2011 – 2012

On 24th April I went up to London to the premiere of a film about a racing syndicate called Outside Bet with a fantastic cast headed by Jenny Agutter and Bob Hoskins, which I enjoyed very much.

I also spent a wonderful three days in May at Newmarket staying at the miraculous Bedford Lodge Hotel. On the first evening I went to a dinner to raise money for Bob Champion’s Cancer Appeal, and had the amazing treat of sitting next to Sir Henry Cecil (left), who was the most delightful companion. He has a wonderfully droll and languid way of rolling out his answers like a Georgette Heyer hero.

During the evening, Henry was interviewed by Brough Scott and we learnt riveting details about his life, which will no doubt appear in the biography Brough is working all hours to produce. I am sure it will be a massive best seller, because everybody loves both Henry and Brough. We also learned a lot about Henry’s wonder horse, Frankel, one of whose racing plates was auctioned for a huge sum of money during the evening.

Next day I had some difficulty in rising extremely early to go and watch Frankel on the gallops, and visit him in his box. Clearly weary of star fuckers, perhaps he had a hangover too, he flattened his ears and snapped when I tried to stroke him.

It was also great to visit the yards of Michael Bell, who trains Love Grows Wild, and another brilliant trainer, William Haggas. The rest of a thrilling day was spent at Tattersalls with bloodstock agent Ed Sackville, and Ed Harper, from Whitsbury Stud , two gorgeous young men who looked after me wonderfully and initiated me into the all the foxiness of buying and selling horses. And talking of foxes, during the afternoon, Tattersalls property manager, John Morrey, took me on a rivetting tour of the stables and loading areas, and introduced me to the famous Tattersall’s fox, a beautiful sculpture which seems to sum up the stylishness of the whole place.

In the evening I had dinner with jockey, Richard Hills and his wife Jackie. Richard has just retired after a long and distinguished career full of winners, principally, in recent years, for Sheikh Mohammed at Darley.

He now has plenty of irons in the fire including advising two young jockeys Silvestre de Sousa and Michel Barzalona, who have recently joined Frankie Dettori in riding Sheikh Mohammed’s horses. I also caught up with news of Richard’s parrot, Rodney, who always urges him to ride faster!

Brough Scott recently told me the funniest thing that Harvey Smith had a parrot who sang Ilkley Moor bar tat with a Yorkshire Accent. On the Saturday Felix and I had a heavenly day watching Camelot win the 2,000 guineas and Frankel having a racecourse gallop, which caused tumultuous cheers as he thundered up the course. Everyone was so enchanted to see him looking really well and even better than his old self.

I am very excited my lovely friend Amy Starkey, who looks about 18, but must be older, has moved from Kempton and taken over as Managing Director at Newmarket. Lucky her, because the most glamorous men seem to be directors there and all are enjoying having her as their new boss.

We had a marvellous lunch in the Royal Box, and such was the revelry that before leaving. I dragged Felix into the Ladies loo to look at the hilarious painting of an ashen faced jockey, floundering in a ditch below a huge fence as horses and riders soared through the air above him. He is evidently the ghost of Captain Becher, who having fallen off his horse into the water, was immortalised by having the most famous fence in racing named after him.

On 12th May I went racing at Ascot and enjoyed the huge privilege of being shown round the stable yard by the manager Kevin Maguire. It was a such a thrill to see the box in which visiting Australian filly Black Caviar, might be living and the different parts of the yard allocated to French, Irish, or American horses. It gave me a huge frisson that the great Yeats who won the Ascot Gold Cup four times had actually spent nights in this hallowed place.

Later in May I got one of the biggest surprises of my life when a beautifully wrapped red box arrived. Inside I discovered a book apparently called Winners by Jilly Cooper (see photo – left) . On the very racy jacket was a man wriggling out of his trousers in between the splendid legs descending into stiletto heels of a rather forceful lady. Turning to the back I found the most wonderful jacket copy saying that because Ladbroke’s liked my racy stories, they were inviting me to join Ladbroke’s Elite, and have my own betting account. I was so touched because so much trouble had been taken and the whole thing was done so stylishly, with the beautifully designed ‘Winners’ jacket wrapped round a copy of my novel JUMP! . I have already started ringing up and having bets.

Almost more of a thrill, Ladbroke’s invited Felix and me to their box on Derby Day, where we had a riotous time. Apart from a delicious lunch we were in the company of serious punters who, while races were going on on monitors all round the room, cheered and yelled encouragement to horses and their jockeys more loudly than I have ever heard before. (see photo – right).

The highlight of the day was seeing the young Joseph O’Brien riding Camelot to victory in the Derby and the delight and joy on the faces of his parents Aiden and Anne-Marie O’Brien. What with the wonderful exploits of Camelot, followed by those of Frankel and Black Caviar at Royal Ascot, not to mention the extraordinary success of John Gosden’s horses, and Estimate winning a race for the Queen, I cannot imagine a more exciting season to celebrate Her Majesty’s Jubilee year.

June continued just as busy. Emily, my daughter, and I had a wonderful day at Windsor Park where Cartier, rather than the International Day they formally sponsored in August, were for the first time, sponsoring the Queen’s Cup which is the final of a knock-out competition for teams throughout the country.

Emily was able to identify all the young celebrities like Chelsy Davy and we had a heavenly time rubber necking. It was lovely to see my old friends Andew Parker Bowles and Julian and Patricia Hipwood, who had helped me so much with my book Polo, all looking really well. Anton Mossiman’s lunch was as delicious as ever, and the whole day was run with great panache, as always with Cartiers.

Late in June one of our wonderful local papers, the Citizen which is based in Gloucester paid me the great compliment of featuring me in their Young Citizen, which allows young people to take over all aspects of the paper from writing about cars or sport to doing interviews. Annie Whittlemore and Catherine Cooper from Denmark School interviewed me on my writing career and it was a very nice piece enhanced by a lovely photograph of me and my greyhound Feather taken in 2006, soon after he arrived from Ireland. We have both got a lot greyer since then but what a lot of joy he’s brought us.

Talking of dogs, on 24 June I went to Adlestrop in Oxfordshire to judge a dog show for my friend National Hunt trainer Richard Phillips, one of the funniest most attractive man in racing. Thank God he gave me a lovely liquid lunch before hand because judging a dog show is the most heart-breaking experience. I cannot bear to see the disappointment on people’s faces particularly those of the children when their little terrier or huge Great Dane doesn’t get a prize.

This time, too, I did not bring my two greyhounds with me because they always hang around in the middle of the ring and get terribly depressed when they hear me praising all the other dogs. As compensation I saw lots of old friends and came away with a lovely bag of goodies including a bottle of champagne and Richard’s special alcoholic tomato ketchup.

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