Those who annoy us, we salute you

Perhaps it was the pressure of the moment, or maybe the prime ministerial stiletto is not as sharp as it was. Whatever the excuse, David Cameron’s description of Ed Balls as “the most annoying person in modern politics” has had experts in the field shaking their heads in disbelief.

A clammy, pop-eyed monster of ambition? Yes. A champion political annoyer? Surely not. The most recently updated database revealing Britain’s top 10 most annoying public figures reveals that there are several who leave Bully Balls trailing in their wake.

Most Annoying Middle Eastern Leader. In spite of strong competition from the enragingly smooth Sheikh bin Rashid al Maktoum, it is President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad Of Iran who claims the prize. Is it the beard, the cheerful smile, or the look of a lecturer at a polytechnic which annoys so effectively? The source of Mahmoud’s magic remains a mystery.

Most Annoying Literary Titan. After a long stint in the top spot, Sir Salman Rushdie makes way to the Canadian champion, Margaret Atwood. She is graceful, dignified, aware of her own significance – all useful qualities – but it is the twinkly, self-conscious sense of humour which makes a Margaret a very special talent.

Most Annoying Comedian. Harry Hill, Miranda Hart and Vic Reeves are contenders, but ever since Lembit Opik launched a career on the stand-up circuit, there could be only one winner. Opik is an irritant in the classic mould. As soon as he starts talking, people want to hit him, without quite knowing why.

Most Annoying Member of the Royal Family. Prince Andrew clings to the top spot but he will be replaced this Spring by the royal Barbie Doll Kate Middleton.

Most Annoying Football Commentator. With the welcome departure of Richard “Smasher” Keys, there is a vacancy for a new premiership irritator. Step forward, Garth Crooks. Keen, bouncy, with a puppyish anxiety to please, Garth’s niggling talent to infuriate has matured over the years.

Most Annoying Child. No real competition for the actress playing the youngest brat in Outnumbered, whose kids-say-the-darnedest-things remarks make her a representative of irritatingly cute children everywhere.

Most Annoying Actor. Fans of Dame Helen Mirren will be disappointed to hear that she has been ousted by a surprise contender, Lenny Henry. Bringing a similar mix of qualities which once served Billy Connolly so well, Lenny annoys with his voice, his capacity for on-screen tears, and his inexhaustible amusement at himself. A true all-rounder.

Most Annoying Man in Musical Theatre. A headline this week has landed one of the great irritators of our time the top spot. It read, “Andrew Lloyd Webber: I can never make love.” Even allowing every sympathy for the composer’s health problems, it is surely an affront against public decency – not to mention, an appalling assault on the imagination – for a man in his sixties to discuss publicly whether he has sex or not. Lloyd Webber’s worrying description of himself as “a ladies’ man” revealed the touch of a master.

Most Annoying Human Rights Activist. Claiming the crown yet again, it can only be Shami Chakrabarti. Charming, virtuous, sincere, always in the right, Shami is now an annoyer on the international stage.

Most Annoying Politician. It is time for Cameron to admit that the old order is changing. The great names of the past – Harriet Harman, Patricia Hewitt, Stephen Byers, even Margaret Hodge – are making way for an exciting new generation of skilled political irritants. Edging out George Osborne and Danny Alexander by sheer dint of his smug sense of certainty, the pride of the House of Commons is now Chris Huhne. He has even managed, like his near-namesake Geoff Hoon, to cultivate an irritating hairstyle.

Independent, Friday, 1 April 2011