2011 – 2012

This was followed by a lovely piece by one of my very favourite journalists, Richard Barber, who came down for Hello! and spent the day with Leo and me, Felix and his wife Edwina and our daughter Emily, her husband Adam Tarrant, all our grandchildren and lots of dogs. We had a heavenly time and Richard did such a kind and touching interview with Leo who really enjoyed talking to him. Tim Beddows, a wonderful photographer, who usually does interiors and wonderful houses was, I felt, rather fazed by our mob, but produced the most ravishing photographs of which I include one of the whole tribe (see photo – bottom left)

Hello! was followed by a sweet piece by Richard and Judy in the Express following up the Sunday Times extracts. I then made a wonderful new friend, a very pretty girl called Jojo Moyes, who interviewed me and Leo for the Daily Telegraph. She turned out to be an extremely funny writer with a huge heart and I’ve become an addict of her novels, particularly one called The Last Letter From Your Lover. Her interview was simply hilarious because naughty William the plump applause-junkie mongrel, who belongs to Felix and Edwina, insisted on appearing in Andrew Crawley’s wonderful photograph. I hoped just to have my gentle Greyhounds in the picture but William bustled in and took a flying leap to land on the sofa beside me – as you can see by the enclosed photograph. That’s why we’re all laughing. ( see photo – bottom right)

That was another very happy day. Another great friend Rachel Johnson also gave How to Stay Married a lovely plug in The Lady and Sandra Parsons, the Daily Mail columnist, said lovely things about the book and our similar views on marriage too so I was very happy about the whole thing.

October 2nd, my old boarding school, the Godolphin in Salisbury bestowed on me the huge honour of naming a boarding house after me. This was particularly wonderful not only because they also named houses after two far more illustrious old girls, Dorothy Sayers and the wonderful crime writer Minette Walters, but also because I was the most dreadful pupil, naughty, wayward, pretty lousy academically and nicknamed The Unholy Terror by the staffroom.

Felix and I drove down to Salisbury on a beautiful evening and I saw my own splendid building , which was formerly called Douglas, but is now Cooper, with a plaque on the side. This was one of the nicest things that ever happened to me. The present Godolphin girls were all enchanting and very bright. If I had a young daughter and could afford the fees, I would certainly send her to Godolphin today.

The school has profited by a terrific new headmistress, Mrs Samantha Drake, whose adorable small boy, made everybody laugh by running up and down with a black Labrador, during the speeches.

Before I caught my breath, on the 4th October, I was off to Chelmsford in huge excitement because Anglia Ruskin University had awarded me an Honorary Degree for Literature. How amazed and delighted my old English mistress at Godolphin, (who when she read my book RIDERS, said it was so sad that Jilly had resorted to pornography) would have been.

We had a lovely day. The University is heaven and so vibrant and full of wonderful students of all ages getting degrees in everything under the sun. The University was also so generous, not only framing my degree certificate for me but giving me a lovely pale blonde pashmena scarf and some simply beautiful flowers. I was so delighted on the day to be accompanied by my freelance publicist, Nicky Henderson, my agent Vivienne Schuster and my lovely editor Linda Evans – a truly thrilling day.

After Anglia Ruskin, Nicky and I belted up to London for more publicity for How To Stay Married, spending the night at wonderful Blake’s Hotel. Next day I did This Morning with Holly Willoughby and Phil Scofield which is always huge fun and in the afternoon was interviewed by my lovely friend Alan Titchmarsh who is such a sweet man, always rejoicing in other people’s success.

Some years ago he came down to do a piece on our garden, and complained our beds weren’t big enough, by this he meant the ones edging our lawn, rather than the ones in the house! Knowing our gazebo where I write is supposed to be haunted, he gave me a copy of his lovely new ghost story, The Haunting.

After ‘Alan Titchmarsh’ I rushed home to my dear Leo to get myself into party mode for our Golden Wedding anniversary bash, three days later. By this time a terrific marquee had sprung up on the lawn (which it couldn’t have done if we’d listened to Alan and extended our flower beds.)

The only sadness was that we only had room for eighty people. After 50 years of marriage and the friends we’ve made, I would have liked to have asked eight hundred.

On the day Godfrey Smith made the most touching and wonderful speech, followed by Leo who, battling heroically with his Parkinson’s, made a short, sweet speech, which I think touched everyone. (see photo – right)

I had told Hello! that I was going to get up and say, ‘silence is golden’, and sit down again, but in the end I thanked everybody and told a joke.

William’s Kitchen, who have looked after us so well in the past, provided wonderful food throughout.

The marquee had a transparent window to the south so we could look out over the valley at our lovely view. Several guests brought their dogs and who had a heavenly time because through the transparent window, they could see their owners happily eating or drinking away, and felt safe to romp round the garden together and then rush back inside the marquee and crash out on the carpet.

I’m sorry to describe the day so boringly, but like our wedding, 50 years before, it passed in a dream and I remember very little about it. There were so many people who I hadn’t seen for years, I longed to spend hours with, but I only managed to chat for a couple of minutes. How would I have handled 800!

We did say, very firmly, no presents, but of course lots of people took absolutely no notice, principally my darling publishers, Transworld, who gave us the most beautiful Lutyens bench with ‘Leo and Jilly’ and the date engraved on a gold plaque. (see photo – left). I’d like to thank everybody for the really imaginative presents they sent us. It was a very happy day.

A week later Felix and I went to the climax of the flat racing season, Champions’ Day at Ascot which was absolutely fantastic. We were so lucky to be invited to lunch both by Charles Barnett, the Ascot Managing Director in his lovely house opposite the racecourse, and by Sheik Hamid bin Abdullah, the glamorous young prince whose firm was sponsoring the Championship Day. So we had a lovely time commuting between the two.

The racing was spectacularly wonderful and we all bellowed our approval as Frankel, the wonder horse, who is alleged to run faster than the Cambridge/Newmarket train, won his race in spectacular form. (see photo – below) The Queen was clearly delighted to present Sir Henry Cecil, Frankel’s trainer, with the Cup. I’ve never seen so many people flooding into the winners’ enclosure to touch this gorgeous animal who has completely transformed racing. This was the first time that Champions Day has been held at Ascot, an unqualified success, which will attract more and more raiders from overseas in the years to come. So everybody should be congratulated.

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