August 2011

I am so lucky that our son Felix and his family live close by and our daughter Emily and her husband Adam Tarrant and their three boys have moved to Gloucestershire, only 20 minutes away.

When you are old and grey and short of sleep and facing photographers and television cameras, it is wonderful to have a nearby make-up artist like Emily to de-crone you.

She kicked off in April by transforming me for a lovely double-page spread in the Sunday Express magazine: In the Closet. Interviewed by an old friend Tricia Walsh, I was able to show off some beautiful clothes designed by another old friend Mariska Kay for the Anise label.

Emily and I also took part in the evergreen, always fascinating Relative Values in the Sunday Times Colour magazine. Our interview with the marvellous Sue Fox had a special poignancy for me. Fourteen years ago, Sue talked to me and my sweet mother for the same series. Sadly the piece never ran because my mother died before it could be published, but dear Sue sent me a proof of the unbelievably kind and touching things my mother had said about me. It was like a love letter from the grave which I shall always treasure.

Emily’s and my Relative Values appeared in May, and again I was overwhelmed by the sweet flattering things Emily said. I hope in return I was able to show what a wonderful daughter she is.
Earlier in the year we both were interviewed for Cotswold Life by their star journalist Katie Jarvis about Emily’s move to Gloucestershire and her career as a make-up artist. Photographer Antony Thompson also took some great pictures of me before and after Emily made me up.

Emily has now started her own business in Gloucestershire and will come to your house and give a make-up lesson to you or a group of friends or make you up for your wedding or a special party when you want to look spectacular. She’s also wonderfully soothing if you’re feeling nervous.

And talking of nerves one of the perils of having a new book out – and with literary festivals springing up everywhere like mushrooms – is having to speak in public – I really hate it. It takes me ages to write a speech and I get sick with fear for days beforehand.

The flip side, however, is one is cheered up by some truly kind audiences and one gets to meet some fabulous other speakers. Actress Celia Imrie for example was riveting about her whacky actress life at the marvellous Daily Mail Lunch, and Gyles Brandreth, serious for once, was equally riveting about Prince Philip whom he admires hugely.

At YOU magazine’s jolly lunch at the Bloomsbury Hotel, star speakers included David Nicholls, who was fascinating about his brilliant novel One Day being turned into a film, and my utter heroine, Wendy Cope, who miraculously produces poems that are funny, touching, true and understandable. The poor darling arrived in a state because she’d had to travel from Ely by several buses. She ought to come to Transworld, who, thank God, fork out for a car.

A primary teacher once, Wendy still looks like one, with short curly hair framing her pretty face, flat red strap shoes, and a crisp white shirt tucked into a flowered, knee-length skirt. Like David Nicholls, she spoke beautifully.

In June, I braved the Hay Festival at a lovely lunch hosted by Good Housekeeping, where other speakers included two heroes, the delightful Alexander McCall Smith, who is the only novelist my husband Leo ever reads, and Kay Burley, the Sky News star who is so glamorous, and who had just come back from 9 days bravely covering the war in Libya.

Colin, my driver, regaled me all the way to Hay with blue-ish stories, which I was then able to use in my most terrifying speaking engagement to the Racehorse Owners’ Association at the Carlton Towers.

Fortunately, at a lovely lunch given the week before by Lord Patrick Beresford, one of the sweetest, handsomest men in racing, I talked to Peter Walwyn the legendary trainer, whose horse Grundy won both the Derby and the King George.

“What on earth can I say to a room full of owners?” I begged him.

“Tell them to leave trainers alone,” he replied, then went on to say he’d been petrified when asked to speak to a large girls’ school about racing and in turn begged Lester Piggott: “What shall I tell them?”

“Tell them you’ve got a cold,” said Lester.

These remarks gave me an opening para for my speech.

Despite dying of nerves, on the day, I and my son Felix, were lucky enough to sit at lunch with the retiring R.O.A. President, Paul Dixon, and his gloriously glamorous, ebullient wife Yvette, and after buckets of champagne and a lovely introduction from my pin-up boy Nick Luck, my speech seemed to go well.

I was delighted to receive some heavenly flowers from the R.O.A. next day and to meet so many owners to help me with my flat racing book, which with so much going on I’m finding it very hard to get down to. When I start a novel I need to get the end sorted out. I plan this time to finish with some titanic tussle between rival countries and horses at the World Cup in Dubai. But how could I get there?

Miraculously Felix and I were invited to a gorgeous Racing Post lunch at Kempton way back in February. Here there was a competition to pick the winner in four races. By a complete fluke I got three firsts and one second, and to my ecstatic amazement won a V.I.P. trip for two to Dubai during the World Cup, staying at the fabulous Shangri-La Hotel.

Dubai itself I found mind-blowing; vast, excessive, terrifyingly empty, as though the inhabitants of the sky-touching, skeletal buildings, having been warned of an impending earthquake, had vanished into the desert.

But there was plenty to write about and I got wildly overexcited by the handsome sheiks and breathtakingly beautiful glossy horses, either racing or acting out floodlit Arabian fairy tales, while fireworks exploded into the indigo night.

We were wonderfully well looked after both by the Racing Post and by a very glamorous couple, Newmarket trainer Robert Cowell and his wife Ghislaine, who’d brought out several horses, including a darling pink nosed bay called Prohibit.

“Prohibit is like the sort of person you’d adore to meet at a cocktail party,” said Robert proudly.

In the morning we watched Prohibit on the gallops, and later having a bath and being treated from a box which said: “Fresh carrots from China.”

We spent the rest of the morning with racing legend Michael Dickinson and his wife Joan, who invented the grey Tapeta surface which is used on the race track in Dubai and many other famous courses. Michael also twice won the Breeder’s Cup, America’s greatest race, and most impressively, horses trained by him, finished first, second, third, fourth and fifth one year in the Cheltenham Gold Cup one year. He and Joan are huge fun and full of wonderful stories: how Joan once secretly walked the course in the morning darkness in red stilettos to find out the best ground which later gave them victory in a massive race.

Later Felix and I watched the World Cup as the guests of Godolphin in their wonderful box, where we marvelled over the eight races and the fireworks, and again got thoroughly excited to meet Jamie Spencer, Frankie Dettori and Richard Hills and their gorgeous wives, and trainers Mark Johnston and Paul Cole and Luca Cumani.

The whole glorious experience will one day, I hope, make its way into my next book. It will be hard, however, to create a more moving ending than this year when, as if to comfort a Japanese nation, devastated by the unspeakable horrors of their recent earthquake, the 10 million dollar World Cup was won by a Japanese horse, a dark bay colt called Victoire Pisa, ridden by an Italian jockey, but bred, trained and owned in Japan.

There wasn’t a dry eye in the stadium as the huge gold cup was presented to the Japanese owner and his wife drenched her garland of flowers with tears of joy.

A wonderful, inspiring trip: thank you Racing Post.

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