August – 2011

Yet again – I am so sorry I’ve totally failed to keep up my website. No excuse – except I seem to have been endlessly frantic. In December 2010, for example, I had to mug up on the great cookery writer Mrs Beeton for a television programme presented by Sophie Dahl. I had no idea Mrs Beeton was the step daughter of the Clerk of the Course at Epsom, and lived in the grandstand
where she was often left in charge of 21 siblings, after which producing Household Management must have been a doddle.

Settling on an equine background, we filmed on a race day at Cheltenham. A day which descended into farce when Feather, my Greyhound, chewed up the huge tube of Smarties I’d brought as a present for the crew. The poor director was then driven crackers because every time the cameras started rolling and Sophie Dahl asked me a question, some punter in a curly brimmed hat, whom I’d met while writing JUMP! would charge up bellowing: “Jilly, what are you doing here?” and ruin the take.
In reality I think the punters were angling for an introduction to Sophie, who despite being heavily pregnant, with her tiny nose, lovely soft mouth and with corn flower blue eyes, looked astonishingly beautiful. She’s absolutely sweet too.

I don’t know whether I was more excited when I went to an open day at trainer Jonjo O’Neill’s glorious yard , Jackdaw’s Castle, to meet Don’t Push It, who ridden by A.P. McCoy, had won the 2010 Grand National, or to sit at lunch next to Bob Champion, who survived cancer to also win the Grand National.
Certainly Bob was more modest about his achievements than Don’t Push It, who strutted round the vast indoor school with the elitist swagger all heroes of a yard seem to adopt.

In February I was invited by the Duchess of Cornwall to a lovely party at Clarence House to raise literacy in this country. The Duchess has an ability to rally the great and the good, and guests included Alan Bennett, Tom Stoppard, Ronnie Harwood, Willy Shawcross, Candida Lycett-Green, John Betjemen’s daughter, Gail Rebuck, Amanda Ross and a host of other stars. I was thrilled when one of the photographers confided how much the press adores the Duchess, because she’s such fun and always makes time for them. Tom Stoppard, who’s a dish, confided that he’d long harboured a crush on the lovely Candida. Leaving the party, I was delighted to see them having a fag under a plane tree, a good subject for a Betjeman poem!

Another blissful party was the Oldie Awards at Simpson’s in the Strand. I’d like to have run it back afterwards in slow motion so I could check on the famous faces and capture all their quips.

Prince Philip very deservedly won the Oldie of the Year Award. I had the treat of sitting near two of my favourite men, Richard Ingrams and Terry Wogan, and between Joan Bakewell and Barry Humphreys who is so naughty. He confessed that the reason he’d been married so many times was because he kept putting his hand on the wrong knees. He then made the most outrageously unpolitical speech I’ve ever heard, which had the audience weeping with laughter, except for the odd Baldie, who red as a Dutch cheese, stalked out spluttering with disapproval.

It was around February, having written JUMP! about National Hunt racing, I decided I couldn’t bear to abandon horses as a subject and would devote my next book to flat racing. I therefore was persuaded by my friend Henry Ponsonby, who runs Shefford Bloodstock, to take a 12th share in a lovely roanish grey filly, called Love Grows Wild. In the photograph below I can be seen giving her a lecture that when she starts racing she must do lots of exciting things to provide material for my book – I think she took it in.

She is now being trained by Michael Bell at Newmarket. Another member of the syndicate is Midge Burrell, who owned Desert Orchid, so she knows a thing or two about grey horses!

One of the reasons I’ve been so frantically busy is that normally when I write a book, I have a year to get my breath back between the publication of the hardback and the paperback. This time JUMP! the paperback was published in April, only six months after the September hardback, so promotion for the two seemed to flow into each other.

Not that I’m complaining, I’ve been so grateful for a most generous press and relished the opportunity to exchange wonderfully scurrilous gossip over jolly lunches in London or Gloucestershire with lots of old and new journalist and photographer friends.
I was particularly delighted to meet Imogen Lycett-Green, daughter of the aforementioned Candida and her handsome husband Rupert, who was one of the role models for my super-hero Rupert Campbell-Black. Imogen not only gave me a lovely painting of a lurcher, but wrote a terrific piece in the Spectator. I was thrilled by great interviews by Rachel Halliburton in Time Out, and Alice Rose in Town and Country House. I also loved appearing on television with Lorraine Kelly and Alan Titchmarsh, both wonderful listeners. Alan thought up the title for my novel Appassionata and when he visited us in Gloucestershire, urged me to have bigger beds – but in the garden – not in the house.

Our black cat Feral, and our dogs William and Feather were bowled over when Jess Lusk, who came down for the TV Book Club, knew their Christian names in advance. Hell bent on hogging the limelight, Feather sprawled under the cameraman’s feet, Feral insisted on purring thunderously on my knee, and William collapsed against my ankles panting fortissimo so it sounded as though some heavy breathing sexual athlete had strayed into the film.

Mecca for anyone who loves racing is to appear on Channel 4’s Morning Line. Again I had a ball being interviewed by the divine Nick Luck, larky John Francome and another great mate, John McCririck, who pretended to be devastated that he’d only appeared in JUMP! as a friend of Rupert Campbell-Black, not as some sexual athlete!

On the radio front, I really enjoyed taking to foxily attractive Nick Ferrari on Classic FM but expecting questions on Beethoven I was slightly fazed when the conversation moved briskly onto adultery.

I had a lovely time on Radio Leeds chatting with Liz Green, who’s just won Yorkshire Personality of the Year Award, about my Yorkshire roots. An hysterically funny thing happened. My second record was Gene Kelly’s most romantic song ‘Our Love is Here to Stay’. I was rhapsodising to Liz that my parents always use to sing this to each other, and I even sang along a few bars and wiped away a tear, and then the record came on, and by mistake it was the wrong one and an incredibly perky number: ‘Good morning, Good morning, We’ll Dance the Whole Night Through’ . We got terrible giggles. On Radio London I was interviewed by two girls so pretty that their dogs were allowed into the Langham Hotel in Portland Place. One dog, an adorable Staffie called Molly, observed proceedings, her small triangular eyes moving from me to her mistress like a Wimbledon umpire.

Around this time, I jokingly told a journalist I felt I was too old and tired to write about sex any more, which was greeted with varying degrees of regret and passionate relief by the press.

Towards the end of April, JUMP! came out in paperback and wonderfully went straight to Number One. My publishers Transworld took me out to a glorious celebratory dinner at the Caprice: (oh those divine fishcakes). They were all, I felt, rather strung up because they were poised to publish Madeleine by Kate McCann, about which I have to admit I expressed reservations. Bill Scott-Kerr, Transworld’s editorial director, however insisted they all adored Kate and Gerry McCann, totally believed their story and felt Kate had written a heartbreaking, truthful, incredibly important book.

And weren’t they right! Madeleine received wonderful, wonderful reviews, has been a phenomenal bestseller, and let us pray that one day they will find their little girl.

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