What Simon Helberg wanted to do before he got his Big Bang role

The Big Bang Theory took its final bow in May 2019, with 18 million viewers tuning in for the hit CBS comedy series’ last episode. The roommate antics of genius physicists Sheldon Cooper (Jim Parsons) and Leonard Hofstadter (Johnny Galecki) and their banter with equally zany CalTech coworkers Raj Koothrappali (Kunal Nayyar) and Howard Wolowitz (Simon Helberg) entertained audiences for more than a decade and escalated the star power of its cast. 

Helberg, who played aerospace engineer Howard on the Emmy-winning series, became a fan favorite. With his bowl haircut and tight but nerdy attire, Howard tries to make up for his lack of a doctorate degree with his confidence in attempting to pick up women. The astronaut meets his match in microbiologist Bernadette Rostenkowski (Melissa Rauch) and they eventually get hitched and have a couple of kids.

Whether it’s going into space or raising a family with Bernadette, Howard kept the laughter going onscreen with the rest of the gang. It’s hard to imagine Helberg not playing the role of Howard, but there was a change in Helberg’s past that would have had the actor hanging out with a very different group of guys. You won’t believe what Helberg wanted to do before the Big Bang.

Simon Helberg had boy band ambitions

Being the son of actor Sandy Helberg and casting director Harriet Helberg, you might expect Simon Helberg to join the family biz, but The Big Bang Theory star had other ideas. 

During a 2016 appearance on The View, Simon revealed that he wanted to join a boy band and was a huge fan of Boyz II Men and New Kids on the Block. There was just one minor problem with that dream. “I couldn’t sing,” he said. “My parents, they didn’t tell me that. They said, ‘Maybe he should start taking some lessons, some piano lessons.'” 

By his senior year of high school, Simon’s love for acting took over when he starred in a production of The Importance of Being Earnest, but those piano lessons have come in handy too. In his role in the 2016 film Florence Foster Jenkins, Simon portrays Cosmé McMoon, a pianist who plays for Jenkins (Meryl Streep), a wealthy New Yorker who wants to become a great singer, despite her lack of talent. 

Speaking of talent, Helberg will mix music and acting again as he plays a conductor in Annette. The film also stars Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard, and according to The Film Stage, approximately 95 percent of the dialogue will be sung, so we may get to hear Simon’s skills (or lack thereof) after all.

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What time do McDonald's drive-thrus open and what's on the menu?

MORE and more McDonald's drive-thrus are reopening to hungry fans following coronavirus closures.

It comes after the fast food chain closed all 1,350 UK branches on March 22.

⚠️ Read our coronavirus live blog for the latest news & updates

This week, McDonald's plans to reopen all of its 924 drive-thrus across the UK and the Republic of Ireland.

The fast food chain started by reopening 39 branches on May 20, including 33 restaurants in England and six more in the Republic of Ireland.

It then reopened 160 drive-thrus yesterday, with the remaining branches to follow today and tomorrow, June 3-4.

It's also reopened a number of restaurants for delivery via Uber Eats, you can check which branches here.

Which McDonald's restaurants are open?

MCDONALD'S has reopened the following restaurants for delivery, drive-thru or both.

Reopened on June 1 (drive-thru only)

  • Aberdeen – Kittybrewster
  • Bucksburn
  • Bridge Of Don
  • Peterhead
  • Portlethen – Asda
  • Forfar
  • Monifieth – Arbroath Road
  • Arbroath Dt
  • Leighton Buzzard
  • Bridgend – Pantruthin Farm
  • Burnley-asda
  • Congleton
  • Lymm
  • Markham Vale
  • Forth Road Bridge
  • Edinburgh – Newbridge
  • Maryhill
  • Springburn
  • Pollokshaws
  • Finnieston
  • Crow Road
  • Glasgow – Easterhouse
  • Fraddon
  • Penzance
  • Falmouth Fs
  • Newquay
  • Redruth
  • St Austell
  • Hayle
  • Truro – Maidens Green
  • Bangor-bloomfield Shopping Centre
  • Newtownards
  • Darlington – Morton Park
  • Newton Aycliffe
  • West Auckland
  • Darlington – Meynell Road
  • Crayford
  • Chesterfield D/t
  • Claycross – Derby Road
  • Newton Abbot
  • Exeter 2
  • Torquay – Hele Road
  • Paignton
  • Thorne
  • Doncaster – Centurion Retail Park
  • Dumfries
  • Morrisons – Beverley
  • Hull St Andrews Quay
  • Clifton Moor
  • Bilbrough Top
  • Willerby
  • Goole Dt
  • Ennerdale
  • Hull – Holderness Road
  • Bridlington – Bessingby Road
  • West Thurrock Fs-dt
  • Dagenham Fs-dt
  • Dagenham Ii F/s
  • Braintree
  • Newbury Park
  • Dagenham 3
  • Marks Gate
  • Stansted
  • Glenrothes 1
  • Kirkcaldy 2
  • Dunfermline 2 – Fife Leisure Park
  • Bankhead Park – Glenrothes
  • Robroyston Glasgow
  • Thornton Heath
  • Target Public House A40
  • Erith
  • Croydon Valley Park
  • Peggy Bedford
  • Southall The Broadway
  • South Harrow – Shaftesbury
  • Denham D/t
  • Andover – Weyhill
  • Andover – New Street
  • Ower
  • Hereford 2
  • Potters Bar – Metropolitan House
  • Fort William
  • Dover – Whitfield
  • Swanley
  • Chestfield D/t
  • Folkestone Sainsburys
  • Tunbridge Wells 3
  • Isle Of Sheppey
  • Dartford – Princes Road
  • Tonbridge – Cannon Lane
  • Bolton – Astley Bridge
  • China Garden
  • Middlebrook
  • Burnley – Burnham Gate
  • Bolton – Delph Hill
  • Leven – Riverside Road
  • Gainsborough
  • Colindale F/s
  • Deptford F/s
  • Forest Gate F/s
  • Old Kent Road Dt
  • Wandsworth Dt
  • Alperton
  • Streatham Place
  • Finchley Lido
  • Charlton
  • Chingford Fountain Ph
  • Catford 2 D/t
  • Friern Barnet
  • Wandsworth Road
  • Thamesmead
  • Bow – Payne Road
  • Gallions Reach Beckton
  • Sydenham
  • Woolwich – Church Street
  • Neasden Fs-dt
  • Bridgend Cowbridge Road
  • Elgin
  • Nairn
  • Irvine
  • Stevenston – Hawkhill Retail Park
  • Catterick – Garrison
  • Scarborough Fayre
  • Leeming Bar Services
  • Selby
  • Markham Moor
  • Witney
  • Banbury – Beaumont Rd
  • Banbury Gateway
  • Perth
  • Perth – Broxden
  • Rotherham – Parkgate
  • Bathgate
  • Inverness – Inshes Retail Park
  • Weston-super-mare 2
  • Worle – Weston-super-mare
  • Rotherham 2
  • Doncaster Dome
  • Doncaster – Thorne Road
  • Rotherham Bawtry Road
  • Doncaster Factory Outlet
  • Rotherham Canklow
  • Balby – Sandford Road
  • Redhouse Interchange
  • Sudbury – Retail Park
  • Cameron Park
  • Rugby – Leicester Road
  • Alcester
  • Dunchurch
  • Stratford Upon Avon
  • Livingston – Almondvale Avenue
  • Wakefield 2
  • Pontefract
  • Wakefield – Cathedral Retail Park
  • Glasshoughton
  • Wakefield – Snowhill
  • Amesbury
  • Salisbury – Southampton Road
  • Redditch – Oakenshaw
  • Redditch – Moons Moat

Reopened on June 1 (delivery-only)

  • Victoria
  • Shepherds Bush
  • Hounslow
  • Kentish Town
  • Southgate
  • Epsom
  • Walthamstow
  • Chatham
  • Enfield
  • Uxbridge
  • Acton
  • Hackney
  • Ruislip
  • Exeter
  • North Finchley
  • Ealing Broadway
  • Hammersmith 2 Broadway Centre
  • Palmers Green
  • Hanworth
  • Edgware Road
  • Seven Sisters
  • Tottenham

Reopened last month (drive-thru only)

  • Ipswich (Ranelagh Road)
  • Ipswich (Ravenswood)
  • Ipswich (Whitehouse)
  • Chelmsford (Regiment Business Park)
  • Travellers Friend (Hounslow)
  • Oldfields Road (Sutton)
  • North Cheam (Sutton)
  • Strood (Commercial Road)
  • Medway Valley Park (Rochester)
  • Medway City Estate (Rochester)
  • Bushey (Hertfordshire)
  • Staines (Two Rivers Retail Park)
  • Staines (London Road)
  • Peterborough (Boongate)
  • Peterborough (Glinton)
  • Peterborough (Hampton)
  • Peterborough (Morrisons)
  • Peterborough (Bourges Boulevard)
  • Peterborough (Eye Green)
  • Bobbing (Sheppey Way)
  • Dunstable (Luton Road)
  • Luton Retail Park (Gipsy Lane)
  • Watford (Garston)

Reopened last month (delivery only)

  • Tooting
  • Dalston
  • Welling
  • Harrow
  • Luton (George Street)

Reopened last month (drive-thru and delivery)

  • Chelmsford (Riverside)
  • Chelmsford (Westway)
  • Ipswich (Cardinal Park)
  • Boreham Interchange
  • Luton (Leagrave)
  • Luton (Chaul End Lane)
  • Watford (Hertfordshire Arms)
  • Beechings Way
  • Sittingbourne
  • Gillingham (Bowaters)

You'll need to remember to factor in a delivery charge, which varies depending on how far away from the restaurant you are.

McDonald's is also asking customers to spend no more than £25 at both drive-thrus and when ordering for home delivery to try and control high demand.

What time do McDonald's drive-thrus open?

McDonald's is currently running reduced opening times of 11am to 10pm every day.

The reduced hours are due to having less staff working in kitchens at one time.

If you're keen to pop by, make sure you're not in a rush as some customers said they had to queue for two hours.

What's on the menu?

The reduced opening hours means there are no breakfast options currently available.

McDonald's has also temporarily axed menu items such as wraps and shakes to maintain social distancing between kitchen staff.

Fortunately, plenty of fan-favourites are still available including the Big Mac and chicken nuggets – we've listed the full menu below.

In good news for fans who are missing their favourite Maccies items, McDonald's recently said it'll start extending its menu and opening hours in the coming weeks and months.

What items are included on the reduced McDonald's menu?

MCDONALD'S is currently running a reduced menu.

Here's what's being sold:

Main Menu:

  • Cheeseburger
  • Hamburger
  • Double Cheeseburger
  • Big Mac
  • Quarter Pounder with Cheese
  • McChicken Sandwich
  • Filet-O-Fish
  • Chicken McNuggets
  • Chicken Selects
  • Vegetable Deluxe
  • Veggie Dippes

Sides & Desserts:

  • Fries
  • Mozzarella Dippers
  • Core McFlurry (Oreo, Maltesers, Smarties)
  • Fruit Bag

Drinks:

  • Coke
  • Diet Coke
  • Coke Zero
  • Fanta
  • Sprite
  • Oasis
  • Black Coffee
  • White Coffee
  • Latte
  • Cappuccino
  • Espresso
  • Flat White
  • Tea
  • Orange Juice
  • Fruit Shoot
  • Water
  • Happy Meal Water

Happy Meal Variants:

  • Happy Meal – Hamburger
  • Happy Meal – Cheeseburger
  • Happy Meal – Four Nuggets
  • Happy Meal – Veggie Dippers

McDonald's reopened 44 branches for delivery and drive-thru last month.

The fast food chain was flooded with orders when it reopened the first restaurants.

McDonald's had previously warned that deliveries will take longer than usual.

CORONAVIRUS CRISIS – STAY IN THE KNOW

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'Bones': Are Emily Deschanel and David Boreanaz Still Friends?

For fans of forensic anthropology, Bones is the gold standard in television entertainment. Starring Emily Deschanel, the sister of singer/actress Zooey Deschanel, as forensic anthropologist Dr. Temperance “Bones” Brennan and David Boreanaz as Special Agent Seeley Booth, the show focused on the examination of murder victims as well as the ongoing relationship between Bones and Booth. The show earned numerous comparisons to The X-Files over the years and has become almost as enduring. Fans still love the TV show to this day and often wonder whether longtime co-stars Deschanel and Boreanaz are still close. 

When did ‘Bones’ premiere on television?

RELATED: 8 TV Shows That Worked in Real-Life Pregnancies

Bones first debuted on television in late 2005. Based on a series of popular novels, Bones primarily followed the life and exploits of Dr. “Bones” Brennan, although as the series went on, it concentrated equally on Agent Booth.

The show incorporated a lot of dark comedy, scientific processes, and the issue of spiritualism. Brennan and Booth also became the subject of an intense “will-they won’t-they” relationship, with fans speculating about whether the two would end up getting together.

Bones featured a roster of supporting actors and guest stars, including Michaela Conlin, John Boyd, John Francis Daley, and Jonathan Adams. Although the show was a bit slow to start, it ended up becoming critically acclaimed and won numerous awards and nominations, including two Emmy nominations and multiple People’s Choice Award nominations. 

‘Bones’ ended in 2017

Similar to The X-Files, Bones has spawned a wealth of spinoff materials, including books and a miniseries, called Bones: Skeleton Crew. Fans loved the expanded materials, but not as much as they loved the series itself.

Many young women, in particular, idolized the character of Dr. “Bones” Brennan and enjoyed her serious, no-nonsense nature. Brennan’s lack of traditional social skills was a frequent source of humor in the show and served as a way to make her slightly less intimidating.

As for Boreanaz’s character, Agent Booth, he was equally beloved by fans. A skilled FBI investigator and interrogator, Booth is confused by Brennan at first, but their relationship quickly evolves into a close camaraderie. The two share many intimate moments over the course of the series run, discussing everything from deep spiritual topics to subjects related to family and romance in the workplace.

In early 2017, Bones ended its run on television, bringing an end to a particularly intriguing chapter in TV history. To this day, fans continue to binge-watch the show and to speculate about the possibility of it one day returning in some form. 

Are Emily Deschanel and David Boreanaz friends today?

After Bones stopped airing on television, both Emily Deschanel and Boreanaz went on to other projects. Both stars have enjoyed a great deal of success in their personal and professional lives, with Deschanel married and a mother of two and Boreanaz also happily married with two children of his own.

Deschanel has appeared on television shows such as Animal Kingdom and has lent her voice to several animated programs, including The Simpsons. Boreanaz has carved out a very impressive post-Bones career and has been appearing on the series SEAL Team for several years. 

As for the relationship that the former co-stars share today, they are reportedly still good friends. Deschanel revealed in a 2019 interview that David Boreanaz was one reason why she has such “fondness” regarding her memories of filming.

“We had a great relationship,” said the actress. “We would laugh about a million things and he became like a brother and played jokes on me and stuff. He was more of the mischievous one of the two of us for sure, but we had a lot of good times together.”

Deschanel didn’t reveal whether the two still talk regularly, but it seems clear that they certainly hold on to the great memories that they share from filming Bones

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21 Inspirational Mental Health Quotes

One of the biggest threats to our mental health is the stigma surrounding it—nearly one in five American adults lives with a mental illness, but the topic is all too often met with silence and shame.

But as these mental health quotes help demonstrate, we can change that. Talking openly about mental health destroys dangerous taboos, normalizes treatment, and reminds us that we are never truly alone in our suffering.

Here are 21 seriously inspirational mental health quotes—from Hollywood actors, pop stars, best-selling authors, psychologists, world leaders, and more—that prove the power we gain from speaking out.

Oprah Winfrey on the importance of conversation

“I'm a good talker,” the cultural icon and media mogul wrote on oprah.com. “But I soon learned that you can't talk someone out of depression. Mental illness is real. And like everything else in life, it operates on a spectrum. Though there are common symptoms, everyone experiences it differently. Yet so many people live in shame, hiding their struggles, not seeking help. We, as a culture, have not fully acknowledged how much help is needed. The only real shame is on us for not being willing to speak openly. For continuing to deny that mental health is related to our overall health. We need to start talking, and we need to start now.”

Lady Gaga on asking for help

“If you see somebody that's hurting, don't look away,” the pop icon said during the 2019 Grammys while accepting an award for "Shallow" from A Star Is Born. “And if you're hurting, even though it might be hard, try to find that bravery within yourself to dive deep and go tell somebody and take them up in your head with you."

Edith Eva Eger on validating your pain

“There is no hierarchy of suffering,” the psychologist and Auschwitz survivor wrote in her 2017 memoir, The Choice: Embrace the Possible. “There’s nothing that makes my pain worse or better than yours, no graph on which we can plot the relative importance of one sorrow versus another.”

Barack Obama on combating stigma

“The brain is a body part too; we just know less about it,” the former president said during a national conference on mental health in 2013. “And there should be no shame in discussing or seeking help for treatable illnesses that affect too many people that we love. We've got to get rid of that embarrassment; we've got to get rid of that stigma. Too many Americans who struggle with mental health illnesses are still suffering in silence rather than seeking help, and we need to see it that men and women who would never hesitate to go see a doctor if they had a broken arm or came down with the flu, that they have that same attitude when it comes to their mental health.”

Beyoncé on guilt-free self-care

“Women have to take the time to focus on our mental health—take time for self, for the spiritual, without feeling guilty or selfish,” the icon told Elle in 2016. “The world will see you the way you see you, and treat you the way you treat yourself.”

Arianna Huffington on self-awareness

“Learning to build self-awareness is so important,” the author and businesswoman wrote for Fortune last year. “When we know ourselves—the sources of our stress, how we respond, and what actions help us recharge—we’re far better able to minimize the damage. We can’t eliminate stress, but we can learn to manage it.

J.K. Rowling on pride in overcoming depression

“I have never been remotely ashamed of having been depressed. Never,” the Harry Potter series author told a student journalist in 2008. “What’s to be ashamed of? I went through a really rough time, and I am quite proud that I got out of that.”

Troian Bellisario on normalizing your emotions

"It’s totally normal for you to feel like some days you might be overwhelmingly sad, or some days you might be very angry,” the Pretty Little Liars actor said in a 2019 video for Child Mind Institute’s #MyYoungerSelf campaign. "Some days you might be really happy, and all of these feelings are real, and they’re legitimate, and they’re yours. And you just need to give them time and space. You don’t need to feel like you need to hide them or you need to push them away, because they’re your feelings and you are an incredible person, you’re a sensitive person, and there’s space for them.”

Terri Cheney on how to talk about mental illness

“After a lifetime of living with a mental illness, I’ve discovered that the most helpful thing someone can say to me when I’m suffering is ‘Tell me where it hurts,’” the author told Glamour last year. “I don’t want advice. I don’t want to be cheered up. I just want to be listened to and truly heard. The pain is much more bearable when I’m allowed to open up and share it.”

Tracy Clayton on anxiety

“Before I was formally introduced to my anxiety, I called it by a bunch of other names—nervousness, weakness, timidity,” the writer and podcast host shared in a 2015 essay for BuzzFeed. “Employers called it laziness, distractedness, and ‘not being a team player.’ My ex called it clinginess. My mother called it oversensitivity and immaturity. But we were all wrong, and learning that we were all wrong, that there was an actual medical thing going on, overwhelmed me because it meant that it wasn’t a tornado of character flaws that landed me where I was. The problem was not that I simply chose not to be ‘normal,’ that I allowed my fears, baseless as they may have been, to conquer and dictate so much of my life. The problem was my brain. It was a chemical imbalance, something physical, not imagined.”

Nikki Webber Allen on the power of feelings

“Having feelings isn't a sign of weakness,” the producer and activist said in a 2017 TED Talk. “Feelings mean we're human. And when we deny our humanity, it leaves us feeling empty inside, searching for ways to self-medicate in order to fill the void…. These days I share my story openly, and I ask others to share theirs too. I believe that's what it takes to help people who may be suffering in silence to know that they are not alone and to know that with help, they can heal.”

Matt Haig on resiliency

“And one night I lay awake, feeling less than happy. I started to worry. The worries spiraled,” the author wrote in his 2015 book Reasons to Stay Alive, which chronicles his struggle with depression. “And for three weeks I was trapped in my own mind again. But this time I had weapons. One of them, maybe the most important, was this knowledge: I have been ill before, then well again. Wellness is possible.”

Anne Hathaway on collective suffering

“We all walk around sometimes feeling like we have an elephant on our chest, but we’re not alone,” the actor said in an interview with Glamour last year. “And we’re not less than because of that. We’re not unlovable because of that.”

Jon Hamm on the benefits of therapy

“Medical attention is medical attention whether it’s for your elbow or for your teeth or for your brain,” the actor said in a 2017 interview with InStyle. “And it’s important. We live in a world where to admit anything negative about yourself is seen as a weakness, when it’s actually a strength. It’s not a weak move to say, ‘I need help.’ In the long run it’s way better, because you have to fix it.”

Carrie Fisher on bipolar disorder

“One of the things that baffles me (and there are quite a few) is how there can be so much lingering stigma with regards to mental illness, specifically bipolar disorder,” the late actor wrote in her 2008 book Wishful Drinking. “In my opinion, living with manic depression takes a tremendous amount of balls. Not unlike a tour of Afghanistan (though the bombs and bullets, in this case, come from the inside). At times, being bipolar can be an all-consuming challenge, requiring a lot of stamina and even more courage, so if you're living with this illness and functioning at all, it's something to be proud of, not ashamed of.”

Fred Rogers on talking about your feelings

“Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable,” the children’s TV host said, according to the 2005 book Life's Journeys According to Mister Rogers. “When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary. The people we trust with that important talk can help us know that we are not alone.”

Selena Gomez on destigmatizing therapy

"I wish more people would talk about therapy,” the actor and singer told Vogue in 2017. “We girls, we're taught to be almost too resilient, to be strong and sexy and cool and laid-back, the girl who's down. We also need to feel allowed to fall apart.”

Shaun David Hutchinson on depression

“You may have depression, but you are not depression. Stop telling yourself you are,” the writer shared in an essay published in the 2018 book (Don’t) Call Me Crazy: 33 Voices Start the Conversation About Mental Health. “Wake up every day and tell yourself that your thoughts and your words belong to you. No one is allowed to undermine who you are by defining you on their terms. Depression is a disease, a collection of symptoms. It is not a human being. It is not a person.”

Kristen Bell on the power of communal action

“We’re all on team human here, and let’s be honest—it’s not an easy team to be on,” the actor wrote in a 2016 essay published by Time magazine's Motto section. “It’s stressful and taxing and worrisome, but it’s also fulfilling and beautiful and bright. In order for all of us to experience the full breadth of team human, we have to communicate. Talking about how you’re feeling is the first step to helping yourself. Depression is a problem that actually has so many solutions. Let’s work together to find those solutions for each other and cast some light on a dark situation.”

Rachel Griffin on acceptance

“Dear Person With Mental Illness,” the musician, songwriter, and mental health advocate wrote in an open letter published by The Huffington Post in 2015. “You are not a monster. You are a valuable, unique, wonderful human being who deserves everything grand that this life has to offer. Come out of the shadows and stand proudly in who you are. You are not damaged. You are whole, regardless of having a mental illness. I like you the way you are. I wouldn't change you. I see you differently than you see yourself. I am not afraid of you or your illness…I am amazed by you. I am amazed by your courage, willpower, gifts, and talents. I accept you, and your worlds of light and darkness.”

David D. Burns on avoiding labels

“Labeling yourself is not only self-defeating; it is irrational,” the psychiatrist wrote in his book Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy, first published in 1980. “Your self cannot be equated with any one thing you do. Your life is a complex and ever-changing flow of thoughts, emotions, and actions. To put it another way, you are more like a river than a statue. Stop trying to define yourself with negative labels—they are overly simplistic and wrong.”

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Top lawyer Richard Henriques details the flaws of Operation Midland

There was not a scintilla of evidence for ‘Nick’s’ vile claims so why did the Met lap them up? Top lawyer RICHARD HENRIQUES details the flaws of Operation Midland, the probe into a ‘VIP paedophile ring’ at the heart of the British establishment

Sir Richard Henriques, one of Britain’s most distinguished lawyers, played a leading role in some of the most notorious trials in recent years. Now retired as a High Court judge, his is a unique insight into the inner workings of our justice system. In the first extract from his new book, From Crime To Crime, in Saturday’s Mail, Sir Richard gave a gripping account of his role in the trial of Dr Harold Shipman who murdered at least 215 of his patients.

Today, he details his review into the multiple failings of Operation Midland, the investigation by the Metropolitan Police into alleged sexual assaults by famous public figures.  

Four years ago I was called out of retirement as a High Court judge to conduct a review into the shocking failings of Operation Midland, the investigation by the Metropolitan Police into alleged sexual assaults, torture and even murder by a circle of abusers in high places — politicians, generals and a former prime minister among them.

The police launched it on the strength of accusations made by a liar and fantasist known as ‘Nick’, real name Carl Beech — now serving 18 years in prison, having been found guilty of 12 counts of perverting the course of justice, one of fraud, and several child sexual offences.

The question I was asked to resolve was how the Met had come to believe him and then, on his say-so alone, cruelly expose a number of very eminent, innocent individuals to vile and false accusations.

Sir Richard Henriques (pictured) was called out of retirement four years ago to review the failings in Operation Midland, where several key public figures were accused of paedophilia

In late 2014, Carl Beech (pictured), who went by the name of ‘Nick’ said that he and several others had been abused by important figures such as Sir Edward Heath and several MPs between the ages of 7 and 16. These allegations turned out to be incredibly false

Within hours of beginning to read the documentation about the lengthy police operation, it was obvious to me that ‘Nick’ was not only a serial liar but that his allegations were manifestly incredible.

In a nutshell, the 51-year-old Beech/Nick alleged that between the ages of seven and 16 he had been collected by car from his various schools in the country and driven to London, where he and other young boys were raped, burned, stabbed and tortured.

Among his abusers, he said, were Sir Edward Heath; Lord Brittan, former Home Secretary; Lord Bramall, former Chief of General Staff; Maurice Oldfield, former head of MI6; Lord Janner, a former Labour MP; Jimmy Savile; and former Conservative MP Harvey Proctor, who supposedly murdered two children in Nick’s presence and organised the killing of a third.

The offences were committed in the Carlton Club or in the apartment block in Pimlico called Dolphin Square. Afterwards, Nick would be returned by car to his home, where he lived alone with his mother.

Retired senior British Army officer and former Chief of General Staff Lord Bramall (pictured) was one of the men accused by ‘Nick’

He had originally made allegations to Wiltshire Police, who had interviewed him but concluded he lacked credibility. His mother was also questioned and told them she had no knowledge of any unauthorised absence from school and had never seen any bloodstained underwear or similar sign of sexual abuse.

Yet for some reason the Met officers listening to his allegations were not provided with these earlier interviews and therefore missed the numerous inconsistencies. 

For example, to Wiltshire Police he stated that the first Army officer who raped him was an unnamed Lieutenant-Colonel, but to the Met he said it was General Bramall. 

To the Wiltshire Police he said names were never used while to the Met he named nine individuals.

To the Wiltshire Police he stated he had been taken to different hotels including the Hilton on Park Lane; to the Met, he gave the venues as Dolphin Square and the Carlton Club.

In my judgment, such inconsistencies alone rendered his allegations incredible. Yet the Met’s investigation continued for 16 months, in a disordered and chaotic manner and littered with mistakes.

They failed to ask Nick for his computers or mobile phone. They ignored the fact that his medical records disclosed no injury consistent with his allegations in his personal online blog that his feet were stabbed and burned, poppies pinned to his bare chest and numerous bones broken.

They had no regard to the inherent improbability of men of the highest standing and impeccable character having behaved in the manner alleged.

Instead the police made a public appeal for information, with a senior officer, Detective Superintendent Kenny McDonald, standing outside New Scotland Yard and telling a press conference that they believed Nick’s allegations to be both ‘credible and true’.

Detective Superintendent Kenny McDonald said in a press conference outside New Scotland Yard that he believed Beech’s allegations to be true

The words should never have been uttered, and the officer himself later admitted they were inappropriate, saying he selected the wrong words in the heat of an interview. 

But there was no correction for many months, by which time, as we will see below, two completely bogus potential witnesses had come forward with more lies purporting to support ‘Nick’.

I remain at a loss to understand how McDonald and Deputy Assistant Commissioner Steve Rodhouse, the commander of Operation Midland, could possibly have believed Nick, given that neither had ever met him. His credibility had not been established and there was not a scintilla of evidence to support his allegations.

Yet, despite this, warrants were sought from a district judge to search the homes of Lord Bramall, Harvey Proctor and the recently deceased Lord Brittan, on the grounds that ‘the victim has been interviewed at length by experienced officers from the child abuse investigation team. His account has remained consistent and he is felt to be a witness who is telling the truth’.

Former Home Secretary Lord Brittan (pictured), who died in 2015, was another person ‘Nick’ accused of sexual abuse. His home, along with Lord Bramall’s, were searched following the claims 

The claim of consistency simply wasn’t true. As a result, I believe those warrants were obtained unlawfully and that the judge who granted them was misled, as he himself has confirmed.

The application form for a search warrant contains a paragraph headed ‘Duty of Disclosure’. It asks if the applicant is aware of ‘anything that might reasonably call into question the credibility of information you have received, and explain why you have decided that the information still can be relied on’.

The letters ‘N/A’ for ‘not applicable’ appeared in the box beneath those words. This constituted a gross failure of duty to the court because it failed to make the following disclosures.

1. That no witness had come forward to support Nick’s allegations despite extensive media coverage.

2. There was no evidence that ‘Fred’, asserted by Nick to be his companion at times of abuse, had ever existed.

3. Every boy named ‘Scott’ at Nick’s primary school, alleged by Nick to have been murdered by Proctor, had been found alive. No victim of any murder had been either identified or proven to have existed.

4. Nick’s blogs and his interviews with Wiltshire Police were inconsistent with his Met interviews.

In written submissions to me for my review of the operation, DAC Rodhouse conceded that a number of these undermining factors should have been disclosed. He also wrote that ‘before applying for the warrants, we fully recognised aspects of the investigation were not borne out by our investigation’.

I am quite satisfied not only that there were no reasonable grounds for believing any indictable offence had been committed but that senior officers did not believe there were. Had they believed reasonable grounds really did exist, I have no doubt Proctor would have been arrested since he was allegedly a serial child murderer at large.

But the judge took the officers at their word and, having obtained the warrants, the police went into action, with searches taking place at the homes in question.

Lord Bramall was 91 and his wife was terminally ill at the time. Twenty-two officers spent ten hours in their home looking for material relating to the abuse of children.

Lady Brittan, whose husband had died only weeks earlier, was never told the purpose of the search but officers showed particular interest in the garden, conveying the impression to the housekeeper that a body or body parts had been buried.

Nick also accused former Conservative MP Harvey Proctor of murdering two children in Nick’s presence and organising the killing of a third

Harvey Proctor’s home and office were searched by 15 officers for some 15 hours and laptop computers, hard drives, DVDs and other materials seized.

In all cases, nothing of significance was found. But the police raids quickly became public knowledge, adding to the distress of those affected. Proctor, for example, lost both his home and his job on the Belvoir estate.

The publicity, along with the earlier ‘credible and true’ pronouncement, was such that in September 2015, two potential witnesses came forward, known as A and B.

There was plainly no truth in the allegations they made. One had a history of giving false information about being systematically abused by a paedophile ring. He also had convictions for sexual offences against children, fraud and theft. Manifestly his evidence was worthless and fraudulent.

The other also had convictions for theft, fraud and violence, and his own brother, a clergyman, described him as a prolific liar. When police showed B an album of photos, he was unable to identify any suspect, but did select other photos chosen at random.

Operation Midland officers readily agreed that A and B had deliberately lied, but still the main investigation continued, even though, as the months passed, the mendacity of Nick became increasingly obvious.

(In my review of the operation, I recommended that A and B should be prosecuted for perverting the course of justice and wasting police time, but this has never happened.)

A shameful low point was reached when Lord Bramall, a war hero, former head of the British Army and a Knight of the Garter who many think the most distinguished living Englishman, was humiliatingly interviewed under caution as if he were a common criminal.

Lord Bramall (pictured) was interviewed in the same way as a common criminal would during the investigation

As I watched the video recording of that interview, I was angered and saddened in equal measure. 

Angered that our criminal justice process could treat this man such a way, when it was blindingly obvious that ‘Nick’ was a liar. Saddened that such a fine man in his 92nd year should be exposed to such a degrading ordeal, having given so much for his country.

On May 20, 2015, over six months after the investigation was opened, a statement was most belatedly taken by the Met from Nick’s mother. In it she said that she had no impression that her son was unhappy or that anything was wrong with him.

She did not remember ever seeing her son inexplicably dishevelled, dirty or smelly. 

If he had been taken away by men for any period of time and abused and returned a matter of hours later, she was surprised that she would not have smelled it or sensed it on him. 

The only injury spoken of in her statement was her son chipping a bone in his ankle on a skiing holiday. 

The first she heard of any Westminster paedophile ring was when she saw a profile of ‘Nick’ on television in November 2014.

It struck me as absurd that interviewing Lord Bramall under caution had taken precedence over interviewing Nick’s mother.

Harvey Proctor was similarly interviewed and at one point shown a penknife with which he had apparently threatened to cut off Nick’s genitals — until Edward Heath had intervened and stopped him!

He told the officers that ‘the fantasy gets bigger by the minute’ and asked his interrogators when they were going to wake up and realise they were being taken for a ride by Nick.

And yet the charade went on. Police decided to put off any medical examination of Nick on the grounds that it would be ‘intrusive’ and might damage their relationship with him.

For the same reason they did not ask to examine his computer, which was plainly wrong and delayed the closure of this investigation by several months.

They even found ‘Aubrey’, whom Nick had said was present when he was abused, but Aubrey said he had not seen anything sexual. 

Nick’s explanation for this anomaly was that he had used the name Aubrey in place of the real victim, ‘Fred’. Steps were then taken to trace Fred, without success.

Nick now stopped turning up for meetings and was beginning to disengage from the investigation. He had just received £22,000 from the Criminal Compensation Board for his supposed injuries. It is remarkable that no one contemplated the possibility he had perpetrated a fraud.

Bit by bit, however, Operation Midland was unravelling. The CPS, the Crown Prosecution Service, had misgivings and was highly unlikely to bring any prosecutions as a result of Nick’s allegations, because of suspicions that the police had too readily accepted his account.

Finally, in March 2016, the investigation was closed down. But even then the Met issued a press statement insisting that its officers had not found evidence to prove they were knowingly misled by Nick.

This statement was unfair to every one of those persons he named, especially Lord Bramall and Harvey Proctor.

There was in fact an abundance of evidence, and to say otherwise was simply false. This was a shabby end to a reprehensible investigation.

The question remains, how was it possible for the Met to believe Nick?

‘Nick’ was sentenced to 18 years in prison after being found guilty of 12 counts of perverting the course of justice, one of fraud, and several child sexual offences

It has been said he was a good liar but he wasn’t. He was only a good liar if the Met interviews are read in total isolation. They weren’t consistent with what he’d told Wiltshire Police or with his own blogs.

But those interviewing him in London were not supplied with the Wiltshire interviews and so did not contrast them.

The operation commander, DAC Rodhouse, told me that he did not read the Wiltshire interviews, but was informed of their content by more junior officers. I have been told this is standard practice within the Met, but I cannot accept it is good practice.

Had he read the interviews himself, I am quite sure this investigation would have been short-lived.

In my report, I concluded that Operation Midland was a grossly incompetent investigation, as a result of poor judgment and a failure to evaluate known facts accurately.

I found the most significant error was the deception of the district judge over the issuing of search warrants. DAC Rodhouse was fully appraised of every undermining factor and should never have given the authority for the applications to be made.

I called for a ‘rigorous investigation’ of this aspect of the case. 

I was assured by the then Met Commissioner, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe — who had commissioned my review — that it would be referred to the Independent Police Complaints Commission. 

I handed my report to him confident that a full and proper investigation would take place.

Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Hower (pictured) assured Sir Richard that his review would be referred to the Independent Police Complaints Commission

DAC Rodhouse and DSU McDonald were referred to the IPCC but the process was unreasonably protracted, the lead investigator had no education in, or sufficient knowledge of, the criminal law, and a conclusion was reached that no competent tribunal could have come to.

They were exonerated by the IPCC without interview. No single question was asked of the officers authorising the warrants despite there being reasonable grounds to believe a criminal offence had been committed.

I remain firmly of the view that one or more of them either perverted the course of justice and/or committed misconduct in public office in the obtaining of the search warrants.

In total five Operation Midland officers were referred to the Independent Office for Police Conduct for investigation for possible misconduct, and all were exonerated.

The Met paid compensation amounting to £700,000 to those falsely accused, but the money was not the point, set against the misery and distress heaped upon them and their families.

They — and the public — deserve better. 

Adapted from From Crime To Crime by Sir Richard Henriques, published by Hodder on June 4 at £25.

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America begins to unlock for summer – but is it inviting a disastrous second wave?

Monday is Memorial Day – the traditional start of the American summer. Shutters are going up, doors are being unlocked, barriers removed. Every state is relaxing quarantine rules to some extent, betting that the country finally has Covid-19 under control.

There are signs that for some Americans quarantine fatigue is overcoming fear of infection. With the economy reeling, others have dismissed the pandemic as a political plot – for them relaxing quarantine rules can’t come soon enough. But people on the front line are worried, and experts warn the outbreak has proved a “trust-destroying disaster” that could have devastating consequences.

No masks allowed: stores turn customers away in US culture war

On Friday, White House coronavirus taskforce member Dr Anthony Fauci said new localized outbreaks were “inevitable” as mitigation measures are relaxed. He said a full-blown second wave could be avoided if the holy grail of containment measures – testing, quarantine and contact tracing – continued to be adhered to.

Fauci said he was hopeful that the US would be ready, though a recent study by Harvard University found that only nine states were conducting, or near to conducting, the minimum recommended testing. Hours after Fauci spoke, Donald Trump ignored health guidance and ordered houses of worship to open for in-person services at the weekend.

These disparate responses to the pandemic are not just happening in the White House, but across America.

After 51 days on lockdown, Minnesota ended its statewide stay-at-home order on Monday. A new order, dubbed “Stay Safe MN”, will allow more flexibility and social interaction amid the pandemic.

For nurses in Minneapolis, it’s too soon. In emotional testimony at the state Capitol last week, they told lawmakers they feared that a surge in cases would cost more lives, including those of health workers.

A surge of Covid-19 infections would exhaust the state’s personal protection equipment (PPE) supplies, warned Mary Turner, a critical care nurse at North Memorial Health Hospital and president of the Minnesota Nurses Association.

“We are approaching the surge point very fast,” Turner said.

Some 17,700 cases have been reported in the state, and 777 deaths. It is far from the worst outbreak in the US – but numbers are still rising. In the meantime, hospitals have been reusing N95 masks that technically expired in 2001 and 2002. Supplies of gowns ran so short last month that some local hospitals ordered rain ponchos as a backup.

Even governor Tim Walz believes worse is to come. “It is going to get worse here before it gets better. That is an absolute guarantee,” Walz, a Democrat, told reporters as he outlined his cautious reopening plan.

Social scientists at Northwestern University have surveyed 200 people per day since mid-March, and have found that unlike in other disasters, the US is not unifying in response to this crisis.

“It has been a solidarity- and trust-destroying disaster,” said Beth Redbird, the primary researcher. “We usually see disasters as unifying. They bring us together, they unite us, they increase support for our neighbors, to help each other out. But while we see anecdotal stories of that in the press, we haven’t actually seen a lot of data supporting that that’s what’s going on.”

The majority of Americans still seem to oppose Trump’s attempts to downplay the crisis. Northwestern’s surveys last week showed 64% of people are still in support of stay-at-home orders, and they are mostly avoiding seeing friends and eating out at restaurants.

But while Northwestern’s survey found 86% said they trusted scientists to tell them what to eat for a healthy diet, those who said they trust a scientist to tell them how Covid-19 works was only at 55%.

‘Like adding kindling to embers’

We have been here before. The threats of a second wave were borne out in the 1918 influenza pandemic, in which a third of the world’s population were infected with the virus.

The spread was successfully curtailed in San Francisco thanks to the prompt implementation of mitigation measures including a city-wide shutdown and requirement to wear masks in public.

As the infection rate dwindled, city leaders relaxed the lockdown measures in November 1918; bars, restaurants and sports arenas reopened, and people poured out onto the streets in celebration, tossing their masks in the process. A month later, the second wave hit San Francisco, but this time much of the public – including the Anti-Mask League – resisted public health mandates. The city ended up with nearly 45,000 cases and over 3,200 reported deaths. San Francisco ended up being one of the country’s worst-hit major cities.

Stephen Morse, director of the infectious disease epidemiology program at Columbia University medical center, said as long as the virus is circulating in humans, there will be flare-ups as soon as it’s introduced to a street, town or county with enough susceptible people.

“It’s like adding kindling to embers,” said Morse.

Whether these inevitable localized outbreaks are contained or will multiply depends on the golden trio of testing, quarantine and contact tracing. If enough places implement these measures comprehensively, the chain of transmission could be broken, and the flare-ups snuffed out.

“We don’t know what’s going to happen next, we have to proceed with caution and we could get lucky,” Morse said. “The big fear is that with the virus still in circulation, if we allow it to have unfettered access to people, then we certainly have the makings of a second pandemic of even larger proportions.”

It’s not all about timing. The country’s patchwork response to the outbreak has also played an important role – and will likely continue to do so.

“For the first time in my lifetime, there’s been an almost total lack of global coordination and US federal leadership, whose confusing and contradictory messages have been counterproductive and very destructive,” Morse said.

‘To think the virus has changed is a fantasy’

It’s unclear whether the US has even fully emerged from the first wave, but the virus remains as infectious and lethal as it was when it emerged.

And the conditions that have left low-income groups, communities of colour and Native Americans the hardest-hit remain, with infections and complications including death.

“To think the virus must have changed just because we’re tired of being at home is almost a fantasy,” said Chandra Ford, founding director of the center for the study of racism, social justice and health at UCLA’s Jonathan and Karin Fielding school of public health.

Ford warned subsequent outbreaks are likely to disproportionately affect these same communities.

“The US response to the pandemic at the federal level has lacked a meaningful public health response,” said Ford. “So it’s not surprising that the push to reopen isn’t driven by public health indicators. In fact, it appears to be driven against public health indicators, in the interest of political or economic gains.”

From the beginning, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s most basic guidelines to stem the spread of Covid-19 ran up against some fundamental injustices in the US system. Workers are not guaranteed paid sick leave and healthcare is not universal.

Prisons, meatpacking plants and nursing homes have seen a disproportionate amount of cases. In New York City, the impact has overwhelmingly been felt in poorer communities where mostly immigrants and people of color live.

“Historical and current experiences of discrimination and medical racism provide fodder for people to be willing to accept explanations that are not true,” Ford said. “Trust matters tremendously. Mistrust of healthcare providers and public health messages will fuel the pandemic itself and disparities in the pandemic.”

In Georgia, one of the first states to start reopening, even business owners are worried.

Brian Maloof, owner of the Atlanta’s famous Manuel’s Tavern, said: “The attitude is that it’s too early to open with the population density. This is where the predominance of the cases are.”

He lives in the outskirts of the city and said there, parking lots are jammed with cars and people are packing into shopping malls and restaurants. He doesn’t expect the same crush of people inside the city. Maloof said: “There is a tremendous amount of fear here in Atlanta.”

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Meet Pixie – the dog who can do CPR

Tania Butler wanted to teach her dog a new trick during lockdown and she came up with something a little different from the traditional fetch command.

The senior shelter officer, 35, managed to teach the Boxer how to do CPR.

It took her just a few training sessions to learn the incredible trick.

Now when Tania lies motionless on the floor, and is unresponsive, Pixie will leap into action and pound on her chest in exactly the right place.

Tania had to start putting a book under her top during training, to stop her hitting her so hard.

Tania said she taught her the trick just for the fun of it during lockdown – but hopes she’d be able to help save a life now if she needed to.

Tania, of Waikato, New Zealand, said: ‘I wanted to teach her a new trick, she knows quite a few and wanted to do something a bit different.

‘She knows all her basic commands, competitive obedience, hungry hippos, jenga, back stall, arm jumps.

‘Pixie is so very smart and insanely easy to teach, she loves her trick training.’

Tania saw it in a routine created by Lusy Imbergerova and her dog Deril do at Crufts 2017.

So she started teaching Pixie in April and said it only took the pooch two or three training sessions of about 15 minutes each, to master it.

Alongside Pixie, Tania has five other dogs – another two boxers, a pitbull, American bully and an American staffordshire terrier.

She added: ‘I just love the company of the dogs, they are real characters, and always make me laugh and cry too sometimes.

‘I love training with them it brings me such joy and to see them have a love of what they do.

‘Only a few of my dogs compete as the others are just not into and that’s fine, they still amazing pets and the best cuddlers.

‘I love taking them out on new adventures weather it be the forest or beach – I love my pack.’

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Federal judge orders hold on DOJ’s move to drop Michael Flynn criminal case

A federal judge on Tuesday reportedly ordered a hold on the Justice Department’s move to drop its case against former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn in anticipation of potential challenges to the dismissal.

US District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan of Washington, DC, issued the order, according to The Washington Post, saying he expects legal experts and other groups will want to argue against the Justice Department’s decision.

The judge did not set a time for possible challengers, but said he will do so “at the appropriate time,” the report said.

In late 2017, Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to FBI agents about two contacts with then-Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

He sought to change his plea last January when he got a new legal team, accusing federal prosecutors of setting him up.

The Justice Department filed court papers last week to drop the case against Flynn, arguing that the FBI’s interview was “untethered to, and unjustified by, the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation into Mr. Flynn” and was “conducted without any legitimate investigation.”

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‘Be Like Mike’ jingle almost didn’t happen, says creator

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NEW YORK — “The Last Dance,” ESPN’s docuseries detailing the 1998 and final season of the Chicago Bulls championship dynasty, has served as a reminder to basketball fans of the greatness of Michael Jordan on the court. While it’s showcased Jordan’s dominance between baselines, it’s also shed light on his worldwide marketing allure.

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Although the Hall-of-Famer starred in many memorable commercials throughout the 1990s for major brands such McDonald’s “Nothing But Net” spot and Nike’s “Failure” ad, one of his most famous may be Gatorade’s “Be Like Mike” commercial.

WHAT IS MICHAEL JORDAN'S NET WORTH?

But if it weren’t inadvertently for the Walt Disney corporation, the melodic jingle would’ve never been made.

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“My whole goal in advertising, I told my wife right when I got into it, was I just wanted to create a little sliver of pop culture somewhere along the line,” said Bernie Pitzel, the advertising executive who created the song. “Everybody knows I’ve been saying that for years. And they go, ‘Well, I think you did it’.”

In 1992, Pitzel was working for Chicago-based ad agency Bayer Bess Vanderwarker and tasked with overseeing a spot for Jordan that they had already created. Pitzel thought it was lackluster and too similar to Jordan’s early Nike commercials.

But he became inspired as his children watched Disney’s 1967 film “The Jungle Book.” After changing a few lines of the song “I Wanna Be Like You” and presenting a mock-up, all parties settled on his idea.

WHY DID MICHAEL JORDAN RETIRE IN 1993?

After filming visuals for the commercial, there was one last hurdle to cross: convincing Disney to allow them to use the “Jungle Book” music; Pitzel said they wanted too much money to approve it (a rep for Disney said they could not confirm Pitzel’s account as it was decades ago).

With the season scheduled to start soon and the agency unsure of the next move, Pitzel went to a favorite restaurant where he frequently brainstormed. He jotted down the lyrics for the jingle on a paper tablecloth, and then faxed a few music production houses while still at the restaurant. He settled on a melody the next day with the music and singing all performed by session singers.

“I heard that instrumental opening that I’m like, ‘Oh, my God. We got it,’ Pitzel said. “As it turned out, it was way better that I wrote the song because that’s what people remember. If we’d just done it with the ‘Jungle Book’ music, it would have been a cute little spot, but it never would have resonated like it did.”

'THE LAST DANCE:' MICHAEL JORDAN'S BASEBALL CAREER EXAMINED

Now retired in Phoenix, Pitzel had fond memories of working on that project—his kids appear in the commercial and played one-on-one with Jordan during takes.

While he thought the spot was great and witnessed it become a pop culture staple, he couldn’t have predicted it would still be discussed nearly three decades later. When asked what goes into a creating an iconic ad, he says it’s not much different than the ingredients of winning a championship.

“You just gotta believe in it. You gotta put your soul into it,” Pitzel said. “You gotta put your heart in it, and then you’ve gotta get some luck.”

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MOTD podcast: Top 10 Ballon d’Or winners of Premier League era

The Ballon d’Or has been football’s most prestigious individual award since its inception in 1956.

Initially open to Europeans, all players at European clubs became eligible in 1995, before all players from around the world were considered from 2007.

There have been 18 different winners in the Premier League era, with Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi winning it five times apiece between 2008 and 2017. But which are the greatest?

Gary Lineker caught up with Alan Shearer and Ian Wright to discuss it on the latest Match of the Day: Top 10 podcast. You can see their comments below and make your own ranked list.

“These players have probably never been 10th in anything in their life,” Wright concluded. “This is as difficult as it gets.”

  • Match of the Day: Top 10 podcast – Ballon d’Or winners
  • Match of the Day: Top 10 podcast – Premier League best overseas players
  • Match of the Day: Top 10 podcast – Premier League’s best managers

Roberto Baggio

Ballon d’Or (1993), Uefa Cup, Serie A (2).

‘The Divine Ponytail’ introduced himself to the world as hosts Italy reached the 1990 World Cup semi-finals. That summer the forward made a world-record move to Juventus and scored 30 in 43 in 1992-93 as Juve won the Uefa Cup.

After scoring five goals at the 1994 World Cup, Baggio missed the decisive spot-kick as Brazil won the final on penalties, before winning Serie A with Juve and AC Milan.

Shearer: “He could play anywhere across the front. He had quick feet and was great travelling with the ball.”

Wright: “Toto Schillaci got the goals in 1990 but at that tournament, along with Paul Gascoigne, Baggio was outstanding. He dealt with the pressure of playing in his own country and being their creative player.”

Marco van Basten

Ballon d’Or (1988, 1989, 1992), European Championship, European Cup (2), Cup Winners’ Cup, Eredivisie (3), Serie A (3)

The Dutch striker joined AC Milan from Ajax in 1987 and won the Ballon d’Or three times in the next five years.

During 1991-92 he scored 29 goals in 38 games in all competitions as Milan went the Serie A season unbeaten, but a year later an ankle injury ended his playing career at just 28.

Wright: “Fabio Capello said he was the best player he ever coached, he was ‘the Swan’ (of Utrecht). He was quick, could hold it up, head it, and use both feet.”

Shearer: “He was a complete centre-forward. There wasn’t anything he wasn’t brilliant at. And let’s talk about that volley – the connection, the technique – it was sensational!”

Luis Figo

Ballon d’Or (2000), Champions League, Cup Winners’ Cup, La Liga (4), Serie A (4)

The Portuguese winger left Sporting Lisbon in 1995 to establish himself as part of Barcelona’s star-studded attack and, after watching team-mates Ronaldo and Rivaldo win the Ballon d’Or, it was Figo’s turn after coming to the fore during 1999-2000.

Like Ronaldo, his Ballon d’Or form led to a world-record move, but Figo angered Barca fans by joining bitter rivals Real Madrid to become the original Galactico. His Real stint was equally successful and he ended his career by winning Serie A in each of his four seasons with Inter Milan.

Shearer: “We were comfortable against Portugal at Euro 2000. Then he stepped on the gas and they won 3-2. He went past players like it was easy, effortless. And he had the balls to go from Barca to Real.”

Kaka

Ballon d’Or (2007), World Cup, Champions League, La Liga, Serie A

Merely a squad member as Brazil won the 2002 World Cup, the forward went on to win Serie A in his first season at AC Milan (2003-04) before becoming Milan’s top scorer after Andriy Shevchenko’s move to Chelsea in 2006.

Kaka scored 10 goals during the 2006-07 Champions League, with Milan beating Liverpool in the final, and in 2009 he made a world-record move to Real Madrid, winning La Liga in 2011-12 while playing a supporting role to a certain Cristiano Ronaldo.

Wright: “That game against Manchester United (first leg) was almost the perfect performance. He scored twice and his overall play was exemplary.”

Shearer: “He was so quick, elegant and smooth. He had great vision and scored some unbelievable goals.”

Lionel Messi

Ballon d’Or (2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2015, 2019), Champions League (4), La Liga (10)

Messi succeeded Ronaldinho as Barcelona’s biggest attacking threat and the first season he was top scorer (2008-09) they won La Liga and the Champions League, earning the Argentine forward his first Ballon d’Or.

He won it again the next three years, scoring 73 in 60 in 2011-12, and regained it after a fourth Champions League win in 2015. Messi went clear of Ronaldo for a record sixth Ballon d’Or after winning his 10th La Liga title last year. The pair now have over 700 career goals each – and they’re not done yet.

Shearer: “The standard that these two have set, they’ve taken goal-scoring to a different level. Look at how many appearances and goals they’ve had, it’s bonkers!

“We’re so lucky to live in this era where we’re seeing the football these two produce. To get to the top is one thing, but to stay there and have that hunger to keep on performing – I can’t emphasise enough the dedication they must have to keep doing it year in, year out.”

Rivaldo

Ballon d’Or (1999), World Cup, Copa America, Champions League, La Liga (2).

The Brazilian forward joined Barcelona from Deportivo La Coruna in 1997 and won the Spanish double in his first season. He then scored 29 in 48 in 1998-99 as Barca defended the league title before helping Brazil win the Copa America that summer.

Rivaldo scored 130 goals in five seasons with Barca, plus another five as Brazil won the 2002 World Cup, before beginning a nomadic end to his journey by winning the Champions League in his only season with AC Milan (2002-03).

Wright: “He was really slight but I thought he was magnificent in the 2002 World Cup final and scored some unbelievable goals at Barca – like that overhead kick against Valencia.”

Ronaldinho

Ballon d’Or (2005), World Cup, Copa America, Champions League, Copa Libertadores, La Liga (2), Serie A

The forward had already helped Brazil win the 2002 World Cup while with Paris St-Germain but joined Barca in 2003. In 2004-05 he helped them win La Liga for the first time in six years and in 2005-06 they retained the title and became champions of Europe for the first time since 1991.

Ronaldinho later won Serie A with AC Milan (2010-11) and returned to Brazil to win the Copa Libertadores with Atletico Mineiro in 2013, becoming the first man to win both the Ballon d’Or and the South American Footballer of the Year awards.

Shearer: “He had that stepover, where he could go both ways. The whip and bend he put on free-kicks, his balance, ball control and the no-look pass.”

Wright: “I remember that game at the Bernabeu, everything he did worked, and they gave him a standing ovation. He is the kind of player that makes the game beautiful.”

Ronaldo

Ballon d’Or (1997, 2002), World Cup (2), Copa America (2), Cup Winners’ Cup, Uefa Cup, La Liga

The Brazilian striker spent one scintillating season with Barcelona, scoring 47 in 49 to win the Cup Winners’ Cup in 1996-97, before making a world-record move to Inter Milan and winning the Golden Ball at the 1998 World Cup.

Ronaldo recovered from a serious knee injury to be top scorer as Brazil won the 2002 World Cup and became one of Real Madrid’s Galactico signings in 2002 before playing for AC MIlan.

Shearer: “Look at the clubs he’s played for, and his goal-scoring record at PSV Eindhoven and Barcelona. When Bobby Robson came to Newcastle he said he enquired about me going to Barcelona but Blackburn said I wasn’t for sale so they signed Ronaldo instead. I think they got a good deal!”

Cristiano Ronaldo

Ballon d’Or (2008, 2013, 2014, 2016, 2017), European Championship, Champion League (5), Premier League (3), La Liga (2), Serie A.

Real Madrid signed two Ballon d’Or winners for world-record fees in the space of three days as Cristiano Ronaldo joined Kaka at the Bernabeu in 2009. The Portuguese forward had scored 42 in 49 in 2007-08 as United won the Premier League and Champions League.

And so began a personal duel with Lionel Messi, breaking all sorts of goal-scoring records along the way, with Ronaldo winning the Ballon d’Or again in 2013 and helping Real win the Champions League in four out of five years. He joined Juventus in 2018, winning Serie A in his first season.

Wright: “He’s done it in different leagues and continually pushes himself. His work-rate, his total drive for perfection, to get where he is, I think he pips it as the top man. Even at 35, there’s no resting on his laurels. He’s an unbelievable role model.”

Shearer: “Ronaldo’s made himself as good as he is. He’s had to work hard, it’s probably been more natural for Messi in terms of skill, but they’re both staggering.”

Zinedine Zidane

Ballon d’Or (1998), World Cup, European Champiosnhip, Champions League, Serie A (2), La Liga

After winning Serie A and reaching the Champions League final in his first two seasons with Juventus, Zidane helped France win the 1998 World Cup, scoring twice as the hosts upset Brazil in the final.

The midfielder made a world-record move in 2001, scoring a picture-book volley in the final as Real Madrid won the Champions League in his first season, and retired after an eventful 2006 World Cup, winning the Golden Ball and being sent off as France lost in the final.

Wright: “When people say poetry in motion, you watch Zidane and you get it.”

Shearer: “He was the best player I ever played against. His balance stood out to me, and his ability to control the ball with either foot. The way he went past people and caressed or ‘loved’ the ball, was just incredible.”

Top 10 Ballon d'Or winners of PL era

Rank these men's Ballon d'Or winners from one to 10

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