Rishi Sunak: reality check for a brand stirred up over a cuppa | Rebecca Nicholson | Opinion

Let’s call it a brew-haha. When Rishi Sunak tweeted a picture of himself “making tea for the team” as he prepared for his first budget as chancellor, he also whacked in a free and, by all accounts unexpected, endorsement of Yorkshire Tea.

Posing with a gigantic packet of teabags, plus six mugs, and a pot that clearly only holds about three cups’ worth, which made me suspect a potentially catastrophic “piss-weak” scenario was playing out in front of my eyes, he added: “Nothing like a good Yorkshire brew” – a little bonus track for his constituents.

This being 2020, a simple picture of a boss doing the tea round and showing off about it – a scene that can be witnessed daily in offices around the nation – turned into a drawn-out, brand-based crisis not experienced since Kendall Jenner solved racism with a can of Pepsi. If Johnny Marr thought that David Cameron saying the Smiths were his favourite band was bad, he’s got nothing on the poor social media managers of this humble tea giant.

Yorkshire Tea spent the next few days swatting away a swarm of angry boycott-promising tea-drinkers by insisting that it was only a simple tea, not a conduit for the frankly gaga fury of our polarised age, and that, actually, Jeremy Corbyn also had a cup of Yorkshire Tea once, and please could everyone stop being so horrible.

With advance apologies for a sentence nobody wishes to read: Jacob Rees-Mogg attempted to join in the fun, posting a picture of himself that can only be described as provocative. He added a link to an article in the Grocer about “uncancelling” a brand, while posing with an open packet of Walkers and a closed can of Pringles, both ready salted, of course, because what else would you expect from the self-certified arbiter of common sense?

There is light at the end of this unedifying plain-crisp tea-war tunnel. It seems to have placed the first crack in the grim spread of anthropomorphic brand-based Twitter accounts. I could only ever read companies pretending to be people and hear the words as if said in a fake baby voice, but this seems to have torn away the mask. Brands tweeted at other brands supportively, beginning to acknowledge that they were “social media managers”, human workers, rather than the brand itself posing as some grotesquely sassy cartoon character.

I was a Yorkshire Tea drinker before, but by instigating this shift, my loyalty, my loyal tea, has been cemented.

Charlotte Awbery: A pub singer just a tube ride from stardom

Charlotte Awbery

‘I do weddings, I do pubs, bars, restaurants’: Charlotte Awbery. Photograph: charlotteawbery/instagram

Singer Charlotte Awbery’s life changed dramatically when she was accosted by a man on the tube, in a rare instance of that happening in a good way.

Awbery was walking to meet a friend when prankster Kevin Freshwater shoved a camera and a microphone in her face and asked her to finish the lyric. He threw the start of Shallow from A Star Is Born at her. She responded by A Star Is Born-ing him, an amateur knocking it out with all the might of a seasoned West End diva.

What I loved most about the original clip was the moment it turned. You can see that Awbery looks surprised – as you would if a stranger shouted “Finish the lyrics!” at you when you were just trying to have a coffee and catch a train – but she joins in, tentatively at first, clearly a professional singer, clearly nailing it. And then she makes the split-second decision to belt it out, to sing with all the power she can muster, and the freedom of it is almost as brilliant as the passing Londoners being as London as possible, ignoring what is happening in case the joy might be catching.

The obligatory endpoint of any heartwarming “gone viral” moment, particularly when it involves music, is an appearance on Ellen DeGeneres’s US talk show. Last week DeGeneres got a still-shellshocked Awbery on to sing Shallow in full, then had a quick chat with her afterwards. “I do weddings, I do pubs, bars, restaurants,” Awbery told the host, explaining that her father had told her never to give up. The fact that this might have made a better plot for A Star Is Born than the plot of A Star Is Born only adds to the magic.

Simon Armitage: poet laureate Leeds the way

Simon Armitage

Simon Armitage is planning a national poetry centre in Leeds Photograph: Sarah Lee, Linda Nylind/the Guardian

There should be a word for the unsteadying, uncertain feeling that comes with hovering over the name of a person you admire, when that person’s name is trending on Twitter, because you’re unsure what news the imminent click is about to reveal.

Death, scandal or that rare moment of celebration? Happily, Simon Armitage was trending because he had announced that plans were in development for an ambitious national poetry centre in Leeds. There should be a word for the relief that comes when it is a happy case of someone trending positively, but I’m sure those who make the poetry headquarters a place for them will be in the best position to come up with something.

Armitage, who is professor of poetry at Leeds University, as well as poet laureate, said that he wants the proposed centre “to bring poetry in line with other national art forms that have their own headquarters and venues, such as the National Theatre and the National Gallery, etc”. It should be outside London, he says, and will make the most of the “incredible renaissance” going on in poetry.

A trying week for Yorkshire Tea, then, but an excellent week for Yorkshire.

Rebecca Nicholson is an Observer columnist

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