‘People are like, Wow!’: the man trying to make condoms sexy

It is important to Ben Wilson, the man in charge of the condom brand Durex, that he chews the condoms he sells. He likes to consider their flavour, to know the sensory experience of a customer engaged in oral sex, and to think about how it could be bettered. He makes other people sample them, too. In a car on the way to the Durex condom factory on the outskirts of Bangkok, as traffic vibrated in the heat along the highway, he told me with pride about the time he had laid out rows of bananas and condoms for a gathering of senior executives at Reckitt, Durex’s parent company. “I said: ‘If you want to work on condoms you need to put a condom on that banana and taste it.’”

‘One billionaire at a time’: inside the Swiss clinics where the super-rich go for rehab

If the sky is clear, it is possible to lean out of the windows of Paracelsus Recovery, a luxury rehabilitation clinic in Zurich, and gaze along the lake to the Alps in the distance. It is the kind of view, of blue water and white peaks, that promises immediate rejuvenation, a purity close to holiness. The clinic, meanwhile, offers more elaborate treatments at a cost of between 95,000 to 120,000 Swiss francs (£85,000-£107,000) a week for the typical six- to eight-week stay.

The last phone boxes: broken glass, cider cans and – amazingly – a dial tone

There used to be a phone box at the top of my street. It stood in the middle of a traffic island, near a bin, a lamp-post and a bollard. I never questioned the presence of the phone box, just as I never questioned the presence of the bin, the lamp-post or the bollard. Often, when we passed, my daughter and I would play the phone-box game. I had to stand to one side and pretend to call the phone in the phone box, which didn’t work. She would then pretend to answer, before making a series of further calls in a complicated unfolding of phone-related business that involved making plans, changing plans and then ringing everyone she had just spoken to again to tell them she was going to be late.

Super-prime mover: Britain’s most successful estate agent

Ring ring. Gary Hersham’s phone was going, as usual. The super-prime London estate agent blew through the Mayfair office of his company, Beauchamp Estates, scattering employees behind him. As he climbed into the passenger seat of the company car, a Volkswagen Golf rather than his personal BMW, I asked where we were going. “I don’t know!” he said. He found a postcode, and announced it to the driver. Ring ring. Hersham’s mobile has the high-pitched jangle of an old-fashioned telephone at fire-alarm volume. “I didn’t ask you for that,” he roared down the phone as we sat stationary outside his office. “What makes you assume that’s what I was doing? Could I speak to Emily please?” Emily, his fantastic secretary. Ring ring. Someone else was calling. “We’ve got to wait for Marcus!”

The disastrous voyage of Satoshi, the world’s first cryptocurrency cruise ship

On the evening of 7 December 2010, in a hushed San Francisco auditorium, former Google engineer Patri Friedman sketched out the future of humanity. The event was hosted by the Thiel Foundation, established four years earlier by the arch-libertarian PayPal founder Peter Thiel to “defend and promote freedom in all its dimensions”. From behind a large lectern, Friedman – grandson of Milton Friedman, one of the most influential free-market economists of the last century – laid out his plan.

Scarlett Johansson

Hanging behind Scarlett Johansson, who’s at home in New York, is a painting by the artist Lois Dodd, once described as the most famous painter of windows in America. It’s a huge canvas, dominated by a deep purple dusk and a large clapboard house, one celebrated window lit up yellow, looming above Scarlett’s head like an idea. “I was thinking maybe I could frame it so it looks like I’m in the painting,” she says. It’s one of those mid-Zoom thoughts you have as you see yourself, yet again, pinned in the corner of a screen.

Brazilian butt lift: behind the world's most dangerous cosmetic surgery

The quest was simple: Melissa wanted the perfect bottom. In her mind, it resembled a plump, ripe peach, like the emoji. She was already halfway there. In 2018, she’d had a Brazilian butt lift, known as a BBL, a surgical procedure in which fat is removed from various parts of the body and then injected back into the buttocks. Melissa’s bottom was already rounder and fuller than before, and she was delighted by the effect, with how it made her feel and how it made her look. But it could be better. It could always be better.

Fall of the Palace of Pinks

The Wing’s branding – a curling, golden “W” – still decorates the glass front door of its grand London premises on Great Portland Street. Though the private women’s members’ club is now permanently closed, its discreet sign remains fastened to a pillar at the building’s entrance. In an upstairs window you can make out the cushioned backs of mint-green chairs and pink sofas, two gold vases holding ferns, and an elegant white-orbed lighting fixture – remnants of the club’s celebrated interior, a multi-storey pastel fantasy, which has a posthumous existence on a thousand social media feeds. The London Wing, like its 11 sister clubs across America, was a child of Instagram, every patterned tile and organised-by-colour bookshelf both inspired by photography and inviting photography.

The battle over birth

When Lacey discovered she was pregnant with her first baby, she excitedly went to see the . The event felt ceremonial, the first of many meaningful encounters that she expected to have on her way to giving birth. The doctor, whom Lacey had never met before, didn’t congratulate her. She explained that Lacey, a 35-year-old life coach in London, would hop onto a conveyor belt that would take her from appointment to appointment. At each one she would be told exactly what to do and she’d end up with a baby.

'You have to take action': one hospital cleaner’s journey through the pandemic

On 9 February, a cold, damp Sunday, an Uber pulled up to University Hospital Lewisham in south-east London and dropped off a woman who had recently returned from China. The woman walked up to the reception desk and outlined her symptoms. She was given a mask, taken to a designated area outside the A&E building and tested for coronavirus. When, three days later, the test came back positive, it confirmed what medical authorities had already suspected: this was London’s first case.

‘Feasting on fantasy’: my month of extreme immersion in Disney+

A few weeks ago, on a day that was probably like today now that the days are all frighteningly different and yet strangely the same, Disney launched Disney+, its new streaming service, in the UK. The precise date, for those that are still tracking such things, was 24 March, which was also, by coincidence, the date the British lockdown officially started. I had been waiting, impatiently, for both.

Tampon wars: the battle to overthrow the Tampax empire

The Queen of Tampons, one of several nicknames, is a jubilant woman called Melissa Suk. Four years on the throne as the associate brand director of Tampax, Suk holds court at the head office of the multinational consumer goods giant Procter & Gamble (P&G) in Cincinnati, Ohio. From there, she oversees an empire spanning 70 countries, filling bathroom cupboards in cities, towns and villages across the globe.

‘Intimate terrorism’: how an abusive relationship led a young woman to kill her partner

That day, 20 November 2014, the argument was about a hundred things, but mostly it was about cigarettes and milk. Farieissia Martin and Kyle Farrell were always arguing about something. They’d been like that ever since they first got together, aged 16. On again, then off again. Now 21, Kyle and Fri, as everyone called her, had two young daughters, but they still fought constantly. They loved each other too much, their friends said.

Margaret Atwood

In the middle of the landscape that unfolds in front of Hellens, the haunted Tudor manor house in the Herefordshire village of Much Marcle where Margaret Atwood is staying, there is an elephant waving its trunk in the air. At first glance it appears both lifelike and appropriate: why wouldn’t there be an elephant here, roaming in the long grass by the lake? In this other-worldly place there are also a pond, looming trees and a Victorian vegetable garden. Someone observes that it all feels a little Beatrix Potter, like Mr McGregor’s garden come to life. But this is not the kind of remark you can make lightly in the company of Margaret Atwood, who suggests that Mr McGregor’s garden actually had more rows, and was tidier. Soon enough she is expounding on the seduction narrative of Jemima Puddle-Duck, Potter’s influential Gothicism and the misunderstood heroism of Benjamin Bunny.

Will there ever be a cure for chronic pain?

We need pain, even if we don’t want it. Acute pain – the finger on the pin – is a defence against danger, our brain’s way of telling us to react to something that’s wrong. The rare, poor souls who suffer from congenital insensitivity to pain have a reduced life expectancy, the cumulative effect of multiple injuries and burns from infancy onwards. Pain is the natural early-warning system that keeps us alive. But the purpose of chronic pain, which scientists define as pain that lasts for more tha

Kristen Stewart

In a vast downstairs ballroom in the Shangri-La Hotel in Paris, I can hear Kristen Stewart before I see her, changing behind a patterned screen in a far corner. Her voice is distinctive – that easy, low-rolling Californian accent, where all the words run together, and she sounds like nothing could surprise her. When she finally emerges to go and have her picture taken on a balcony with the Eiffel Tower rising up behind her, she is in perfect contrast to her delicate, gilded surroundings.

Sharon Horgan

Too early on a recent Tuesday morning, in the coffee queue at her local park cafe in east London, Sharon Horgan bumps into a mum she knows. It’s the usual chat: when the children are breaking up, where they’re going on holiday, how everyone’s doing. But when the usual chat is with Sharon Horgan, it comes with a twist of self-consciousness: suddenly it sounds like dialogue lifted from Motherland, her BBC Two show whose second series she is on her way to the office to write.

‘It’s genuine, you know?’: why the online influencer industry is going ‘authentic’

In a central London hair salon last December, the fashion influencer Victoria Magrath (@inthefrow) mingled among a few of her 849,000 Instagram followers. Magrath – tall, with signature silver hair – was celebrating the launch of her book, The New Fashion Rules, at an event organised by her talent agency, Gleam Futures. She chatted easily, her high, delighted voice ringing out over the roar of the hairdryers and her manner so convincingly intimate that it was possible to think she knew her follo

Field of dreams: heartbreak and heroics at the World Ploughing Championships

On 31 August, the night before the first day of the World Ploughing Championship, the bar of the Hotel Fortuna in the small German town of Reutlingen was crammed with the global ploughing elite. The scene resembled a low-key United Nations afterparty – Swiss, Kenyans, Australians, Latvians, Canadians and French, all slugging back long glasses of German beer. The top flight of international ploughing is a limited pool, the same faces recurring every year, and so the atmosphere was jovial, like a school reunion, 50-odd ploughmen and two ploughwomen (the sport has historically been dominated by men) hailing each other affectionately across the room.
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