Welcome to the first meeting of the Paradise Papers Club
‘Firstly, let’s just point out that none of us have broken any laws’
Lewis Hamilton: “Vroom, vroom.” Couldn’t have said it better myself, Lewis. Photograph: Yuri Cortez/AFP/Getty Images
A strange Edwardian child in a sleeveless V-neck jumper opens the door to a small man wearing a brown shop coat like Ronnie Barker wears in Open all Hours. “Hello, George,” says the little man. “I’d like to speak to Liz, please.”
Wordlessly, the eerie child leads the man into a grand, golden hallway and then into an adjoining television room, glittering with the finest jewels in all of Christendom.
“Great-grandmother,” says the child, “I have brought you an Irishman. Perhaps you would like to ride him like a donkey or beat him with a stick?”
“Thank you, George, now make your old great-granny a G&T and then go and frighten your parents,” says Liz, who is sitting in a throne in the middle of the room watching her “programme” (Homes Under the Hammer). A crown sits on her head at a jaunty angle.
There are others present. The Nike swoosh is shimmering in the centre of the room, interlocking its tendrils with a huge floating iPhone. Lewis Hamilton is in the corner making quiet little “vroom, vroom” noises to himself. Some grey-faced men from the Legion of Evil (the US administration) are chewing on the carcass of a deer. A few Mrs Brown’s Boys cast members are talking to a Canadian in bicycle shorts. He is hunky and woke and sporadically does lunges which are good for his glutes. “Phoar!” says Madonna, who is also present, dressed like a cockney chimney sweep, as is her wont when in London.
“Okay, let’s inaugurate this first meeting of the Paradise Papers Club,” says the queen. “Firstly, let’s just point out that none of us have broken any laws.”
“Agreed,” says Rex Tillerson.
“Agreed,” say members of the cast of Mrs Brown’s Boys.
“Agreed,” says an Irish Times lawyer. “And let’s say that again so the readers can hear: They have broken no laws.”
“All we have ever done,” the queen continues, “is to follow our hearts. All I wanted to do, for example, was to taste every kind of animal from the pygmiest of shrews to the bluest of whales.”
“And all I wanted,” says Justin Trudeau, looking into your eyes, “was for everyone to be truly happy. How was I to know one of my closest advisors was connected to offshore tax-avoidance schemes?”
He bends over to pick up a passing kitten which he clutches to his bare chest. His shorts are very tight. You can feel sweat pool on your upper lip. He winks. You can feel your knees go and have to sit down for a moment.
Now Lewis Hamilton is speaking. “Vroom!” he says. “Vroom, vroom, vroom.”
“Exactly, Lewis,” says the queen. “Just as you say: Sometimes to efficiently pursue their dreams, dreamers must invest their cash through so-called offshore tax havens: Malta, Guernsey, that island in the Caymans.”
“La Isla Bonita,” says Madonna, dreamily.
“Entirely legally,” adds The Irish Times lawyer, quickly.
“I mean, it’s my money,” says the queen. “My face is literally on it.”
At this point there is a cough from the little man in the shop coat and everyone turns to look. They had forgotten that he was there. “Perhaps,” he says. “I could illuminate things a little with a tale from my own life.”
Everyone looks back at the queen. “You may speak,” she says.
The man says nothing for a moment. He strolls around the room, apparently lost in thought, stroking the wood mouldings and embedded rubies. “As a schoolboy in Dublin, I had a simple dream,” he says, eventually. “An unattainable vision that would keep me warm in the cold Irish night.”
Soon I found myself on a soul-destroying carousel of celebrity pals and parties and talking absolute shit in interviews
“What was it?” ask some Mrs Brown’s Boys cast members.
The little man pauses for a moment and then he says, “I wanted to own and operate a mid-sized retail outlet in a mixed-purpose urban development.”
“Nice,” says Trudeau.
“My copybooks were filled with scribbled examples of signage ideas, and my bedroom walls were covered with pictures of supermarkets cut from magazines. Sadly, in the repressive Ireland of the 1970s such things were frowned upon and I had to keep my desires secret.”
“Lawks,” says Madonna.
The little Irishman continues: “My friends had no time for such fripperies and I did my best to conform to the grey expectations of the era. Four of us, in a fit of pragmatism, formed a musical combo much like our parents had done before us, and to my horror this proved quite popular with the hoi polloi. I had hidden my glittering secret too well.”
He sits down wearily and accepts a cup of gin from the queen.
“We were successful and soon I found myself on a soul-destroying carousel of celebrity pals and parties and talking absolute shit in interviews.”
“Gadzooks,” says Madonna.
“Vroom,” says Lewis Hamilton sadly, “Vroom.”
“Exactly, Lewis,” says the little Irishman. “It was, as you say, a perfect example of RD Laing’s ‘divided self’. While externally I went through the motions of ‘singing’ and publicly pontificating, inside I fantasised about stocktaking and shelf-stacking. While wrangling an acoustic guitar in a music video, I dreamt of what I could instead do with a price gun. When writing lyrics, I yearned to be balancing figures in a ledger.”
“You can tell,” mutters Rex Tillerson, but everyone shushes him.
“I was lost,” continues the little Irishman. “Occasionally, late at night, I would take my private jet and zoom past the wholesalers in the industrial estate at the edge of town and I would sigh. ‘Why are you sighing?’ my famous friends Dale Winton and Alf from the programme Alf would ask. ‘No reason,’ I would say and then I would gaze forlornly into the distance in a way that suggested there really was a reason, a big reason, a sad, tragic reason I could never tell.”
I’m not really a rock singer at all but the tax-efficient part-proprietor of a Lithuanian shopping centre
He stifles a sob. “I started to dabble in [totally legal] tax-friendly retail on the side. I was so ashamed. I took to wearing sunglasses indoors so no one could see I was crying.”
Crying out loud
Now everyone is crying. The queen is wiping her eyes with Trudeau’s kitten. The huge iPhone is projecting cry-face emojis. Tillerson is wandering around siphoning all the tears into a little jar to bring home to his boss.
“What happened next?” asks Trudeau, who’s now dressed in a short kimono and is totally willing to give you a foot rub. You need to sit down again.
“Well, Justin,” says the little man. “That’s what brought me to this impasse. There was only so long I could hide who I was. The new single, I mean, Jesus. It’s f***ed, isn’t it? It’s a meaningless void. If any song says, ‘I’m not really a rock singer at all but the tax-efficient part-proprietor of a Lithuanian shopping centre’, it’s probably that one. No. I am using this opportunity to quit the rock business forever and be open about who I truly am.”
He stands there proudly, a pencil behind his ear, his thumbs in his braces. “I’m Paul Hewson, shopkeeper, and I don’t mind who knows it.”
Everyone claps. “The other band members won’t mind?” asks Tillerson.
“God, no,” says the little Irishman. “The Edge is secretly a freelance web designer. And we had Adam and Larry killed and replaced with holograms about a decade ago.”
“So no more U2 albums?” asks the queen
“No,” says Paul Hewson, shopkeeper. “It’s all over.”
“Thank f*** for that,” they all say in unison. Then they clink their glasses and social services all over the world collapse.