The (Sometimes Unexpected) Heroes And Villains Of 2017

A definitive list of this year's good, bad and unforgivable players

The (Sometimes Unexpected) Heroes And Villains Of 2017

by Sophie Wilkinson |

A lot went down this year. At times is was overwhelming but there were points where it was exhilarating and we felt like we were witnessing real, tangible change.

Here’s The Debrief’s definitive list of 2017’s heroes and villains. We surprised ourselves with some of the final contenders for our villains list, which is testament to the cosmic clusterfuck that was this year.


1. ARTHUR COLLINS - thankfully jailed for a minimum of 20 years, the acid attacker didn’t only fling a vial of toxic liquid in a Hackney nightclub in April, injuring at least 20 people, but he used feminism to defend it, claiming that the bottle wasn’t his, he’d just snatched it and thrown it after overhearing some other men discussing how they’d use its contents to spike a girl’s drink. However, CCTV showed Collins used an actual person as a shield as he flicked the acid on innocent people, and text evidence proved that he had acid in his car (not amino acids for his hair loss) way before the attack, almost as if he’d prepared for it. On top of this, despite living a lavish lifestyle - if you consider two £7,000 hair transplants lavish - this charming man claimed he didn’t have enough money in his bank account to pay any compensation to his victims. More’s the pity for his ex, TOWIE star Ferne McCann, who’d proudly announced her pregnancy with his child just hours before he hurt all those people. She’s since broken up with Collins, and will raise their daughter alone.

2. PRUE LEITH - while on holiday in Bhutan, the tyrant forgot her time differences and accidentally posted a tweet of congratulations to the winner of the Great British Bake Off, spoiling the end of the series like a soufflé removed too early from the oven. Luckily, in the grand scheme of things, if you’re watching Bake Off for its competitive edge then, are you really in the true spirit of Bake Off? It’s cakes, not sports.

3. TERRORISTS - It’s obvious, but bears repeating that the UK has really been through it this year. The frequency of cowardly attacks on innocent people was unlike anything we’ve seen before, five terror attacks happening in just seven months. In March, the Westminster attack saw four people killed and 50 injured, then there was the Manchester Arena bombing in May. In June, the London Bridge and Borough Market attack saw eight people killed and more than 40 injured, and later that month in Finsbury Park, a van was driven into a group of pedestrians who’d just been at late-night Ramadan prayers. In September, an improvised bomb detonated, thankfully not in the way the attacker intended, on a tube in London, injuring more than 25 people. Though the attackers had different motivations, the link between domestic violence and terrorism is being explored, and there is pressure on social media sites to do more to combat extremism and inappropriate content.

**4. THERESA MAY **- It’s hard to cast as a villain someone who has become so resoundingly pitied - remember the conference speech she coughed through, the one ministers kept applauding only so as to give her time to gulp down water? But, launching a leadership bid to bring the UK a ‘strong and stable’ government so as to swiftly proceed with Brexit and then actually losing her majority showed a whole lot of hubris. Theresa May isolated herself on the campaign trail, didn’t turn up to a leaders’ debate (sending, in her place, MP Amber Rudd, whose father had died only days prior) and then ended up doing so badly that her predecessor David Cameron’s strategic chant of ‘coalition of chaos’ (used to refer to what would’ve been ushered in had he lost to Ed Miliband way back in, um, 2015) came back to haunt the entire Conservative party. May ended up signing a billion-pound deal with the DUP, an anti-abortion, anti-LGBT party of stale traditionalists. And then she had to corral a bunch of wayward ministers, from Priti Patel using her holidays to meet with Israeli officials, to Michael Fallon acting inappropriately with women, to Damian Green lying about being investigated for watching porn at work. All three resigned (were sacked), and though there are MPs from across all parties facing scrutiny following the #MeToo allegations, all of them are men, and maths says maybe May could have avoided having quite so many in her cabinet if she had simply made her cabinet 50:50 male:female from the off, rather than her initial 15:8 ratio (which is 2:1, if you don’t count May herself).

5. FERGUS WILSON - Our country's housing system is a mess, and *The Debrief's *#MakeRentingFair campaign to ban letting fees has gone some way to tidying things up. However, letting fees is but just a corner of the vast room that terrible landlords like the oafish, racist, mercenary Fergus Wilson squat in. The buy-to-let tycoon, who owns hundreds of Kent properties, announced in January he would no longer let to ‘battered wives’, claiming their partners cause too much damage to his properties. In March, he made an ‘economic decision’ to ban ‘coloured’ people from his properties, on the basis that Indian and Pakistani families cook curries. ‘It gets into the carpets, it gets into the walls. You'll find that most landlords think the same. I'm here because I said it,’ he whined at a hearing at Maidstone County Court, before trying to downplay his words as ‘adolescent banter’. He is 69, and the Equality and Human Rights Commission put an injunction on his racist policy. There’s no news - yet - on his treatment of domestic abuse victims.

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**6. TAYLOR SWIFT **- are we really lumping a pop star within a category including war-criminals, alt-right hate preachers and acid attackers? Well, Prue Leith is also here, too. And old Swifty clearly WANTS to be a villain, have you not heard her new album? Reputation marks tonal change from past efforts, as she’s ditched the sad-underdog mode, playing up to her haters by acting like she’s hateful. Of course, it’s self-referential and funny, as she literally trades on the ‘snake’ insults that have been lobbed her way by selling snake-themed jewellery in her online merch store and killing off the ‘old Taylor’ in Look What You Made Me Do. But really, in this political climate? She wants to cast herself as a villain? Come on. That’s almost as silly as her threatening legal action against a blogger for suggesting she distance herself from the alt-right fans of her music instead of just, um, distancing herself from the alt-right fans of her music.

7. MILO - If you didn’t know who Milo Yiannopoulos was already then sorry for having to break the news. The alt-right preacher who says things like ‘feminism is cancer’ and campaigned for Trump’s gay vote, has long been out to upset women and minorities and those who care about them and their rights. But this year, he was finally sacked from his role at far-right nonsense vehicle Breitbart, as he defended the sexual interactions he had with an older man when he was just 14. Turns out that’s where the line is drawn on horrible behaviour!

9. JK ROWLING - Again, there’s a crowded field of people who’ve long-defended Johnny Depp way after a video of him hurting ex-wife Amber Heard was uploaded to TMZ and she pressed charges against him. But when someone like Rowling, who so regularly seems to fight on behalf of the underdog, defends the star of her book’s film rendition of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them part 2, on the basis of ‘our understanding of the circumstances,’ we have to wonder, what ARE the circumstances which render the filmmakers ‘comfortable sticking with our original casting… genuinely happy to have Johnny playing a major character in the movies.’ Which makes us question Amber, who dropped the charges against Depp long ago, and donated all of her divorce settlement to charities. Should we really be made to question her instead of him?

10. JEREMY McCONNELL - Forgive us for not following the whole saga of Celebrity Big Brother alumni Stephanie Davis and Jeremy McConnell, their relationship, parlayed via glossy magazine shoots and tearful confessions, always seemed too bizarre and dramatic to be real, like a cartoon life. Drama sells, after all. But this year, things got so real, when Jeremy McConnell, the father of Stephanie’s child Caben-Albi, was found guilty of assaulting Stephanie in a drunken attack. He was given a 20-week suspended sentence for a year on the promise he would carry out 200 hours of community service. But after 76 hours of it (note, even Wayne Rooney went ahead with his community service at a garden centre following a drink-driving escapade), he left the country. You see, he’d had the chance to jet to Turkey to get a hair and beard transplant. While he tried to explain away his absence from his court-ordered service on a ‘dark period in his personal life’, vanity prevailed, as he uploaded the entire hairline-amending procedure to social media. The court then sentenced to 18 weeks in prison.

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Mary Berry reacts to winning the Best TV Judge during the National Television Awards


1. ARIANA GRANDE - already a vocal supporter of LGBT rights and of female empowerment, Ariana Grande was in Manchester to perform for thousands of young, mostly female, fans, many attending a gig for the first time, and they got to experience joy and youthful abandonment in a safe place. What better target, then, for a twisted young man with a commitment to ISIS and a grudge against all of life’s joys. Studded with nails, the bomb he set off killed 22 people and injured a further 250. Off-duty police officers and rough sleepers were involved in the immediate response to the atrocity, and Ariana returned to the city days later to do a concert benefitting the We Love Manchester Emergency Fund. More than £10 million was raised from the gig she’d organised, which featured performances from Justin Bieber to Take That, Liam Gallagher to Miley Cyrus and Little Mix.

2. THE GRENFELL RESCUERS- In early June, overnight, a 24-storey housing block in north-west London started burning, flames surging up the side of the building. The inferno claimed 71 lives, traumatised countless more and left families and friends in shock and mental distress. An inquiry has been launched to discover what happened, to find out why so many perished. But fears are that this will drag on, and questions about the cladding on the building, and the fire plan demanding people stay in their properties, still remain. What is clear right now, and has been for months, is the heroism of the rescue effort. Before firefighters arrived on the scene, Muslims who were awake for Ramadan meals were some of the first to raise the alarm of the fire, waking neighbours and bringing them water. A round-the-clock effort from firefighters saw rescue teams racing towards a hellish situation, with a senior officer later saying ‘Every single person within that building was willing to lose their own life to try to save others. Every single person.’ In subsequent days, weeks, months, in lieu of immediate and effective council response, members of the public gave up their time and skills to help co-ordinate donations for people who had been left bereaved, homeless and traumatised, setting up in local community centres and religious centres. At Notting Hill Carnival, a three-minute silence was held on both days, and following the local community’s lead, revellers wore green in tribute to those lost and struggling because of the tragedy.

3. HARRY STYLES -The singer has always given off an air of frowny-faced mystery, and this only amped up in 2017 as he released his first solo material. But though we’ve heard considerably less from Harry than his local-radio-happy ex-bandmates Louis Tomlinson, Niall Horan and Liam Payne, who also released solo material this year, what he did say spoke volumes. In autumn, he posted to Instagram images of the flags his fans brought along with them to his gigs, giving a nod to BlackLivesMatter, the LGBT rights movement and the post-Manchester bombing movement of unity in the face of senseless violence against, primarily, young women and girls.

4. SERENA WILLIAMS - She won the Australian Open while eight weeks pregnant without dropping a set. Meanwhile, Maria Sharapova made more than 100 references to Serena in her memoir, Unstoppable, including a remark on Serena’s ‘thick arms and thick legs’. Serena responded to the low blows by serving some high notes, writing an open letter to her mum on the occasion of her daughter’s birth, including this thoughtful line: ‘It has been said I don't belong in women's sports — that I belong in men's — because I look stronger than many other women do. (No, I just work hard and I was born with this badass body and proud of it).’

**5. #METOO - **We’ve had steady trickles of victims speaking up and out about their traumatic experiences of sexual exploitation for years now - the #MeToo movement was started by human rights campaigner Tarana Burke in 2007 - and post-Savile more people than ever are understanding that assault is assault and can’t just be ignored. And so finally, Hollywood opened up, with dozens of women from across all echelons of the film industry alleging inappropriate and criminal sexual behaviour by Harvey Weinstein, a long-valorised studio honcho who had a hand in some of your favourite films. Journalistic integrity at its very best shone through as these women were given platforms to tell these stories, and very soon, other cards began to tumble. Because hey, it’s not monsters who commit sexual assault, it’s men in positions of power, and wow, there are a lot of men in positions of power, all the way from Hollywood, down to assembly lines at factories. Celebrities have long been lightning rods for discussion of ethics - like, take a look at the Greek gods - but the speed at which #MeToo is affecting non-famous people, helping their stories be elevated, heard and believed, is impressive and drives the quest for sexual equality further. But while the UK government has taken on the mantel of trying to eradicate abuses of power, there’s no such hope for the States. After all, Donald Trump has been accused by 19 women of sexually inappropriate behaviour, and he’s still in the White House!

6. KIM KARDASHIAN - This year was a big anniversary for the Kardashian family - they have been on our screens for a whopping decade. And her survival in particular isn’t only down to a series of near-nude selfies and slimming tea promotional deals. She’s got grit. In January, French authorities charged four men who were alleged to have robbed her in a Paris jewellery heist, with one later admitting he’d used social media to track her movements. Finally, the rumours were put to bed - being robbed at gunpoint was no publicity stunt, it was all real. She said during an episode of Keeping Up With The Kardashians, now in its 10th year: ‘Then [one of the armed men] duct tapes my face, my mouth, to get me to not yell or anything and then he grabs my legs and I wasn't, I had no clothes on under [my robe] and he pulled me towards him at the front of the bed and I thought, 'okay, this is the moment. They are going to rape me. And I fully mentally prepped myself and then he didn't and he duct taped my legs together’. To get through something as traumatic as that? Nothing short of heroic. Plus? When Donald Trump (we’ll get to him) was playing golf while American citizens in Puerto Rico (an unincorporated territory of the US) were suffering following the devastating Hurricane Maria, he made out like the media was the enemy, tweeting ‘To the people of Puerto Rico: do not believe the #FakeNews’. Kim responded by saying: ‘They don’t have power to watch the news!!! Please stop tweeting & golfing while people are dying! Please step up & help!’

7. MICHAEL DAPAAH - You know those guys who wear jackets all year round, even though this summer temperatures tipped to 34 degrees this June in the hottest day on record since 1976? Well, maybe Big Shaq, the name that comedian Michael Dapaah performs under, is here to play on that with the chorus of his track Man’s Not Hot: ‘the girl tells me “take off your jacket” I tell her “Man’s not hot”’. Or maybe it’s really not that worth overanalysing, and worth simply enjoying that his ‘skrrr pop pop’ approach to freestyle, which has seen him enter the charts at number five.

**8. **STORMZY - his house was raided by police after a neighbour thought he was breaking into his own home, and NME put him on their cover - without his permission - to flog their magazine’s special on mental health. Those unaccustomed to slang attributed his ‘Theresa May is a paigon’ line at the GQ awards to mean ‘Theresa May is a pig’ and robustly apologised after people went snooping about for homophobic tweets he’d made in his youth. He was honoured by the BBC Music Awards and the MOBOs and Oxford University African and Caribbean Society, and became a guest judge on The X Factor. Being one of the UK’s most famous black men can’t be easy in the face of those unwilling to give him the benefit of the doubt, but he rose above the fray, promising that his number one album, Gang Signs and Prayers, was ‘for my young black kings’.

9. JEREMY CORBYN - By addressing young voters’ concerns, such as housing and austerity, directly, Corbyn did something unexpected at the general election. Labour ended up winning seats it hadn’t done in years - think Canterbury and Kensington and Chelsea. A chant was made up in his name. He has, however, still yet to give The Debrief an interview…

10. PRINCE HARRY AND MEGHAN MARKLE - he’s spoken candidly about his mental health struggles, about his reluctance to be a royal living in the spotlight, and he’s stopped wearing bootcut jeans. Additionally, he’s got engaged to Meghan, who, according to royal protocol of just a generation ago, wouldn’t have been allowed near the royal family. A mixed-race divorcée, she is vocally proud of her heritage and has effectively forced historians to write about Suits, the legal drama she left to join the royal family ahead of her wedding to Harry this May. Also, when it comes to the two’s allegiances, note that they’re both pally with the Obamas, but haven’t a word to say old Donald Trump.

*Illustration By *Lianne NixonLianne Nixon

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Follow Sophie on Twitter @sophwilkinson

This article originally appeared on The Debrief.

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