April – 2008

Thursday 17th April :

Now it is nearly May, as you can see from this lovely calendar that my friend Judy Zatonski made for me, which is one of my great joys, because there is a different picture every month of my greyhound Feather.

I hope you are all well and I’m sorry, as usual, that I am late with my website. I don’t quite know where the last four months have gone, but I’ve been doing lots of research for Village Horse.

In January I spent a lovely day at Cheltenham as the guest of Irish bookmakers, Bet Chronicle who had flown a very joyful and happy party of racing enthusiasts over from Dublin for the day. I got 3 winners and as no one knows quite how to party like the Irish, we all had a ball. No one quite knows how to party like the Irish, so it was a gorgeous day.

I had another marvellous time on Valentine’s Day. I received lots of lovely Valentines which cheered me up and I’d like to apologise for not being able to thank those people who sent me anonymous ones but the pleasure and excitement were no less. Feather my greyhound also had two Valentine cards about which he was very pleased. In the afternoon I went up to London and appeared on a Richard and Judy programme to celebrate the Mills and Boon centenary.

I’ve always been a great fan of Mills and Boon novels and used to devour them to cheer myself up when I was unhappy in love. I always love going on Richard and Judy because my friend Amanda Ross runs such a fantastic team there who manage to mingle charm and immense friendliness with extreme efficiency. Also on the programme were my achingly funny old friend Sue Pollard and gorgeous Claire Sweeney who are appearing together in a play. In addition there was the amazingly brave teacher, Gillian Gibbons, who was imprisoned for naming her class’s Teddy bear Mohammed in Sudan. Amazingly she had not been put off by such horrors because she was just off to teach in China.

Another lovely thing about Richard and Judy is that they have absolutely brilliant hair and make-up artists and Lorraine and Susan got me up beautifully and sent me off looking much better than normal to a party at Downing Street. I’d already been to parties at Number 10 when Mrs Thatcher and John Major were in power, but being a little rural Tory, this time I felt very nervous about straying into a Labour stronghold, half expecting the rumble of tumbrels and the clash of guillotines. People, however, couldn’t have been more friendly. There was masses of champagne, lovely food and the first person I saw was my dear friend Joanna Lumley looking stunning as usual and her husband Stephen Barlow who is such a charmer. I was interested to hear he has temporarily given up conducting for composing and has just written a concerto for clarinet for Emma Thompson. The whole party was full of jolly people: David and Carina Frost and Ben Elton and his wife, who I’d never met before who were really nice. Ben and I share the same publisher, Transworld, as does John O’Farrell, another wonderful writer. So we all had a lovely time talking about writing and grumbling about how far we hadn’t got with our books. Then around the corner I saw Celia Walden who writes a great column in the Daily Telegraph and she was with her boyfriend Piers Morgan, who always makes me laugh and who was in great fettle standing between the two party rooms watching everything that was going on.

I also talked to Sebastian Coe who is much more handsome in the flesh – lean and very dark. As I’d just been talking about romantic heroes on Richard and Judy, Sebastian would be the perfect example. We had a very interesting chat about the Olympics. Sebastian felt that although Steven Spielberg had made a brave gesture in boycotting the games, it was more effective to get into a country and try and bring one’s point home through closed doors or when one managed to talk to the leaders – so it will be interesting to see what happens in Beijing. I had become so brave by this time, that I amazingly rushed up and introduced myself to Alistair Campbell, who I’d always thought was absolutely terrifying, a prince of darkness. But here again, he is far more attractive in the flesh and great fun and very good looking, as is his girlfriend Fiona Miller. A wonderful writer, she again is much smaller and prettier in the flesh than in her photographs. Both she and Alistair have pointed chins and rather resemble each other. I’ve often thought people who look alike are mutually attracted. Then I talked to my lovely, larky friend Kathy Lette, looking a knockout in a very saucy short black and yellow dress. We were gossiping away when I suddenly said, ‘Oh look there’s Gordon Brown.’ Kathy said, ‘Come and meet him.’ I said I was far too shy but she dragged me off and introduced me. I must confess that our Prime Minister seemed the archetypal romantic hero – dark, strong and masterful. On the television he appears rather saturnine and troubled, but in the flesh he as was all smiles, charm and sweetness. It was rather like the few times I’ve met the Queen. I was so overwhelmed that I can’t remember any of my conversation with him, except that we’d had a very nice chat. His wife Sarah is also lovely looking. We’d corresponded frequently, because I’d contributed to an anthology she’s collected to raise money for her charity PiggyBankKids which looks after women with birth problems.

There again in the flesh she is much prettier with a delicacy about her features and a translucent skin. During the evening she made a lovely speech about Piggy Banks, saying that she’d pleaded and pleaded with her husband to allow her to have a party and finally he’d said yes: ‘You can have one.’ And this was it – absolutely packed with stars, fun and laughter. I was amazed to see quite a lot of high Tories present including Lord Tebbitt. There were also some sweet babies who’d been brought by their mothers and a happy din was issuing from a third room where little John and Fraser Brown were running round playing with their friends, which made the whole thing seem like a happy family party. All in all I floated home delighted that the country should be in the hands of such a natural, warm and normal couple.

Tuesday 15 April:

On May 2nd I’m going to Fontwell Racecourse to judge a Miss West Sussex competition which is an early qualifier for Miss England. I’m very excited because I’ve never been to Fontwell Racecourse and also one of my fellow judges is my friend, Richard Dunwoody and in between gazing at beautiful girls I will be picking his brains about various aspects of National Hunt racing for Village Horse, which is the novel I’m writing at the moment. The only other time I judged a beauty contest was Miss United Kingdom, back in 1973.I wrote about the experience in the Sunday Times – click here to read it .I’m horrified what a bitch I was in those days but I do think aspects of the story are quite funny. I hope you enjoy it.

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