldwide put shows online, often with subtitles. “I started watching anything and everything simply because I could!” Hedley, 49, said in an email interview. “Even subject matters that bored me!”
“I viewed more theater than I had done (it felt like) in a lifetime,” she added.
22 percent of England’s population andhave diverse requirements — such as wheelchair access, audio description or for “relaxed” performances where audiences are allowed to make noise — this moment is causing more mixed reactions. Some fear being forgotten, andthat struggling venues will concentrate on producing in-person shows and forgo online offerings, or cut their in-person services for disabled people.
There is little evidence of that so far, and some venues say they will continue to include disabled people, but the real effect of venues’ reduced budgets won’t become clear for months.
“I will be forced to go back to being grateful for just five shows a year,” Hedley said. “It is very frustrating.”
Others are concerned, too. “I just have this sense of being left behind with people being so euphoric that they can do things in the flesh again,” Sonia Boué, an artist who is autistic, said in a telephone interview.
Before the pandemic, Boué, 58, would only visit museums if she was convinced a show would be worth the huge amount of energy the experience took. Getting the train from her home in Oxford to London could be overwhelming, she said, as coulddealing with crowds in a packed museum. “I’ve been in situations when I’ve just wanted to throw myself down on a station platform and lose it,” she said.
the painter Tracey Emin and the photographer Jo Spence, she said, with both influencing her own art. “The whole experience was so rich and wonderful,” Boué said.
emergency funding from the government.
Some high-profile venues have said they will keep working to include disabled people as they reopen. Kwame Kwei-Armah, the artistic director of the Young Vic theater in London, told The Guardian in May he wanted to livestream at least two performances of all future shows, with viewers limited to about 500 per stream, mimicking the theater’s capacity. The Young Vic intends to guarantee some of those tickets for disabled people, a spokeswoman said in an email. On Friday, the Almeida, another London theater, said it would film and released digitally its next season’s shows “where possible” but gave no further details.
But for regional theaters that are coming off a year without ticket sales, streaming may not always be possible. “It’s a huge financial outlay, making films, so you really need to think about it from the start,” Amy Leach, the associate director of Leeds Playhouse, said in a phone interview. She hoped her theater would do that for future work, she said.
People’s concerns are not just about cuts to streaming. Jessica Thom, a performer and wheelchair user who’s made work about her Tourette’s syndrome, said in a telephone interview that she was worried that some venues may see online shows as an accessibility alternative to offering the relaxed performances she loved to go to, where people were free to move around or make noise. “The anxiety about being written out is real,” she said.
Graeae, Britain’s leading deaf and disabled-led theater company, as well as “The Unknown” for Leeds Playhouse (streaming until June 5).
She has been helped in such work by being able to have meetings and rehearsals virtually. “My experiences have been incredibly inclusive,” she said, “and I think a lot of us are having the same concerns about ‘Will we go back to old ways of working, when we’re told we need to be in the room?’”
like the Globe in London, have started offering in-person performances with audio description, Wood said. But she won’t be able to attend for months. “I worked out the other day I’d need to be guided by about 25 people to go from my home to a London theater,” she said. “I can’t tell if someone is wearing a mask or not, I can’t keep distance, so I don’t feel ready,” she added.
Many other disabled people feel similarly anxious about attending events in person, she said, having been disproportionately affected by the pandemic. She was worried theaters might cut back on services assuming there isn’t demand, even if the trend for that hasn’t happened yet.
Six British museums and theaters said in emails they intended to maintain provisions for disabled audiences, and not cut back. Andrew Miller, a campaigner who was the British government’s disability champion for arts and culture until this spring, said many institutions would be hard pressed to “wriggle” out of commitments even if they for some reason wanted to, as much funding in Britain comes with a requirement to expand access. But future funding cuts could make the situation “messy,” he said. “There is a genuine worry there’ll be significantly less investment,” he added.
Boué said she just hoped British theaters and museums kept disabled people in mind. It should be easier than ever to identify with disabled people, she said. When the first lockdown hit, “it was this jaw dropping moment when everyone felt completely immobilized and like they didn’t have the freedoms they’d always taken for granted,” she said.
For once, “it was like disability was really everyone’s problem,” she added.
LONDON — At 8:30 p.m. on Monday, two friends were huddling outside St. Martin’s Theater in London’s West End doing something no one has for 14 months: arguing during the intermission over who was the murderer in “The Mousetrap,” Agatha Christie’s long-running whodunit.
“I’m convinced it’s the posh woman who runs the hotel,” said Lockie Chapman, 40, a singer, before immediately changing his mind.
“Actually, it’s the major!” he said. “Or how about that shifty Italian dude?” he added.
“The shifty Italian dude?” replied Rah Petherbridge, 37. “But he could be a red herring!”
Such debates have rung out outside the “The Mousetrap” ever since it debuted in 1952, but those accompanying the show’s 28,200th performance on Monday were significant. They marked the reopening of the West End.
Six,” the hit musical about the wives of Henry VIII, but they managed only a handful of performances before they were shut once more. Theaters had to perform to online audiences if they wanted to keep working.
Monday’s comeback felt like it was actually permanent, 15 audience members said in interviews, many highlighting Britain’s speedy vaccination campaign as the reason for their optimism. (Over 55 percent of the British population has received at least one dose, a higher proportion than in the United States.) A small but worrying surge in coronavirus cases in Britain, linked to a variant first identified in India, did not dampen their mood.
La Clemenza di Tito.” “I feel confident this time it’s for good,” said Katie Connor, 40, as several huge Rolls Royces pulled up with glamorous operagoers.
“I’m just so happy to be back,” she added. “I’m pretty sure I’m going to ugly-cry for the whole two hours and 25 minutes of the show.”
England’s theaters are not immediately allowed to return to their prepandemic state. For now, shows can open only at 50 percent capacity, and audience members must wear face masks throughout performances.
Social-distancing rules are supposed to be removed June 21, allowing full capacity, but on Friday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned that the date might be pushed back because of the recent rise in cases.
“I have to level with you that this new variant could pose a serious disruption to our progress,” Johnson said.
since at least the 1970s, lacking the technical bells and whistles one would expect of a modern production. But Spiegel said that it was the best play to reopen the West End, as it had become a symbol of the city.
“It’s been through all the ups and downs of British life of the last 70 years: terrorism, economic recessions, this,” he said. “There’s not a scientific answer to why it should be first. It just feels right.”
Nick Payne’s relationship drama “Constellations” at the Donmar Warehouse. He hired four two-person casts — including famous names like Zoë Wanamaker — to try to ensure that the show wouldn’t suffer any coronavirus-induced closures, he said. “It’s such a complicated balancing act for every production,” he added.
Other theaters across England are similarly focused on small shows with lower coronavirus risks for now. The Theater Royal in Bath in southwestern England, for instance, is reopening May 25 not with a play, but with Ralph Fiennes performing T.S. Eliot’s “Four Quartets.” The performance will then travel around England.
protesting a lack of support for arts workers.
In Berlin, theaters are also allowed to reopen on Wednesday, but only outdoors.
In the West End, most theater owners and producers seem happy to accept restrictions, including the potential use of coronavirus passports to guarantee entry. “Whatever is necessary to restart people’s ability to enjoy theater I’m OK with,” Spiegel, of “The Mousetrap,” said.
Many in the industry realize that it will be a long time before theaters are back to their old selves, employing thousands of freelancers. Some job losses are only just emerging. In April, The Stage, Britain’s theater newspaper, reported that “The Phantom of the Opera” would reopen July 27 but only with its touring orchestration, cutting the number of musicians almost in half, to 14, from 27.
“It sets a bad precedent for the whole sector,” Dan West, a trombonist who played in the show before the pandemic, said in a telephone interview. “Every small producer will say, ‘If they don’t need brass, I don’t,’” he added.
During “The Mousetrap” on Monday, any worries seemed far from people’s minds. Many audience members took off their masks to sip drinks during the show, then left them off as the tension ramped up onstage, with Detective Sergeant Trotter (Paul Hilliar) quizzing eight potential murderers.
Eventually, the perpetrator was revealed, and several audience members gasped. “See, I told you!” one shouted, being shushed by those around him.
“The Mousetrap” ended just had it had for every one of its previous 28,199 performances. “Thank you so much for your unbelievably warm reception this evening,” Hilliar said, after a standing ovation from the half-full theater.
“Now, you are our partners in crime,” he added, “and we ask you to keep the secret of whodunit locked in your hearts.”
Eurostar, the sleek and speedy high-speed train service that ties London, Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam and other cities, will increase its timetable on May 27 to two trains per day on its once heavily traveled Paris-London route, up from just one round-trip train per day imposed during the pandemic.
The service is increasing slightly as governments in Europe plan to slowly lift longstanding national restrictions on travel designed to combat the spread of the coronavirus. From a peak of running more than 60 trains a day, Eurostar cut service during the pandemic to one daily round trip between London and Paris, and one on its London-Brussels and Amsterdam routes.
The Brussels-Amsterdam route will remain the same with one train in each direction per day, a spokesman said, adding that Eurostar will adapt its timetable should demand increase, which still depends on travel restrictions across its routes.
Eurostar’s future has been thrown into turmoil as pandemic measures led last year to a 95 percent slump in ridership, creating a cash crunch and pushing the iconic company to the brink of bankruptcy.
sold its stake in the rail company, last month declined to back a broader financial rescue package.
A spokesman for Eurostar said that it had no new details on a financial rescue, but that “conversations are still progressing.” The spokesman added that it was “too early to predict a recovery to prepandemic levels — this would be very much dependent on the easing of international travel restrictions which are yet to be confirmed.”
Eurostar trains will maintain some vacant seats onboard to allow for social distancing. The company said it was advising riders to check with their embassies before traveling, and to consult the company’s website for the latest information.
LONDON — The Group of 7 was created to help coordinate economic policy among the world’s top industrial powers. In the four decades since, it has acted to combat energy shortages, global poverty and financial crises.
But as Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken meets with fellow Group of 7 foreign ministers in London this week, a key item on the agenda will be what Mr. Blinken called, in remarks to the press on Monday, “defending democratic values and open societies.”
Implicitly, that defense is against China and, to a lesser extent, Russia. While the economic and public tasks of recovering from the coronavirus remain paramount, Mr. Blinken is also employing the Group of 7 — composed of the United States, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, and Japan — to coordinate with allies in an emerging global competition between democracy and the authoritarian visions of Moscow and Beijing.
One twist in the meeting this week is the presence of nations that are not formal Group of 7 members: India, South Korea, Australia and South Africa. Also in attendance is Brunei, the current chair of the Association of South East Asian Nations.
Ash Jain, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council.
Mr. Jain noted the way the group is now emphasizing common values over shared economic interests. “The G-7 is being rebranded as a group of like-minded democracies, as opposed to a group of ‘highly industrialized nations.’ They’re changing the emphasis,” he said.
Many of the countries represented at the meeting do big business with China and Russia, complicating efforts to align them against those nations. China’s pattern of economic coercion was one specific topic of conversation on Tuesday, participants said.
was expelled in 2014 from what was then the Group of 8 after its annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.
Nor is it likely a coincidence that the expanded guest list matches, with the additions of South Africa and Brunei, a group of 10 countries and the European Union, collectively short-handed as the “D-10” by proponents of organizing them in a new world body. Those proponents include Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain, the host of this week’s gathering and architect of its guest list.
Mr. Johnson has also invited India, Australia and South Korea to send their heads of state to this summer’s Group of 7 summit in Cornwall, citing his “ambition to work with a group of like-minded democracies to advance shared interests and tackle common challenges.”
President Biden has similarly suggested that the world is grouping into competing camps, divided by the openness of their political systems. In his address to Congress last week, Mr. Biden said that “America’s adversaries, the autocrats of the world, are betting” that the nation’s battered democracy cannot be restored.
also committed to holding a “Summit for Democracy” during his first year in office, and officials say planning for such an event is underway. Asked in a Tuesday interview with The Financial Times which countries might be invited to such a summit, Mr. Blinken did not answer directly.
And Wednesday’s agenda for the gathering includes a session on open societies, including issues of media freedom and disinformation. Other sessions over the two days include Syria, Russia and its neighbors Ukraine and Belarus, Myanmar, and Afghanistan.
interview with CBS’s “60 Minutes” broadcast the night before, Mr. Blinken made clear how the United States views China’s rise.
Jeremy Shapiro, a former State Department official in the Obama administration who is now research director at the European Council on Foreign Relations, said that informally expanding the Group of 7 is far easier than constructing a new body.
“It is always a pain, from a governmental perspective, to invent a new forum, because you need to have an endless discussion about who’s in and who’s out, and how it works, and its relationship to the U.N.,” Mr. Shapiro said.
He added that the Group of 7, whose mission had grown nebulous in recent years, may have acquired a new sense of purpose as it tries to organize a post-Trump democratic world in the face of Chinese and Russian threats.
“You would be hard-pressed to look back the past five years or more since they kicked out Russia to name a single thing the G-7 has done of interest,” Mr. Shapiro said. “It didn’t have much to do.”
In recent months, the chief executive of Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer, has come under increasingly intense pressure as pro-government voices and leaders of the state governments headed by opposition politicians criticized him alike.
Some accused him for delays in supplying vaccines; some called him a “profiteer” for not offering Covid vaccines to state governments at cost. There were calls for his company to be nationalized.
In an interview with the Times of London published on Saturday, the executive, Adar Poonawalla, described menacing calls from some of the most powerful men in India, creating an environment so ugly that he anticipated being out of the country for an extended period while he made plans to start producing vaccines elsewhere.
“‘Threats’ is an understatement,” Mr. Poonawalla said. “The level of expectation and aggression is really unprecedented.”
struggling to vaccinate itself out of a crisis as a voracious second wave leaves a tableau of death and despair. When cases were relatively low, the country exported more than 60 million shots. On Saturday, India expanded vaccinations to all people over 18, but many states said that they would not be able to meet the demand because of a shortage of doses.
Less than 2 percent of India’s 940 million adults have been fully vaccinated, according to data compiled from government sources by the Our World in Data project at the University of Oxford. The country’s biggest city, Mumbai, just halted all vaccinations because it essentially ran out, and several states reported vaccine shortages as well.
All that has made Mr. Poonawalla, a 40-year-old billionaire, a focus for public anger.
Last month, Serum Institute wrote a letter to India’s federal home minister asking for security, citing the threats to Mr. Poonawalla. Just a few days ago, the federal government said it had completed a threat assessment and would have the Central Reserve Police Force protect him. On the same day, Mr. Poonawalla announced on Twitter that he was unilaterally lowering the cost of a Covid vaccine to make it more affordable for government purchase.
LONDON — First, there was the scramble to find her father a bed in intensive care. Then came the price gouging for an all but impossible to find therapeutic injection. And, through it all, countless hours on the phone with doctors, family and friends dealing with logistical problems.
From nearly 5,000 miles and five time zones away, Anuja Vakil, 40, has been struggling for the last 12 days to help manage care for her father, Jatin Bhagat, who lies in critical condition in a hospital in Ahmedabad, in India’s western Gujarat State. She knows he has been lucky to get care at all.
“When I pray to God now, it is for my dad,” Ms. Vakil said. “He has to come back.”
Cases of the coronavirus have exploded in India in recent weeks, up to nearly 400,000 a day, surpassing all records and still rising. As they have, so, too, has the collective grief and anxiety among the huge Indian diaspora, over loved ones lost or fighting for their lives amid a health-care system pushed past the brink. In WhatsApp chats, video calls, Facebook groups and forums, a global community has worried, mourned and organized.
Some 17 million people from India were living outside their homeland in 2020, according to figures from the United Nations, and millions more have Indian heritage, making the diaspora the largest in the world. In the United States, some 4.8 million people were either born in India or reported Indian ancestry on the last census.
pooling money to buy oxygen concentrators, connecting those in need of care with doctors and using community networks to share resources.
Deliveries of aid collected by the diaspora are beginning to arrive in India, alongside government relief fromBritain, the United States, Germany and Australia among others.
Ms. Vakil has tried to focus on these positives. While it has been hard to be away from family, she says her local Indian community in London has proved to be a lifeline, and she speaks with a friend in New York whose own father is unwell. She tries to lift her father’s spirits with daily video calls, and his doctors are hopeful he can pull through.
added to Britain’s travel “red list” last week, halting nearly all direct flights and imposing an expensive and mandatory 10-day hotel quarantine for the few citizens and residents who are allowed in. And on Friday, the United States said it would start restricting travel from India beginning next week.
The restrictions, steep costs, job commitments and a fear of contracting the virus have left many unable to travel. As cases of the coronavirus continue to rise, many described painful conversations with friends and relatives at home, and a feeling of helplessness as they watched the horrors unfold half a world away.
as the government allowed cricket matches in packed stadiums, mass election rallies and a major religious festival called Kumbh Mela, where millions gathered in one city. Meanwhile, case levels began to rise exponentially.
In Britain, home to a vibrant and diverse community of people with roots in India, the pain is palpable. In a neighborhood shop in Harrow, a community in London’s northwest with a large Indian population, two staffers recounted losing a brother in the last week.
The cultural ties between the two countries run deep, with Britain’s large Indian diaspora estimated to number over 1.5 million people — the single largest ethnic minority population in the country. For many, the loss, anxiety or grief they are experiencing as family members became ill in recent weeks are compounding what was already a difficult year, and just as Britain is emerging from lockdown and hopeful about crushing the virus.
Harmeet Gill, 31, was born and raised in London, but his parents are from Indian’s northern Punjab State, and they remain extremely close with extended family there.
disproportionately hit by the pandemic. “We went through it here and we thought, ‘Well, at least India was protected.’ They were doing reasonably well.”
But it didn’t last, and on Monday his uncle died from the coronavirus. His aunt was hospitalized on Thursday. In pre-pandemic times, his family would all have traveled to India to mourn his uncle, a patriarch of a tight-knit Sikh family.
“It’s just the sheer, sort of, helplessness of it,” he said, adding that along with the shock and sorrow is a growing anger about government mismanagement. “They know it didn’t need to happen the way it has happened.”
Mr. Gill, who volunteers at a Sikh temple in the London neighborhood of Southall, has seen the impact of the outbreak in India ripple through his community, noting “the sheer scale of it means we all have become a bit numb to it now.”
The temple has been a hub of aid throughout Britain’s outbreak, delivering thousands of meals weekly, and members are now looking for ways to help back home.
Indian doctors living abroad have also been providing medical expertise and advice to dozens of friends and family members. Many wake early to go through dozens of messages asking for help, and some even provide video consultations.
Rajesh Hembrom, 43, originally from Bhagalpur in India’s Bihar State, has lived and worked as a doctor in Britain since 2003. His wife is also a frontline health care worker, and when cases surged in England early last year, his elderly father and older sisters were anxious.
“They were quite worried, and there was quite a degree of calm back home,” he said, “until it all erupted.”
But then the dynamic shifted, and as the numbers surged family and close friends began messaging, frantically seeking help. At the moment, he is advising around 30 people by phone, he said, helping to manage their care or offering any insights that he can. Some of the people he was trying to help have died.
“There are no proper help lines where they can call so they end up clutching at straws, and they know me, so obviously they contact me,” he said.
A childhood friend is being treated in a hospital in Mumbai, and family members are in touch with Dr. Hembrom daily. He fears his friend won’t make it.
“We see a lot of death in our medical work,” he said. “But never have I seen so many people so close to me that are already dead or are possibly going to die. It’s almost like a war zone in some ways, without a visible enemy.”
LONDON — Of all the unsavory ethical questions swirling around Prime Minister Boris Johnson these days, the one that has stuck is how he paid for the costly makeover of his apartment in Downing Street. And it has put his 33-year-old fiancée, Carrie Symonds, under a particularly scorching spotlight.
Mr. Johnson has been accused in news reports of secretly using funds from a Conservative Party donor to supplement his public budget for redecorating the apartment — a charge that, although Mr. Johnson says he has repaid the money, has prompted an investigation by Britain’s Electoral Commission. But it is Ms. Symonds and her purportedly expensive taste in wallpaper and designer furniture that has become a running theme on social media and in British tabloids.
“#CarrieAntoinette” is trending as a Twitter hashtag, while the leader of the Labour Party, Keir Starmer, had himself photographed studying wallpaper at the British department store John Lewis — a labored stunt meant to make light of reports that Ms. Symonds derided the Downing Street décor left by Mr. Johnson’s no-nonsense predecessor, Theresa May, as a “John Lewis nightmare.”
Never mind that Ms. Symonds has not actually been quoted saying anything about John Lewis. The reference, in a profile of her in Tatler magazine, is attributed to an unnamed person who once visited her in the apartment. Tatler did report that Ms. Symonds oversaw the renovation project, and her involvement means she, too, may have to turn over evidence to the Electoral Commission.
For Ms. Symonds, a former Conservative Party communications chief who now works for an animal-rights group, it is the latest trial in a year overstuffed with dramatics: the near-fatal illness of Mr. Johnson after he contracted the coronavirus; the birth of their son, Wilfred; and the bitter purging of Mr. Johnson’s chief adviser, Dominic Cummings, in which she is reported to have played a behind-the-scenes role.
It all has put Ms. Symonds at the heart of a familiar narrative, one replete with sexism and double standards: the grasping, manipulative politician’s partner. She joins a parade of women, from Hillary Clinton to Cherie Blair, the wife of Prime Minister Tony Blair, whose murmurings to their men were the subject of fevered suspicion.
The fact that her relationship with Mr. Johnson coincided with the breakup of his 25-year marriage, and that she became the first unmarried partner to move into Downing Street, only adds to Ms. Symonds’ tabloid portrayal as a libertine Lady Macbeth or an upwardly mobile Marie Antoinette — choose your cliché.
“The outsized fascination with Carrie Symonds’ role in the prime minister’s circle reflects outdated sexist tropes that regard women in positions of influence as inherently devious,” said Sophia Gaston, director of the British Foreign Policy Group and a research fellow at the London School of Economics.
Her defenders say that as an accomplished political player in her own right, Ms. Symonds has no less right to offer advice to the prime minister than any other unpaid adviser — and he would be wise to take it.
And yet, others say, there are legitimate questions to ask about Ms. Symonds’ influence, which goes beyond the news media’s obsessive focus on home improvements at Downing Street. Her ardent defense of animal rights was reported to have contributed to the government’s decision to halt a cull of badgers in Derbyshire, which contradicted the advice of scientists and veterinarians.
Friends of Ms. Symonds have been installed in key positions in Downing Street and, in the telling of Mr. Cummings, protected by her even after evidence of wrongdoing. On his blog, he claimed that Mr. Johnson wanted to shut down a leak investigation after it became clear that the culprit was Henry Newman, a close adviser to Ms. Symonds.
Mr. Cummings quoted Mr. Johnson as saying to him, “If Newman is confirmed as the leaker, then I will have to fire him, and this will cause me very serious problems with Carrie, as they’re best friends.”
Downing Street has denied that Mr. Johnson tried to shut down theinvestigation, but it did not comment about Ms. Symonds’ role.
Her defenders say she has a savvy political sense and could well have aspired to a seat in Parliament if she hadn’t begun a relationship with Mr. Johnson. To the extent that she is giving him advice, some say, it is helpful: cutting loose Mr. Cummings and other hard-core Brexiteers softened the prime minister’s image and improved his popularity before the recent ethics issues pulled him back to his more familiar role as a political scalawag.
“She was fantastic — she is very loyal and was hugely supportive,” said John Whittingdale, a former culture secretary for whom Ms. Symonds served as a special adviser. He described her as “a strongly committed Conservative” and a “very strong Brexit supporter” at a time when that was a less popular position.
“The people who are attacking Carrie clearly see a route to damage the prime minister by attacking her,” he said.
Ms. Symonds labors under a few handicaps, one of which is the lack of a job description for a prime minister’s partner.The role has no constitutional status, and unlike that of first lady in the United States, little administrative support. Successful spouses have usually had strong identities outside Downing Street.
Margaret Thatcher’s husband, Denis, was a businessman, as is Mrs. May’s husband, Philip. David Cameron’s wife, Samantha, ran a fashion company, while Ms. Blair, who once had her own political ambitions, worked as a high-level barrister during her husband’s decade in office. Though Ms. Blair’s influence came under criticism early on, the scrutiny subsided as she built a flourishing legal career.
“She always knew she could go back to her job at the bar, which made it less demeaning to be the appendage,” said Fiona Millar, a journalist and onetime aide to Ms. Blair. Ms. Symonds, she said, “doesn’t seem to have that life outside politics, which the people who’ve been successful at it did have.”
The daughter of Matthew Symonds, a co-founder of The Independent newspaper, and a lawyer for the paper, Josephine McAfee, Ms. Symonds was raised by her mother (both parents were married to other people at the time).
Her young adulthood was deeply affected by an incident in 2007 when she was targeted by a taxi driver who served her spiked drinks while driving her home. Ms. Symonds testified against the man, John Worboys, who was jailed as a serial sexual predator.
Well connected and social, Ms. Symonds became a public relations aide for the Conservative Party, eventually rising tochief communications officer, where she encountered Mr. Johnson. The couple had hoped to get married last summer, after his divorce from Marina Wheeler became final, but delayed the date because of coronavirus restrictions.
Life in Downing Street is less glamorous than it might appear, Ms. Millar said. While the job comes with a spacious Westminster apartment, a baronial weekend home, Chequers, and an annual decorating budget of £30,000 ($41,600), the government does not pay for food or household staff. Outside of public occasions, the couple are expected to cook for themselves or get takeout.
Living above the office, as Mr. Johnson struggled with the pandemic and his own illness, was challenging, people who know Ms. Symonds said. She contracted Covid herself, while pregnant, and then cared for their baby while Mr. Johnson, 56, was still shaking off his illness.
“There were times last week that were very dark indeed,” Ms. Symonds tweeted after he was released from an intensive care unit. Despite that, she retained her interest in environmental protection.
“Since having Wilf & not being able to get to the shops during lockdown,” she posted four months later, “I’ve relied on Amazon for lots of baby essentials, but I’ve been dismayed at the amount of plastic packaging. Please sign this petition to ask Amazon to give us plastic-free options too.”
Political commentators say they see Ms. Symonds’ fingerprints in Mr. Johnson’s embrace of green policies. They say she has played to his pragmatic instincts by nudging him toward a more conciliatory politics.
Few prime ministerial partners have been so deeply immersed in politics. Not only does she know the Conservative Party well, she also has strong contacts among its lawmakers, political journalists and the special advisers who play a powerful role in Downing Street and elsewhere in the government.
Steven Fielding, professor of political history at the University of Nottingham, said people have questioned Ms. Symonds’ influence “because of her specific insights and connections and background as a political operative and because of Boris Johnson’s malleability, and the fact that no one is sure what in his head.”
Some of the uneasiness about Ms. Symonds is as much about Mr. Johnson as her. With few fixed positions and a lack of ideological moorings, he leaves the impression that his decisions can be swayed by those with greatest access to him. During a year of lockdowns, that circle sometimes shrank to Ms. Symonds.
“The reason we’re fussing over this is that we think we have an inadequate figure as prime minister,” said Jill Rutter, a former civil servant who is a senior research fellow at the U.K. in a Changing Europe, a London think tank. “If we thought we had a really good prime minister, would we really care who his spouse is, beyond hoping he has a happy personal life?”
Marie Le Conte, a journalist in London, was originally on board. The first anniversary was even funnier than the day of the original tweet, as it became clear it would have staying power and continue to be noted each year, she said.
At the time, Mr. Balls was seen as a political heavyweight bruiser, and the tweet did not square with his public image. People always love when a politician makes a technological mistake. “Also, to be blunt, his name is Balls,” she said.
But in her view, the joke lost steam after a few years, and she years ago muted the #EdBallsDay hashtag. (It never helps when brands get involved.)
“There was a big split between people that said: ‘OK, we’ve done that, it was quite funny, I mean, two or three anniversaries, whatever, we can move on now,’” Ms. Le Conte said. “And the people who are like: ‘No, we will never move on, for as long as we live we will celebrate Ed Balls Day.’”
Perhaps the closest analog in American politics was covfefe, an apparent typo tweeted mysteriously by President Donald Trump in 2017. It remains an occasional joke of the online left, but there’s no Covfefe Day.
Mr. Balls, who was the shadow chancellor of the Exchequer from 2011 to 2015, said he didn’t believe the tweet changed the trajectory of his career, but he has enjoyed a lighter public image since being voted out in 2015. He has been a contestant on the BBC shows “Strictly Come Dancing” and “Celebrity Best Home Cook,” winning the latter.
Playfully noting that he is right up there with Christopher Columbus, Martin Luther King, Jr., and St. George in having days named after him — “to be fair, they made rather more substantive contributions” — he said he would be fine if this were the last year his day were celebrated. But if people continue to enjoy it, they can have at it, he said.