Will Smith and Prince William: Two men called Will, two crumbling institutions, and that ker-pow moment – Aidan Smith

Go on, admit it: just after seven o’clock yesterday morning, upon digesting the overnight news from Hollywood, you typed “Will Smith” and “open marriage” into a search engine.

Purely for research purposes, of course. These wacky actor types can do what they like. Their business is their business. But you needed to know the background to the incredible moment when the Oscars saved themselves. In the most ludicrous way imaginable. Even by La La Land standards.

For many of the previous 93 incarnations, the Academy Awards had been associated with gloopy sentimentality. Or, in the case of the notoriously blubby Gwyneth Paltrow, Goopy sentimentality. Then in the 94th, after so much crying, thanking, kissing, thanking, gushing and thanking, Smith smacked Chris Rock.

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Wow. That was the first reaction. The second was: could it possibly have been staged? The third was: either way, that’s the Oscars back on the front pages.

Will Smith, literally, hits out over Chris Rock's joke about Smith's wife (Picture: Getty Images)Will Smith, literally, hits out over Chris Rock's joke about Smith's wife (Picture: Getty Images)
Will Smith, literally, hits out over Chris Rock's joke about Smith's wife (Picture: Getty Images)

Before Sunday, the gong-giving spectacular had been destined for the obituary sections. “Roll up the red carpet for good,” ran one headline. Too boring, too preachy, too smug, too woke. The world had fallen out of love with it and TV viewing figures had fallen off a cliff. Best not to make too many plans for the centenary edition.

But Smith’s act was the most unwoke response to criticism that the ceremony had disappeared up its own backside. And in so doing – this is really bizarre – he now finds himself to be strange bedfellows with another man called Will and another crumbling institution.

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Will Smith: Oscars thrown into chaos as Will Smith hits Chris Rock on stage

Just like the Oscars, Royal tours appear to be past their sell-by date. Beyond the procession of pretty frocks – in the case of last week’s Caribbean jaunt, those worn by the Duchess of Cambridge – what are they good for? The glory days of both seem a long time ago. The world has changed. There are fewer obedient subjects around now, and fewer star-struck innocents.

But wait… Prince William, back from a bruising trip dogged by PR gaffes, is having another go at “modernising” the monarchy.

And wait… the former Fresh Prince of Bel-Air has an important message of his own: “In this time in my life, in this moment, I am overwhelmed by what God is calling on me to do.”

What, he’s saying the Almighty told him to slap Rock, the Oscars host? Who’s his God? Maybe more crucially right now, who’s his PR? And who’s in charge of image enhancement for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences – and could it be the same clowns who were supposed to be ensuring that William and Kate’s tour of Belize, Jamaica and the Bahamas involved no banana skins or dropped clangers?

In Kensington Palace and Beverly Hills right now, you can imagine the debriefs being not dissimilar in the amount of spitting rage being generated. In the former, the urgent question would be about being dressed all in white while standing on an open-top jeep and the fence which kept at bay thin black arms and how neither image constituted a good look for the monarchy.

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In the latter it would be: “We know we said the Oscars needed a bit of extra oomph this year but couldn’t we have adopted the Cambridges’ approach and got hold of some of the sea snail genitalia that Kate ate? We could have put it in everyone’s goodie bag. But whose bloody idea was it for a Best Actor (Male) nominee to march onto the stage and sock it to the master-of-cermonies?”

Did someone mention open marriage? Not on Sunday night but for the gossip-mongers in the aftermath it formed the subtext to the punch. Smith and wife Jada Pinkett Smith, who was sat next to him, have been the subject of rumour, innuendo and – as is traditional these days – social media nastiness over their alleged polyamorous state.

First of all, isn’t that everyone in Hollywood? Second of all, good luck to them, make some films about it. Third of all, is that the first time polyamorous has appeared in The Scotsman? [Hold on, I’m checking… – Ed].

Smith was angry at Rock for a joke about his wife’s close-cropped hair – she suffers from alopecia – but the questions just keep on coming. Why, on the night, was his first response to laugh while Jada groaned? Did he then feel guilty about laughing and thought he’d better make it up to the missus? And was Rock’s reaction really that of a man who never knew the blow was coming?

I tell you, I’ve seen plenty of rubbishy flicks from the great movie factory of Southern California which don’t have anything like the same amount of complexity and intrigue. And there was comedy, too, when a conveyor belt of actors queueing for the after-show parties all claimed they hadn’t seen the incident.

Thankfully Liam Payne from One Direction had been paying attention. Or maybe he was just pleased to be asked his view. “Let’s take the beauty out of it,” he told ITV’s Good Morning Britain. “We heard one of the world’s great emoters speak from the heart.”

This was a reference to Smith’s acceptance speech later. For, yes, in other news he won the Oscar for King Richard in which he plays the father of tennis superstars Serena and Venus Williams. “Art imitates life,” Smith said. “I look like the crazy father, just like they said about Richard Williams. But love will make you do crazy things.”

Crazy, and appalling. The joke was appalling and so was the response. Wait until cancel culture gets hold of Smith and Rock. But secretly, once they’ve seen the coverage, the Academy will surely be thrilled.



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