August 2011

In July I set off to stay with Robert and Ghislaine at their gorgeous yard in Newmarket, a haven of horses, Jack Russells, rabbits, Shetland ponies and a posse of moorhens, who boldly see off any stoats who threaten their chicks.
I arrived just in time to watch on television Love Grows Wild running at Epsom, (ridden this time by Eddie Ahern rather than Hayley Turner). Again, she put on her trying-very-hard face, but ended up in the last three. She is now going to have a holiday. I hope she sends me a postcard.

After a gorgeous dinner, Robert and I were up early to watch his horses on the gallops. Prohibit, rested for three weeks after the King’s Stand, led the fourth lot. Ears pricked, head sky high, he has acquired the same elitist King of the Yard swagger as Don’t Push It.

We then moved on to the Parade of Stallions at Godolphin’s Dalham Hall Stud. In a nearby marquee, a breathtaking brunch of champagne, lobster and chocolate fountains awaited us. But first, standing on bright blue carpet and breathing in a scent of lime blossom, we marvelled over some of Godolphin’s megastars. These included Derby winners: New Approach and Authorised, Cape Cross, whose gifted children include Sea the Stars and Ouija Board, and Raven’s Past, whose rearing and bucking and lashing tail were severely taxing his handler. As these wonderful horses strutted round the ring, a large audience searched for an ideal husband for their brood mares.

Before this, however, the show kicked off with a magical coup de theatre. Jerry, the vast 18 hand puppet from War Horse, being led round the ring by a soldier in uniform, with two men giving him eight legs, pulling strings from underneath his body. As he cavorted and bucked and occasionally stretched his head over the ropes into the cheering audience, those able to pat him, felt incredibly privileged.

Not so the Godolphin stallions waiting to come on, who glared out of their boxes, furious to be upstaged by this strange looking monster.

Reluctantly I had to leave such a wonderful party, and rush back to Newmarket, happily to another lunch party given by Steven Wallis, who runs the racecourse, and who I’d met at the Derby.

I don’t know whether it was the effect of the stallions, but the place seemed to swarm with gorgeous men: a Panama Hat Canal flowing by. I was also thrilled to meet another hero, Henry Cecil. Writing a novel about flat racing is going to have lots of compensations.

Later I joined Channel 4’s lovely Mike Cattermole in the parade ring where I presented a prize to a winner of the first-ever awards organised by that wonderful charity Retraining of Racehorses, (R.O.R.) which, spearheaded by Di Arbuthnot, campaigns endlessly for thoroughbreds to find new careers and loving homes after they finish racing.

The judges had selected 28 horses whose stories had most moved and inspired them. From these, I had to pick a winner: an impossible task because they all deserved to win. Having torn my hair out, I finally settled unconditionally for Charlie, an utterly gorgeous 22 year old chestnut, who’d blossomed in several new careers, and who also displayed the sweetest, gentlest temperament with both children and adults. Here his owner Melanie Yarham can be seen with Charlie receiving her winning rug from Di Arbuthnot. And you can read lots more about them and all the other contestants on the R.O.R. website

Over and over again, as I pored over these entries, I was reminded how similar these horses were in character to my lovely ex-racing Greyhound Feather. Found in County Offaly in the middle of winter, probably chucked out of a car and wearing a muzzle, his rescuer reckoned had been on him for three weeks, he was a tottering skeleton. Nursed back to health, he is the sweetest, kindest, gentlest dog who never bears a grudge against humans.

As he is now nearly eight, and William only spends odd days and nights with us, I decided Feather needed a full time friend. On June 7th, therefore, Mary Jane Fox from the Orchard Sanctuary in Co. Offaly, who originally found Feather for us, arrived with a second black Greyhound, three year old Bluebell.

I chose a second black Greyhound, because I find them the most beautiful and because for some reason blacks are the least popular and the last to be adopted from rescue kennels.

Bluebell has been with us six weeks now and has won all human hearts. She is adorable but quite different from my noble Feather, being full of attitude and dinner as she pillages food from him, William, a furious Feral, the birds and even the badgers. She is also a monkey, practical barking at Feral to wind him up and shoving her sleek shiny body between me and anything I’m talking to.
At first Feral and Feather would have been happy for her to be dispatched “to a museum”, but Feather is growing to love her as they hurtle thrillingly through the long grass on summer evenings.

Shortly after Bluebell arrived, I felt wildly guilty abandoning her to go to Annabel Goldsmith’s party, but I’m so glad I did because it was blissful. After being driven up from Gloucestershire, I disappeared to the Ladies’ loo in the boot room. Next minute a ravishingly beautiful girl walked in:

“Heavenly smell,” she cried at which I preened, thinking she meant my scent, until she said: “Gumboots and dogs! Heaven,” and I realised it was my old friend Tara Palmer-Tomkinson looking absolutely breathtaking in the kind of black jumpsuit, which I wore in the seventies and which one had to take right off in order to go to the loo. So I unzipped Tara out of hers.

She looked really well and happy and later introduced me to a heavenly new boyfriend.

The party was held in a marquee leading out into Annabel’s gorgeous garden. Annabel herself is easily one of the kindest, nicest people in the world with a huge heart and a glorious sense of the ridiculous. She also gathers round her the most exciting people. During the evening, I had such lovely chats to Tim Rice and his beautiful daughter Eva, Claus von Bulow, who I’ve always liked and his beautiful daughter, Richard E. Grant, Nicholas Coleridge, and Imran Khan, whose memoirs are about to be published, and whose publicity will be handled at Random House by lovely Nicky Henderson, who does my publicity, so I was able to tell Imran how lucky he was.

I was also enchanted after a long time to see Camilla Dempster, Nigel’s sweet widow, and author Brian Masters and the irrepressible Nicky Haslam. I don’t remember what I drank or ate, but the whole evening was perfect.

That’s all really, except for a lovely piece by Sophie de Rosée on our garden in the Daily Telegraph Colour Magazine and another lovely day at the Cartier International Polo Day at the Guards’ Club last Sunday, which was as full of fun and glamour and lovely ponies as ever. We are all also frightfully excited because our lovely village of Bisley has just been named ‘the most vibrant village in Gloucestershire’. Bluebell is convinced her arrival tipped the balance.

Leo and I are now looking forward to our Golden Wedding in October, and I am thrilled that, to coincide with this, my dear publishers are re-printing the first book I ever wrote back in 1969, a slim but very opinionated volume called How to Stay Married.
I have written a new Foreword to temper the more outrageous pronouncements, and hope it will amuse people and perhaps encourage couples to stay together longer.

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