I was somewhat surprised, perusing today’s Independent, to be confronted, in the “5-Minute Interview” slot, with a picture of the philosopher John Gray, under the headline “Not many people know that I have a wellness centre…” Begads, I thought, I certainly didn’t know that. Somehow, the idea of a wellness centre doesn’t square with my image of Gray, who is known for his apocalyptic cast of mind and his suspicion of all schemes for human advancement. Upon looking more closely, I was reassured to see that the subject of the interview was not, in fact, John Gray the philosopher, but John Gray the author of the bestselling self-help book, Men are From Mars, Women Are From Venus. The paper had simply made a mistake, and plucked the wrong John Gray from its photo archive.
This, in fact, is a surprisingly easy mistake to make. On page 11 of the current Prospect, there’s a picture of the American writer Robert Coover, wrongly identified in the story next to which it appears as Raymond Carver. On this occasion, the fault wasn’t entirely ours: the picture agency we purchased the picture from had muddled the two men. When it comes to John Gray, the potential for confusion is all the greater because of there being so many famous (or semi-famous) men of this name. In addition to the philosopher and the self-help author, there’s also John Gray the multi-millionaire founder of the Spearmint Rhino chain of strip clubs (and husband of a former porn star), and John Gray the American Christian comedian. Which leads me to think that they should all agree to do each others’ jobs for a week, and film the result: the resulting reality TV series would surely be a huge popular hit (title, anyone?). In the absence of that happening, look out for a review by John Gray of J G Ballard’s new book in the next issue of Prospect. I’m not going to reveal which of the four John Grays we’ve commissioned, but you can probably guess.