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Rob McGibbon

Rob McGibbon



Felicity Kendal, 75, spent much of her childhood in India on tour with her father’s repertory company. She shot to fame playing Barbara in the BBC sitcom The Good Life in 1975. She is about to tour in Michael Frayn’s farce Noises Offand is writing the follow-up to her 1998 bestselling memoir, White Cargo.

First stage play I saw
My family’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream — but I was nine months old, so does that count? I was the Changeling Boy to my mother’s Titania and my view was from a basket. My childhood was spent watching Shakespeare plays from the wings or performing in them all over India. The first play I saw that was not ours was a school production of Richard II at the Doon, a posh boys school in Dehradun, in the north. It was an open air production with a forest as the backdrop. My sister Jennifer, who was 13 years older than me, played Queen Anne and King Richard made his first entrance on a real stallion. Fabulous!

First film I saw at the cinema
This will date me. The original Walt Disney Peter Pan from 1953 when I was about seven. My aunt Mary took me to see it in Bangalore. I loved Captain Hook and his wicked smile and Tiger Lily, but I thought Tinker Bell was a pain in the arse. One of my very few regrets in life is that I turned down the Peter role in a great production at the Coliseum in 1976 because I was having problems in my love life. Damn. Whoever that boyfriend was, he wasn’t worth it.

First actor I admired
Paul Scofield
playing Timon in Timon of Athens at Stratford-upon-Avon in 1965 when I was 19. I went on my own and sat up in the gods. Paul was mesmerising. He was physically beautiful and I remember him striding the stage like a panther, his voice filling the theatre. He had such charisma that he commanded concentration from the audience. I went again the following week, even though I had so little money.

His performance gave me the determination to fight to get into the business. I went on to work with him three times — in Amadeus, Othello at the National and in Heartbreak House. He was very special and I loved him dearly. I flatter myself that, as much of a recluse that he was, I became one of the few who could claim to be his friend.

First TV show I never missed
I was never that interested in television when I was young because I saw it as second class compared to theatre or films. Plus, there weren’t many televisions on tour in India. Back in England, I first lived with my mother’s family in Solihull and they watched TV every evening after supper. It was me and my three cousins, my aunt and uncle, all crammed into a tiny front room. The Avengersand The Man from U.N.C.L.E were firm favourites — but if there was anything remotely sexual my uncle felt so uncomfortable that he’d get up and go to his study.

First sitcom that made me laugh
Dad’s Army
was unmissable. All the cast were fantastic, the scripts were to die for, and the comic timing was blissful. They made it all look so effortless. My favourite was John Le Mesurier as Wilson. I called him Eeyore because he was always the gloomy one. Comedy is all about timing and great scripts, which is what we had in The Good Life. I have done a lot of comedy over the years because it is fun and lifts my spirits. That’s why I’m doing Noises Off.

First book I loved
A thrilling biography about Mary Queen of Scots, simply called The Queen of Scots by Stefan Zweig. I remember reading it in my early teens on a voyage from Bombay to Singapore. Our theatre company always travelled in the cheapest cabins and I could not wait to crawl on to my top bunk, open the book and disappear to the 1500s. It was a total escape.

First album I bought
We only had a very basic portable gramophone in India and we had very little money, but when I was about 14 my sister Jennifer gave me an LP of Albinoni’s Adagio for Strings in G minor. I listened to it endlessly and I still love it. It is haunting and beautiful and it takes me straight back to those years. Jennifer died of cancer in 1984 when she was only 50, which was awful. She was the star of our family and that piece of music always reminds me of her, so it is particularly moving. It makes me want to cry.

First famous person I met
Nehru
[the Indian prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru] when I was about six. He came to our production of The Merchant of Venice in Delhi. He always invited my dad to lunch whenever we were in Delhi. I also met the Maharani of Jaipur — Gayatri Devi — when I was 12. She invited our company to tea. She wafted into the room on a cloud of glorious jasmine perfume. To this day, she is still the most beautiful person I have ever seen. I didn’t know at the time that she was famous, but I was stage struck.

First time I cried at the cinema
The first film that made me cry as an adult was Brief Encounter with Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard. They gave such subtle, beautiful performances — a masterclass in the lesson that less is more when acting in films. Being real is what works, not hamming it up.

Felicity Kendal is in the 40th anniversary production of Noises Off, opening at Theatre Royal Bath on Sep 22, then touring until Oct 29

Felicity Kendal – My Cultural Firsts, Sunday Times. Writer’s Cut

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Sir Richard Branson – Sixty Seconds, Metro

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How to make yourself feel slim: (Photo Copyright: Rob McGibbon)


Cyprus’ Got Talent – Absolutely Kensington & Chelsea

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The McBeatles Tour – Escape, Daily Mail

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Chantal Coady – Tips From The Top, Metro

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Sir Richard Branson – My Cup of Tea, Waitrose

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Tips From The Top



Sir Richard Branson – Tips From The Top, Metro

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The Legend of Wembley 1999 meets the coaching staff. Clearly, a big moment for them

Top of the League – Cyprus travel feature, Daily Mail

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Virgin Limited Edition, Richard Branson, The Great House, Necker Island, 2018

Rob McGibbon was the only journalist invited onto Virgin Voyages’ first ship – Scarlet Lady. After a tour, McGibbon sat down to interview Richard and VV CEO Tom McAlpin

Legendary entrepreneur Rob McGibbon on Scarlet Lady with an old deck hand



Sir Richard Branson interview: Daily Express

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The Sunday Times Magazine. Click to read the interview

Mick Hucknall interview – The Sunday Times Magazine

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Dame Joan Bakewell has been a leading broadcaster, journalist and author since the 1960s, when comedian Frank Muir dubbed her “the thinking man’s crumpet”. Now 86, she was awarded a life peerage in 2011 and took the title Baroness Bakewell of Stockport to reflect her Northern upbringing. She has been married twice and famously had an eight-year affair from 1962 with playwright Harold Pinter, which inspired his 1978 play Betrayal. Bakewell lives alone in Primrose Hill, North London, and has two children from her first marriage, Harriet, 59, and Matthew, 57 and six grandchildren, aged 18-26. 

My day begins with a rigid routine that gradually gets ragged as the day continues. The alarm goes off at 6.50am, which gives me time to fetch a cup of tea and come back to bed to listen to the Radio 4 news at 7am. I have Earl Grey – always decaffeinated because I have a lot of adrenaline of my own. I’ve not had caffein for at least ten years, so if I ever have it these days without knowing I’m as high as a kite. 

I never listen to the Today program after the news because there’s far too much testosterone for me at that time of the morning. I have The Guardian delivered, so instead I read that cover to cover, except for the sport and pop music. 

I am very much a morning person and wake up with lots of energy and buzzing with ideas – well, probably more attitude, than ideas. I go on Twitter and send out a few tweets in response to the news, as a way of getting any irritation out of me. I also respond to any comments from friends on Twitter, as a way of staying on touch.

Just before Christmas, I moved into my new home after living in the same big house for 55 years in Primrose Hill. Moving was a great trauma and a lot of stress, but it is important to make the move at my age before it’s too late. I had moved into the old house with my husband Michael in 1963 when the area was really shabby and unfashionable. The house cost us £12,500, which was a lot of money then and we needed a mortgage, but I will not say what I sold it for.

I have downsized to a very large former artist’s studio, which is just a ten minute walk from where I used to live. It is far easier to organise and manage, so I’m loving it. I have even prepared a small bedsit in the attic area for a carer, should I ever need one. It’s best to think ahead.

I take three pills each morning: two supplements – Omega 3 and Glycocyamine for my bones – and Statins to stop me having heart trouble. For years, breakfast was marmalade on toast, but recently I started having granola with fresh fruits, honey and yoghurt. I spend most mornings working from two desks I have on a mezzanine level overlooking the main room – a large one for general work, such as writing book reviews or speeches, and the smaller one for household bills and Thank You notes.

As you get older, you have to rely on people to help. My housekeeper and friend Frances turns up every weekday at 10.30am. She has been with me for 20 years and sorts me out. I work from a MacBook Air laptop, but I’m not particularly techie, so I have a man called The Mac Doctor who is a delight. If something goes wrong, I scream down the phone and he comes round and saves me.

Two mornings a week, from 8-9am, I go to the same pilates class I have been doing for 25 years at a studio a short drive away in Belsize Park. This has kept me agile and my posture in good shape. There are six of us in the class and we have become good friends. 

I usually have something light and simple  for lunch at home – a bowl of homemade soup, avocado with smoked salmon, or some cheese and biscuits. Quite often I will fry up leftovers from another meal. I was a war child, so I hate to throw anything away. I always listen to the World at One with Sarah Montague – and then it is time for my daily snooze!

I have been having an afternoon nap ever since doctors advised me to rest during the day when I was pregnant with Harriet in 1959. These days, I even have one whenever I’m on location filming for television. Storyvault Films, the production company I work for, really look after me and always fix up a local hotel room for my nap. If there isn’t one nearby, they bring a fold out bed, with sheets and pillows, which they put up in a Winnebago. I have a mediative technic that helps me neutralise my brain and sleep for 20 minutes. I believe in the great merit of a snooze because I come out bouncing and refreshed and will keep working happily long into the evening when everyone else is flagging.

My afternoons on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday from 2.30pm are spent at the House of Lords. I drive there in my red Mini Cooper, which is an extension of home. I crawl through the traffic thinking, listening to the radio and working. I park at the House where the Mini looks a bit lonely alongside all the big Audis and Lexus’s. 

I was invited to be a working peer by Ed Miliband and I was more frightened when I was giving my first speech than I had ever been when broadcasting to millions. You are talking to an extremely learned lot who are very authoritative, but is a collegiate atmosphere and I enjoy dealing with ideas and engaging with interesting people. I get a sense of fulfilment going there.

I chose my title Baroness Bakewell of Stockport because I felt that it was important to go back to my roots. Initially, I thought of using Camden Town or Primrose Hill, but that would hardly authenticate any views I wanted to express about the great Northern Powerhouse! Besides, my roots are important to me.

My younger sister Susan and I were brought up on a new plot of houses on the outskirts of Stockport that had been built on the road to Macclesfield. The development remained unfinished for years because of the war, so we could turn left out of our house and within a matter of yards be in fields and then the countryside. It was a wonderful place to grow up. Susan died from breast cancer when she was 58 in 1997.

Joan with her little sister Susan

I had a complicated relationship with my mother Rose. She was a highly intelligent woman, but she had married young, as they did in those days, and felt completely unfulfilled in her life. She was depressed, although no one described it as that then. I just thought she was being difficult. She died from leukemia, also at 58, when I was 28.

At about 4pm I need a sugar rush, so I go to the River Restaurant at the House and have a cup of tea and a scone with cream and jam, or a piece of chocolate cake. Work there usually finishes at 6.30pm, unless there’s a debate, and then I creep home. Often I go out to dinner with friends, either locally or in the West End. I will have a glass of white wine, but don’t drink much these days. I also go to the theatre a lot and enjoy the opera. One of my great indulgences is using taxis. I either hail a black taxi in the street, or book one with the same local radio cab company I have been using for years.

House of Lords restaurant

I’m a news junkie, so my day ends with watching the headlines and the newspaper review on the BBC News Channel, and then I’m in bed by 11.15pm. I always have a couple of books on the go, so I will read for a while before nodding off. I’m a good sleeper, so I will be out until the alarm goes. I used to like a small brandy as a nightcap, but I have stopped that because, like most old people, I do not want to get up in the night.

Joan Bakewell – A Day in the Life, The Sunday Times Magazine. Writer’s Cut

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“I’m not someone who looks back. 90210 opened some doors and I don’t regret doing it, nor do I have any illusions that the interest in it will go away”


A note on the text from Rob McGibbon: This interview with Luke was conducted during lunch on the last day of filming of The Beat Beneath My Feet in October 2013. It was written for The Independent, which commissioned it, then spiked it.

I was an Associate Producer on the movie, which had a screenplay by Michael Mueller and produced by Scoop Films. I had fluked into the film a few months earlier after an impromptu social meeting with Raj Sharma, the founder and owner of Scoop. He told me that he had just green lit a new film, but was really struggling to cast the lead role. I asked him to summarise the plot. After he had finished, straight off the bat, I said: “You need an American, someone who was really hot in the 1990s. What about Luke Perry?” It would prove to be a moment of divine casting inspiration – as well as deep relief that all those pointless years in showbiz journalism had not been entirely wasted. Raj was intrigued by the idea. Three weeks later, he took me to dinner and announced with a shrill of excitement: “You won’t believe this, but we have signed Luke Perry!” From that moment on I was heavily involved in the film. This included interviewing Luke, and, quite unbelievably, “starring” in the last scene of the film “with” him. My quote marks.

Gifted Guitar Wrangler

The director John Williams was in desperate need of a new extra for the final scene, but it was getting late. We had about an hour left to shoot before the film had to wrap and John wasn’t happy with the member of the crew who had been lined up for the part. He scoped around the school hall where we were filming and suddenly his eyes alighted upon me. He came over and scanned my blue Geox bomber jacket and my two-tone burgundy brogues. He then muttered a sentence that had never been directed at me before, nor since. “You have a great look.” I instinctively looked behind me. He then explained what I had to do in the scene. He noticed my alarmed look, then asked pointedly: “Are you up to that?” Er, yeah sure. I was to be Luke Perry’s guitar wrangler, backstage at a big rock concert. The scene involved Luke walking towards me, followed by the steady cam. I would shake his hand, wish him good luck, and pass him his electric guitar. Easy. Well, until a loud, beefy bloke aggressively shouts “Action”. Luke very kindly did a rehearsal with me before the camera started rolling. “You just do it anyway you feel is right, my friend,” he said. I immersed myself in character and impressed him with my natural talent in passing an object to another human being. It is fair to say that I nailed it. Well, I didn’t cock it up. In the final cut of this scene, my right elbow and hand get star billing. At least I can say, without any sense of hype, that I worked on a film with Luke Perry and that he was great to work with.

In all seriousnesses, he was. Luke was a generous actor, who was encouraging and kind to all the cast, most notably Nicholas Galitzine who was making his first film. But, beyond that, Luke also brought a vast amount of support to the production team, many of whom were very new to the business. He had no airs and graces and happily put up with his “luxury Winnebago” for the shoot, which was a particularly decrepit camper van. He was a shy and intense character who preferred to keep a distance, but he was also quick to muck in and help when help was needed. Once the film wrapped, we took over an upstairs room of the pub where we had been filming and Luke got straight behind the bar. He served drinks to all the crew for many hours. I had a brief chat with him before I left and he gave me a quick hug and thanked me for suggesting him for the part. He was a good guy with a big heart.

Rob McGibbon meeting Luke for the first time on set in South London


Poster for the film from 2014

Interview by Rob McGibbon at The Bedford, Balham, London, October 2013.

It’s one of the last places you’d expect to find Luke Perry, the cool dude from Beverly Hills, but here he is high on the roof of a vast and fetid pub called The Bedford in Balham. 

The sunny glamour of the 90210 zip code is replaced by the grey urban reality of SW12 9HD, but he’s gamely climbing sloping slate tiles during a photo shoot so the distant London skyline can fill the background. To his credit, Perry doesn’t even flinch when the photographer shouts, a touch gauchely, “G’on, gimme a mean James Dean look.” This was the impossible celluloid comparison he was saddled with twenty-five years ago. Evidently, it still shadows him. 

Numerous moody scowls later, Perry squeezes in opposite me on an abandoned old picnic bench table and begins constructing a roll-up with Golden Virginia. A screen of pub tea-towels flutter on the washing line near us and trains from the station below clatter by. It begins to drizzle. Surely, that James Dean tag gets on your nerves?

“Hey, I’m easy, man,” he says in a husky drawl, with an insouciant smile. “There ain’t nothin’ new under the sun for me with that kind of stuff. I maintain a relaxed line.”

Perry’s resigned calmness is understandable. He lived through the mayhem of teen heartthrob fame and has the wardrobe of white crew neck T-shirts to prove it. And his face bears testament to that. The James Dean quiff has thinned and receded noticeably since those pin-up days, while the frown lines in his forehead are deeply etched. 

He is also craggy around the eyes but, for 47 (soon to be 48), Perry has worn pretty well.  The face is still angular and he remains lean, toned and handsome, not to mention, inescapably cool. He is affable and likeable, but is instinctively guarded and wilfully remote. 

Throughout the 1990s Perry played rebellious Dylan McKay in that seminal teen series with Jason Priestley and Shannen Doherty. He chalked up 199 episodes and posters of him papered the homes of besotted girls around the world. Fans often besieged his parents’ home in the mid-West hoping he’d turn up.

The years since then have been mixed, both professionally and personally. There has been no stellar Hollywood movie career that many predicted, but unlike some of his fictional classmates he has never stopped working, which is no mean feat considering the typecasting inflicted by such a huge TV series. 

American TV series and made-for-TV movies have been his staple out-put, as well stage work, including The Rocky Horror Show on Broadway and When Harry Met Sally in the West End in 2004. Life away from the screen has had its challenges, too, not least when his ten-year marriage to Minnie Sharp ended in divorce a decade ago. They have two teenage children – Jack, 17, and Sophie, 13.

You sense that bringing out the ashes of Beverley Hills 90210 could be a touchy subject with Perry, but he bats it away easily. “I look back on those days fondly,” he says. “I love those people. Jason [Priestley] is still a dear friend and we hang out a lot. We even vacation together with our kids. I’ve lost touch with most of the other guys, but hey it’s a long time ago, we’re all busy getting on with life.

“Any of the negative stuff that came from the show is far surpassed by the positive. I learnt so much about acting and filming and it changed everything for me. It was quite a ride and the association with such a big series has hardly been unkind. A lot of people watched it and loved it. Who I am to complain?”

But how about the pretty boy label, surely that has been a pain and hard to escape? “I don’t know how to answer that. If I had a succinct response, I would share it with you. I don’t think about those things because it seems you’re talking about someone else. I’m an actor. It’s as simple as that.

Luke with Nicholas Galitzine and DJ-turned-actor Christian O’Connell

“Besides, I don’t really see the downside and, if there is one, I don’t concentrate on it. I’m not someone who looks back. 90210 opened some doors and I don’t regret doing it, nor do I have any illusions that the interest in it will go away. I mean, we’re talking about it now, even though it has nothing to do with what I’m doing here.”

Fair point. So what brings him to the dubious delights of Balham? Perry is here playing the lead amongst a group of unknown actors in The Beat Beneath My Feet, his first foray into a low budget British independent film. 

The Beat Beneath My Feet is a comedy drama with Perry as a broken down American rock guitarist called Max Stone, who has faked his death after tragedy and financial ruin destroyed his life. Stone re-surfaces in South London, where he is recognised and blackmailed by an obsessive teenager called Tom, played by newcomer Nick Galitzine. 

Tom is hell-bent on becoming a guitarist and their unlikely friendship makes for a moving and entertaining story that has been receiving a positive reaction on the independent film circuit. The movie launches at London’s Raindance Film Festival later this month.

But what on earth draws a star like Luke Perry to such a small movie and how does he swap Beverley Hills for Balham?

“I’m very comfortable in places like this,” he says, gazing across the rooftops. “I come from a very working class, blue-collar area in Ohio, so these smells and inner city vibes are as familiar to me as a place like Beverly Hills. Besides, I have a real love for all aspects of London. After-all, my ex-wife is British.

“And me doing this film always comes down to the same thing: Am I moved by the story? I read the script and it moved me. There have been moments on this where I have felt this character flowing through me and that has touched me deeply. I have felt overcome with emotion and those fleeting moments are the best you can hope for as an actor. 

“Sure, it would be great to have an extra 50,000 dollars to spend on certain things, but that won’t necessarily make the scene any better. The only down side to this movie has been the food – it’s not been great!”

Clearly Perry has been doing well enough to indulge in projects that creatively appeal, so how are things looking for his career in general? He is predictably laid back: 

“I’m somewhere between my last job and my next one. That is always the way I have looked at this business. My last job is behind me, my next job is out there somewhere in front of me. I just keep going like that and I’m lucky to be able to do things that interest me. 

“I choose how much and what I do, but that doesn’t mean I get the pick of everything. Maybe Tom Hanks gets that trip, but any actor who says otherwise is full of sh*t. I just keep on going.

“As far as I can see, no movie can make your career and no movie can break your career. It’s all just one after the next. As long as people watch this and see something they haven’t seen before, then I’m happy. If the movie also makes some money, well, no-one is ever p*ssed when that happens.”

And, with that, Perry runs a hand through his hair and heads back for filming in the pub below. He hunches into the collar of his coat and ambles off looking, it has to be said, very much like James Dean.


Following a stroke, Luke Perry died in hospital in Los Angeles on 4th March 2019. He was 52.


How I fluked into movies, thanks to Luke Perry…

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Photo by Charlie Alcock for The Sunday Times Magazine (December 2018)

In 2002, writer Rob McGibbon was unexpectedly hit by gout. Years of secret suffering has followed, but here he explains how he turned the agony into a catalyst for positive change…

I have a painful secret: I get gout. 

I will save the pain until later, but first I need to explain why I have kept this god-awful affliction quiet.

The problem with gout is that it makes people snigger. It’s hard to think of another serious condition that encourages such mirth, but it’s true, you get mocked. I vividly remember when this first happened to me, early on in my 16 long years of intermittent hell. I had to interview a celebrity, who should remain nameless – but won’t because it’s so annoying when people say that: it was Nigel Pivaro, Terry Duckworth from Coronation Street. 

I limped into our meeting and naively told the truth about my condition, as my left foot throbbed inside a loosely-laced trainer. He laughed throatily, then lapsed into a pantomime skit of a bonkers, cheeky-puffing old General: “What-ho, Brigadier, have you been attacking that orful port at the club?” I’m all for heartless laddish banter, but I was a touch taken aback.

Nigel was not alone. That same week, I mentioned gout to one or two friends and they all reacted flippantly. As I cancelled golf, a mate started chuckling and cut away from the phone to yell this hilarious breaking news to his wife. Ha ha. It was clear that gout is for lightweights. 

This early reaction made me feel embarrassed, so I decided to keep it private, except for those closest to me. Whenever I have had to venture out with obvious signs – crutches, or a severe limp are a giveaway – I have fudged the reason or reluctantly lied. Michael Barrymore was impressed I got crocked doing the Iron Man and my neighbours must think I’m more injury-prone than Frank Spencer.

To be fair, the jokes from friends have eased, but the disparaging ignorance of others is widespread. My most recent gout attack was last November. I told a friend – 35 and working in the shallows of showbiz – why I was really cancelling dinner. “Gout?” he replied, genuinely challenged. “I thought people got that in Victorian times, or during the plague”. It was time to break cover.

Gout has a PR problem. For starters, it’s such an odd, blunt word that actually sounds silly and light. It might help if it was re-branded to something longer and more medical. Things certainly aren’t helped when newspapers insist on using Henry VIII to illustrate every gout article. It is often described as the “disease of kings”, so mad Henry is our poster boy. Heck, even the current (edition of Tatler has gout in its 32 things that define what you need in 2019 to be upper class. Terribly funny.

The unavoidable reason why gout sufferers are ribbed is its age-old association with port-nosed boozers and gluttonous high living. Mea culpa – I’m pretty certain they’re the main reasons why I suffer, but it isn’t necessarily quite so simplistic. I have had four gout attacks brought on by strenuous exercise, such as football or long bike rides. Here comes the science bit. Concentrate… 

Gout is inflammatory arthritis, the super-max kind with extra wincing on the side. It’s not the achy stuff that makes old folk grumble. It is caused when your blood is over-run with uric acid, which is generated when the body breaks down purines. Purines are a protein that is contained in a sweeping array of foods and certain lines of delicious alcohol – especially beer, red wine, and good ol’ port. 

Uric acid settles around a joint and turns into urate crystals, which creates a gout attack. Trust me, it is horrendous. The big toe is the most famous location, but it also hits knees, elbows, even fingers. Ankles are popular. Gout particularly loves my left one. 

Now for the pain: mine often begins suddenly across the top of a foot and panic sets in as it gradually spreads to the toes. Within five or six hours, the entire foot and ankle is transformed into a hot, bloated, pulsating red sausage of agony. 

Traditionally, the fierce grip of gout finally arrives in the dead of night. My wife will hear me dragging a foot across the floorboards and mutter “Oh, nooo”, but she’s used to it. I was on crutches with gout when I proposed in Paris in 2006. Our celebratory ascent to Sacre-Coeur did wonders for my upper body definition. A year ago I dragged a gouty foot around Athens and a party-heavy New Year trip to New York in 2015 saw me convulsed in discomfort throughout the entire flight home. I thought my foot would explode. I needed the beeping golf cart transfer from the gate at Heathrow. Humiliating.

Forget sleeping with gout. You must lie there as motionless as possible, watching the dawn arrive with a foot dangling off the end of the bed to cool it down. Nothing must touch it. I mostly spend the first two days forcing the foot as often as I dare into a washing up bowl of icy water. It twitches as if hitting an electrical charge. 

I have a set of crutches are on standby and if I’m lucky, this acute phase lasts 48 hours and then I can get around with a limp. All trace is gone within a week-10 days. The trouble is, at the same time you are also hit with flu-like symptoms and fever because your system is all mashed. 

My gout nadir was in 2011 when it holidayed in my left knee. The entire joint ballooned. I couldn’t bend it, or put weight on it, and the slightest wrong movement left me hugging the kitchen island or a bannister, eyes closed, panting through gritted teeth. No pain killer was strong enough. I was on crutches for two weeks and unable to walk comfortably for close to two months. I finally emerged back onto my modest social scene to gushing praise for my leaner, detoxed glow. Gout boot camp. Don’t ever try it.

I have had 24 attacks since 2002, mostly in my ankles. I know all this because I have kept a gout diary – my contribution to “misery lit”. The first doctor to see me in A&E said with certainty that it was “cellulitis”. The next attack came three years later and again there was confusion with the diagnosis. Following five more attacks spread over the next number of years, my GP finally agreed with what I already knew.

A private consultant later explained that I have a genetic pre-disposition to gout that renders my kidneys unable to flush out uric aside fast enough. At times my body is like a cup of tea that cannot absorb any more teaspoons of sugar – except it’s acid. That metaphor cost me £250. Feel free to pass it on.

When you join the gout club, you get a watchlist of foods that have varying levels of purines. It is shockingly long. Red zone: offal, game, oily fish, seafood, yeast. Amber: all meat and poultry, spinach, asparagus, peas, beans, cauliflower, mushrooms, fizzy sweet drinks. It goes on and bloody on. You wonder what’s left. Salad, yoghurt, fruit, pasta, eggs and veg, that’s what. Super. Then it gets to the contraband that really matter, at least to me: beer and wine. And, of course, port, which I hate anyway. Spirits are fine, but I don’t drink those.

It’s all a bit depressing at first. You think you will never demolish a steak with a bottle of claret again, or a seafood platter served over ice in a sunny harbour. And how on earth can you pad up with your mates for a glorious day at Lord’s, the Home of All-Day Drinking. Alarm bells ring in your head just as things are getting merry. Anything north of three pints these days and I start to worry and stop. In the grand schemes of things, this is hardly the greatest burden, but the daft old ways of getting legless now take on a sinister reality, which can be a bore.  

You soon learn to keep out of the red zone of food and alcohol except on rare occasions and staying dry for at least a few days a week is vital. Conversely, being hydrated (buckets of water) is essential. But there are plenty of upsides to all this and, bizarrely, gout has had a positive impact on my health. 

My GP says that I am in decent shape for 53, so I should be OK in later life, when my hard-drinking pals will probably be dropping like addled flies. That said, gout has chewed arthritis into my left ankle, which means I’m unlikely to enjoy golf and tennis in my 80s. I’ll worry about that if I get that far. 

These days, I get one attack a year, two if I’m desperately unlucky, or stupid. I reluctantly started taking the drug Allopurinol in 2010, after finally accepting that lifestyle change was simply not enough. Two little white 100mg pills a day helps neutralise the uric acid, but it is no panacea. I have tried endless supplements to reduce the acid, from sodium bicarbonate, to concentrated cherry juice, cranberries and Vitamin C. These days I just have a nip of apple cider vinegar each morning out of a tequila shot glass.

Medical research on gout seems to be sketchy and largely out of date, but all indicators suggest it is on the rise. Apparently, one in 40 people in the UK get it, mostly men. I find this extraordinary, especially given the amount of inveterate boozers I know, because I have yet to meet a fellow sufferer. Maybe they’re all keeping it secret. Hopefully, they won’t feel the need any longer.

As for the image of gout, I hope it can change. Maybe you can avoid the crass jokes. Simply say: “Ooh, you poor soldier. When you’re up and about let’s have a beer.” That little hope of a better day will ease the pain.

Copyright Rob McGibbon. Please do not use any of the above article or photos without proper permissions. 2019

How it feels to…. get gout – The Sunday Times Magazine. Writer’s Cut

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A Great Greek Revival – Athens, Daily Mail

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Daily Mail: A Great Greek Revival. Published 18th April 2018

Athens

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This is an extended version of my interview published on 17  June 2017

 

“My unfulfilled ambition? I want to live until I am 120 and then get shot by a jealous husband”

The prized possession you value above all others…I would be lost without my whimsical mind and imagination, so they are incredibly precious. In terms of objects, I love my book collection. I have about 50,000, which includes countless editions on comedy, comedians, clowns and showbusiness. I am a performer at heart and these books feed my mind and soul. We are having an extension built to our house [he shares with his fiancée Anne Jones] in Knotty Ash, outside Liverpool, that will become my library. The books are symbols of my passion for entertainment.

The biggest regret you wish you could amendI wish I had learnt more about the use of the English language, so I could write coherently like leading authors such as Charles Dickens and Mark Twain. I was very bright when I was a kid and I did well at school, but to write creatively is a great skill. I am a prolific note taker, but that’s about it. I have notebooks going back 20 years and I find it fascinating to read what I was thinking decades ago.

The temptation you wish you could resist…All kinds of sweets, especially Rowntree’s Fruit Pastilles. I always have a family-size packet on the go in the car. I’m up and down the motorway like a yoyo, so I eat far too many sweets. I also love ice cream – vanilla or strawberry.

The book that holds an everlasting resonance…The Coral Island by R.M Ballantyne, which I read when I was about six. It’s about three boys shipwrecked on an island in the South Pacific and it took me off into another world. Like any boy I craved adventure and I wanted to be heroic like those boys. I was lucky because God blessed me with the ability to read from a very young age. I was four when I started consuming books. 

The priority activity if you were the Invisible Man for a day…I’d go to the Office for National Statistics to verify how they work things out. One day they’re saying something is bad for you, then three weeks later they say it’s fine. I never know what to believe.

The pet hate that makes your hackles rise…Bullying driving on the motorways. I do about 30,000 miles a year – it used to be well over 100,000 – and I see some terrible, reckless driving. There’s always some daft Hooray Henry driving too close making you pull over. Motorways should be a safe and speedy way to travel, but some drivers make it dangerous.

The film you can watch time and time again…The Producers with Mel Brooks is beautifully acted and always makes me laugh. Brooks is a truly great humorist and one of the giants of comedy.

The person who has influenced you most…My parents – Arthur and Sarah. My dad was a very funny man who loved variety theatre. He would come home after a show and sing the songs or tell the jokes to me and my brother and sister. He made us laugh so much. My mother was also very special. She always said, “Kenny, I don’t care what you get upto, so long as you wear a clean shirt.” I have never forgotten that – and I always have a clean shirt.

The figure from history for whom you’d most like to buy a pie and a pint…William Shakespeare. His plays are full of poetry and imagery, with words that are like little miracles. He gives such a wonderful insight into the world and the human spirit. I’d ask him if he really wrote them all.

The piece of wisdom you would pass on to a child…Always follow your dream. If you work hard and do everything with enthusiasm, it will come true. The secret of happiness is to plant a seed and watch it grow. Plant the seed of your dream and cultivate it.

The unlikely interest that engages your curiosity…Philosophy. During the past couple of years, I have enjoyed reading the great philosophers. I have been trying to understand what “it” is all about, the meaning of life and such like.

The treasured item you lost and wish you could have again…The ability to swim with confidence. I was terrified of water when I was kid and hated putting my head under water because it was too claustrophobic. I got over it with lessons in the 1980s, but now the fear has come back.

The unending quest that drives you on…To keep breathing and staying alive! I’m 89 now and I want to keep spreading a bit of happiness. My energy is good and I have no intention of slowing down.

The poem that touches your soul…I love the religious quote:However black the clouds may be/In time they’ll pass away/Have faith and trust and you will see/God’s light make bright your day.’ I recited it for my first audition when I was young – before I was a teenager – and I have never forgotten it. I enjoy going to church every week and those words remind me to believe in God, the Lord and creator

The misapprehension about yourself you wish you could erase…I am very grateful that the British people treat me well and I don’t know of any preconceived ideas they may have that are wrong. I am often mistaken for George Clooney and a woman once came up to me and said, “Hello handsome – can you tell me the way to the opticians.” 

The event that altered the course of your life and character…When my dad took all the family to my first show at the Shakespeare Theatre of Varieties in Liverpool when I was seven or eight. I sat there wide-eyed and I knew then that I wanted to be a performer. I was totally inspired.

The crime you would commit knowing you could get away with it…At my age, any thought of crime does not appeal. I might steal a kiss from a pretty girl, but that’s about it.

The song that means most to you…My song Happiness has become my signature tune and means a lot to me. I sing it at every show and I’ve done it thousands of times, but I still love it. I love life and that song is a celebration of being alive and enjoying all the wonderful things that life can bring.

The way you would spend your fantasy 24 hours, with no travel restrictions…I have travelled all over the world in my time, but these days I prefer to be in Britain. East-West, Britain is best is my motto. So I’d be happy having a quiet morning at home. Our house was built in 1782 and I have spent most of my life there, so it’s where I’m happiest. I am a great tea drinker, so I’d have a few cups for breakfast with some Shredded Wheat. I’d then read the paper – Daily Mail, of course! – and try and find something funny to put into my show that night. Later, I’d take my black poodle Rufus for a walk. Britain has some of the most beautiful scenery in the world, so I would probably head somewhere in Yorkshire. Rufus is lively and affectionate and is about the seventh black poodle I have had over the years. I’d have soup – pea or oxtail are my favourites – for lunch, then spend a few hours looking through some rare books in the Bodleian Library at Oxford University. My life is ruled by my gigging diary and I am happy with that, so then I would get ready for a show. I would pack up the machine – a Mercedes – then head for the motorway. There are so many wonderful theatres across Britain, but my favourite venue is always the one I’m performing at that night. I feel blessed because I spend my life around happy people who are out for a night to have fun. I am completely in love with showbusiness, so I will enjoy myself playing a gig.

The happiest moment you will cherish forever…Being made a knight in the Queen’s Honour List this year was a huge moment. It made me feel special and I am grateful to all the people who helped make it happen. Prince William gave it to me. Now I am getting measured up for some armour and I’m getting a horse.

The saddest time that shook your world…Losing my parents was hard. They were absolutely wonderful people who gave me the most fantastic childhood and so much good advice and support. Bereavement is very personal. It was a lonely time in my life, but my faith in God helped me through.

The unfulfilled ambition that continues to haunt you…I want to live until I am 120 and then get shot by a jealous husband.

The philosophy that underpins your life…The man who never made a mistake, never made anything. I tell this to young people who ask me about going into showbusiness. Never be afraid of making mistakes because that is how you learn. It is called experience.

The order of service at your funeral…You definitely won’t get me answering this one. No. No. No. I am to busy living to think of that.

The way you want to be remembered…He gave us happiness and laughter.

Sir Ken was born in Liverpool on 8th November 1927. Following being hospitalised for a chest infection, he died at his home in West London on 11th March 2018. He was 90.

RM says: Interviewing Ken for something as specific as The Definite Article was like trying to herd cats. He zipped around tangentially,  or fenced away sensitive subjects with jokes. But he was fun and a gentleman. He called my mobile on the day it was published some weeks later and left a wonderfully nuts and appreciative voice message. Such manners in showbiz are rare. We spoke later and he invited me to one of his shows. I wish I had gone, but the dates never aligned. What a character, what a legend.

Comedy Legend Sir Ken Dodd: The Definite Article – Writer’s Cut

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By Rob McGibbon

This is an extended version of my interview published on 27  June 2014

 

“I want my body laid out in my coffin on a bed of sliced truffles, then carried in by six beautiful women. I then want a big party in the foothills of Mont Blanc, where my ashes will be put into a huge firework rocket and fired into the sky”

 

The prized possession you value above all others…My home in South West London. I moved in eight years ago and I call it Il Castelluccio – The Little Castle. It’s a 1950s property, not overly big, but it is in a cul de sac so it is very quiet. My garden is full of fruit. I have prunes, pears, quinces, and plums. The house is probably worth over £1m, but I do not care about such things. I live here alone and this is where I find peace and silence. It is my sanctuary.

The biggest regret you wish you could amendThat I no longer have any communication with my ex-wife Priscilla and her children and grandchildren. They were my stepchildren and such a happy part of my life for so long, but something has happened and I cannot explain what. It is hard for me to understand. My philosophy in life is never to hurt anyone, but something has happened and it makes me sad. 

The temptation you wish you could resist…Asking so many questions about everything! I believe that man’s ability for knowledge is infinite, so I am always curious to learn more. But sometimes maybe it is better to not have an answer and to enjoy a bit of mystery.

The book that holds an everlasting resonance…Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy. They are such fascinating books that work on so many levels – for young people, as well as adults. They are incredibly complex and challenging to follow, but I love the fantasy and losing myself in the stories. 

The priority activity if you were the Invisible Man for a day…I would follow a traffic warden around London and cause chaos as he or she gives out tickets. I’d like to find out what goes on inside the head of a traffic warden because it seems to be the most nonsensical occupation. I cannot understand why anyone would want to do it. 

The pet-hate that makes your hackles rise…Ignorant people who have no appreciation of the world or their fellow humans. I have to take a deep breath when I came across ignorance because it makes me so angry.

The film you can watch time and time again…Il Postino is the most beautiful and touching film and it always moves me. The acting is wonderful and the story takes me back to happy times in my childhood in Northern Italy when my father was the local railway stationmaster.

The person who has influenced you most…My mother, Maria. Throughout my childhood she was so full of life. She was tender, but also very strong and always ready to defend her nest of six children. My mother gave me my values and taught me a lot about cooking. She died about 20 years ago and there are only three of us children left now.

The figure from history for whom you’d most like to buy a pie and a pint…The great actor Peter Ustinov. I met him briefly at a party in the 1990s and he was such an interesting, intelligent man with a great sense of humour and he was an incredible mimic. He had an amazing life. I’d love to go back to the early 1950s when he was playing Nero in Quo Vadis [released in 1951]. I loved him in that film. He could speak many languages and I can speak five, so we might have fun chatting in multiple languages.

The piece of wisdom you would pass on to a child…Think big and don’t be disappointed if things don’t go as you plan. Just try again. Everything in life is possible. I came from small beginnings and have fulfilled many dreams.

The unlikely interest that engages your curiosity…One of my great passions is whittling – making walking sticks. I started when I was a boy and I now have about 300 in my collection. I am even a member of the British Stickemakers Guild. I find it relaxing and satisfying to create a beautiful object with my hands and the small old knife I always use. I love the feeling of the wood and I particularly like to work with hazel because it is so straight. Another passion is searching for mushrooms. I go into the woods, with one of my favourite walking sticks, and find the most delicious mushrooms to eat.

The treasured item you lost and wish you could have again…A four-inch high bronze statue of a little girl holding lilies, which was given to me when I was about 18. She was like a little angel and I loved that piece, but it was stolen during a house move about forty years ago. Even though it’s so long ago, I still miss her!

The unending quest that drives you on…To totally understand food, but I think it’s an impossible quest. I also wish I could cook Chinese food. It has the most incredible spices and flavours, but I can’t do it. My friend Ken Hom is pretty good and he has taught me a bit, but I believe it has to be in your blood to do it properly.

The poem that touches your soul…I Love You So Much by the German writer and painter Joachim Ringelnatz. I lived in Vienna for three years in my 20s and I met a girl called Inge there. She was my first true love and that poem reminds me of her. All this time later, I still think of her!

The misapprehension about yourself you wish you could erase…That I am grumpy and aggressive. My face is not entirely sympathetic and some people think I look like a Mafioso! In reality, I am a jolly and gentle person. People often meet me expecting me to be rough and they say they are happily surprised to see that I am friendly.

The event that altered the course of your life and character…The death of my little brother Enrico when he was 13 and I was 23. He drowned in a lake near our home. He got cramps after swimming so soon after eating. It was devastating for all the family. My mother never recovered and, in many ways, I don’t think I have ever got over it either. I ended up leaving home to escape the grief and it has affected me since on so many levels. It made me question the motivations of the Catholic Church, as well as the existence of God, so I have stopped believing in both.

The crime you would commit knowing you could get away with it…I would organise a spectacular robbery of the secret treasures from the Vatican, then give the proceeds to the poor.

The song that means most to you…I Would Like to Kiss You. It’s an old Neapolitan song, which was recorded by Pavarotti, Bocelli and many others, but I remember it from when I was really little and my father Giovanni singing it to my mother. He was an old romantic.

The way you would spend your fantasy 24 hours, with no travel restrictions…My day would begin quietly in my garden listening to the birds. I would have some porridge and coffee then some fruit from my trees. Then I would meet up with my girlfriend Sabine and go on an adventure deep into the Amazon rainforest to meet a tribe that is lost to civilisation. I only hope they are a friendly tribe! Later I would go for a walk in my favourite woodlands in Hampshire to pick mushrooms. I cannot tell you exactly where because mushroom pickers like to keep their best locations secret! Sabine and I would spend the afternoon on a stunning island in the Caribbean. I would soak up the sun and go snorkelling to look at turtles. Lunch would be a big salad with fresh fish and tomatoes dipped in the salt water of the crystal clear sea. Delicious! After lunch I would relax in a hammock with a big Havana cigar, then have an afternoon nap. Then I would go to a small fishing village beside the Back Sea and eat my way through a kilo of Beluga caviar. Then I would watch penguins bringing fish home to their young off the coast of Australia, which is an incredible sight. Sabine and I would watch the sun go down during a safari in Africa, then arrive at a tranquil lake in Kerala in India for a spicy dinner. I don’t drink much alcohol, but I would end this day with a nice malt whisky nightcap.

The happiest moment you will cherish forever…The day in 2009 when I finally awoke from depression. I had been in a dark and difficult place and I had tried to kill myself [Antonio stabbed himself in 2008], but after going into The Priory hospital I slowly got better and the heavy cloud lifted from my life. I am a different person today. I am happy and I know how precious life is. I want to live, not die.

The saddest time that shook your world…Enrico’s death. I was like a father to him and his educator. He was so cheerful and wonderful. He followed me around and we had a really special friendship. I would practise throwing a javelin and he would run after it and bring it back to me. He would be 67 now. Sadly, that awful moment I saw him in the mortuary is an image that will never leave my mind.

The unfulfilled ambition that continues to haunt you…To organise all the photos from my life. I must have more than 10,000 but they are all over the place, in boxes and drawers. I would love to be able to sit down and look at them in the order they were taken. I thought that was something I would do in my retirement but I am 77 now and I have no plans to retire. Maybe it will never be done!

The philosophy that underpins your life…MOF MOF: Minimum of Fuss, Maximum of Flavour. I made that phrase up decades ago when everything in cooking seemed to be so complicated. It has been the mantra for my cooking ever since.

The order of service at your funeral…I won’t have a church service because I have stopped believing in God, but I want my body laid out in my coffin on a bed of sliced truffles, then carried into the crematorium by six beautiful women. I then want a big party in the foothills of Mont Blanc in Italy, where my ashes will be put into a huge firework rocket. During the party, this rocket will explode high in the sky and scatter me across the beautiful countryside.

The way you want to be remembered…As a jolly fellow, who was good to people and enjoyed the simple things in life.

 

Antonio was born in Salerno, Italy, on 19 April 1937. He died following a fall at his home in West London on 8th November 2017. He was 80.

Antonio was a big-hearted, passionate and sincere man, who inspired so many young chefs, not least Jamie Oliver. 

 

Chef Antonio Carluccio: The Definite Article – Writer’s Cut

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This is an extended version of my interview published on 26 September 2015, which was conducted in Michael’s study where he wrote at his home in Little Venice on 24th August


 

“I want to be remembered as a friendly person who was ready to listen. And for never missing a deadline!”

The prized possession you value above all others…The original Paddington bear toy. He is a little teddy bear that I bought for my ex-wife Brenda from Selfridge’s on Christmas Eve in 1956 as a stocking-filler present. He was sitting on a shelf all by himself and I fell in love with him. I called him Paddington and some time later I was looking at him and wondered what would happen if a real bear arrived at Paddington Station. I put a few words down on paper and it caught my fancy. That little bear was an inspiration and he changed my life. I keep him very safe.


Michael with the original cuddly bear who inspired Paddington

Michael in 1980 with Paddington merchandise



The biggest regret you wish you could amendNot buying a flat in the Montmartre area of Paris that I rented for 35 years. I was offered it about ten years ago, but decided to keep renting. I used to go there for a week every month to write and always loved it because no one bothered me. But last year the daughter of the original owners, who had died, decided to move in.

The temptation you wish you could resist…Ferrero Rocher chocolates. I love the nutty soft centre and I like to have a box on the go when I am writing. I will eat four, then make myself stop. They are very moreish.

The book that holds an everlasting resonance…It’s not a book, but a weekly magazine called I used to read it by torchlight under the bedclothes from aged about nine and it had a big impact on my life. They were such marvellous stories and great characters. It was the first time that I appreciated good story telling and it taught me the power of repetition in writing.

The priority activity if you were the Invisible Man for a day…I would wander around freely listening in on people’s conversations. A piece of snatched conversation can be very good for a story and it has helped me often over the years. But it is never good to be caught eavesdropping, so this way I could relax.

The pet hate that makes your hackles rise…Cold telephone calls in the evening from people trying to sell me something. They are often a foreign voice and they start off by saying, “Good evening, Mr Bond, how are you tonight?” I would be much better if you didn’t call me during my dinner!

The film you can watch time and time again…The Third Man. The screenplay by Graham Greene is excellent and Orson Wells is wonderful. You never know when someone is going to pop out of a window or a manhole. I love the Ferris wheel scene.


Michael toasts the fabulous bear in this cameo of the Paddington film


The person who has influenced you most…My grandfather, on mother’s side. He came to live with us in Reading when I was a boy after his wife died. He thought very highly of me – more than anybody else! I would wait at the window when he was due home from work and run down the road to meet him as soon as I saw him. He gave me confidence in myself. He drummed into me that you can do anything in life, if you concentrate and do it to the exclusion of anything else. I took his advice when I came to write. I gave up all sorts of things and let it take over.

The figure from history for whom you’d most like to buy a pie and a pint…John Logie Baird, the man who invented the television. I would love to watch a modern day TV set with him and discuss what has happened to his invention. Imagine what he might think.


The piece of wisdom you would pass on to a child…Politeness costs nothing, but it can be worth an awful lot. Politeness has been thrown out the window these days. When I was small, if any elderly people came along my dad and I would move to one side, raise our hats and let them pass. I used to think, Oh good, people will do that when I am old, but they don’t. I have a walking stick, but it feels like I need it more as weapon!

The unlikely interest that engages your curiosity…Bricklaying. Like Winston Churchill, I have always found it to be mentally restorative in times of stress. It is satisfying and sets the mind free.


The treasured item you lost and wish you could have again…A little toy dog my girlfriend Nora gave me when I joined the RAF aged 17. She had made it from wire and fur and I carried it around in my breast pocket for four years. It went everywhere, but one day in Cairo I sent some clothes to the laundry without taking it out and it was gone for good. I was so sad.

The unending quest that drives you on…To keep writing. I will be 90 next January but I still write every day and I hope that Paddington and my other characters will have plenty more adventures.

The poem that touches your soul…I am not very good on poems, but the French National Anthem La Marseillaise always stirs me. I am quite a Francophile at heart.

The misapprehension about yourself you wish you could erase…That writing is easy. People particularly think this of me because the Paddington books are quite short. I actually hone them down from a much longer text and re-write continuously. It is hard work, but immensely satisfying.

The event that altered the course of your life and character…Replying to an advert in the local Reading newspaper when I was 16, which was seeking someone interested in radio. I was keen on building radio sets, so I wrote off and to my amazement I got a reply from the BBC. They were setting up a transmitter in Reading and wanted someone to look after it. I met the man in charge who asked me if I knew what Ohms Law was. I told him and then he said, You have got the job! This eventually led to me working as a senior cameraman for BBC television, a job that I loved.

The crime you would commit knowing you could get away with it…There is always a cost to pay for the smallest crime, so nothing could tempt me. When I was ten I took a half-eaten chocolate bar off the counter of my local shop and ate it. To this day, stealing it has been on my conscience!

The song that means most to you…All or Nothing at All, by Frank Sinatra. Nora bought me a vinyl disc of it because it was our favourite song and I kept it for years. That song reminds me of her.

The way you would spend your fantasy 24 hours, with no travel restrictions…I wouldn’t want an action-packed day with a magic carpet taking me to all different places. At my age, you are happy to go at a slower pace. I would simply board the first Eurostar to Paris with my wife Sue and go straight back to my old flat. My last day there was 4th December 2014, which was one of the saddest days of my life. I miss it dreadfully, but on this day it would be MINE! There would be no emails, no phone calls – and no visitors! I would spend the day reliving my life as I gaze out of the window with its vista over northern Paris. I would be happy going for lunch at my favourite fish restaurant – Le Dôme in Montparnasse. I would have the lobster salad, which his rated the best in the world, followed by tarte fine aux pommes. After that I would be happy to be back in the flat, reading and writing and looking out on Paris.

The happiest moment you will cherish forever…The day my young daughter, Karen, was made better. She was born with a dislocated hip and was in and out of hospitals having operations for her first six years. One surgeon really buggered it up and made it worse. Then a very good surgeon in Oxford put it right and she made a full recovery. It was such a relief.

The saddest time that shook your world…The death of my grandfather when I was 13. He died from a heart attack and it was the first time I had experienced a death in the family. He was a particularly nice person to me.

The unfulfilled ambition that continues to haunt you…To have a lawn with a surface like a billiard table. The previous owner of our home in North London filled in the garden with lots of old bricks. We have lived here for 30 years and it has been a losing battle trying to lay a nice lawn. Bricks and holes always appear, or the foxes dig it up.

The philosophy that underpins your life…Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. In life, it is important to treat people well.

The order of service at your funeral…I will leave the details to my family and do as I have always done – which is to go where I am pointed!





The way you want to be remembered…As a friendly person, who was approachable and ready to listen. And for never missing a deadline!


Michael Bond, born on 13th January 1926, died on 27th June 2017 at home in London following  a short illness. He was 91.

He was a modest, kind and gentle man. He will live on through his wonderful gift to us all: Paddington Bear.

Author Michael Bond: The Definite Article – Writer’s Cut

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Helen Glover – My Haven. Weekend, Daily Mail

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Jenny Powell – My Haven. Weekend, Daily Mail

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By Rob McGibbon
Published 8 August 2014.  Interview conducted a few weeks earlier

People think I am cleverer than I really am because of the Inspector Morse plots. I know a lot, but I’m definitely not as smart as Morse

The prized possession you value above all others…

A signed first edition from 1896 of A.E Housman’s A Shropshire Lad – his cycle of 63 poems. I bought it in 1966 for £600 and it is probably worth at least £4,000 now. I started collecting first editions when I was 17 and have about 75 now, but that is the book I’d rescue if the house was burning down. I love his work.

The biggest regret you wish you could amend…

Having four operations on my ears during my 20s to cure deafness. I first started losing my hearing when I was 18, but the operations didn’t help and I wish I hadn’t put any faith in them. They caused me a lot of pain and I’d wake in the mornings with blood on the pillow. My life has been smitten by deafness, which ran in my family, and has caused me a great deal of anxiety. I would sit at dinner parties and tell people, “Don’t worry about me, talk amongst yourselves,” and I’d never hear a word of the conversation. I can only hear now with the help of hearing aids.

The temptation you wish you could resist…

Biscuits – especially Ginger Nuts. I was diagnosed with diabetes in my 40s, so I have had to watch what sweet things I eat ever since. I still find it hard to resist biscuits and I’m always getting told off for eating them by my wife Dorothy [83].

The book that holds an everlasting resonance…

Bleak House by Charles Dickens is the greatest novel in the English language. I have read it three times and its plot and characters always strike me a Masterclass in writing. It really is marvellous.

The priority activity if you were the Invisible Man for a day…

I would be intrigued to see what life is like for the Queen and Prince Phillip when they are in private at Buckingham Palace. I have heard that they enjoyed watching Morse for years – maybe they watch Endeavour now! It would be fun to know.

The pet-hate that makes your hackles rise…

Litter. I’m 84 now and I’m in a wheelchair, but each day Dorothy, or a kind lady who helps us, takes me for a walk along the Banbury Road in Oxford. We always pick up any litter and by the time we get home the bag is full. I find it disgusting how people litter our streets. What are they thinking?

The film you can watch time and time again…

The African Queen starring Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn. It is directly brilliantly by John Huston, but above all I love the interaction between Bogart a Hepburn. It has such tension and chemistry.

The person who has influenced you most…

My brother John. He was 18 months older than me and we were very close. Our family was so hard up that we had to share a bed for 19 years. One night, when I was about 16, he woke me up by playing Beethoven’s 7th Symphony loudly on the wireless. I told him to turn it off, but he had tears rolling down his face. I was intrigued that music could have that much power and began listening. That night, John opened the door to classical music, which has been one of the great joys in my life. Later, he began to teach me about Wagner, who is my favourite composer. Sadly, John died two years ago.

The figure from history for whom you’d most like to buy a pie and a pint…

Richard III. I would love to know what really happened to the Princes in the Tower [Prince Edward and Richard, the sons of Edward IV, were imprisoned in the Tower of London by Richard III and later disappeared. Many suspect they were murdered upon his orders]. I studied the case in my teens and came to the conclusion it was not him, but he would have known what really happened. I’d also like to know where he would want to be buried now that his skeleton has been found. My vote would be for Leicester because he was originally from there!

The piece of wisdom you would pass on to a child…

I’m not sure I have much wisdom to pass on! I loved teaching Classics, Latin and Greek from 1952 to 1966 and I always told my pupils to speak up and ask a question if they didn’t understand something. Asking questions is vital. That’s how you learn.

The unlikely interest that engages your curiosity…

I have been fascinated by Greek mythology all my life and I loved reading Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey. The trouble is I have forgotten much of it now – not least the names of Zeus’ 117 daughters.

The treasured item you lost and wish you could have again…

The ability to follow to The Archers! I loved that programme for 56 years, but I finally gave up soon after the 60th anniversary. I could hear it OK with my hearing aids, but by then I could no longer distinguish between the female characters because they all talk too quickly and sound too similar. I lost the thread as to what was going on. It is such a shame because I really do miss it.

The unending quest that drives you on…

Throughout my writing career I always strived to write the best page I could. If it wasn’t good enough, I’d start again. That still applies today if I am writing a short story, but I don’t do much writing these days.

The poem that touches your soul…

Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard by Thomas Gray from 1751. I learnt it by heart when I was 14 and I still know it well. It is so wonderfully lyrical that it feels like music when you read it. It is beautiful.

The misapprehension about yourself you wish you could erase…

That I am cleverer than I really am! The Inspector Morse plots made people believe that I must be very smart. I do know a lot, but not that much! And I certainly don’t know as much about opera as I could. I’m definitely not as smart as Morse.

The event that altered the course of your life and character…

Getting my first book called Liberal Studies published by in 1964. It was an academic book and I was thrilled when the publisher liked it so much he said they didn’t want to change a comma! The Morse books began with Last Bus to Woodstock in 1975, but that first book put me on the road to my writing career.

The crime you would commit knowing you could get away with it…

I would steal Vermeer’s painting The Milkmaid from the Rijksmuseum museum in Amsterdam. I love the colouration and light in that picture. I have admired it so much over the years that I put a print of it above the fireplace in Morse’s home.

The song that means most to you…

Something by The Beatles. They were the greatest when it came to words and music. It is such a beautiful song and so romantic. It reminds me of my daughter Sally because it was her favourite when she was young.

The way you would spend your fantasy 24 hours, with no travel restrictions…

It would help to enjoy this day if I were a few years younger – so let’s say I am 50! I’d begin with a nice bowl of porridge in a comfortable hotel in the mountains of Austria, with the ringing of bells from pretty churches filling the air. After that, Dorothy – who’s a Welsh girl – and I would go for a brisk walk in the hills of mid-Wales and stop off in Machynlleth for tea. We used to love visiting there in years gone by. Then we would go for a nice drive through Florida to Fort Lauderdale to get some sun. Later, I’d have fish and chips with mushy peas for lunch at The Trout Inn by the river in Oxfordshire, where we’d be joined by Sally and our son Jeremy and his children – Thomas, 24, and James, 22. I used to love a pint of ale and any type of whiskey, but doctors warned me to give up alcohol 15 years ago, or else I wouldn’t live to old age, so I’d just have a glass of Robinsons Lemon Barley Water. After lunch, I’d a paddle in the sea at Skegness for old time’s sake. I loved going there as a boy and I remember the advertising poster said, “Skegness – it’s so bracing!” They should have written “bloody cold” – but we loved it so much. I’d then watch England beat Australia in the final overs of The Ashes series at The Oval. I would finish the day in Germany at the Bayreuth Festival in Bavaria listening to a performance of Die Walküre, which is my favourite opera in Wagner’s Ring Cycle.

The happiest moment you will cherish forever…

When I was given the Freedom of the City of Oxford in 2001. At the time, the only other living recipients were Nelson Mandela and Aung San Suu Kyi. Oxford has meant a great deal to me and this was a wonderful honour. However, I have never exercised my right to drive a flock of sheep or cows across Magdalen Bridge.

The saddest time that shook your world…

When my daughter’s King Charles Cavalier dog died. He was called Mycroft and was very poorly, so I had to call the vet over to the house. I remember it looking at me from the kitchen table as the vet prepared the needle with such deep sadness in his eyes. I have never forgotten that look. I felt like the executioner. I had to hold him as the vet gave the injection and I could hear my daughter, who was 13, weeping in the next room. It was one of the few times in my life that I have really wept.

The unfulfilled ambition that continues to haunt you…

To be World Chess Champion. I was pretty good when I was at school and that was my big dream, but in truth I was never good enough.

The philosophy that underpins your life…

It comes from the Latin phrase initium est dimidium facti, which means “Once you’ve started, you’re halfway there”, or “The beginning is half of the deed”. I have always found that the beginning is the hardest part of anything, but once that is done, I am off and away. The rest is about getting your head down and doing the bloody work.

The order of service at your funeral…

I would be happy with a simple affair without too many tears, as long as they played the hymn O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go, which is sublime. I do not believe in the Afterlife. I’m with Socrates, who spoke of it as being like a dreamless sleep. I’d rather be burnt than buried and for all I care you can put the ashes in the dustbin.

The way you want to be remembered…

As a good teacher. I got more pleasure from teaching than any other job in my life.

 

Colin Dexter was a modest, fun and gentle man to interview. He died aged 86  peacefully at home in Oxford on 21 March 2017

Author Colin Dexter: The Definite Article – Writer’s Cut

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Simon Reeve – My Haven. Weekend, Daily Mail

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Facebook Live interview with Katie Price in full

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Lord Michael Dobbs – My Haven. Weekend, Daily Mail

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Judy Murray – What Turns Me On. Event, Mail on Sunday

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By Rob McGibbon
Published on 3rd October 2014

My philosophy for life? KISS A TIT! It’s an acronym I made up in my 40s to help me focus on my work. It stands for: ‘Keep It Simple, Stupid, And Think It Through.’ It can be applied positively to just about anything in life.

The prized possession you value above all others…

Two steel bowls from a vintage magic trick called The Rice Bowls. They were made for the British magician Robert Harbin in the 1940s and were a present from the Irish magician Quentin Reynolds, as a thank you for helping him out early in his career. I advised him on how to look after the business side of magic and he was very grateful. The trick itself is probably worth about £2,000, but it is incredibly rare and it was a very thoughtful present. I keep it on display in a cabinet.

The biggest regret you wish you could amend…

Wasting so much money on flash cars in the 1980s and 90s. I started off with a Citroen Maserati, then a Ferrari, followed by a couple of Bentleys. I threw away hundreds of thousands of pounds in what I call a “Clarkson-syndrome”. No matter what you spend on a car, it’s still no more than a metal box with wheels. I also spent a fortune filling those things with petrol. These days, I have a 10-year-old Mercedes E Class Estate, which is a fine workhorse, and an Isuzu Trooper for pulling my boat.

The temptation you wish you could resist…

I try not to resist anything – what’s the point! But I do wish I didn’t check my Twitter and Facebook accounts every morning because I spend at least an hour responding to messages and comments when I should get on with work. It’s a big distraction, but I enjoy the interaction with people.

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The book that holds an everlasting resonance…

Greater Magic by John Northern Hilliard. I came across it in my 20s, but I only really understood it properly years later. It covers the full gamut of magic tricks, but it also deals with big subjects, not least the meaning of life and how magic fits into it all. The Prologue and Epilogue are brilliant and full of wisdom.

The priority activity if you were the Invisible Man for a day…

The American magician Mac King is a great friend who does a very funny skit in his Las Vegas show when he pretends to be invisible. I’d love to freak him out by being a real invisible man during that. That would be hilarious.

The pet-hate that makes your hackles rise…

My own untidiness. Every day I promise to turn over a new leaf and start putting things back in the right place, but of course I don’t. This means that Debbie [his wife, Debbie McGee] and our housekeeper always put things away, which I then struggle to find. It’s all basically my fault.

The film you can watch time and time again…

The Wizard of Oz. My dad Hughie was the projectionist and then the manager of our local cinema [in South Bank, near Middlesbrough]. I was about nine when I watched the film there and I remember being amazed as the screen turned from black and white to colour. I can still see that transformation in my mind today. Judy Garland’s voice is wonderful and it is, for me, the most beautiful movie ever made.

The person who has influenced you most…

My dad influenced me in every way. He was a lovely man, whom everybody liked. He was short, stocky and very strong and was so practical that he could do everything, from mend cars, to do the electrics in the house. We would sit down and invent things together. He was incredibly knowledgeable and he inspired me to want to know about things.

The figure from history for whom you’d most like to buy a pie and a pint…

I’d like to sit down with Stalin and ask him why he murdered all those people. I simply want to understand what he thought gave him the right?

The piece of wisdom you would pass on to a child…

Read as much as you can, about as much you can. And always question everything you read. 

The unlikely interest that engages your curiosity…

I’m in interested in everything! But I am particularly fascinated by the human memory system. I have studied it to the extent that I am now paid to coach people how to remember things.

The treasured item you lost and wish you could have again…

The tip of the ring finger on my left hand, which I cut off when I was working with a circular saw on New Year’s Day 2012. The top phalange – as it is known – has completely gone. I had to re-train myself to do card tricks. I am fine now, but every object I touch with that finger still feels like they have a hole in them. The brain still thinks it has a fingertip there, which is a strange sensation. The surgeon pulled over the loose bit of flesh that was left to create a pad at the tip. Astonishingly, that has now started creating a new fingerprint! 

The unending quest that drives you on…

The pursuit of new knowledge. I already have a good general knowledge, but I love learning, so I won’t ever stop. They say that nobody likes a know-all, which is probably why Debbie refuses to watch Eggheads with me! 

The poem that touches your soul…

None! I don’t read poetry, although I have always been tickled by Ogden Nash’s work because of it silliness and clever play on words.

The misapprehension about yourself you wish you could erase…

That I am not 6ft 2in! For some reason, everyone, except me, thinks that I am 5ft 6in. Seriously, it is annoying that people think I perform the same on stage as I did on television. TV is a 5th rate entertainment medium because it goes through so many layers of control before it reaches the viewer – like the producer, the director, the cameraman etc. My live performances are way funnier and more entertaining than the TV shows. I’ve had people come up to me after my shows and say, “I couldn’t stand you on telly, but that was great!”

The event that altered the course of your life and character…

Reading about the Age Cards prediction magic trick when I was 11. I was trapped in a house on holiday in Yorkshire with it raining outside when I came across a Victorian book with instructions on how to do that trick. I sat down and learnt it, then did it on a few people. It was very exciting and it opened up the whole world of magic to me and changed the entire course of my life.

The crime you would commit knowing you could get away with it…

I would wipe out the people who make decisions NOT to dredge our rivers – preferably by drowning! All this flooding we have had – including our house in Berkshire – is because their bad decisions have made our rivers a lot shallower.

The song that means most to you…

Zadok The Priest, which is one of Handel’s Coronation Anthems. It was played at the end our wedding celebrations in 1988 as we fired off thousands of pounds worth of fireworks. It was a special day and that music always takes me back.

The way you would spend your fantasy 24 hours, with no travel restrictions…

A perfect day would be spent with all my family. My three sons – Gary, Paul and Martin – are spread over the country, so we are seldom all together at one time. So, I’d start the day with the boys and my grandchildren – Martin’s kids Lewis, 15, and Camilla, 12 – with a big breakfast at the Magic Castle Hotel in Hollywood, which is so much fun. Then we’d head to Disneyland. I love the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, so that’s a must. Then we’d go to Knott’s Berry Farm theme park, also in California, which has loads of rides and a Wild West theme. Lunch would be in a Red Lobster restaurant in LA, then we’d head north to Universal Studios. I love all things to do with movies, which harks back to my dad running a cinema. I’d stop off in the Psycho House. I’d pop back to London for my favourite snack – double eggs and chips with white bread and butter – at the Windows Restaurant at the top of the Hilton Hotel on Park Lane. I asked for it there once, even though it was not on the menu, and they were very understanding! In the evening, Debbie and I would check into The Venetian hotel in Las Vegas then go and see two spectacular shows – O by Cirque du Soleil and Mac King’s magic show. After all that, we would relax at La Chevre d’Or hotel in Eze, high up in the hills in the South of France. I rarely drink, but I’d have a glass of Sancerre on the terrace and watch the lights of the boats sparkling far off on the Mediterranean until late into the night.

The happiest moment you will cherish forever…

Pulling off a particularly difficult gig in the early 1990s in Brussels. It was a charity event to raise money for cancer but the audience was super rich bankers and European aristocracy – people not best known for being able to “belly laugh”, as we call it in Yorkshire. It was the toughest audience you can imagine, but not long into the gig I could see people crying with laughter. I really had got ’em and it felt very satisfying. Doing great shows is what drives me on. I love making people happy.

The saddest time that shook your world…

The day my father died 20 years ago when he was 73. He had suffered a series of strokes and died in hospital. I was with him when he went. I felt like I had lost my mate and it hit me really hard. I still miss him, even now, but I talk to him all the time. I will be in my workshop struggling to make something and I’ll say, “Come on now, Dad, how do I this?” And he’ll help me in some way or other.

The unfulfilled ambition that continues to haunt you…

To be in a movie would be great fun. A comedy would be ideal, but I’m up for any role.

The philosophy that underpins your life…

“KISS A TIT!” It’s an acronym I made up in my 40s to help me focus on my work. It stands for: Keep It Simple Stupid And Think It Through”. It can be applied positively to just about anything in life.

The order of service at your funeral…

It will be a non-religious event because I’m not a ‘believer.’ If they’ll allow it, I’d like a service at the Prince of Wales Theatre in the West End, with a few friends getting up to tell a load of lies about how much they loved me, followed by a little party at our house on The Thames. This would end with a fireworks display and my ashes exploding from inside a rocket fired over the river. 

The way you want to be remembered…

As the only man who lived to see the end of the DFS Sale!

 

Paul Daniels died aged 77  from a brain tumour on 17 March 2016

Magician Paul Daniels: The Definite Article – Writer’s Cut

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By Rob McGibbon
Published on 1st September 2012

I have never been one for ambitions or seeking things out. Life has just happened for me. I have just been incredibly lucky

The prized possession you value above all others…

A beautifully inscribed piece of paper signed by the Queen conferring a knighthood on me in 2005. It was an enormous honour and is hanging in a prominent position in my study.

The unqualified regret you wish you could amend…

I have been too lucky in life to have any regrets. It really has been charmed, so it would be invidious of me to say I wish something had been different. Besides, I am an optimist, with a reasonably sunny nature, and I believe that regrets are futile. Things go wrong in every life, but you must move on.

The way you would spend your fantasy 24 hours, with no travel restrictions…

I would begin with a breakfast of fresh mango on a boat in the Andaman Sea off Thailand with my wife Helen, followed by a stroll on the beach at the Banyan Tree hotel in the Seychelles. Our three children and five grandchildren – the whole cotton-pickin’ lot of them – would then join us for a fun al fresco lunch at Club 55 in St Tropez. After that we’d all head to Crane Beach in Barbados where I would attempt to body surf, but probably drown. I’d then have a cup of tea in a boat beside the Fastnet Rock off Cork in Ireland, followed by cocktails at the Borgo Santo Pietro hotel in Tuscany. Helen and I would have a candlelit dinner in a garden in Marrakech and I’d end the day with a large Armagnac on the terrace of our holiday home in Gascony, South West France. As you can see, my perfect day is geared around regular intakes of food and drink!

The temptation you wish you could resist…

Trying to do everything at once. I am not much good at preparing and I like to do things quickly, so I tend to do at least two things at the same time. My whole professional career has been built on no preparation.

The book that holds an everlasting resonance…

The Catcher in the Rye. I read it when I was 17 and it was the archetypal book for your late teens that spoke to my generation.

The priority activity if you were the Invisible Man for a day…

I always longed to be invisible around exam time so I could get an early peak the questions. But the general thought of being invisible doesn’t appeal to me now because I would see things I’d be better off not seeing!

The pet-hate that makes your hackles rise…

Hatred in all its forms. It is futile and worthless and causes all the ills in society. Hate ends in nothing but tragedy.

The film you can watch time and time again…

High Society. There’s never been a cast like it – Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Grace Kelly – and the music of Cole Porter. I’m a great fan of musicals and this one never fails to lift me.

The person who has influenced you most…

It has to be Helen. We have been married for 47 years and not only has she given me the greatest thing imaginable – my family – she has also made me a better person. She is kind, loyal and gentle, and I have to live up to that, rather than think of myself. She’s also a bloody good cook!

The figure from history for whom you’d most like to buy a pie and a pint…

I’d never buy a pie and a pint for anyone because it’s a recipe for indigestion! I’d like to have a chat with the ancient Greek warrior Alexander the Great and ask him what drove him on. He is the antithesis of me. I’m lazy by nature and can’t understand why he didn’t just stay in Macedonia and enjoy himself, instead of conquering all those countries.

The piece of wisdom you would pass on to a child…

That’s easy – be kind. Kindness is the most important thing in life, but sadly there is not enough of it in the world.

The unlikely interest that engages your curiosity…

I have a keen interest in birds. To say I’m a twitcher would be going to far, but I am fond of sitting in the garden looking at the parakeets or red kites. The beauty of birdsong in the morning is something to behold.

The treasured item you lost and wish you could have again…

I don’t recall mislaying anything, but when you get to my age – I’m 73 – possessions are less important. I am more concerned about losing my marbles and my memory. I am forever putting my glass down in the evening, then saying, Who’s taken my drink?!

The unending quest that drives you on…

I have never been one for ambitions or seeking things out. Life has just happened for me. I have never been driven. I have just been incredibly lucky.

The poem that touches your soul…

I am a great lover of poetry, particularly the First World War poets. Wilfred Owen is my favourite and his Dulce et Decorum Est is very powerful. It is a testament to the false gods of nationalism and the futility of war.

The misapprehension about yourself you wish you could erase…

That I have more brains than I actually have! I seem to be credited with intelligence way beyond the reality. I am in a privileged position, so people think I have the answers, but it is important to always have humility and be aware of your limitations.

The event that altered the course of your life and character…

In 1967 I sent a tape of a radio programme I did in Ireland to Mark White, the assistant head of the BBC’s gramophone department. He wrote back and offered me a slot on Midday Spin, which I did down the line from Dublin. I was astonished to get a reply, let alone a job. I had always wanted to work for the BBC and everything grew from there. It was the changing point of my life. It wouldn’t happen nowadays because no one at the BBC would listen to an unsolicited tape.

The crime you would commit knowing you could get away with it…

Crime is not something that we should encourage. I am too bourgeois and law abiding to want to do a crime. I wouldn’t even rob a bank because I worked in one for four years, so it wouldn’t feel right!

The song that means most to you…

Stardust by Nat King Cole with the arrangement by George Jenkins is a masterpiece. Like all great music, it speaks to your heart. That song brings back romantic memories, but I’m not telling you what they are! 

The happiest moment you will cherish forever…

It’s hard to single out one happy moment because I have been happy through most of my life. But it was incredible when I sunk the longest televised putt in history at Gleneagles in 1981 during one of Peter Alice’s Pro-Celebrity Golf games. I was playing with Fuzzy Zoeller against Lee Trevino and Trevor Brooking when I holed out on the 18th to win the match. Perhaps it will be the only thing I am remembered for.

The saddest time that shook your world…

When our daughter Vanessa died from heart complications a few weeks after she was born in 1966. They were terrible days, but I don’t like to dwell on it, or say too much publicly. You deal with tragedy as best you can. Life has to go on.

The unfulfilled ambition that continues to haunt you…

To have played rugby for Ireland. My left knee was injured badly when I was younger, not that I would have been good enough to make it. I was walking around with a duff knee for fifty years, until I got it replaced two years ago.

The philosophy that underpins your life…

I believe in stoicism. Life happens and we cannot control it. Accept whatever it brings.

The order of service at your funeral…

I’m not gone yet! Give me another 10 years and I might start thinking about it, but I haven’t got a gravestone marked, or told anyone what I want because I am not ready to go. I am not religious, but I would expect to have a service at our local church and be buried in England, not Ireland, because this is where my family is. I would want a party afterwards where everyone will say, “Well, that’s the end of him, let’s have a drink!” Death doesn’t scare me. There’s a lovely song called When You Are Old, which has the lyric: ‘When you are old and full of sleep/And death no longer makes you weep’. I’m stoic about it all.

The way you want to be remembered…

With affection. For people to have liked you is about all you can hope for.

Sir Terry Wogan died aged 77 from cancer on 31st January 2016.

Terry Wogan: The Definite Article – Writer’s Cut

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Michael Flatley – My Haven. Weekend, Daily Mail

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Veteran crooner Tony Bennett

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Actor David “The Hoff” Hasselhoff

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Ran Fiennes

Adventurer Sir Ranulf Fiennes

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F1 legend Nigel Mansell

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Paddington Bear creator Michael Bond

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“I was devastated when my father died suddenly. I wanted to give up acting”

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Veteran actor Peter Bowles

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“I have never done therapy – but I guess this is what it’s like!”

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The Pretenders singer Chrissie Hynde

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Flashback with Mick Hucknall – The Writer’s Cut

Mick Hucknall remembers writing songs with Motown legend Lamont Dozier, 1986…

“That Paul Smith suit was the first time I had anything made for me bespoke. I’ve still got it and I can get into it – just!”

This is me with Lamont Dozier, one of the greatest legends in pop music. He wrote and produced [with Brian and Eddie Holland] some of the biggest hits of the Motown era in the Sixties and way beyond. He worked with The Supremes, Marvin Gaye, The Four Tops and many others and I’ve lost track of how many hits he’s had [14 No.1s in America alone]. I went to his home in Los Angeles in late 1986 for a songwriting session. I was 26 at the time and Simply Red had recently really taken off. Our first album Picture Book was already a hit and Holding Back The Years had gone to No.2 in the UK and No.1 in America a few months earlier. My life had changed dramatically, so it was an incredibly exciting time, but there was also a lot of pressure because the record company wanted a second album as fast as possible.

There was a big rush on, but there wasn’t anyone else in the band who could write to my standard, so the responsibility fell to me. It was a major burden, which was made worse because we were touring the whole time. I have always liked writing at home in my own time, so it was tough to suddenly write on the road, in hotels or on planes, when everything was always so hectic.

My manager thought it was a good idea for me to work with another songwriter to broaden my horizons, so I was put together with Lamont. I have been a Motown fan since I was a kid and I’m an aficionado. I have most of the Early and Mid catalogue on vinyl, so I knew Lamont’s work and he was a big hero. I remember sitting at the piano in his house and having some of his hits flashing through my mind – Baby Love, Stop! In The Name of Love, Going Back To My roots – and thinking, This guy wrote these!

We spent a whole morning just making a lot of noise and banging out tunes on the piano and recording it on a Walkman. There was no singing, or writing of lyrics, it was just us working out some melodies. Lamont is an ideas machine and works fast, like he’s on a production line, and I remember having to respectfully keep reining him in. I would still be trying to get the first part of a song right when he’d be on the chorus, or at the end!

It was a very convivial few hours. Lamont is such a warm, friendly guy and he was quite paternal towards me. A lot of writers from his time got ripped off, so he told me to stay sharp and not allow myself to be exploited. Advice from someone like him was a great help and over the years I became a bit of a Rottweiler to make sure I got what was rightfully mine.

After that session I went away with an ordinary audio cassette and worked out the songs on my own. Eventually I came up with Infidelity and Suffer, which both appeared on the Men and Women album the following year. Lamont was happy with them, although he thought the words to Infidelity were a bit risky – but I was just writing about how things were for me at the time!

We worked together again at his house a couple of years later and wrote two more songs – You’ve Got It and Turn It Up – for Simply Red’s third album, A New Flame. We lost touch after that, but I remember bumping into him at a wedding in the 90s and we talked about writing again together. He’s 73 now and still going strong. What he has achieved is really amazing.

I laugh when I look at this picture because of my double-breasted suit. Simply Red had just done a deal to be kitted out by Paul Smith. We were all measured up at his shop in Covent Garden and Paul made me this one for me in Prince of Wales check with a beautiful red lining. It was the first time I’d ever had anything bespoke, so it was a thrill and I was very proud of it. In fact, I still have that suit and I can still fit into it – just! Interview by Rob McGibbon

 

The new Simply Red album Big Love is out now and their UK tour begins on 28th November. Visit www.simplyred.com.

Mick Hucknall – Flashback. Saturday Magazine, Daily Telegraph

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Former England rugby captain Will Carling

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BBC Breakfast presenter Bill Turnbull

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Actress Leslie Ash

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Bargain Hunt presenter Tom Wonnacott

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Flashback with Stuart Broad – The Writer’s Cut

Stuart Broad remembers hanging out at cricket grounds with his dad, England opening batsman Chris, in 1991

This was taken when I was about five at Trent Bridge – Nottinghamshire Cricket Club’s home ground. Dad was playing for them at the time, two years after ending his England career in 1989. He had done really well with England and had been the Man of the Series when they retained The Ashes in the 1986-87 series in Australia after scoring centuries in three successive test matches.

My Mum and Dad split up when I was three, but they both lived in the Nottingham area and remained on good terms, so I spent most weekends staying with him. That’s when I first became aware Dad was a cricketer – because he had to take me to work! Trent Bridge became like a home from home with the staff looking after me while Dad did his stuff. One of my earliest memories is following him onto the pitch as he went out to bat when I was four. I thought, well if Dad’s playing, I’m going too, and I had to be grabbed by one of the members. Another time, I got way out onto the pitch in the middle of a match and had to be brought back by a fielder.

They were great times for me because I loved being around the cricketers. I went to grounds all over the country, so it was a real eye opener to the lifestyle and it was also inspirational to be in the dressing room. I got to hear all the match talk and the banter and I was allowed to mess around with the kit. I got to try on pads and gloves and play with grown-up bats. I got quite obsessed with cricket and from a young age I insisted on wearing white clothes, even when I was out playing with my mates. It was a nightmare for my Mum when it came to the washing! In this picture I am wearing a proper Nottinghamshire match jumper, which belonged to a batsman called Paul Johnson. His wife had shrunk it in the wash and because he was only 5ft 4in it nearly fitted me, so he gave it to me. That was my first bit of professional kit, so I absolutely loved that jumper!

Generally on match days, I only watched Dad bat for a bit, then I’d go off playing sport with other kids whose dads were in the teams. I remember us often using a large rubbish bin that was taller than me as stumps. And when I was seven I was playing rugby during a match at Bristol – when Dad was playing for Gloucestershire – and I broke my collarbone in a tackle. He was fielding at the time, so someone had to dash out to tell him that I was being rushed to hospital. He came off later to find me with my arm in a sling.

I was very proud of Dad when I was growing up. I used to walk about a yard behind him because it is hard to keep up with an adult’s stride when you’re a kid, so I’d see people do a double-take and say, “Hey, that was Chris Broad!” It was weird hearing people whisper about my Dad, but that’s when I knew he was sort of famous and had been successful. He was always encouraging about me following in his footsteps, but neither him, nor Mum were at all pushy. The key for them was that I had fun with sport and, even to this day, I still treat cricket as my hobby, not as a job. It’s the only way if you want to keep loving the game.

Dad and I are still really close and we live near each other in Nottingham. We enjoy sharing good dinners and nice wine, but we are really competitive, especially at golf. He is now an ICC (International Cricket Council) referee and is really proud of what I am achieving in cricket. All my life I have been called Chris Broad, but it has never bothered me. When I was starting out, kids would come up and ask, “Can I have your autograph, Chris?” and I’d say, “Of course. Do you want me to sign it Chris – or Stuart?!”

The name confusion has been a running joke between me and Dad. He used to tease me by saying, “I will only know that you have made it when I am called Stuart Broad’s dad!” Then, about 18 months ago, he was at a dinner event and he was introduced as “Stuart Broad’s dad”. It gave him a real buzz and he phoned to tell me what had happened. He said, “Well, son, it looks like you have officially made it!”

Stuart Broad is an Investec cricket ambassador. For information about Investec private banking visit investec.co.uk/pb or @InvestecCricket.

 

 

Stuart Broad – Flashback. Saturday Magazine, Daily Telegraph

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England fast bowler Stuart Broad

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Channel 4 News presenter Krishnan Guru-Murthy

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Olympic diver Tom Daley

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Author Alexander McCall Smith

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Tennis commentator Andrew Castle

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Click image to see how the article appeared in Weekend magazine

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Former Formula 1 ace David Coulthard

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 index-1

Jane Asher TD

Click image to see how the article appeared in Weekend magazine

 

‘I wish I could have my virginity back, it would be fun to lose it again – without all that guilt!’

We ask a celebrity a set of devilishly probing questions – and only accept THE definitive answer. This week: actress and cake queen Jane Asher

The prized possession you value above all others...My wedding ring, which Gerald [cartoonist Gerald Scarfe] and I chose together before we got married in 1981.

The biggest regret you wish you could amend...That my father Richard never got to meet his grandchildren Katie, 40, Alexander, 33, and Rory, 31. He died far too young, in 1969, when he was only 57.

The temptation you wish you could resist...The second and third glasses of wine that I keep promising to refuse!

The book that holds an everlasting resonance...Stoner by John Williams from 1965, about a young farmer who falls in love with literature. It sums up the loneliness and frailty of the human condition.

The person who has influenced you most...My doctor father. He still constantly inspires me.

The pet hate that makes your hackles rise...Harmful unscientific nonsense, from ‘detox’ and ‘colon cleansing’ to the waste of money in taking unnecessary supplements.

The figure from history for whom you’d most like to buy a pie and a pint...God. I’d ask Him why He set the world up in such an over-complex and cruel way.

The piece of wisdom you would pass on to a child...You’re more likely to regret the things you don’t do than those you do, so go for it.

The priority activity if you were the Invisible Woman for a day...I’d zip around supermarkets taking all the packaging off the fruit and veg.

The film you can watch time and time again...Laughter In Paradise from 1951, in which a joker instructs his heirs in his will to undertake tasks that are totally out of character. It’s funny and moving as they improve their lives in ways they couldn’t have predicted.

The treasured item you lost and wish you could have again...My virginity! It would be fun to lose it again without the guilt and pregnancy fears linked with it in the past.

The unending quest that drives you on...I don’t believe there’s any ‘meaning of life’, but the not knowing keeps one going.

The poem that touches your soul...The House Is Not The Same Since You Left by Henry Normal. It’s so poignant how it expresses love and loss through the everyday objects that surround us.

The misapprehension about yourself you wish you could erase...In showbiz you have to give up minding about what people think of you. I’ve read so many ‘facts’ about myself I never knew that I take them all with a pinch of salt.

The event that altered the course of your life and character...Giving £100 to support Private Eye magazine in 1970. As a Thank You I was invited to its 10th birthday party in Brighton – where I met Gerald. It was fancying at first sight!

The crime you would commit knowing you could get away with it...I’d steal the stunning antique Chanel diamond necklace I saw in a Knightsbridge shop window a few weeks ago. When I asked the price I nearly fainted.

The unlikely interest that engages your curiosity...I loved reading horror comics as a child, which developed into an adult love of horror films – the scarier and gorier the better. I enjoy being really frightened, while knowing deep down that I’m safe.

The unfulfilled ambition that continues to haunt you...I’m a bit of a messy hoarder, so I need to sort out the cupboards, drawers and corners in my house that are full of unused stuff.

The way you would spend your fantasy 24 hours, with no travel restrictions...It’ll start at 8pm – I’ll be in a hit new Broadway play, then Gerald and I will stay on the beach at the Rosewood Mayakoba hotel in Mexico. I’ll have an enormous breakfast: fresh berries with porridge, then poached eggs on toast with crispy bacon and very strong coffee. After reading the great reviews of my play I’ll go snorkelling, then we’ll meet our children for lunch in a mountain restaurant in Meribel, France. Afterwards I’ll ski like a dream. In the afternoon I’ll film an Emmy-nominated new TV series in Milan, then hit the shops there. In the evening Gerald and I will watch Don Giovanni, and we’ll end the day at Lulworth Cove in Dorset where I’m magically the owner of a cute cottage. We’ll eat fresh lobster with Veuve Clicquot champagne. Before sleeping, time stretches so I can finish all the wonderful books that have been piling up by my bed.

The happiest moment you will cherish forever...Realising aged ten that religion was a man-made invention. To know I only had this world to worry about came as a huge relief.

The song that means most to you...Gerald and I have always thought of Nilsson’s Without You as our song. Part of a good marriage involves the dependency reflected in the haunting line, ‘I can’t live, if living is without you…’

The saddest time that shook your world...Like most people I’ve had tragedies, but I’m afraid I can’t reveal any details out of respect for those involved.

The philosophy that underpins your life...To be kind is the most important attribute of all, but it’s not always easy.

The order of service at your funeral...Whatever will help my children not to be sad. If they’d rather there was no official ceremony that’s fine by me.

The way you want to be remembered...Alive!

The Plug...Jane stars in The Gathered Leaves at Park Theatre, north London, 15 July-15 August. For tickets call 020 7870 6876 or visit parktheatre.co.uk.

 

Cake entrepreneur Jane Asher

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index‘People always think I’m really short. Maybe the name Midge creates an image that I’m tiny. I’m 5ft 8in!’

We ask a celebrity a set of devilishly probing questions – and only accept THE definitive answer. This week it’s musician Midge Ure’s turn 

The prized possession you value above all others...Two chairs made by the Glasgow designer George Logan around 1900. They cost £5,000 in 1981. They’re beautiful and they have a connection to Glasgow, which was my hometown.

The biggest regret you wish you could amend...Not asking Phil Lynott to reform Thin Lizzy for Live Aid in 1985. It was a massive omission. I was in Thin Lizzy in 1979-80 and Phil was a great mate. [Lynott died aged 36 in 1986 from heart failure.]

The book that holds an everlasting resonance...The novel Perfume by Patrick Süskind. The writing is so amazing you can smell the filth of 18th-century Paris.

The priority activity if you were the Invisible Man for a day...I’d lock myself in a vintage guitar shop near my home in Bath and strum to my heart’s content.

The pet hate that makes your hackles rise...Mindless idiots desecrating cities with graffiti.

The piece of wisdom you would pass on to a child...Speak nicely because people will judge you by that. My mum instilled that in me.

The film you can watch time and time again...It’s A Wonderful Life with James Stewart. It’s a lesson in the importance of life and it’s beautifully acted.

The temptation you wish you could resist...Sweets. The urge never existed before I gave up drinking ten years ago, but now I’ll tuck into a family packet of Liquorice Allsorts. But it’s better than pouring flagons of Jack Daniel’s down me!

The person who has influenced you most...A teacher called Miss Gebbie. I was nine when she taught me how to draw a face and it inspired me. She was my first love!

The figure from history for whom you’d most like to buy a pie and a pint...The 19th-century Scottish architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh. He was a modernist and visionary – I’d like to know how he managed to stick to his guns and thrive.

The unlikely interest that engages your curiosity...Cooking. It’s my way of switching off from music. I’m fascinated by making flavours. It was hit and miss for a while, but now I know what goes with what.

The treasured item you lost and wish you could have again...Naivety. I couldn’t write Vienna [his 1981 hit with Ultravox] today because I’d over-analyse it and worry what people would think.

The unending quest that drives you on...To create something better than I’ve created before.

The poem that touches your soul...A Red, Red Rose by Burns. I was ten when I sang it in front of the class and won a certificate. It was my first recognition for anything, let alone singing.

The misapprehension about yourself you wish you could erase...That I’m really short! I’m 5ft 8in, which I think is fairly average. Maybe the name Midge creates an image that I’m tiny.

The event that altered the course of your life and character...When my daughter Kitty saw me getting a bottle of vodka out of the car while we were at a beach in Cornwall. It was ten years ago and I’d been in rehab, but I was still drinking. She was 11 and the look of disappointment on her face was hideous. I’ve not had a drink since that day.

The crime you would commit knowing you could get away with it...I’d rifle through secret bank vaults in Switzerland and give the money to the poor.

The song that means most to you...My Mind’s Eye by Small Faces. They were my favourite band when I was 14 and I was besotted with that song. They were the ultimate pop band.

The way you would spend your fantasy 24 hours, with no travel restrictions...I travel so much that a special day for me is hanging out with my wife Sheridan and my girls [Molly 28, from his first marriage, Kitty, 21, Ruby, 18, and Flossie, 16], so I’d wake up at home in Bath. I’d have muesli with yoghurt for breakfast, plus white toast with banana, then I’d head to Rock beach in Cornwall for some boogie boarding with the family. We’d have fish and chips for lunch at Rick Stein’s restaurant in Padstow, then I’d wander around Nelson in New Zealand. I love it there because it’s so quaint and old-fashioned. I’d go into space and write a song while orbiting the Earth. After that, I’d head to the Isle of Mull and stay at Calgary Castle where Sheridan and I got married in 2003. All the family would hang out on the beach watching the sunset, then I’d have steak for dinner back at the castle – washed down with a Pepsi Max!

The happiest moment you will cherish forever...My tenth birthday when Mum and Dad gave me my first guitar. Dad only earned £6 a week, but the guitar cost £3. I was ecstatic, and I still have it.

The saddest time that shook your world...The day my father Jim died in 2001 when he was 82. It gave me the excuse to feel sorry for myself and my drinking escalated. I was on a bottle of Jack Daniel’s a day and the next four years were the saddest of my life.

The unfulfilled ambition that continues to haunt you...To have a full head of hair again!

The philosophy that underpins your life...Strive for quality.

The order of service at your funeral...I want weeping and wailing in the church, but then Crossroads by Cream will play to liven everyone up. My girls can scatter my ashes on the Clyde.

The way you want to be remembered...Despite the pressures, he never gave in.

The Plug...Midge is currently on his Breathe Again Tour and is joining the 80s Invasion tour in March 2016. Visit midgeure.co.uk or tdpromo.com.

 

Singer Midge Ure

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What Turns Me On – Arlene Phillips – Uncut

 

The dance judge and choreographer needs the soothing sounds of Ed Sheeran, the joyful steps of West Side Story, radio plays and the secrets of magic.

TELEVISION

I am obsessed with minimalism, so I tune in to Grand Designs hoping there will be some fantasy home that you can only dream of. I really like Kevin McCloud – he is so bright and easy going – and I love the way the programme is set up. You always think the people are going to run out of money and never get to the end of the project, so there is an element of drama that draws you in and keep you watching. The best ones are when Kevin goes back two years later and the people don’t even like the dream home they spent all that time creating. I always find that quite fascinating. My home in North London is pretty bare. It’s a 1930s house, which I had gutted and re-styled. It wasn’t exactly on a Grand Designs scale, but it was a big enough job. Now, the house is all white walls and simple stone or wood floors, with very little furniture and no clutter. If I had my way I would live in a glass box!

I have been reading Agatha Christie books for as long as I can remember, so Poirot and Miss Marple have been enjoyable evergreens in my TV viewing since they started in the 1980s. They’re wonderful, harmless escapism. I like getting my teeth into a good mystery and I prefer one that is all wrapped up in a couple of hours. I am relieved to see how loyal the shows are to the books. The characterisations are spot on and I love the locations, the homes and the costumes. More recently, I have fallen for Sherlock. How they have taken that old story and knitted it into the modern world, with all its new technology, is quite extraordinary. Benedict Cumberbatch is absolutely brilliant.

THEATRE

Dance has been the constant thread throughout my life. In one way or another it has always been there and led me through the maze. A New York dance company called the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre has been a major inspiration in my career. I first saw them at Sadler’s Wells in 1970 performing Revelations – a series of dance suites about black African slaves. I was 27 at the time and it was such a powerfully moving piece that I left the theatre determined to go to New York and study with them. I saved up and did just that three years later. I used to see them dance regularly at Sadler’s Wells and I was always in the standing area at the back because that was all I could afford. They didn’t perform in London for many years, but I caught them at the London Coliseum two years ago and they are still fantastic.

Earlier this year I saw the perfect play – Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale – as a full-length ballet at the Royal Opera House and it was outstanding. I have always wondered how you could ever put a play as wordy as that into dance, with absolutely no dialogue, but it certainly succeeded. Christopher Wheeldon’s choreography was stunning and Ed Watson as Leontes was magnificent. It was the ultimate performance in a dance drama and I could hardly get up out of my seat when it was over.

MUSIC

When it comes to contemporary music, I’m really into Sam Smith. I could listen to his voice all day – it is so beautiful that I get lost in it. Another big favourite is Ed Sheeran. Funnily enough, I first came across him six years ago when I was doing the choreography on the ITV series Britannia High. Ed auditioned in Manchester, but he didn’t make it through because he needed to dance as well as sing. He played guitar and sang and right then I thought, My Goodness, this boy has got a bright future. His lyrics are very clever and I love the way he makes a story about everyday things, like in his song Lego House, which sets off a whole story in my head. It’s amazing what he has achieved, particularly in America, which is so hard to break.

Bizarrely, I generally listen to contemporary music on my computer at my desk because I see it as a part of my work. There’s a reason and a purpose to my listening, so I like to delve further into the words and understand how the music is constructed. When I am just pottering about the house I will have classical music on in the background and Mozart is a big love.

FILM

My favourite film of all-time is West Side Story. It is Romeo and Juliet taken to the limits on modern day streets with racial tensions and clashes. I first saw it when it came out in 1961 and I was blown away. It is still sensational – on stage or as a film – and I never tire of it. You have music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and Jerome Robbins doing the choreography as well as co-directing with Robert Wise. I think Robbins was the guiding light, but you just pay homage to such an incredible team.

The film I have adored recently is The Grand Hotel Budapest. It has an unbelievable cast with the likes of Ralph Fiennes, Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, Adrien Brody and loads of others. It is a musical and visual feast and so gloriously strange. You wonder what on earth is going on half the time, but I love things that are odd and original. I was carried away by it and I still listen to the soundtrack a lot.

RADIO

I have been an avid fan of Just a Minute! on Radio 4 for as long as I can remember. Nicholas Parsons is extraordinary. To think, he’s 91 [on Oct 10th] and his brilliant brain is still whirring away as sharply as ever. He is such an amazing example for anyone worried about getting old. Paul Merton is wonderfully witty and quick, but I heard Sue Perkins recently and she really bowled me over. I knew she was smart, but, Wow, not that smart! After the show, I often test myself by picking a subject at random, then trying to talk for a minute on it. I sit there, by myself, talking against the clock. If anyone saw me, they’d think I had finally lost the plot!

The other staple radio regulars for me are the Today programme and Woman’s Hour and lately I have become quite fascinated by plays on 4Extra. I switch it on while I am cooking early in the evening and I become engrossed in the stories and these wonderful voices coming from the radio. It is like lighting a deliciously scented candle and letting the balm waft around the kitchen. The only problem is that I frequently don’t stick with it to the end of the play, so I have countless unfinished plays in my head!

ART

My dad was a barber, but his favourite thing to do at weekends was looking at art, so from about seven onwards I went with him to all galleries in Manchester all the time. We used to look at the Lowrys and dad would talk to me about the paintings and what to look for. The other person who taught me a lot about art is Andrew Lloyd Webber. I have known Andrew for years and he introduced me about the Pre-Raphaelites. He has a wonderful collection and his knowledge is incredible. He taught me so much about Burne-Jones and Rossetti and how Jane Morris – the wife of William Morris – became their muse. I have plenty of books on that period. That group of artists is endlessly fascinating – especially when you have someone like Andrew talking about it.

David Hockney has easily been my favourite contemporary artist since I met him in the mid-1970s. Wayne Sleep introduced me to him at a party in London and I was utterly mesmerised by hearing him talk about art. I remember him being excited about some new pens with brushes that he had just brought back from Japan. He was always looking for new ways in which to create his work – and he still is. I have gone to every one of his exhibitions in London since then, including the Blue Guitar series. I particularly loved The Bigger Picture exhibition at the Royal Academy in 2012. Those huge paintings of the woods in Yorkshire through the seasons were stunning. The colours, the leaves, the bare trees, the paths, I found it all so captivating. His energy and the way he keeps adapting is quite amazing.

BOOKS

Throughout my childhood, from as young as eight, I was consumed with books about relationships and families. I would wrap myself up in the characters of Little Women, Anne of Green Gables and Ballet Shoes. It was as if what they went through would begin to live inside me. There was often a lack of harmony in their families and their relationships and I connected with the girls who had ambitions and the courage to find their own way, whether it be to marry, to be an engineer and get educated, or to dance. I was somebody who wanted to fight against the odds to be a dancer.

I have always loved a good autobiography and I’ll consume them rapidly, whether they’re by great actors like David Niven and Steven Berkoff, or the marvellous wartime dancer Gillian Lynne. Currently by my bed is a very odd book called Sleights of Mind by Susana Martinez-Conde and Stephen L. Macknick, who are American neuroscience professors. It is about magicians and it reveals the science of how they trick your mind. I am fascinated by magicians like David Blaine and Dynamo and how they convince you they have made something disappear, even though you know it is not possible. This book explains how the brain works and how the illusionists change it to make you believe what they want you to believe. It is an entertaining book, but it’s also quite educational because it gives wannabe magicians like me a close-up on the secrets of magic.

 

Arlene Phillips is supporting Quit With Help, a campaign to help smokers stop for good. For a free quit plan visit www.quitwithhelp.co.uk.

Arlene Phillips – What Turns Me On. Event, Mail on Sunday

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How senior executives at The Sun and I were unwittingly taken in by the PR man’s first celebrity stunt

This is a piece written for Huffington Post on 29th April 2014 following Max Clifford’s conviction...



It was good to see Roy Greenslade being a touch magnanimous about Max Clifford in his Guardian blog yesterday. I have been surprised to see certain others chasing the blue light to the radio and TV studios to put the boot in to one they once so openly loved. 

The Professor, for that is he, resisted kicking Max “now he is down” because he happily admits to plenty of dealings with him back in the day. I know that’s true because I was the wide-eyed young journalist Roy sent on a story that became Max’s first front page exclusive. 

It was November 1986 and I was 21. A few weeks earlier I had been sacked from my first job in journalism – on the Wimbledon News – for moonlighting on The Sun. I had little option but to try and make it full time in Fleet Street at an absurdly young age. I managed to get more casual shifts at Wapping. It was an exhilarating, yet supremely stressful time that shredded the nerves on an hourly basis.

Thanks to Kelvin MacKenzie, The Sun newsroom of that era was a wretched place. His driving motto greeted you each day in the form of a large sign on the wall: “DO IT TO THEM BEFORE THEY DO IT TO YOU”. Sadly, a few fellow workers enjoyed doing “it” to others in the office, not just the opposition. 



Somehow, I landed two major scoops in my first few nights – exclusive “reaction” interviews with Boy George and Noel Edmonds on two big news stories ahead of all others on The Street. This prompted News Editor Tom Petrie to remark: “We can’t work out if you are good or lucky. Let’s hope you are both!” 

On newspapers, they like a hack on a roll. They keep you going until you cock up, then they burn you. At least that’s how it worked on The Super Soaraway in the ’80s. Tom put me forward for a “special” the features department had, which is when I met Roy Greenslade for the first time. 

Roy outlined the situation: “An EastEnders star is cheating on his fiancée with her sister…go to this nightlcub and meet a man called Max Clifford…” The “star” was in fact a bit-part actor who was already an ex-EastEnder (Simon Henderson. Eh?) and the club was the Broadway Boulevard in Ealing. All very once-removed, but I recall an excited Martin Dunn coming into Roy’s office to check who was doing the story.

The snapper and I duly waited outside the club later that evening. I remember Max pulling up in his silver Jaguar/Daimler and struggling to park. He kept bumping into other cars. No doubt he had over-estimated the length he had to play with!

Inside an eerily empty nightclub, we saw the ex-EastEnder canoodling with a woman. Max wanted to know my game plan. “Well, I have to ask him straight up why he’s not with his fiancée?” “That’s a bit direct, isn’t it?” he said. “Let me have a chat first.”

Sure enough, a few minutes later I was interviewing the “star” and his girl. There was plenty of giggling and some unexpectedly candid quotes and they even posed up for a photo. At the time, I thought it was all a bit odd. A chat with the nightclub owner didn’t help. “Max is great at getting me publicity,” he sniggered, then handed me a VIP membership card to the club. Showing precocious ligging skills, I gleefully accepted. Sadly, Ealing was never exactly convenient for a lad living in Sydenham.

I duly wrote the story and Roy was delighted. It became a clearly desperate Sunday-for-Monday splash the following week – EASTENDERS STAR CHEATS FIANCEE. By coincidence, my purple patch had continued and I landed the other big story on that front page – another exclusive with Noel (both my stories were subjected to artful by-line banditry by staffers Paul Hooper and Phil Dampier. Bastards!).



Tom Petrie asked me to get a follow up from the fiancée, so I called Max for a steer, then a funny thing happened. “Actually, she’s asked me to look after her story and is happy to chat….I think five grand should do it,” he said. I told Tom, who was momentarily perplexed, then he sighed. “I think Mr Clifford is playing games with us.” Features eventually did the buy-up.

It was such a ridiculously obvious PR game and we all willingly, blindly fell for it. It was only later that Max’s games changed. The money got bigger and the lies got nastier and the newspapers lapped it all up. And I include those “worthier” newspapers that filled acres of newsprint following the stories he peddled.

I didn’t work with Max again. I always saw him at newspaper Christmas parties and then I went along for a general chat at his Bond Street office in 1998 to, as he put it “get something going”. Thankfully, we never did. I took along the cutting from ’86 and we laughed about the story before he signed it: “To Robin, Our first front page!! Those were the days!!” he wrote.

Indeed they were. Such innocent days. Or so it seemed.


The Inside Story Behind Max Clifford’s First Front Page Splash

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Event magazine of the Mail on Sunday newspaper

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Actor Brian Cox – Desert Island Pics. Event, Mail on Sunday

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Rob McGibbon gives his take in Press Gazette  on the ups and downs of freelancing

Freelance of the Month

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Mighty Aphrodite – Cyprus, Daily Mirror

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I realise there has been much anticipation for the unveiling of my first ever work of art on canvas since I mentioned an original piece was indeed in creation. Now the time is upon us. Steady. May I welcome to the world what is provisionally called “Canvas One”.

This could be one of those moments that is fondly referred to in art history in, say, 100 years time. Then again, it may not.

Many people (as in, none) have asked me about my inspiration for this piece. They have likened it to a piece of fearless satire in a post-modernists style and one that is bound to be imitated.

The work simply unfolded effortlessly in my mind And now that it is done and I can step back, I realise one thing is clear: I have painted a bloody flag.

Welcome: Canvas One!

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January 30, 2009

It was remiss of me not to note a particularly inspiring evening recently (15th January).

Fresh from Bob Warren’s funeral – with a crackling vintage recording of Tiptoe Through the Tulips, which was played at his commendation, still making me smile – I alighted alone at the Donmar Warehouse for an evening with T.S Eliot. Death and Eliot are comfortable companions.

I was there to hear a reading of Eliot’s Four Quartets. Eliot’s poetry has been an enduring presence in my life since studying some of his key pieces at A-Level. Four Quartets are timeless, multi-layered masterpieces; lyrically mesmerising, endlessly challenging and, it has to be said, quite beautifully bewildering. Little Gidding is my favourite. A section of it is framed on my desk and a small pencil portrait of Eliot by Wyndham Lewis is white-tacked to the wall.

I have not been to a poetry recital this side of my functioning memory and I have never heard Four Quartets, so this was quite a treat. It was recited by Stephen Dillane as part of the Donmar’s Eliot festival. Where else could one find such a festival than at the courageous, broad thinking Donmar? I applaud Michael Grandage’s versatility and vision for the Donmar in general and in particular for this programme.

Dillane’s recital was skilled and accomplished. To recite all four parts of this lengthy and complex poem is nothing short of remarkable. He gave a beguiling performance, although I have to say it lacked something for me. It is hard to isolate exactly what that something was. He certainly brought the poem to life and it illuminated several parts to me, even though I have read it all many times. I guess one of the obstacles is that I have only ever heard Eliot’s recorded reading, or listened to my own internal voice. It is a bit like the experience of watching the film of a book that is special to you. It is impossible for the images to live up to your imagination. How on earth could Dillane reflect or replace the images from a hundred readings? Also, I attach more melancholy to the piece than his portrayal provided and I have always associated it with an older voice. He was quizzical and frivolous in places where I see nothing short of despair. Still, I thoroughly enjoyed his work and respect his achievement.

The evening was closed with a stunning performance of Beethoven’s opus 132 by a string quartet of the Soloists of the Philharmonia Orchestra. With fitting drama and atmosphere, they were lit by just a single bulb from an overhead light. I marvelled at the exuberance and obvious joy with which they played and I was especially taken by David Cohen’s performance on cello, not least by him performing in stockinged feet with his boots by the spike. Very cool.

So, a reading of Eliot’s finest work accompanied by a Beethoven piece to make your bones tingle. Probably one of the best ways to wind down after a funeral.

Only at the Donmar. Bravo.

Four Quartets, Donmar Warehouse

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January 23, 2009

For professional reasons, I have recently been plugging into the oeuvre of TV “investigative journalist” Jacques Peretti and I admit I am totally astonished at the projection his documentaries are afforded by Channel 4.

He seems a nice enough fellow and clearly sincere, but he is somewhat deluded by the seriousness and revelatory value of his “investigations”. At best, they are gossamer thin and reliant on twice-removed sources linked together by a droning monolgue of half-baked, pub-style pontification. Jacques reckons he is cerebrally unraveling his subjects. He is not. As Ally Ross, TV critic of The Sun, brilliantly put it a while back – “Jacques Peretti is the Zen Buddhist of stating the bleeding obvious”.

I had to chuckle last night when I saw Jacques and his hairy arms on yet another plane – LA, New York, Bahamas – to track down yet another nobody who sort of knew Dodi Fayed in a nightclub. His “sources” at best are washed up rent-a-quotes who might be worth chatting to if they popped into the Soho edit suite for ten minutes. But the Bahamas for two minutes of nonsense with Johnny Gold? (Actually, I just looked out the window and now realise – if you’ve got the budget and the suntan lotion, it makes total sense.)

The repetition of the stills photos (Diana on the Jonikal) and archive footage (Dodi getting into a Ford Estate, close up of the cameraman in the reflection of the car window) was nothing short of laughable. But it is Jacques’ Mogadon delivery that takes the forehead slapping biscuit. It is as if by talking ever-so-s-l-o-w-l-y with a dense voice will give veracity and weight to his balsa revelations. It d-o-e-s n-o-t, J-a-c-q-u-e-s.

The Artist dipped in for a few minutes and witnessed Jacques’ interview in the back of a limo with some nobody who vaguely knew Dodi for a bit. In one sweeping statement, based on nothing, Jacques said that Dodi got through a kilo of cocaine a week which “would take some doing”. Before walking straight back out, the Artist observed: “He could do with a kilo of coke to liven him up.”

There is a term in the newspaper business for what Jacques does: cuts jobs. Knit together old material, add archive photos to make it look fancy, bung it all under a new headline and hope no one notices. In an hour long TV doc, there is no hiding place and the holes are too glaring to miss. How can a cuts job be worth an hour on Channel 4? And on such well visited subjects as Dodi Fayed, Paul Burrell, Michael Barrymore? Every person Jacques “investigates” can be easily filed under another journalistic term for subjects no longer of interest: “Those we used to love.”

There’s a fun documentary skit to be done on Jacques. I can even visualise the opening wide shot following the great man going about his “investigative” duties in a cuttings library. A dull, slow voice over begins to tell the story:

“This is Jacques Peretti. Who is he? What drives him? Where did he come from? What issues does he have? etc etc…”

Cut to a row of people on a sofa snoring – ZZZzzzzzzzz.

Jacques Peretti, I Don’t Know What Happened, Channel 4

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May 28, 2008

And, so, to Fountain Studios in Wembley for a seat behind the judges at a live semi-final of Britain’s Got Talent. What an extraordinary experience.

I have dipped into the series since a night of undiluted hilarity at the auditions in Hackney, so the thought of some more live action was an easy lure.

A glass of pink champagne backstage got me in the mood for Simon, Piers and Amanda, and, boy, do you need some happy fuel to attend these shows; the crew get you clapping and on your feet constantly like demented performing seals to generate the feel-good vibe. It is an exhausting two hours which leaves you with raw hands and arthritic knees. But it is worth the effort.

Love it or hate it, BGT is one weird whirl of high purity entertainment – good and bad. It makes you cringe, laugh, cheer, boo and cry all in one fatal dose. You sink at the sight of some of the acts – the clueless Indian magician, that troop of a hundred hopeless dancers, the bin bashers, and Christine Hamilton going for it in the finale of You Raise Me Up. But then you are up-lifted by the endearing, untarnished talent of the chorister – you know, the boy with bad white heads. His Tears In Heaven made me water a bit.

You can’t help but get caught up in it all when you are there. When the agonising moment came for Cowell to cast the deciding vote between Flava and The Cheeky Monkeys, I found myself shouting out loud.

My head knew it should be Flava – the half-baked dance act with “street” kids who want to make something of themselves – but my heart wanted the two cute little blonde kids who, let’s be honest, are too bloody young to be appearing in an event of this scale. Their act makes me feel a bit uncomfortable. In fact, so uncomfortable, that I shouted out their name to help Cowell decide. I was so near to him that I seriously think my shout – and a few others – helped swing it. I was like a parent at a pantomime who had sunk one too many sweet sherries in the interval. Really, I should be ashamed of myself.

Britian’s Got Talent – Semi Finals Live

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February 06, 2008

It is not often that I wake up chuckling into the pillow through a throat made sore by a night of intense, stomach crunching laughter. It is also not often that I burn the toast because my mind is happily distracted by turning over the events of the previous evening. But, then, I had never been to see the auditions for ITV’s ‘Britain’s Got Talent’.

Last night, The Artist and I and a friend sat riveted and contorted through what was probably the funniest, most entertaining – and often excruciating – three hours I have had in, erm, a few decades. We ventured to the Hackney Empire under the invitation of Piers Morgan, an old friend who is now, bizzarely, a bona fide TV star on both sides of the Atlantic.

I must be one of the few people in the land not to have seen one minute of BGT. I was abroad throughout its UK arrival last summer, so I came to it cold last night. And what a delightful, emotionally oscillating shock.

Unfortunately, the poor acoustics meant we could hardly hear Morgan or Amanda Holden’s comments (maybe was a blessing), but Cowell was just a few feet away and he delivered some gems.

We sat through talking and counting (and crapping) parrots, hopeless magicians, tragic clowns (Cowell: “I am allergic to clowns”), overweight teenage Irish dancers in plastic tiaras and frizz wigs, and a fat mum in a vest dancing like Britney Spears who pitched for the sympathy vote with, “I’m doing this for my kids… one of them is disabled”.

Then there was the toe curling embarrassment of “Gunther the Geordie Porn Star” in leopard print briefs practising his pelvic action; Julie, a 41-year-old Southampton Council worker, singing Madonna’s Holiday in overly tight glittered Lycra (Cowell: “You’re like a drunk on a hen night”); and a Norwegian cleaner living in the UK “for time being” (he’s been he eight YEARS) who mimed the effects of being in a storm with a red umbrella.

There were very few genuine acts of talent on what proved to be one of the most fruitless auditions in six weeks of trawling the UK. And Hackney provided the most hostile and cynical of audiences seen by the BGT crew to date. Much has been made in the news recently of the dangers of walking Hackney’s streets at night. Well, I can assure you that its foul-mouthed youth are not to be recommended as companions in the theatre either.

A trainee lawyer dancing like Michael Jackson stole the show and easily made it through to the next round, but I won’t give away the comic brilliance of his act.

I chatted to Cowell and Morgan backstage afterwards. Both looked a touch exhausted and exasperated with the draining demands of the BGT auditions juggernaut. Cowell said that he was running out of things to say to these people, but I beg to differ. The line of the night was all his and it was this one which had me chuckling again in today’s reverie.

It came when a man of 84 called William humbly took to the stage to play Edelweiss on the harmonica. He quietly, but proudly, said he had been playing for 60 years. He then proceeded to silence the baying Empire mob with the dullest, most pedestrian performance in history. There was a very real stench of sympathy and awkwardness. 60 years, for that?

With profound and deadening understatement Cowell looked at him unsmilingly and said: “I think you could do with a little bit more practice.”

Priceless.

Britain’s Got Talent Auditions, Hackney Empire

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Thursday, April 10, 2008

Daft really, to reach out like this, but I have just tuned into one of my favourite events on the sporting calendar – the Masters golf from Augusta – and I am irate enough to react with an angry blog. I had forgotten who is the host these days. Gary bloody Lineker.

Quite simply, he does NOT fit this event.

I felt it in my gut last year. I even reached for the blog back then. There has been much press about Midlands accents of late. Well, I for one don’t want one talking me through this golf tournament. Every time he says “Masstas” I want to club him. I can’t be alone.

Thankfully, I will be on holiday tomorrow and will miss the Masters this year. The only consolation is that I won’t have to watch Lineker at the helm.

Steve Rider get yer bouffant back ‘ere.

Gary Lineker, The Masstas, BBC1

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February 05, 2007

Louis Theroux has been away from TV for a while. I’ve not missed him. He kicked off his new series of BBC2 documentaries with a trip to Las Vegas last night and the publicity suckered me in. After a long break from TV, with the whole world and its nutcases at the mercy of his lens, he goes there. Genius producing. Can you imagine the planning meetings that went into that? Series Producer: “Hey, the Hilton are offering us a freebie to Vegas for a few on-screen plugs, let’s go, do the strip see some strippers.” Louis: “Errrm. Yeah. Well. Hmmm. Yeah.”

But, hey, no matter the jam-packed travel library in existence on Vegas – all made possible with contra-deal kick backs – it is so full of madness and characters that any hack with a camcorder and a decent eye for a story should come up with some entertaining footage and interviews. But not Louis. He couldn’t interview a Martian and get a story if one tugged on his baggy sweater.

For this show, Louis followed a few hapless gamblers and showed them to be hopeless losers. Gosh, sad gamblers found in Vegas, they lose money. I was staggered. Then Louis played the tables himself – twice. Original, imaginative. In terms of creativity, this show was tantamount to going on a junket to Vegas and staying at the airport to play the first 25 cent slot machine you see, then coming home.

If this loser of a show was the lead doc in the series, I doubt I will gamble any more time on Louis. He has no basic sense of how to ask questions or develop an interview with any depth. And once you are bored of his limp, whimpering delivery, and over-played laid back approach – if indeed you ever liked it – there is nowhere to go. I’ve always felt he was over-rated.

Louise Theroux in Las Vegas, BBC2

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February 14, 2007

I stand accused of wasting an hour and a half of my life last night watching BBC2’s The Verdict. I hang my head in shame and plead guilty and ask for countless other similar telly violations of my freedom to be taken into consideration. My sentence? To watch the remaining episodes of this absurdly enjoyable tripe.

I missed the opening up of this “case”, so I’m slightly off the pace, but that hasn’t hindered me from easing into the role of a hang ’em high judge and jury. In fact, I couldn’t give a bowl of salty porridge about the blokes in the dock, or the weepers in witess box. No, naturally, I’m judging all the celebrities. They’re all in the dock here, of course that’s what this is about – it’s a reality show with a stocking over its grubby little face as a disguise. And I know for certain they are all GUILTY.

Yep, guilty, I say. First up is chuffing Ingrid Tarrant. She is guilty of suddenly making me feel empathy with Chris for going AWOL in his marriage. Next is Jennifer Wotshername-like for giving further incontrovertible evidence – recently displayed by Danielle Windyarse-like from CBB – that the scouse accent is the most tikcth (sic: thick) sounding and irritating in Britain. Then there is the ex-soap Ginga, up on charges of continuing to impersonate a bad EastEnders character. Her claim that she is just a Patsy is inadmissable.

Then there’s the bloke from Blur – Alex James – who looks like he is a few glugs away from rehab’. (Apologies if he is actually in recovery). I interviewed Collymore and Archer last year, so I know their form. Therefore, I convict them both without a pause for breath. Well, let’s face it, Collymore is always upto no good and Archer is always guilty. Who have I missed? Oh, yes, Jacqueline Gold. She is so quiet I think she must have been winded by sitting on an oversize Rampant Rabbit. Then we have old rubber nose, bloaty-face Michael Portillo. He is guilty of making me think that he is actually half-sensible, such is the company he keeps. There are a few others who are simply guilty of table manners affray and for consuming stolen goods – champagne and lorry-loads of food – all proven to be owned by hard-up Licence Payers.

But the main culprit in The Verdict so far is Megaman – or MegaChippyMan. He is exercising his right to remain silent with a violent stare. He has brought a stack of pre-conceived ideas, personal issues and prejudices into the jury room and dat ain’t allowed, man. His main crime, however, is being caught in possession of an over-loaded, dangerous wardrobe, including diamonte studded CK sunglasses worn with no sense of embarrassment in a darkened dining room. He stands accused of using this wardrobe with malicious intent to pass off as a successful gangsta rapper.

Everyone in this show keeps saying – “You’ve got to go on the EVIDENCE”. Well, I’ve seen enough, yer Crusty Old Honour.

Take ’em all down.

The Verdict, BBC2

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And, so, to the art world and last night’s private view for Marcel Dzama’s new work at Timothy Taylor’s gallery in Mayfair. Waiters in black Zorro masks greeted me with a choice between a bottle of Peroni and a glass of chilled Petit Chablis. A brash, post-minimalist bar, but evocative and splendidly purist. It spoke to me. Still off the beer, I went for a splash of wine. Very nice, too, I thank you, Timothy, but I’ve got to say, it all went a bit downhill after that.

There’s clearly a buzz and dazzle around Dzama, what with his (group) shows at MoMA, but on the evidence of last night it is a wonder to me how this Canadian is generating such attention – and prices. Now, I’m all in favour and praise of people who express their creativity. Bravo to them. I can’t speak for Dzama’s previous work – which may well be amazing, visionary, cutting edge, it may even be good – but this show was thin, to say the least. Less than a Size 0. In fact, if you had phoned up ITV to vote for this exhibition, you would rightly claim you had been short-changed.

The work derives from a 30 minute film (art show screenings only, not yer local multiplex) Dzama made a while back called The Lotus Eaters. It includes images of characters, many in Zorro masks with black beaked noses, sitting on dead tree trunks. You know, I can barely recall a clear image this morning, such was the lasting resonance of his faces. They looked like the rejected off-cuts on a cartoonist’s studio floor.

Also on display were some furry costume heads from Dzama’s “film”. I have seen more dramatic and better constructed models made by 10 year olds with papier mache and ping-pong balls. But, here in Mayfair with beer and wine, these heads and pictures are art, and fairly expensive art at that. One gallery sales person, visibly twitching with glee, told me that most were already sold. The small, unappealing water colours were $10-15,000 a shot and one medium-size montage was $45,000. Average-to-low pricing in this genre and I would have got one or two for the hell of collecting, but I didn’t have any change on me.

The information sheet handed out last night explained Dzama’s talent and inspiration thus: “The long, dark, cold Winnipeg winters meant that Marcel spent a lot of time inside drawing a dystopian world inhabited by femmes fatale, bats, bears, cowboys and superheroes.” Hmm, I stayed in a lot drawing when it shanked down in Bromley when I was a kid. But when does childhood cartooning become art? When an art dealer tells his people, that’s when.

Now, I’ve been to countless private views in the past few years and I’ve done all the main London art shows, and, well, the whole shebang leaves me ever more puzzled. The big fairs seem to be little more than a free-drink fest, with hoards of liggers staggering around in a fug of cheap, New World chardonnay or shiraz looking with ever deteriorating eye-sight at works of questionable quality and depth, let alone basic intrigue or beauty. The contemporary art world is thriving like never before and is awash with money and product. Of course, it is not all bad, but why such continuing hype about so little?

Well, here’s a thing. I completed my first painting on canvas last weekend. It was an oddly rewarding experience, especially as it began with a definite twinge of panic and artist’s angst when I first stared at the blank canvas. I suddenly connected with all the grand Masters who had hunched over an easel before me. We were one.

But it’s not that hard, you know. A short while later I had produced a picture that is a compelling, poignant and painful depiction of personal suffering and 21st century alienation. Or, indeed, it could also be a quite colourful abstract miniature with a circle and some blocks.

I’m thinking of exhibiting my solitary picture here, then you can all decide. The price? Let’s leave that to the dealers…

Marcel Dzama: Le Review

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July 17, 2007

So, what’s a newly married man supposed to do when he gets his first night away from the new wife? Go on a heavy session with the lads and re-tread old haunts? It’s a bit soon for nostalgia for me, so last Friday I did what any self-respecting bloke without a functioning telly would do – I took a long slow walk to the Royal Albert Hall, via the Anglesea, for my first Prom.

I thought I would sample a last-minute “gallery” ticket for a fiver to listen to some quality classical music at feet tingling altitude amongst the “Prommers”. Puffing slightly, I finally arrived at the top deck of the RAH and knew immediately this is not the way I want to listen to Beethoven’s 9th, a much-loved personal favourite.

I’m all up for new experiences, me, but up there I found it infested with a hairy bunch of unkempt, bare-or-soily-sock-footed, picnic-munching,soap-swerving fuddy-duddies and trainee old-before-their-timers. It was like an airport lounge during the French air traffic controllers’ annual strike, with Prommers stretched out on chequered blankets guarding their six-inch sections of laced iron balustrade like sentries in Stalag 17. Elgar’s notes crawled up gasping from below to wrestle for ear-space with the crackle of crisp packets, the fingering of strawberries in creased plastic punnets, and embarrassed usherettes hissing at people to drink their chardonnay contraband outside. Tell me, what is the F-flat point of coming to a classical concert if all you want to do is stuff your big fat furry face? How will you ever know your arse from your oboe if you’ve got a gob full of Walkers?

I immediately regretted not buying a £35 best seat in romantic pursuit of a new experience, so I did the next best thing – I craned over a coleslaw and tomato salad box to scope the arena below for an empty seat. I spotted a cluster of six-or-so near the stage. Years of events experience has taught me that there is no such thing as a 100% sell out, even the First Night of the Proms. And, one tip, if you are ever going to jib in and risk the humiliation of being the only lemon left standing in a fully seated arena, you may as well shoot for the best of the best seats.

So, while the mob was getting stuck into dessert during the interval, I ghosted into the main auditorium and took up position in my new swivel velvet aisle seat in Row 7 – right next to the choir, behind the violins, beside the percussion man and the nervous fellow checking the position of a tiny triangle for the hundredth time. If I had been any nearer to the orchestra, I would have been taking precise instructions from the conductor. But the best thing of all, I was about 3,000ft below the fetid munchers.

And there I waited, indeed sweated, to see if anyone would claim this sensational seat. It was an anxious wait as late-comers piled in for the main event and the vacant cluster was reduced to just one single spare – mine. I have never been happier to hear the opening bars of the 9th. But, my oh my, was it worth the worry. What followed was one of my personal all-time great entertainment pieces, 70 minutes of unadulterated, goose-bumping joy. There are few things in life more inspiring and uplifting than seeing a full orchestra playing in unison.

I’ve “seen” the 9th a few times before and it always makes me cry. Not in a blubbing, hanky-soaked style, but in the simple welling up way. Such is the power of this piece live that my eyes had filled up again within a few minutes of this performance. And the aural power surge when the magnificent double choir – TWO HUNDRED AND SEVENTY EIGHT OF THEM! – stood up for the finale almost lifted me out of my free seat to join in. Even watching the high pressure moment when Triangle Man’s moment cometh was truly memorable. He successfully filled the Albert Hall with his little instrument and I saw the relief on his face from about four feet.

Anyway, don’t take my word for it. The piece is playing again during this Prom season. My advice: Go, see, hear it for yourself. Forget the gallery. Leave them to their dinner. Spend more, get a good last minute seat. It was the best thirty five quid I never spent.

The Proms – Beethoven’s 9th

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August 17, 2007

Wish me luck, I’m heading off on a Ryanair flight today. This is despite vowing two years ago, after a miserable journey from Pisa, never to travel with them again.

Back then, I said I would happily pay whatever extra it costs to avoid being buffeted along by the elbows and shoulders of sweating, wheezing fellow travellers, as we were herded to a shock yellow seat for the joy of flying to the appalling shrill of in-flight advertising over the Tannoy. What a way to treat your customers.

But what did it for me with Ryanair was the baggage weight charade at check-in at Pisa. My relatively minimal holiday baggage had beefed up a touch, thanks to a paltry, single case of fine Tuscan red I had sourced from a small vineyard outside Montepuliciano. To take it home, I would have to pay excess baggage which negated any previous saving. The Artist and I shuffled off and re-arranged the bags to sneakily spread the load into our hand luggage. It felt cheap and pathetic, yet while we did this, we watched several people check in without a hitch after us despite clearly having eaten their life’s quota of pizza and pasta while on holiday.

Tell me, where is the fairness in penalising passengers who might be, hmmm, on the slimmer side for carrying a few extra pounds in a bag, when Mr and Mrs Golightly are packing an added, say, ten stones between them around their midriffs and derrieres?

Well, I’m heading off on Ryanair for this weekend break because no other airline goes to this destination at anything near a reasonable rate. To avoid putting bags in the hold and to keep within the hand luggage weight, I have studied the baggage dimensions and restrictions on the Ryanair website like a swot in A-level week. God help me. Consequently, I am travelling lighter than ever in my life. Robair – no frills indeed.

Ryan Air

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September 04, 2007

Monday night veg-out saw me tuck into a double portion of gut-churning culinary TV turkey, ‘Nigella Express’ and ‘Hell’s Kitchen’.

I had just rustled up a vegetarian shepherd’s pie, then failed to answer the closing questions on University Challenge, when up popped Nigella. At times, I wonder what onyx stone I have been living under because the entire Nigella Goddess phenomena-thingy pretty much passed me by, but suddenly here she was, in super nauseating close up, super glammed-up, and oh-so-super, super-sized in her super home.

Really, this programme had me spluttering on my lentils from start to finish. It was an unexpected, unintentional comedy gem. I found myself waiting for Nigella to suddenly double up over her spare tyre with laughter as the camera pulled back to reveal Richard Curtis, script in hand, directing a Comic Relief special. It is beyond parody.

Nigella, oh-so-busy, oh-so-stressed, hopping into a black taxi to the Waitrose in Belgravia, then back in a taxi to her hellish Eton Square home, then cooking frantically in her Mayfair restaurant-spec kitchen for her family and chums. I’m sure the stress of the taxi trips resonated with all those who struggle on the bus to the local Lidl with ten quid to feed five.

But it was Nigella’s menu that had me tickling the belly lard with mirth. Pork chops fried in oil with a double cream mustard sauce and gnocchi, or deep fried calamari with garlic mayonnaise. The gut-busting coupe de grace was Nigella coming home to twinkling Christmas lights after a liver full of champers, to curl up in bed with a couple of stale croissants baked in cream and egg. And, then, she came back for more with EXTRA cream before settling down for a late night heart attack. Hilarious. Rename this show ‘Nigella’s Express Taxi Route To Becoming A Fat Knacker’.

Another fat knacker turned up in ITV’s Hell’s Kitchen – Mark Peter White from Leeds, aka Marco Pierre White. Marco kept going on about the fact that he hadn’t been in a kitchen for seven and a half years. By the size of him, he couldn’t have been far from one. If anything, he looks like he’s spent the best part of his resting years on a park bench, or in a box on the Embankment. Marco sounds addled and looks so poorly he can only be a packet of fags or a Nigella pudding away from a defibrillator.

I presume the intention behind such a “Legend” doing this crass – and, it has to be confessed, pathetically addictive show – is to re-heat the souffle of his former glory. Well, by the sight of this opener, it ain’t gonna rise an inch. Would your taste buds get wet at the thought of Marco sweating and wheezing over your grub, his infested hair swooshing around while he man-handles it all with his grubby savaloy fingers? (I never realised just how much grease-ball chefs handle the food until these shows. Urgh).

Oddly enough, Marco didn’t come across as the beast that everyone at ITV expects, indeed insists. If anything, he seemed nervous and genuinely encouraging and avuncular to his hapless “celebrities”, rather than truly nasty like Ramsay. Maybe this genuine nicer side of him will gradually come across more and save his bacon.

But there is only one way to beef up Hell’s Kitchen and make it a dish worth serving: bring in Nigella.

Note: Since writing this blog, it has been revealed that Nigella’s home shots are a big fat porky pie and actually filmed in a studio in South London.

Nigella’s Express, Channel 4 (aka Fat Knacker Night)

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Tuesday, October 02, 2007

A simple, quick tip on a fabulous restaurant I visited last Friday: Baltic. It’s been there for about six years and already has a huge following and great reviews, but has only just beeped onto my radar. Always up to speed, me. (Apparently, AA Gill slagged it originally, but has been seen back there many times).

The theme of the restaurant is Eastern European and has the most amazing, mouthwatering original menu. If I only I could remember the names of the dishes to make your mouth water. The trouble is, the tradition at Baltic is to serve a variety of head-banging home-made vodkas throughout your meal. Slam dunk those on top of some superb Meursault, Margaux and a Brunello to boot, then you know you will have to relive the experience just to anchor it properly in your memory.

That said, the Scottish Rock Oysters (er, is Scotland near the Baltic?) were silver slick, the Siberian dumplings with veal and pork were sweet and moreish and the bleeding lamb was so tender I started stamping the ground like thumper. For the life of me I cannot remember what I had for dessert. I blame the pre-pudding strawberry vodka.

B-Baltic is a b-brilliant, b-buzzing restaurant. Go there for a b-big b-blow out. It is so good it is almost memorable.

Note: I have just noticed that Baltic has made into the Evening Standard’s restaurant critic Fay Maschler’s top 25 London restaurants in today’s (3rd Oct) paper.

Baltic Restaurant, London SE1

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November 14, 2007

As I am sure you are beginning to make last minute arrangements for your winter or New Year holidays, can I just stop by with a couple of recommendations following a glorious trip earlier this year.

The Madikwe Lodge safari lodge in South Africa is sensational. Luxurious and beautiful private rooms are carved into the granite of the local rock formations, with heated floors and a private plunge pool. You even get a private outdoor bath and shower overlooking the bush. Well, totally private except for the elephants and lions looking on – in awe – as they drink at a nearby watering hole. The Madikwe staff are fantastic, as is the food. The game drives are terrific and we easily saw many multiples of four of the Big Five (the leopards eluded us) – thanks to our cheerful, eagle-eyed tracker Johannes. What a star – although one lion got a little too close and looked me square (meal?) in the eye. Most memorable sight, apart form the animals, has to be the Mars-red, iron rich earth. I even brought some home to create my own paint. (Exhibition to be announced soon).

Mauritius is only a four hour flight from Johannesburg and is an ideal place for a beach side crash out after an exhausting safari. I would strongly recommend the Hilton. I always expect the worst when I hear that name – an air-con, high rise, business hotel – but this one is part of the five star ‘Hilton Worldwide’ range. It is stunning and lacks the stuffiness of some of the other five star resorts. I finally cracked mono water skiing, thanks to Tom from the newly installed Mark Warner water sports centre, and I had the best acupressure massages in my life at the dedicated health spa.

Both these trips can be booked via the Virgin Holidays website or by calling: 0871 222 0307.

One last tip (plug): Virgin Upper Class to South Africa is superb. But make sure you give yourself a good two hours in the Clubhouse at Heathrow – just so you are, ahem, nicely relaxed for that strenuous flight.

Madike Hills Game Lodge, South Africa

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December 03, 2007

Many months ago I enjoyed a one night stay at Champneys Tring. If I was a politician, I guess I would have to make various declarations, or – more likely – not make any declarations, only to have The Guardian tell me later that the bill was settled by someone else.

Anyway, if you are thinking you are in need of a detox to prepare for all those Christmas parties, or indeed you are planning a New You for the New Year, then you could do worse than book a mini health farm break at one of the Champneys resorts. The facilities at the one in Tring are superb. A sumptuous spa, immaculate grounds, great massages and numerous other treatments, excellent food and the giant bed in a Premier room gave me the best sleep in months. It was wonderful to see Frank Bruno happily clocking up the miles on the treadmill in the gym, although it was something of a shock to have Cherie Blair plonk herself down near me in the chill out zone in her white toweling robe.

Champneys is on its game and I’m told that the company will soon launch a number of city “Day Spas” across the country.

There you go, just a tip to lift any winter health blues.

Champneys Tring

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December 21, 2006

Time for some serious product placement: Le Grand Hotel, Paris. Go and stay there. I spent a few nights with the Artist there recently and it was, well, magnifique. I needed to be there, as opposed to any other hotel, to do some top-up research for a book I am currently re-igniting. Certain key scenes happened there in 1914. Oh, the wilful intrigue of my vagueness.

Le Grand is a big hotel and part of the Intercontinental Hotels Group. It might not be everyone’s idea of a romantic Parisian bolthole. There are plenty of bijoux hotels in the 6th, but I always feel a bit uncomfortable in places of limited staffing – you know, when the same face pops up in different areas of the hotel, or the worn out Monsieur on the front desk knows too much about your movements. I need the freedom of anonymity you get in a big hotel to help me switch off.

If you are looking for immaculate, yet understated five star service that is devoid of stuffiness, then you will struggle to do better than Le Grand. The IHG group are currently on a mission to offer a more chilled out first class service across all their hotels. It works here already. The hotel, which is one of the oldest large hotels in Paris, had a major re-fit in 2002, so it is finely spruced throughout. Our room was luxurious and overlooked the Opera House. Recent modern additions to the hotel include a small, but perfectly adequate spa. Despite the lush re-furb, the cosmetic traditions of the hotel’s more famous older parts have been preserved. There’s the relaxing Winter Garden central atrium, the exquisite Cafe de la Paix with its ornate splendour (what a place for breakfast) and then there is the devine, gilt-mirrored oval ballroom called the Salon Opera. Take your girl for a private waltz here beneath the giant crystal chandelier. This is where Daniel Craig hosted the post-premiere party for James Bond’s Casino Royale in November, so if you’ve got two left feet she can at least close her eyes and think of him.

So, if you are considering a break in Paris, think of Le Grand. If not to stay, then maybe for a meal, or afteroon tea, or a flute of champagne. Or, indeed, a dance. Feel free to mention my name.

InterContinental Hotels – Le Grand, Paris

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November 12, 2006

Still socially gated, with the advanced stages of cabin fever taking grip, I decided to cheer myself up and get a count-my-blessings reality check by watching Channel 4’s The Somme. It was all the things you hoped for and dreaded. I’m not sure it actually taught me anything new. I’ve read a bit about WW1 over the years and dip into the war poets frequently. A few lines from them take you there with a jolt. This show was another one of those good reminders. It was moving, gruesome, at times heart-wrenching and, naturally, it made me feel lucky to be on a sofa with a slight ankle injury and an organic beer in my hand, not a rifle and trench foot with someone about to blow a whistle to signify my imminent execution.

The re-enactments were skilfully filmed and the detail of the research of the personal stories particularly, as well as the military overview itself, was admirable. Such was the detail that the programme – coming in at two hours, five minutes – seemed to last as long as the battle itself. At times, I thought I wasn’t going to make it to the end either.

A couple of observations: How can you spend all that time building up the stories of characters and then dismiss their ultimate destinies in a picture caption? Young “Cyril” was one of 27 out of 1,000 who survived in his attack zone and went on to become a “communist”. Blimey, that begged a few more pars. And Captain May asked a fellow soldier to look out for his beloved “wife and baby”. If we know that much detail, surely the researchers can tell us what happened to his good lady and child?

But the coup de grace whinge for me is this: as the credits rolled and the horrific collage swilled in my disturbed mind, the syrupy tones of the Channel 4 voice-over woman suddenly broke the dark spell. “We apologise for any bad language that featured in this programme.” WHAT! Give me fucking strength, you stupid twats. Whoever makes rules that state these pathetic apologies must be made at the end of documentaries of such power should be put up against a wall and shot.

The Somme – Channel 4

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November 07, 2006

Carina Round is from Wolverhampton and has been signed by Dave Stewart to his Interscope label. Unsurprisingly, I had never heard of her, but I’ll give a her a name-check here. You never know, it might help. Her debut album was due out in October, but has been delayed and will be out next year. She was doing a short, showcase gig at a club called Stereo, way out on West 29th Street and 10th Avenue. I’d never been that far west in the city before. I stood alongside a pop legend who I had interviewed earlier in the day – it pains me not to name drop – and about 50 others as she rattled through five numbers. I only mention this gig because I think she has something.

I am not moved to write a full review here, although I will say that she has a powerful voice and a definite stage charisma. She lead sings while playing electric guitar in a band. The style is on the rock side of pop. Plenty of noise, energy and passion. Raven-haired and in a 50’s black dress with an extravagant pink trim, Carina looks good and has an amusing knock-kneed dance style when she’s in the grip of a song. I’d probably put her down as a mix between Alanis Morissette and Bjork. A fairly potent blend. I liked her voice. It has power and versatliltiy and there’s a freshness there. I’ve dipped into the promo’ CD her “people” gave me since I’ve been back and there are some growers. There was too much noise at that mini gig to get too carried away, but I liked her. Certainly, the volume of her delivery made my swollen ankle tremble. It was like having very aggresssive ultra sound treatment.

I went on to two parties with Carina and her bass player, Smudger, after the gig. I know, such rock ‘n’ roll. In truth, the parties were average-to-shite, but Carina and I chatted like old mates. That’s showbiz for you. She’s a lively character and has a bucket load of attitude and, I think/hope, the talent to match. If nothing else, she can neck beer with the best of us. If she makes it, she’ll probably be hell for her PRs but good for the rest of us because she speaks her mind. Journos take note: even though I wasn’t working as such that night, I could tell that there is a story there in her background. You just know where there is good copy. So, if she gets a hit, at least the publicity shouldn’t be too much bother. Good luck to her.

Carina Round – Showcase Gig, NYC

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November 07, 2006

Thankfully, for this interview job (pop group Duran Duran), I was switched at the last minute from the Hell Inn in Harlem to the Grand Hyatt on Park Avenue at Grand Central. I think it was by way of an apology for the Jalfreizi Jet. Things didn’t start well.

I got out of my yellow cab, disorientated and feeling slightly sick after a brake, accelerate, honk horn, neck-jarring ride from JFK through the rush hour. The driver was straight from Central Casting’s “surly, grunting oaf” category. I sat there wondering if I had the bottle to commit the sin of sins in New York and not tip the taxi man [20% meant an extra $10. All non-recouperable]. It is easier to walk by a starving blind mother with her three maimed children on the pavement than get out of a cab without tipping, but I did indeed have the nerve and experienced what can only have been instant karma, Big Apple-style.

He dumped me about ten feet from the curb. A doorman arrived, one palm naturally wide open. I alighted, cases in hand, and stepped on an uneven tarmac patch by a manhole and immediately went over on my left ankle. I am not talking just a wobble and stagger. I mean, right over, ligament stretching over. Screeching agony over. “FUCK!” I shouted at the top of my voice, trying to maintain my balance. “FUCK!” “FUUUUUCK!” Pain ripped through me. I looked up and there were about 30 people standing on the side walk staring at me. Not one person offered to help or smiled in sympathy. Welcome. The doorman heard my accent and sensed there was no money in injured British people, so he ignored me, too.

The one upside to this injury: the agony instantly cured my toothache.

The Grand Hyatt. Not a bad hotel, in a business-travel sort of functional way. I think it has had a major refit in recent times and I’m told that Hyatts generally have upped their game. The lobby of this one is a hideous landfill of brown marble with an absurdly large water feature-cum-fountain dominating the entire atrium. The rooms are spacious and clean and the beds are vast kings with decent pillows and soft linen. The woman on the reservations desk had no idea I was now operating on one leg but, by fluke, she gave me a room for the disabled. The bathroom was a wet room, ie: no bath, just an open space beneath the shower. I was desperate for a long, soothing bath but I was in so much pain I could not face the hassle of moving. I learnt later that the tiler hadn’t bothered putting a gradient in the floor tiles because my shower flooded the bathroom. He probably got tipped well for the shoddy work though. I built a dam by rolling long white towels and immediately felt bad about the enviroment and all that extra detergent going into the oceans. It’s Room 2740 that is liable to flooding, if anyone is interested. I would hate for anyone to aquaplane out of the 27th floor in their wheelchair.

What more can I say about the Grand Hyatt: $299 per night plus taxes totalling $44.40 is pretty good value for central Manhatttan. Naturally, like all hotels, they totally fleece you for using the telephone, but the breakfasts are good [$32, plus tip – even though it is a self-service buffet. Explain that]. I could go on, but if I write any more, I’ll be looking for a little friendly bonus…

Grand Hyatt Hotel, New York

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I have just been kicked with a kung fu level of sadness after discovering that David Carradine has died suddenly.

As a boy growing up in Maidstone, Kent, in the 1970s, I was a big fan of his alternative crime fighting TV show. I loved his coolness and understated ability to kick seven bells out of all the baddies in one go with his bare feet and hands. I remember him breaking legs by kicking cowboys in the knee.

I would often go to sleep at night fantasising about having the ability to dish out his kind of brutal summary jurisdiction against the bullies in my little world. There was no end to the skill of my fast fists and high swinging kicks inside my imagination. I was the hardest nut in Ditton and saved all the girls from no end of distress.

In fact, now I think of it, not a lot has changed. I’m pretty sure I have gone through a few fantasy kicking moves as recently as last night – while I manifested revenge over Monday night’s burglar.

If there was ever a guardian angel to have, it would be Carradine. Book him now.

Rest in peace, Grasshopper.

R.I.P Grasshopper

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Oh, how I loathe the piece of scum who burgled our house. Forgetting the loss of treasured property, I am now on Day Two of the nightmare admin’ of cleaning up after the bastard.

I have lost track of how many phone calls I have had to make to cancel cards, organise new phones etc. Any idea how many call centre menus you have to endure to re-boot the technical essentials of life. Don’t ask me about the expense. I’ve just been told of the bill I can expect to re-programme my car alarm to make sure one of the burglar’s mates doesn’t pop by with the keys he nicked and drive off with my car. I’d far rather buy some new clothes, thanks very much. But, no, I’ve got to mop up the mess.

I’m thinking of standing for Parliament and will probably fight a campaign on a crime and order ticket for Chelsea. Top of my policies will, naturally, be to bring back the birch for all petty crimes – anti-social behaviour, vandalism etc – and double strokes for muggers and, of course, burglars.

Call me old fashioned, but I seriously think a spot of public flogging in Sloane Square would clean up the scum more quickly than non-sentences from weak, PC-driven judges, extra free money and holidays abroad paid for by the State.

Be a good fellow and pass me the black shirt.

Do bring back the birch, dear boy

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I am sickened and utterly infuriated to see the way our country is being led. Never before in my life have I felt so politically motivated than now.

We suffered years of false promises under that lying charlatan Tony Blair and now we continue to be ruled by this (unelected) conniving and hopeless lame duck of a Prime Minster in Gordon Brown. How can this be so?

Surely we are edging ever closer to a revolution? It is time the right-thinking, honest, great silent majority who make this country tick stood up and marched on Westminster to force Brown to call an election. Britain MUST be able to move on. We MUST be heard.

Forget the low life who milk the Nanny State while thieving from everyone else, or the super rich who float above all the fallout from this political mess. It is down to US. It is time for the normal, law abiding, tax paying folk to make their voice heard.

This Government is toast. And, to use the cockney slang: Gordon is brown bread.

Our Prime Minister is TOAST. Let the country move on

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NEWS FLASH: My home was burgled last night while my family and I slept upstairs.

Some jolly piece of slime, fish-hooked the front door keys through the letter box, let themselves in and filled their pockets with some of our kit. They took my wallet and cash and my treasured watch – a Breitling Premier from 1998. It was reasonably expensive – £2,000 – but had plenty of irreplaceable sentimental value. It actually cost me nothing because I won it in the Harbour Club tennis competition ten years ago. It’s the only thing I have bloody won, so how valuable is that!?

Worst still, they took my wife’s much cherished “Stalk” bag and her expensive purse – both presents for her 40th birthday last year. On top of this, they took my car keys and ransacked the car, taking the hi-fi system. They left the car. Clearly my ten year old Saab with the knackered non-convertible roof ain’t worf the bovver.

They also took our mobile phones, so if you get a few dodgy calls on your ********747 private mobile number Richard (Branson), many apologies.

If any of you get offered any of this gear down the boozer some time from some thieving scum, do give me a call. I hate these people with a vengeance, but if there were no buyers for stolen gear, they would be out of business in a heart beat.

Been burgled… watch out for my watch

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I must be getting touchy in my advancing years, but I am irked by Stephen Fry’s delight in slandering the entire journalistic profession. He calls journalists “venal and disgusting” in his hissy little tirade to Michael Crick on Newsnight.

Fry has had his bent snout in the trough of publicity for decades for the convenience of promoting his wares and journalists have helped him no end in the advancement of his success.

It would be good to see the media snap back a little and ban Fry from all interviews. His publicists would love that. If journalists are that bad, matey, why talk to them at all?

Venal interviewers should delight in banning Fry

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Just to let my loyal and wonderful regular readers know that this Blog is being cryogenically frozen while I attend to the busyness of life.

Adieu

I’ll be back when things begin to thaw

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It was remiss of me not to note a particularly inspiring evening recently (15th January).

Fresh from Bob Warren’s funeral – with a crackling vintage recording of Tiptoe Through the Tulips, which was played at his commendation, still making me smile – I alighted alone at the Donmar Warehouse for an evening with T.S Eliot. Death and Eliot are comfortable companions.

I was there to hear a reading of Eliot’s Four Quartets. Eliot’s poetry has been an enduring presence in my life since studying some of his key pieces at A-Level. Four Quartets are timeless, multi-layered masterpieces; lyrically mesmerising, endlessly challenging and, it has to be said, quite beautifully bewildering. Little Gidding is my favourite. A section of it is framed on my desk and a small pencil portrait of Eliot by Wyndham Lewis is white-tacked to the wall.

I have not been to a poetry recital this side of my functioning memory and I have never heard Four Quartets, so this was quite a treat. It was recited by Stephen Dillane as part of the Donmar’s Eliot festival. Where else could one find such a festival than at the courageous, broad thinking Donmar? I applaud Michael Grandage’s versatility and vision for the Donmar in general and in particular for this programme.

Dillane’s recital was skilled and accomplished. To recite all four parts of this lengthy and complex poem is nothing short of remarkable. He gave a beguiling performance, although I have to say it lacked something for me. It is hard to isolate exactly what that something was. He certainly brought the poem to life and it illuminated several parts to me, even though I have read it all many times. I guess one of the obstacles is that I have only ever heard Eliot’s recorded reading, or listened to my own internal voice. It is a bit like the experience of watching the film of a book that is special to you. It is impossible for the images to live up to your imagination. How on earth could Dillane reflect or replace the images from a hundred readings? Also, I attach more melancholy to the piece than his portrayal provided and I have always associated it with an older voice. He was quizzical and frivolous in places where I see nothing short of despair. Still, I thoroughly enjoyed his work and respect his achievement.

The evening was closed with a stunning performance of Beethoven’s opus 132 by a string quartet of the Soloists of the Philharmonia Orchestra. With fitting drama and atmosphere, they were lit by just a single bulb from an overhead light. I marvelled at the exuberance and obvious joy with which they played and I was especially taken by David Cohen’s performance on cello, not least by him performing in stockinged feet with his boots by the spike. Very cool.

So, a reading of Eliot’s finest work accompanied by a Beethoven piece to make your bones tingle. Probably one of the best ways to wind down after a funeral.

Only at the Donmar. Bravo.

Quality is now and Donmar

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I hear that Natasha Kaplinsky will work part time as Five’s newsreader when she returns after maternity leave. Well, here’s introducing an as yet undiscovered “autocutie” to occupy the sofa for the other bulletins! (Picture courtesy of Phil Adams)

The New Spangles!

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I won’t trouble with all the pain I have endured nurturing the Access Interviews.com website, but I am delighted to celebrate its first birthday today.

To think, a year ago today the world did not have a brilliant website dedicated to the best interviews by the most skillful interviewers in the world. I am proud to say that we now have a loyal and ever growing audience, respect and avid interest from many of the main power players in the media, and some great plans in the pipeline that will take A.I onto a bigger and even more exciting level. On top of this we also have a fine sponsor in the form of the revolutionary credit card company Caxton fx. Our thanks to them.

To tie in with A.I’s first anniversary, I have written an article for the media section of today’s Independent. It was trimmed a bit, which is always annoying, so you can catch the full version here.

Also today, we have unveiled the long awaited results of the 1st Access Interviews Awards. We reveal the most popular aspects of the website throughout 2008 and poke a bit of fun at some of the leading lights of interviewing business. Best not take all this interviewing stuff too seriously, eh.

Here’s to another great year ahead for Access Interviews.com…

A.I’s 1st Birthday. Ahhh, bless

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Like countless others, I made a point of watching Jonathan Ross’s return on Friday. In a silly way, it was sort of good to see him back. That feeling didn’t last long.

Don’t get me wrong, I like Jonathan Ross. His apology was genuine and heartfelt and I was pleased to hear him he say it. Good on him, I thought, you’re a decent chap.

The twobble with Jonathan Ross is that he is a totally wubbish interviewer. For a chat show host, who gets unmatched access to the biggest names on the planet, that is a pretty serious problem.

I have thought this for years and gave up watching his show yonks ago. His puerile pursuit of a cheap gag at the expense and often embarrassment of his guests is nothing short of irritating. I have seen him throw away the chance of a good interview so often it became pointless watching. He just pisses me off.

I dipped back in on Friday and it was like a flashback up there with Life On Mars. Forget the inane chats with Fry and Evans – you know they will be crass encounters – it was his hopeless talk with Tom Cruise that did it for me. Now I know Cruise is an old pro who will only give away what he wants, but that is no excuse for babbling on over him like an idiot and asking one daft closed question after another, building up to a cross examination about his farting habits. Can Ross and his researchers, producers, and writers not come up with half a dozen decent questions for a fascinating double A-list star like Cruise. If not, then why the heck do they have the keys to this show.

Ross’s career should survive his foul mouth, no problem. But it should not survive gross incompetence at the very thing he is hired to do: interview. Give this wannabe comedian £6m for a game show and be done with it. Then get a journalist in his interviewing chair. I’ve heard enough.

Woss is wubbish at interwoowing

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For professional reasons, I have recently been plugging into the oeuvre of TV “investigative journalist” Jacques Peretti and I admit I am totally astonished at the projection his documentaries are afforded by Channel 4.

He seems a nice enough fellow and clearly sincere, but he is somewhat deluded by the seriousness and revelatory value of his “investigations”. At best, they are gossamer thin and reliant on twice-removed sources linked together by a droning monolgue of half-baked, pub-style pontification. Jacques reckons he is cerebrally unraveling his subjects. He is not. As Ally Ross, TV critic of The Sun, brilliantly put it a while back – “Jacques Peretti is the Zen Buddhist of stating the bleeding obvious”.

I had to chuckle last night when I saw Jacques and his hairy arms on yet another plane – LA, New York, Bahamas – to track down yet another nobody who sort of knew Dodi Fayed in a nightclub. His “sources” at best are washed up rent-a-quotes who might be worth chatting to if they popped into the Soho edit suite for ten minutes. But the Bahamas for two minutes of nonsense with Johnny Gold? (Actually, I just looked out the window and now realise – if you’ve got the budget and the suntan lotion, it makes total sense.)

The repetition of the stills photos (Diana on the Jonikal) and archive footage (Dodi getting into a Ford Estate, close up of the cameraman in the reflection of the car window) was nothing short of laughable. But it is Jacques’ Mogadon delivery that takes the forehead slapping biscuit. It is as if by talking ever-so-s-l-o-w-l-y with a dense voice will give veracity and weight to his balsa revelations. It d-o-e-s n-o-t, J-a-c-q-u-e-s.

The Artist dipped in for a few minutes and witnessed Jacques’ interview in the back of a limo with some nobody who vaguely knew Dodi for a bit. In one sweeping statement, based on nothing, Jacques said that Dodi got through a kilo of cocaine a week which “would take some doing”. Before walking straight back out, the Artist observed: “He could do with a kilo of coke to liven him up.”

There is a term in the newspaper business for what Jacques does: cuts jobs. Knit together old material, add archive photos to make it look fancy, bung it all under a new headline and hope no one notices. In an hour long TV doc, there is no hiding place and the holes are too glaring to miss. How can a cuts job be worth an hour on Channel 4? And on such well visited subjects as Dodi Fayed, Paul Burrell, Michael Barrymore? Every person Jacques “investigates” can be easily filed under another journalistic term for subjects no longer of interest: “Those we used to love.”

There’s a fun documentary skit to be done on Jacques. I can even visualise the opening wide shot following the great man going about his “investigative” duties in a cuttings library. A dull, slow voice over begins to tell the story:

“This is Jacques Peretti. Who is he? What drives him? Where did he come from? What issues does he have? etc etc…”

Cut to a row of people on a sofa snoring – ZZZzzzzzzzz.

Jacques Peretti: I don’t have a bloody clue what really happened, but I’ll blag my way around the world pretending I do

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I like Fiona Bruce. Like. Not love, adore, worship, fancy, etc. None of those extreme emotions flow through me, as they clearly do with so many other people, when she pops up on telly. She’s good at what she does and appears genuine, switched on and a bright TV journalist. Yes, she is attractive.

Her star is certainly rising at an astonishing speed at the moment and last night’s puff ‘The Real Alan Sugar’ was clearly a marker for more one-girl shows to come, but for the first time I found myself being quite irritated by her.

I have a feeling that she is starting to love being the star of the show a little too much. Maybe she is starting to believe in all the flattery she gets. I reckon this is a big mistake.

The Sale of the Century parodies were fine, if over-egged, and her faux flirting with Sugar is par for the course with interviewing. But she was wearing a little bit too much lip-gloss and smooching with the camera for my liking. And she was a touch too “native” when it came to nailing her subject. She was too sweet on bitter Sugar.

What did last night’s show add up to? The access Fiona enjoyed was nothing short of spectacular. She got Sugar, his entire family, closest working pals, Gordon Brown and even, for heaven’s sake, Rupert Murdoch. But what did she get? Not one single thing stood out that you hadn’t read in a cuts job on Sugar a hundred times. Fiona didn’t even get a new line worthy of a diary story.

Dearest gorgeous, lovely Fiona, dab off the lippy, tell your producers to spend less time on witty skits starring you and less time on your couture noddies and concentrate on the journalism of the job in hand. Focus on the subject. Get the questions in. Reveal something new to your viewers. Otherwise these big profiles of yours will only ever add up to a spread in a showbiz mag where people just flip through the pictures.

Remain a journalist and don’t become a fawning Luvvie. Don’t fall for it all, girl.

Who is the Real Fiona Bruce?

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I interrupt an extended blogging break to share some sad news I have just received: Bob Warren died yesterday from a short battle with cancer.

Bob was an icon of the News of the World for decades and I held a particular fondness for him because he was most encouraging to me during my earliest days on national newspapers.

I first met Bob when I was a young freelance (21) in 1987. He was the News Editor back then and he kindly tried me out on some shifts. I didn’t mess up and ended up working for him on and off for quite a while.

Bob was probably the most unlikely character you would expect to see steering through some of the nastiest gossip stories in newspaper history. He was mild mannered, gentle, kind and fair. Not the characteristics you automatically associate with a Red Top executive.

In more recent times, I only ever saw Bob at meetings of the Press Golfing Society or the News of the World’s annual golf day. I haven’t got my clubs out for a while, so the last time I saw him was summer 2007.

I heard before Christmas that he was ill and wanted to get in touch, just to pass on my best wishes. For one reason or another, I didn’t get round to it and I am angry now that I didn’t.

The least I can do here is say Thank You to him for the help and guidance in those early days. I hope your swing improves up There, Bob. You were a gentleman among rogues and it was a pleasure to have known you. R.I.P

Bob Warren R.I.P

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As you may have noticed, fatherhood has taken me away from blogging, but it was remiss of me not to at least dash by to record my son’s name (see Daily Mail article below). People have been asking.

In case you were concerned, he has not waited until now – six weeks old – to get his moniker. The Artist and I finally chose one on Day 2. He is called Joseph. Joseph Eliot McGibbon, to be precise, and I finally got around to registering it today – a few days after the deadline. Even at the crucial, final moment, my pen hovered over the form wanting to alter the middle name (or adding “Flintstone” as a last minute gag to give the wife a laugh.)

Now the long search is over, I’m not sure what all the drama was for really. It seems such a simple name. Why was it so tough? But if choosing wasn’t hard enough, we are now faced with an equally difficult, tedious job: getting people to actually call him by his name.

As much as you say your son is called Joseph, people will insist on calling him anything they fancy: Joe, Joey, Jo-Jo, or even – heaven forbid – Sephie.

I spent six months trying to sort this name thing out and all people want to do is change it. Sorry, did I fail you? Maybe I should have just left it blank. At least then you could all call him what you like, while I spend the rest of my days not having to make a decision.

Oh, and what of fatherhood, I hear you ask? Well, it is, erm, yawn, stretch, utterly amaz-zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

He has a Name!

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Well, our baby was born yesterday – 20th October – at 9.42am (and 38 seconds). We have a boy. Both mother and child are doing amazingly well.

All the cliches one has ever heard about being at the birth of your child are true, so I won’t bore you by repeating them here.

So, our wonderful son is nearly a day old and, guess what, he still hasn’t got a name!

The great search continues….

m/f

News flash: About a Boy

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Following the radio gold “interview” with Alan Partridge wannabe Les ‘Hap-Les’ Ross and Hardeep Singh Kohli, I did the decent thing and put in a request to interview Les myself.

I felt that the world needed to know more about this icon of the airwaves and hear his side of his unintentionally hilarious down the line chat that is fast becoming one of the most popular links on Access Interviews.com.

Alas, Les was on air when I called BBC West Midlands yesterday, but I spoke to his programme editor Jeremy Pillock – who was just a tad touchy about the subject.

“Why do you want to interview him? Is it about the Hardeep Singh Kohli thing?”

(Oh, nooo! I just suddenly wondered: Who should I interview today? Brad Pitt? Madonna? No, my life-long dream has always been to interview my hero Hap-Les.)

“Well, yes. It would be good to hear his side. Besides, I reckon Les would be a great interview…” (I mean it. I know there is a story there…)

“No. He will not want to do it.”

“Shall we ask him anyway?”

“No. I am telling you – Les will say No. So this is his answer. No. He is sick of it all…”

Surely he means Sikh of it.

So, there you have it. The great interviewer, with the legendary “shooting all over the place” style, is not talking.

Pity. I quite liked the idea of him hanging up on me.

But there’s a scoop waiting for some demon interviewer. Hit the phones, lads.

Hap-Les says No. He’s Sikh of it.

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I popped along to Sotheby’s yesterday to see the Damien Hirst exhibition – I mean, pre-auction preview. It is well worth the visit. Works such as the spin paintings in “household gloss” don’t do it for me, but I admire Hirst’s showmanship and his courage. And some of the work is spectacular, not least the Golden Calf. I’d never seen his formaldehyde works up close and they are stunning. The sheer volume and projection of the entire exhibition is quite phenomenal. Sotheby’s had to reinforce the ceiling to accommodate the Calf. Its weight has forced me to reconsider buying this piece for my third floor guest bedroom.

By total fluke, Hirst passed by me as I left. With seize-the-moment chutzpah, I introduced myself. I have done a bit of this cold calling over the years and you can quickly get the measure of a celebrity by their reaction. Hirst offered a friendly handshake. He was pleasant and down to earth and looks you in the eye. We chatted for a few minutes. He lives a hundred yards or so from my home. “Do you fancy doing an interview some time?” I asked. “Yeah. Could do. But it would have to be through my office.” This is standard and fare enough. He produced his Blackberry and gave me his PA’s number. “Make sure you tell her we’ve spoken.” He offered me another handshake and was on his way. Decent bloke.

One item in the sale is a painting of a photo taken of Hirst with the head of a corpse during his time at Goldsmith’s art school. My guess is that this would have been around 1982-3. Tracey Emin featured this photo in her room at the RA’s Summer Exhibition. When I saw it there, it bothered me that a photo – albeit such a dramatic one – could be regarded as “art”. But it also made me wonder: Who was that man? What was his life?

When I saw the painting of the photo yesterday, I found myself wondering the same. Clearly, I will ask my new best friend Damien if we meet again, although he won’t know. Maybe someone out there can help me find the story behind The Head with Hirst…

Who’s the Head with Hirst?

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Here’s a piece I wrote for the Daily Mail on 22nd August. I suddenly realised you could read it here, or on the Mail’s website. Although they are pretty similar!


Named and shamed: trendy or fuddy-duddy, your child’s name is a life sentence. No wonder it’s such agony to choose one

How I laughed last week when I read that several names for children had become more or less extinct during the past century. The likes of Walter and Percy, Edna and Olive have all but disappeared.

This tickled me because, as a soon-to-be father for the first time, I have wilfully rejected hundreds of names for being old-fashioned, dull or just plain naff during, ooh, the past fortnight alone.

Such is the ruthless nature of the baby name game. In fact, a good name is so hard to find I’m amazed anyone gets named at all.

I realised that naming our baby would be an experience to remember when my wife, Emma, and I chanced upon a meaty paperback in a second-hand bookshop in the earliest days of the pregnancy. I groaned when I saw the cover: 40,001 Best Baby Names. Surely we had the individualism and imagination not to resort to such crass measures?

But it’s just a starting point, it will give us some ideas, said Emma. Forty thousand and one – a starting point? I nearly passed out.

I accepted the book’s purchase – for a princely £1 – on the condition it was not opened until this baby was definitely happening. I did not want to jinx anything.

Sure enough, the name game began after the 12-week scan, during which I had unwittingly doubled our workload by insisting on us not knowing the sex.

It is the one time in life, I concluded, that you can actively choose to be surprised. Yup, and it will come as no surprise that you also get to spend countless hours searching for a name that will never be used – unless you really want to call your son Amber.

The naming started at a gentle pace with occasional suggestions arising at random moments. A silence during a car journey: ‘What about Myrtle?’ ‘Er, no. Myrtle-the-Turtle. She’ll never live it down.’

Or, out of the darkness during a sleepless night: ‘How about Ernest?’

‘What? Er, no. Hemingway. And Ernie – the Fastest Milkman.’

‘Orson?’ ‘No. Welles. Goodnight.’ Soon, the big book came out, and thinking up names became something of an obsession in our lives. Not an unpleasant one, it has to be said, because we do have fun with it. But it’s fair to say that I have not been participating quite so enthusiastically of late.

The romantic in me wants to stumble upon a name in a cosmic moment – like when I look into my baby’s eyes – and find that it fits (‘Oh, hello – Sharon’).

But I suppose we have to be a bit prepared, so I go with the flow while Emma calls out names. She puts them up and I knock ’em down. I have become the resident Mr Negative.

In fact, I have been amazed to discover what strongly adverse feelings I have towards so many names. Some are like invisible pressure points that release a residue of buried memories.

James – no, he was a nasty snitch at school. Allegra – an ex-girlfriend (although, obviously, I’ve changed that name and of course I didn’t reveal the real reason when it was initially floated).

Entire lists of names are instantly ruled out because they are friends, or the names of their children. Leaving parenthood as late as me, aged 43, you find that great chunks of the Best Baby Names book have already been annexed.

And it is alarming quite what a subtle impact celebrity culture has on your selection, too.

Louis? God no, Louis Walsh. Vincent? Van Gogh – great, although a bit sad, but it’ll get shortened to Vinnie. Vinnie Jones. Enough said.

Jude? Jude Law. Cameron? Diaz, or worse, David. The association list is miserably endless.

Even if you dismiss all the preconceived ideas as hogwash, the baby book also gives the meanings of names, which presents yet another trap. We could probably live with Jude except that it means ‘patron saint of lost causes’. Er, no thanks.

While we were watching television one night, I finally realised I had to up my tempo in this game. Emma was diligently plucking out names from the 40,001 bible like a bingo caller. ‘Claude?’

‘No, too French.’ ‘Xavier?’ ‘Even more French. Non!’ ‘How about Martha? Or Constance – that means loyal?’

‘Hmm. Short-listers, definitely.’ I could watch TV while editing scores of names. I was multi-tasking effortlessly and knew I could get this list down to 200 before delivery day. I do love a deadline.

‘Isaac?’ ‘Er, no. Bit too biblical.’ ‘Job?’ ‘Blimey, no. Same problem.’ Then silence. Phew, the name game was over for another night.

‘Rob – have you got ANY suggestions?’

I paused. ‘Umm. How about – Radiator? I’m sure we’ll warm to it.’ The book hit the floor with a heavy, defeated thud.

Since then, I have been more productive, but we are still alarmingly thin on the ground.

Anyway, what is it we are looking for? We are agreed that we want something that feels original, a bit rare, but not so out there – Apple, for example – that it will make us, or our darling little one, sound a bit daft. And the last thing I want to be is a pretentious Try-Hard.

A name with a worthwhile meaning would be a bonus, but does any of this really matter? These days everyone tries to be a bit different and the moment the pack is onto something, that’s when I instinctively want to go the other way.

The good news is that we might have a name for a girl. It’s a bit old fashioned, a classic, but it might just work. I can’t say what it is or you will all nick it and before long it will appear on one of those Most Popular lists, then we’ll all hate it.

Anyway, it could be utterly pointless because Emma is convinced she is having a boy – and we don’t have one single boy’s name without a line through it.

Hang on, I have just looked at that ever-so shortlist of fuddy-duddy dying names and, you know what, Percy is growing on me. Yeah, that’ll do.

Baby Names Dilemma Article

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The blog is going on holiday, while I toil away on www.accessinterviews.com and other stuff. Do feel free to join me there.

Until I see you again, along the way…

Happy Summer

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The grace, humility and sheer excellence in the face of extreme pressure displayed by Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer was nothing short of awe inspiring.

I watched every minute, fidgeting from the sofa, to my feet, to the floor, anxiously willing Nadal to do it. I had been in pretty much the same state the day before cheering on Laura Robson through dewy eyes.

Ah, the heart-lifting innocence of her victory and the titanic triumph of Nadal’s makes the world seem a better place. Anything suddenly seems possible when you see such personal fortitude in these young, brave people.

But it is the manner in which they both won – and how Federer took defeat – that is the brightest beacon. Such modesty and respect for their competitors – how rare it is see such qualities in our public figures. Arrogant celebrities with wafer thin talents and mendacious, vain political leaders should all have looked on in shame at these tennis stars.

My weekend of loving the world that bit more was rounded off sweetly just as Nadal collected the trophy; “The Inspector” called again with an up-date on my little complaint.

Well after 9pm on a Sunday, this fine gentleman was grafting away for the good of the nation. “Really sorry, but would you mind calling back? I’m just watching Nadal get the cup…?”, I asked. “No, problem at all, sir.” Blimey, what a diamond.

We chatted later and – after I had given him a match report – he informed me that he had discussed the matter with Snell’s superior officer and she had been hauled in, along with her side-kick (Mick Lomax) and they were both carpeted for breaching various regulations and for generally being obnoxious in their duty. (Lomax has “gruff attitude” form, it would seem).

“Would I like to take the matter further?” No, I said. I like to think that these coppers are doing good work in general, so I would not like to wilfully blot their records. A bollocking is enough for me, thanks. “That is very big of you, if I may say so, sir,” he said. Well, there you have it. Case closed.

The tennis proves there is much to celebrate in life, so I am moving on. Very big, I know.

ps: what a picture of misery Gwen Stefani struck in Federer’s private box of supporters. I had the misfortune of trying to interview her a couple of years ago. She was pleasant enough but as dull as you get in my game. Now I see that she is not even moved by the greatest game of tennis, I will no longer berate myself for failing to get anything of interest from her. When we met not even a cattle prod would have woken her from her monosyllabic, jet lagged stupor.

Love All

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Another day, another battle to fight. Yawn.

I wouldn’t want you to think I go looking for trouble, or that I’m some sort of aspiring vigilante, or worse, a dedicated Mr Grump recently regenerated from the Victor Meldrew misery mould, but I’m buggered if I am going to live a life blindly turning the other cheek while the inconsiderate bastards of the world run roughshod over our daily lives.

The Scene: 8.30am this morning, I am getting into the car outside my home. A white van pulls up, a bloke with a blood-burst face in his late 50s steps out, hobbles a few paces then angrily hurls a poly-wrapped magazine in the direction of my front door. It lands in a puddle near the bins. I quickly retrieve it and see that it is my weekly edition of Press Gazette.

I chase after him. “Excuse me, do you reckon that’s the right way to deliver this magazine?”

“Yeah. I’m double parked…it’s a fucking nightmare here, what else am I’m gonna do?”

“So it’s going to sit there all day in the rain, until I get home?”

“Yeah,” he said getting back into the van.

“Er, I know the people who run this mag. The least you could do it put it through the letter box – like you are paid to do. Can I have your name?”

“Nah. Fuck off. I’ve got enough fucking problems…” Cue the screech of an engine and the burst of fumes. An absolute delight to make your acquaintance.

Now, do I forget about it and forgive this poor unhappy chap for the off day he is clearly having? Life really is hard enough, we all know. Or do I shop him to the hard-working, decent owner of the magazine who pays tens of thousands a year to the “courier” company that employs such an oik?

I’m not keen on being a sneak, but I think we all have a duty to help sift out the objectionable, useless grime that pollute the service industry.

One day it’s the police, the next it’s the courier business. I know, I am emerging as something of a Super (Local) Hero. It’s not easy, but someone’s got to do it.

Tomorrow: motorbikes.

Arghhhhhhh!

Catch me if you can

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Following the surge of interest in my ‘interaction’ with an officer of London’s Met Police, I have an up-date and some interesting information for anyone troubled by such issues.

Powered by the energy of thousands of global readers connecting with my trifling strife with woman “officer” Snell (No: TL7449), I cranked up the one man revolution and took it to my local cop shop. The desk sergeant quickly informed me that a complaint against the police can only be dealt with by an Inspector – and the one Inspector for the borough was not available. He was in with the “Chief”. Oh, OK, do get him to call me, thank you. I left not expecting to hear anything too soon.

After a stroll through the sales – Joseph, Conran, Harrods – I headed back, empty-handed, to HQ at the gasworks to continue developing the empire. Then the phone rang out: an Inspector called.

I will not provide his name, but suffice to say that our ensuing 25 minute conversation helped reaffirm my life-long belief that the police are, in the main, good and fair and deserve our support. This chap was open, articulate, understanding and wise.

Inspector X listened to my little tale and agreed whole-heartedly that I had a worthy complaint. It was not piffle, he said, but important for all concerned to get these things right. He was aghast at the conduct of the officer and lambasted her as “arrogant” “not good enough” and “infantile”. “This is not the way we should be treating people and is not of the high standards that we expect” he added.

More importantly Insp X outlined a few facts that you all might find worth knowing:

1. It is most definitely NOT against the law to take a photo of a policeman in the UK. “We should carry on our duty irrespective of how many cameras flash away.”

2. There is no law to say that you MUST give a policeman your name and address if they stop you. It is only required if you are suspected of an offence.

3. He revealed that the “Stop and Account” forms are likely to be scrapped in the coming months because they are unpopular with the police and proving counter productive in terms of public relations. Yep, they sure are.

4. Snell is not – as she claimed to me – a fully loaded police woman. Although full time, she is in fact a Community Support Officer (The number “7” in front of an officer’s lapel code denotes this).

5. Most interestingly, Snell acted improperly by demanding to look through my phone files. This constitutes a “Search” and in her Support Officer capacity she does NOT hold the power to do this without instruction and observation by a PC. At the time of looking at my phone, her colleague (a proper copper) was busy “busting” the cyclist.

OK, so where does all this lead? Well, Inspector X was happy to relay an official complaint to the West End police where Snell is based, which would ultimately lead to her getting bollocked. Or, he suggested he personally haul her in and do it himself. “I could get her in, no problem, and shout at her, then let you know how it goes,” he said. Oh, how civilised. “It might be that this is one of a number of complaints and might be the hair that breaks the camel’s back…”

Well, there you have it. The obnoxious, officious, small-minded Snell is in the doo-da. The police, G’awd bless ’em, are on to her. They are there to fight for us I’m sure, even if it doesn’t always feel like it.

I will report back. The ‘Not Guilty One of Oxford Street’ is nearly free.

An Inspector Calls

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Thought for today: anyone but Murray.

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My recent ‘interaction’ with a particularly small-minded and supercilious officer (WPC Snell) in the Met’s bicycle regiment has caused quite a spin on the internet. Since it was picked up by a kindly reader called “Chakalakasp” and linked on Reddit, the traffic to this blog has rocketed beyond all recognition.

It is clear that matters of police over-reaction and the wilful shattering of our civil liberties causes consternation around the globe. It is now a month since the incident and I regretfully confess that I have been slow to make an official complaint. Time assuages the injustice, as does indeed the attrition of getting on with life; basically, my time has been consumed by single-handedly running Access Interviews.com, trying – and failing – to move home in a collapsing British housing market, and dealing with the joys – and worries – of imminent fatherhood. My desire to take on the police and government has withered.

But I should be ashamed of my inaction. Trifling matters such as making a little life and a living are no excuses to delay the revolution. Certainly, the issues I raised in that blog are important and no revolution was won by basically lumping it and soldiering on.

The actions of police like Snell are the splinter at the thin end of a very nasty, giant wedge that will adversely affect our lives for generations. Hence, I will head to my local cop station tonight, bolstered by those thousands of readers, to lodge my complaint. I shall report back. Onwards into battle…!

To Snell and Back

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Hurrah for David Davis. As regular readers of this blog will know, I have been seething about the abuse of our civil liberties for ages.

The insidious poisoning of our basic freedom with the virus of CCTV cameras, largely installed under the false premise as an antidote to crime, is at the forefront of my anger. We have all rolled over and allowed it to happen. I can think of no other European country that would have been so pliant.

Now, at last, someone has taken a stand and Davis should be applauded. The swathe of support he is already enjoying is at last the voice of the great silent majority exercising weary vocal chords that have been muted for too long.

Let Davis speak. And prepare to hear the loudest echo imaginable across the country.

Go, Davis, Go.

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Congratulations to Barack Obama, a worthy winner of the Democrat nomination in the US presidential election – which he will lose to the man with the G-force face (botox, or tuck?).

Obama is a gust of much-needed fresh air in a country gasping for life beneath the bloodied stench created by Bush. He’d get my vote.

Every newspaper and media organisation around the world today proclaim Obama as “the first black presidential nominee”. Have I missed something? Or am I colour blind?

Obama’s dad is black. His mum is white. He is mixed race, or whatever other politically correct term you prefer to use – except, of course, that shocking pre-1990s gaff “half caste”.

So, rock star Obama is as much white as he is black, yet the world is in thrall of his black 50%, while ignoring his white heritage. Imagine if it was the other way round. I suspect there would be hell to pay. And would the world’s media rejoice in the same way if, say, a white looking politician – of an even 50-50 mixed background – suddenly ascended to rule an African country? I doubt it.

So, isn’t this all a bit of medium-rare inverted racism? Or am I only thinking this cuz I’m white?

It makes no odds anyway: a bloke like me – a “whitey” as Obama’s wife likes to call us on the sly – can’t play the race card. To the world and its media, racism is only ever dealt one way. And it ain’t to white people, innit.

Obama has always deftly avoided the race issue, but maybe he should take a leaf out of Tiger Woods’s book. When the media was reaching for the cliche tin and trying to label him the first black golfing legend, he flicked it back with a swoop of his driver and intellect. He said he is not in fact black, but is proud to be mixed race: part black, part Thai, plus a watered down percentage of other races from his bloodline. In fact, Woods revealed to Oprah Winfrey that he had his own classification – “Cablinasian”, as in Caucasian-black-Indian-Asian. A stroke of stunning and admirable individuality.

I’ll come back to you when I have thought of a name that might suit the politically correct world of Barack Obama.


Ps: Just a thought – if Obama becomes President, will he make his mark and decorate his new home…so he can live in the Black House? Relax, it’s a joke. Call it a bit of black humour.

Is it cuz I’m white?

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I bet Daniel Moylan, the pin-stripe suited deputy leader of Kensington & Chelsea council, could hardly believe the media coverage he got for his little idea about letting cyclists go the wrong way up a one way street. He is testing a handful of streets, yet it makes the news on everything from the Today programme to acres of newsprint in the nationals.

A great idea? Of course not. Just wait until the first kid is killed in a head-on collision during the dark of winter and the police prepare to lock up the distraught driver for causing death by reckless driving…because – wait for it – he was driving the right way up a one way street.

There’s only one way for this idea to go: right down the pan.

One way idea

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There has been much talk – and criticism – in the media and beyond about the redesign of The Times. I have had a few days to chew it over and I’m afraid, like others, I think it is a dog’s dinner and a disaster.

I could go through various aspects bit by bit, but it is simpler to look no further than Times2, the focus of my principal grumble: all that white space and headlines in italics make it look like a stinking pile of vacuous advertorial features. What a way to project some fine journlaistic work.

As for all those new colour picture bylines throughout the paper; they may well have dragged some hacks into the modern age from the safety of flattering black and white, but unfortunatley it has revealed many (no names) to be tubbier and, ahem, a little ruddier in the face.

Turn back Times, too

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Wow, if ever you needed a laugh, check out the rambling, repetitive and confused piece by the “retired” Julie Burchill in The Sun today defending Big Brother. It runs to an unbelievably bloated 1,301 words. Talk about play to the crowd. Why on earth is this nonsensical, cliched tripe a centre spread in the Currant?

Burchill – who declares that she is “old and rich” in the article – rails against people who do not like Big Brother. She writes: “…hating Big Brother says far more about the hater than it does about the hated. BB-haters, in no particular order, hate the young. They hate the working-class. They hate gays and trannies. They hate people who have sex more than once a fortnight. And as with a lot of unfounded, ungrounded hate, envy is in there somewhere…”

Well, I hate Big Brother because it is boring, crap TV. Simple as. And I hate that article for the same reasons. It should have been five pars max – in the Brighton Evening Argus letters page – not the marquee spread in The Sun.

Big Boring Burchill

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“Middle Classes Losing Faith In Police” screams the Daily Mail today amidst the coverage about the dissatisfaction law abiding people now feel with the police. There were a record number of complaints made in 2006-7: 29,637. Well, please add me to next year’s total after I was stopped and ordered to account for my actions recently. My crime: using my mobile phone in a manner likely to take a photo. I kid you not.

I was idly standing on Oxford Street contemplating an hour’s walk home rather than the fetid Tube when two officers on bicycles stopped a push-bike courier right in front of me. One officer (No: TL626) was unnecessarily obnoxious, which got the courier’s back up, so I decided to ear-wig, as you do.

I watched this vignette unfold and considered taking a photo on my phone, you know, for the hell of it, as you do. I pointed the lens, then decided not to bother. In a blink, the other officer came over and accused me of taking a photo. This, I would find out, was PC Snell (No: TL7449), a petite woman of about 25 with short black hair beneath her cycling helmet. What she lacked in height, she made up for in officious bloody-mindedness.

I showed her my phone. She was excited because she owned the same model and instructed me through the image files. Nothing there. Ha! Unlucky, Super Cop. That should have been the end of it. Dixon of Dock Green would have laughed lightly at the misunderstanding and waved me on my way. Not so with Snell. She insisted on taking my details and filing a “Stop and Searches” form. It beggared belief.

I suddenly found myself in possession of a lethal weapon: fully-loaded sarcasm. I made her work for every sorry answer. At one point she said: “You know, we can do this interview somewhere else”. It was a direct lift from The Sweeney, or Morse. Possibly Trumpton. She was threatening to take me down to the station for holding a mobile phone. Er, you might have to arrest about 50 million others. Besides, what was she going to do, throw me over her cross bar and pedal me to Paddington Green?

Snell’s hands were trembling as she filled out the form. Clearly a big “collar”. Her shaking, spidery scrawl revealed: “Male was standing outside Sainsbury (sic). He appeared to be using his mobile phone and pointing it in (sic) myself TL7449 and TL626…”. I picked her up on her grammar (“We was doing…”) and punctuation when she omitted the apostrophe in Sainsbury’s. “I didn’t get A-level English,” she revealed. “No shame in that, but surely you can copy words?” It was in foot-high letters 10 yards away.

It went on. She asked for ID. I gave her a bank card. Done with the courier, Snell’s wingman TL626 came over to assist. He radioed HQ to get a match on my name after I refused to give my address. Exasperated, I gave them my date of birth. Looking at my Lloyds Card, PC Snell continued to bust me.

“So, Robin…”.

“Well, it’s Rob to my friends,” I said cheerily.

The other copper mis-heard and butted in. From behind wrap-around mirror sun glasses, he snapped: “Ah. You are saying that this card is your ‘friend’s’?” He suddenly got a buzz thinking he had chanced upon a big time credit card thief impersonating as another. Then he began questioning me. Give me strength.

And so it continued. To think, a week or so earlier a young man had been stabbed to death at 5pm outside McDonald’s a few hundred yards away. I bet these two cycling plods would have been indispensable on such a day with their pencils and laser criminal antennae. They would have probably alighted at the bloody scene and started handcuffing people for over-salting their French fries.

At one point, as we argued over my “actions”, little Snell pointed to the sky: “You know we can trace what happened through the CCTV.” Where the hell do they get these people?

The police watch over us day and night through four million cameras, slowly destroying the trust and respect of millions of law abiding people, and then they have the audacity to get all shirty if you – allegedly – point a camera phone at them and do NOT take a photo.

They wonder why we complain. Before I had written this piece, I had decided not to file a complaint. I feel too bored and beaten by Big Brother Britain to be bothered, but now I have had second thoughts. Tactless, negative, spiteful officers like PC Snell need to be brought to book, or things will never change.

I have since found out that it is not against the law to take a photo of a copper going about his or her duty. So, from now on, I will be snapping them, not nicking us.

POLICE. NO CAMERA. OVER-REACTION

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And, so, to Fountain Studios in Wembley for a seat behind the judges at a live semi-final of Britain’s Got Talent. What an extraordinary experience.

I have dipped into the series since a night of undiluted hilarity at the auditions in Hackney, so the thought of some more live action was an easy lure.

A glass of pink champagne backstage got me in the mood for Simon, Piers and Amanda, and, boy, do you need some happy fuel to attend these shows; the crew get you clapping and on your feet constantly like demented performing seals to generate the feel-good vibe. It is an exhausting two hours which leaves you with raw hands and arthritic knees. But it is worth the effort.

Love it or hate it, BGT is one weird whirl of high purity entertainment – good and bad. It makes you cringe, laugh, cheer, boo and cry all in one fatal dose. You sink at the sight of some of the acts – the clueless Indian magician, that troop of a hundred hopeless dancers, the bin bashers, and Christine Hamilton going for it in the finale of You Raise Me Up. But then you are up-lifted by the endearing, untarnished talent of the chorister – you know, the boy with bad white heads. His Tears In Heaven made me water a bit.

You can’t help but get caught up in it all when you are there. When the agonising moment came for Cowell to cast the deciding vote between Flava and The Cheeky Monkeys, I found myself shouting out loud.

My head knew it should be Flava – the half-baked dance act with “street” kids who want to make something of themselves – but my heart wanted the two cute little blonde kids who, let’s be honest, are too bloody young to be appearing in an event of this scale. Their act makes me feel a bit uncomfortable. In fact, so uncomfortable, that I shouted out their name to help Cowell decide. I was so near to him that I seriously think my shout – and a few others – helped swing it. I was like a parent at a pantomime who had sunk one too many sweet sherries in the interval. Really, I should be ashamed of myself.

Britain’s Got Semi-Talent

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I kicked off the “Season” yesterday with a fine day at Chelsea Flower Show, as you do. I know for sure that the years are catching me up when my enjoyment of this event grows with each passing year. It can’t be long before I am a crashing gardening bore, although I haven’t even got a garden yet; they cost about £200,000 where I live with barely room for a wafer-thin border.

The Chelsea Flower Show is a slow, subtle hoot. It is all so quaint and antiquated and ever so, ever so white. It is like stepping back in time when everything was so much safer and quiet. It must be the only public event left that you can go to without being scanned or frisked.

Highlight for me this year was the hornbeam trees in the Best In Show Laurent Perrier garden designed by Tom Stuart-Smith. I want some hornbeams now. I saw a bonsai hornbeam in the Pavillion so maybe that is the answer. I also want a tank of that pink bubbly his sponsors were splashing around after Tom won. Yes, a glass of pink under my very own miniature hornbeam in my micro garden, that’ll do.

I had a fleeting chat with the maestro himself – Alan Titchmarsh. It is hilarious watching the older ladies fiddling with their digital cameras with tembling, liver-spotted hands whenever he is near. He really is a heartthrob.

One minor revelation was finding out why dear, dear Alan is so faultlessly fluent on those seemingly ad-libbed links from those little gardens: he has a mini autocue slotted onto the camera.

Season greetings

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And so, to the second day of the First Test against New Zealand at Lord’s for a happy reminder of one indisputable, joyous fact: a cricket ground is the only place where a man can open a bottle of red wine, sup a pint of beer, or pop a champagne cork at 11am in public and not be accused of being an alcoholic.

It is also the only place that a younger man can visit and be assured of seeing for certain what his future looks like if he continues on his ruinous path of grape ‘n’ grain. It looks like bloated bellies, thinning hair, burst cheek blood vessels and port noses. Not a pretty sight, but that’s cricket for you: it’s one of life’s truly humbling levellers.

The alcohol Test

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Just a note to let you know that my filmed interview with Will Self is now on the Access Interviews website.

Rarely does a subject make me laugh as much as Will. His tone and delivery on the slightest of subjects cracks me up, as you will see on the film. He is also wonderfully articulate and many of his answers on a scope of topics are quite mesmerising. However frothy, I particularly enjoyed the Q&A section and his answer to “What piece of wisdom would you pass on to a child?” is particularly insightful and poignant. Will also talks candidly about his drugs past, his writing life, and the woes of being labelled a “grumpy old man”.

Oh, and all luvvieness aside, I can sincerely recommend his new novel, ‘The Butt’. Eloquent, highly original, dark, witty, fascinating, and quite a page turner. It is, ah, bloody brilliant, yeah. And it could make a great film. Will’s wish is for Ed Norton to play both of the main characters. David Lynch to direct?

Will Self – the interview

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Much coverage today in the media generally about the blatant extortion racket Councils run in the guise of parking enforcement. This very subject has been a keen area of focus for me recently. In fact, I even flexed my first Freedom of Information muscle last month by requesting the stats of my local council’s windfall in this disgusting past time. (BTW, I wholly recommend the FOI service. Most efficient and, as it says on the tin, it’s free) The figures were emailed to me earlier this week.

In the financial year 2006-2007, the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea masterly carried out the following: Parking Tickets: 279,324; Clamps: 14,213; Tows: 8,752. Revenue generated: Parking Tickets: £13,208,694. Clamps/Tows: 2,383,754.

Obvious question: Where the hell did all that money go?

There is a car pound at the end of my street. I have been known to go down there and pay my local gangsters £260 for carrying my car 250 yards. Racketeering, it’s a nasty business and our elected officials should be brought to account. Bring on the revolution. End this corruption.

It’s all a Fix penalty

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Apologies for continuing to bang the AI drum, but here is a piece I wrote for the current edition of Press Gazette as a follow up to the sponsorship of Interviewer of the Year at the BPA by Access Interviews.

And here is a piece for The Independent last month about the continuing importance of the ‘interview’ to the promotion of all genres of modern media.

All this is part of my on-going mission to spread the good word about the website.

Some plugs for A.I

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I note – with no real sense of sympathy – that John Prescott has revealed he was bulimic. This comes a few weeks after the release of details of MP’s expenses showed that he munched through a gut-busting £4,000 of groceries in one year.

So, in summary, Prescott threw (up) tax payers’ money quite literally down the toilet.

Hmmm, shame. If only the Government had known at the time, it could have cut out the bloated middle man altogether and simply thrown a pile of cash down a sewer.

Prescott’s money sewer

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Daft really, to reach out like this, but I have just tuned into one of my favourite events on the sporting calendar – the Masters golf from Augusta – and I am irate enough to react with an angry blog. I had forgotten who is the host these days. Gary bloody Lineker.

Quite simply, he does NOT fit this event.

I felt it in my gut last year. I even reached for the blog back then. There has been much press about Midlands accents of late. Well, I for one don’t want one talking me through this golf tournament. Every time he says “Masstas” I want to club him. I can’t be alone.

Thankfully, I will be on holiday tomorrow and will miss the Masters this year. The only consolation is that I won’t have to watch Lineker at the helm.

Steve Rider get yer bouffant back ‘ere.

Lineker is no Master

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I nearly just choked on my morning pastry a moment ago after reading Norman Tebbit’s intro’ in his article for today’s Daily Mail about Spitting Image. He says, most proudly – to no doubt show us that he has a sense of humour and is one of the lads who can take a wind up – that he liked his puppet. Yeah, rght.

Those of you with the girth and grey hairs of age will recall that he was portrayed most unfavourably as a dark-eyed, brutal henchman – Thatcher’s heartless enforcer.

I appreciate that this is not a matter of State importance, but I am highly irritated by Tebbit’s assertion and hereby accuse my Lord of telling a big fat porky. But how do I know?

My first celebrity interview was with Jeffrey Archer in 1986 when I was a reporter on the Wimbledon News. Our conversation turned to Spitting Image and he said firmly: “I can tell you – but this must be off the record – that one person who is most hurt by his puppet is Norman Tebbit. He doesn’t like it at all.”

Being a wide-eyed beginner I was quite emboldened by the fact that Archer had trusted me with something (at the time) so potentially newsworthy, albeit off the record. I faithfully guarded it for 20 odd years (as if it was worth it, eh).

Despite the fact that dear Jeffrey went on to become something of a world class fibber himself, I have no reason to doubt his account. Hence, this needs to be said: Norman Tebbit hated his puppet and it is no laughing matter that he should pretend otherwise in a family newspaper for filthy lucre.

These politicians, eh, they simply can’t break a habit of a lifetime.

Tebbit, you’re havin’ a laugh

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Just a quick note to announce some developments with Access Interviews.com. I am delighted to announce that the website will be sponsoring the ‘Interviewer of the Year’ category at the prestigious ‘British Press Awards’. The event takes place at the Grosvenor House Hotel on 8th April with Channel 4’s Jon Snow presenting.

Also – we have just loaded up my interview with Jeffrey Archer to the site.

A.I sponsors top Press Award

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The “world” exclusive interview with Piers Morgan.

Scene: An exhausted Piers Morgan calls from his suite at The London Hotel, New York. He sounds punchy with fatigue from the glory of his triumph as Donald Trump’s Celebrity Apprentice. Rob McGibbon, in his London office, listens intently as this stunning exclusive unfolds across the Atlantic…

(We exchange gushing showbizzy nothings of mutual appreciation and congratulations, then we begin…)

RM: Piers Morgan, welcome to the first telephone interview for AccessInterviews.com. How does it feel to be the U.S Celebrity Apprentice? Did you think you would win?

PM: Well, I have to admit, it feels pretty good. I actually feel very proud. To be honest, I thought I had blown it. Even though I had won in terms of money raised, there was a real ground swell in the room for this all-American heroic cowboy, while I was being billed as this evil, obnoxious arrogant Brit. I thought Trump would go for the American hero thing because this is what America needs right now – a good guy with great integrity to win, but at the very last moment he swivelled round and fired him. It was amazing.

RM: What was the freeze-frame moment of the night for you?

PM: Erm, the most powerful moment was when the injured American soldiers came into the studio in their wheelchairs. I had raised $750,000 for the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund and I had met them before. When the audience saw them they spontaneously jumped to their feet to give them a standing ovation. That sent a shiver up my spine. The atmosphere changed in that moment and it kind of brought home what the show was really about. This was not about who is the nicest bloke, but who in the end did the best job for their charity. And that was me. These soldiers were very grateful for what I had done and I think that actually carried a lot of weight with Trump.

I also remember the moment when things were going quite badly for me and I turned to see my mother and sister sitting in the front row looking like it was all over and trying to give me a thumbs up. It is a long way to come to watch your son and brother to lose to a cowboy. I said, quite loudly, It ain’t over ‘til the fat lady sings.

RM: How seriously did you take winning? Surely this is just a daft game show and just another vain step in your pursuit of fame?

PM: I have taken it very seriously. You know me, I don’t even play tiddlywinks to lose. I have spent my entire life trying to win every competitive thing I have ever taken part in. All the other celebrities who got fired along the way made pompous speeches about only entering it to raise money for charity. I don’t buy that argument. I think it is insincere and misleads the public. I am honest enough to admit that, Yes I wanted to raise money for charity, but I also entered the show to raise my profile and to win. At least I am not a hypocrite about it.

But the charitable aspect really did hit home to me when I went down to meet the wounded soldiers. That is when I realised that raising $750,000 for them is a big deal. Yes, in many ways, the show is a trivial and frivolous game that doesn’t matter, but when you see what a difference that money will make, it makes me feel very proud.

(We talk in length about the public reaction over there. “Streams of people” have been wishing him well. Simon Cowell has texted saying “Congratulations – from Dr Frankenstein”; Gordon Brown’s wife Sarah has been in touch (Gordon is, apparently, working out the appropriate Government response from the fountain nib of the Establishment – “My victory is being discussed at Cabinet level.”), as has Alan Sugar and a soufflé of other lesser known names. It is luvviness in extremis. Then we talk about the reaction from back home…)

RM: Hmm, your old friends on certain newspapers have been quite unkind about your win. Does that make you happy or sad? Any old foes come to your mind at happy times like this?

PM: I am delighted they are enjoying my success so whole-heartedly. They are embracing my triumph with the warmth and admiration that I would expect. I hope they are all enjoying themselves in their rather meagre ivory towers in the east of London, as I sit here in my glorious space in New York.

There are a number of people who I think will be particularly irritated by what has happened. My message to Jeremy Clarkson is: if you keep working, there is a chance that one day you will crack America, you just have to keep at it…dreams do come true.

(The conversation drifts to fame and America’s Got Talent. Piers will celebrate his birthday in LA on Sunday over dinner with Simon and friends at Robert de Niro’s restaurant. I will have to save all the other fascinating outtakes of our chat for my book. It is time to close and go to the pub.)

RM: One of the more startling revelations of your time in the Apprentice was that you were outed as being gay…

PM: Ahem. Maybe I can take the opportunity of this interview to point out that I am in fact NOT a homosexual. I simply kissed a cowboy as a joke after various people decided to “out” me. I have nothing against homosexuals, but I just don’t happen to be one…

RM: But, surely, after such an amazing victory you are gay, in the 19th century translation of the word…

PM. Oh, yes, of course. I am extremely gay at this moment. In fact, I have never felt more gay than I do today.

(I always thought as much)

PM Questions – and Answers

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Steady yourselves now, folks … I have just had a call from Piers’ people’s people and I am reliably informed he will be patched through to me and Access Interviews just as soon as he has had some high-fat hash browns to soak up the acidity of all the Krug champagne…

The Apprentice is on his way

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Er, please steady yourselves as I announce the following:

Media legend Piers Morgan has just called to say that he will give his first interview since winning The Celebrity Apprentice in America here, on this blog for AccessInterviews.com

This will happen, just as soon as he wakes up in New York, in his luxury suite, surrounded by nubile women, even richer and more famous than he was yesterday to begin what will probably be one of the maddest days of his mad life… so far…

Until then, see his big moment here:
I’ll keep you posted…

m/f

Piers Morgan . . . World Exclusive Interview!

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FLASH: 5am. London. I finally decide to get up after a sleepless night. I have been restless, deeply troubled. It is as if I know all is not well with the world. I am right.

I go downstairs and see a blue light flashing. My mobile. A text. “I won…”.

The “I” is Piers Morgan. The “won” is The Celebrity Apprentice in America.

Unbloodybelievable.

I text back and then the call comes . . .

m/f!

Piers Morgan wins …

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I do not often gasp out loud in horror when I read a story on a website, but I have done just that after reading about the sudden death of film director Anthony Minghella. I am totally shocked and feel deeply saddened.

I did not know Minghella at all and never interviewed him, but I attended a talk he gave about his work at the London Book Fair in March 2004. I met him fleetingly afterwards as he did a signing session for the screenplay of Cold Mountain. A rare “fan” moment for me, but I had a such respect for his craft and talent.

For fun, I also asked him to sign the synopsis of a book I was trying to get published at the time. He asked me about it and we spoke for a few moments. (Deep, deep down, in a fantastical way, I guess I wanted him to eventually make the film of the book). He chuckled warmly as he signed the synopsis and said, with a big, big smile: “Does this mean I have blessed it?” I wrote about this encounter later.

He struck me as a sincere, gentle, modest and supremely gifted man. What a loss.

Anthony Minghella RIP

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Just a quick note to let you know about a piece in The Independent today about Access Interviews. Check it out!

Indy focus on A.I

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It has taken a while, due to the enormity of running my amazing life, but the re-jig of the Access Interviews.com homepage and, more importantly, the Felix Dennis filmed interview finally went live yesterday. Oh the toil of running a major website.

I had anticipated getting a long and detailed interview with Felix. He is fantastic company and our last interview, at his home in the Cotswolds in the summer of 2006, went on for over four hours. I couldn’t shut him up, so I was expecting an all-embracing interview on camera this time.

Alas, no amount of preparation can account for the unexpected in this game. Felix was delayed by a long lunch – an hour and a chuffing half – and then needed to leave sharpish for a board meeting. To be honest, when showbiz flakes keep me waiting like that I throw an internal hissy fit. I sit on hands, bite my tongue, that sort of thing, while secretly wanting to tell them to stick it and naff off. But you have to bury a lot of impotent rage in this interviewing game. Well, if something has taken months to set up, you don’t want to throw it away in a fit of pique and come away with nothing. Gulp and swallow that pride like it’s a lump of MDF with nails in. I say, get your own back by sticking it to them with a few blunt questions instead.

Oddly enough, I didn’t get irritated waiting for Felix. He doesn’t really give a flying toss about anything, so I didn’t take it personally. And I like him a lot. He is a totally fascinating maverick. Besides, I was quite happy thumbing through his wonderful – and highly valuable – collection of first editions. How much is an immaculate first/first of ‘To Kill A Mocking Bird’ these days?

Anyway, the Felix interview has already been watched by a few early adopters on the media blog circuit. First prize goes to the mischievous Madame Arcati for picking up on the irreverent insert in the Q&A section. Well, wouldn’t you have Linda at your fantasy dinner party?

There are some good interviews for the ‘Rob McGibbon Meets’ section in the pipeline, so do stay tuned.

Best

When Felix Dennis met Linda Lovelace . . .

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Merveilleux to see Marion Cotillard deservedly pick up the Oscar for her mesmerising, moving performance as Edith Piaf in La Vie En Rose. I watched this film on DVD a month ago and was so was blown away by her depiction that I watched the powerful ending several times.

Marion made a vaguely endearing acceptance speech at the Oscars, which follows her Bafta win. Last night, she even thanked the Angels of Los Angeles (she’s cleary new to that souless, mendacious city) that have now made her a star.

It seems such a shame that Marion could not see fit to even mention in passing – in either speech – the one angel who made it all possible: the tragic, gifted Edith Piaf.

Marion should be ashamed of herself and regret this appalling oversight.

Marion should regrette that Oscar speech

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Just in case this is of interest and easier for you, Access Interviews has gone all YouTube. I know, band wagons are a bore, especially if you are grabbing on well after the event, but such is life.

Access Interviews plugs into YouTube

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It is not often that I wake up chuckling into the pillow through a throat made sore by a night of intense, stomach crunching laughter. It is also not often that I burn the toast because my mind is happily distracted by turning over the events of the previous evening. But, then, I had never been to see the auditions for ITV’s ‘Britain’s Got Talent’.

Last night, The Artist and I and a friend sat riveted and contorted through what was probably the funniest, most entertaining – and often excruciating – three hours I have had in, erm, a few decades. We ventured to the Hackney Empire under the invitation of Piers Morgan, an old friend who is now, bizzarely, a bona fide TV star on both sides of the Atlantic.

I must be one of the few people in the land not to have seen one minute of BGT. I was abroad throughout its UK arrival last summer, so I came to it cold last night. And what a delightful, emotionally oscillating shock.

Unfortunately, the poor acoustics meant we could hardly hear Morgan or Amanda Holden’s comments (maybe was a blessing), but Cowell was just a few feet away and he delivered some gems.

We sat through talking and counting (and crapping) parrots, hopeless magicians, tragic clowns (Cowell: “I am allergic to clowns”), overweight teenage Irish dancers in plastic tiaras and frizz wigs, and a fat mum in a vest dancing like Britney Spears who pitched for the sympathy vote with, “I’m doing this for my kids… one of them is disabled”.

Then there was the toe curling embarrassment of “Gunther the Geordie Porn Star” in leopard print briefs practising his pelvic action; Julie, a 41-year-old Southampton Council worker, singing Madonna’s Holiday in overly tight glittered Lycra (Cowell: “You’re like a drunk on a hen night”); and a Norwegian cleaner living in the UK “for time being” (he’s been he eight YEARS) who mimed the effects of being in a storm with a red umbrella.

There were very few genuine acts of talent on what proved to be one of the most fruitless auditions in six weeks of trawling the UK. And Hackney provided the most hostile and cynical of audiences seen by the BGT crew to date. Much has been made in the news recently of the dangers of walking Hackney’s streets at night. Well, I can assure you that its foul-mouthed youth are not to be recommended as companions in the theatre either.

A trainee lawyer dancing like Michael Jackson stole the show and easily made it through to the next round, but I won’t give away the comic brilliance of his act.

I chatted to Cowell and Morgan backstage afterwards. Both looked a touch exhausted and exasperated with the draining demands of the BGT auditions juggernaut. Cowell said that he was running out of things to say to these people, but I beg to differ. The line of the night was all his and it was this one which had me chuckling again in today’s reverie.

It came when a man of 84 called William humbly took to the stage to play Edelweiss on the harmonica. He quietly, but proudly, said he had been playing for 60 years. He then proceeded to silence the baying Empire mob with the dullest, most pedestrian performance in history. There was a very real stench of sympathy and awkwardness. 60 years, for that?

With profound and deadening understatement Cowell looked at him unsmilingly and said: “I think you could do with a little bit more practice.”

Priceless.

Britain’s Got Talent has got talent

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You may dismiss this as sad Schadenfreude, but I admit to being more than a little pleased that David Beckham was not selected for the England friendly against Switzerland, thereby denying the golden one his 100th cap.

Now, I like Beckham, in that distant, respectful way. I admire his talent and he seems genuinely devoted to England (or more likely his own legacy.) I “met” him once after his first game for Real Madrid in Majorca in 2003. We chatted for a few micro super-celebrity moments in the players’ area and I got his autograph (for some young relatives – HONEST!) He seems a decent bloke. He’s always on the phone, seeing how I am. That brief meeting clearly had a big impact on him.

For the most part, Beckham carries his extraordinary fame admirably. However, all his hype and self-promotion makes me want to really bloody dislike him. Whether it is his balls all padded up by Armani, or him playing keepy-uppy in ‘urban’ shorts in the Brazilian surf, or schmoozing among other celebrities. This is when I see a narcissistic, avaricious, spoilt brat who gets everything single damn thing he wants. Which is why, when he doesn’t get what he purports to be the most important thing to him, it seems only right. A little bit of 24 carat just desserts. A big bad brick dropped in his golden vanity pool.

When you look at Beckham’s global itinerary in recent months and playing time, you also realise that Fabio Capello has made the right decision. Beckham’s mind and body is elsewhere, so good riddance. Capello suddenly soared in my estimation for having the gumption to dismiss all the daft clamour to include Beckham for absurd sentimental reasons.

Beckham has several decades ahead of him to make billions, but he has only a brief window of time if he genuinely wants to achieve a worthwhile England playing legacy. What price would he put on that? If you ask me, I don’t think, deep down, he is really that bothered, otherwise he would put the breaks on Brand Beckham immediately and dump it on the bench.

In a way – and it seems pathetically spiteful to say this out loud – but I hope he NEVER gets his 100th cap because it will always serve as a metaphor for the choices he made.

Bye, bye, Beckham. For now . . .

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I got quite shock this morning when the name came on the radio news: “David Martin” had been murdered. I had not heard that name for 21 years but it took me back in time in a micro second. The memory is amazing, isn’t it? I often struggle to work out what I did last week, but I had no problem recalling the name of someone I never knew from July 1986.

David Martin was murdered by a baying mob in Mitcham, South London, last Sunday after a row with neighbours. The reason his name was stored in my mind is that I was a cub reporter on the Wimbledon News who was sent to the scene when David’s father Raymond was murdered in almost identical circumstances all those years ago.

Back then, David – 18 – had been attacked by a gang of lads. He bumped into his dad on the way home who then confronted the gang after seeing his son’s bloodied nose. David saw his dad clubbed to death in the street with metal poles and heavy sticks.

I have two scrap books of cuttings from my first year on the Wimbledon News. When I got into the office this morning, I easily found my front page report of that horrific killing. (No byline because the editor, Andrew Palmer, was mean like that). It was particularly strange reading the story again, knowing the ultimate tragic fate in store for the boy David who saw his father murdered.

The Sun newspaper feature today’s story with a newly designed motif – “Broken Britain” – to reflect its coverage of the escalating violence on our streets. Maybe Britain has always been a bit broken …

Some things never change . . .

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Well, today is AI-Day. My website Access Interviews officially launches.

I admit to feeling a little frantic and nervous now that it is out there. Insomnia has become a sudden feature in my previously tranquil life. There is just so much to think about.

And who knows how AI will do. Soar or sink. We will find out in the coming months. We have already had respectful traffic during the previous testing weeks. It is amazing how these things spread. I even have fans in France for my McNab interview. Mon dieu!

You know, it’s a strange experience, launching what is essentially a global platform from my humble empire HQ and mind. Access Interviews is, in many ways, a world-wide magazine with many fantastic dimensions – even if I say so myself. A few years back, something like this would have cost millions and taken a huge team. But I have managed it with a handful of dedicated techies and a belly load of expensive belief.

So, yes, I am as apprehensive as any actor on a first night. But to get it all into proportion, I have done what every right thinking person should do in times of concern about your mortal position: I have put on Beethoven’s 3rd at full blast.

That knocks any worries into perspective.

Wish me luck.

AccessInterviews.com has lift off

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Hello and Happy New Year to you all. May 2008 bring you everything you wish for.

With the niceties out the way, on with business. If you are not a computer, a search engine bot or a super tech spider from planet internet, then there is no need to continue reading. This post is purely for machines to digitally promote my new website – www.accessinterviews.com.

You see, my tech team tell me that if I blog about Access Interviews, then the spiders from Mars will get all excited and bump up my Google ranking. It is already incredibly high – No.3 – but we are reaching for the top spot, so here goes.

Access Interviews is a brilliant new website created by me with the young geniuses at Mettic Web Development. The site is dedicated to collating the world’s interviews. On this site you will be able to load links to interviews you have written, or simply ones you like, or you can just search for interviews that grab your interest.

Also on Access Interviews (are you paying attention Mr Spider and Miss Bot?) you will also find superb interviews (even if I say so myself) conducted by me called ‘Rob McGibbon Meets’. The first is: ‘Rob McGibbon Meets Andy McNab’. He is the SAS hero who is met by me for Access Interviews.

Also on Access Interviews you will be able to read the brilliant new column called ‘Full ‘n’ Frank’, which is essentially the secret diary of an interviewer. Frank tells it how it really is in interview-land and looks like being very entertaining – unless you are a computer and can only read tech code.

I would now like to Thank all spiders and bots in advance for reading this post and crawling all over AccessInterviews.Com.

If you are a human and have read this far, Thanks. Maybe you can now search for my website – see name above – in Google and see if we are at the top.

My techie best to you all.

RM

Attention all Bots and Spiders

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Well, it was conceived about two years ago following an immaculate conception in my utterly brilliant mind and finally I am proud to announce the arrival of my new baby – a website!

All you wise men (and women) out there who have been frantically trying to follow a bright star on the internet to discover my site’s location and form can now find it on the link below.

Please leave your precious gifts in the form of traffic and do pass on the good word of its address to all your friends and work associates.

The site is dedicated to interviews and interviewers and you can find it here: Access Interviews.

Happy Christmas to One and All!

RM

Hallelujah! Access Interviews Has Dot Come.

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Well, it’s the season to be cheerful and helpful and all that, hence I found myself doing my bit for charity last night.

Strange things, comfort zones, aren’t they? Put me in front of a major celebrity or politician and I will happily ask them the most awkward or personal questions within minutes of meeting them. It’s what I do. But, I admit, I was inwardly anxious when it came to being a helper for the Breast Cancer Haven annual Christmas Carol Service at St Paul’s in Knightsbridge. Handing people order of services, donation forms and ushering them to their seats is not really my game. Or, indeed is going round with the collection basket and handing out mince pies. But I soon got into the swing of it.

Chris Tarrant, Art Malik and Penny Lancaster (Mrs Stewart) all did their bit and read sweetly. Rod graciously kept a low profile on the front pew. About 500 others sang well and dug deep into their pockets. It was a wonderful night for a truly special organisation. It is based in Fulham and runs a highly professional, multi-layered support centre for women with breast cancer. It really is a haven for women in troubled times. Maybe it is a charity you could keep in mind when you next (come on now!) do a fund raiser and are in search of a lower-profile worthwhile cause to give a bung.

If you’re really lucky you might get to hear my waitering wit at next year’s event. Just you try and say No to yet another Christmas pastry when I greet you with my Rasta-styley one liner: “Your eyes are tellin’ me lies. I know you want one of my mince pies!”.

Breast Cancer Haven

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I am glad to announce to my loyal readers that this Blog will soon exclusively bring you an enthralling new feature…

“THE DIARY OF A WOULD-BE INTERNET ENTREPRENEUR”

[adopt gravel-edged movie trailer voice over]

Based on true events. The inspiring story of one man’s struggle to create a stunning new website that will capture the imagination of the world. A tale of hardship, disappointments, grit and determination to find the courage to make his dream a reality and find, against the odds, the mythical prize of … Web Wonga.

Coming to a computer screen near you soon. With a special world exclusive link to the new site.

Don’t miss it.

Only at “Along the way…”

[THIS IDEA HAS SINCE BEEN POSTPONED DUE TO THE LEVEL OF WORK FINISHING THE WEBSITE]

EXCLUSIVE – Coming Soon . . .

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Please allow me to indulge in a tiny piece of belated product placement.

Many months ago I enjoyed a one night stay at Champneys Tring. If I was a politician, I guess I would have to make various declarations, or – more likely – not make any declarations, only to have The Guardian tell me later that the bill was settled by someone else.

Anyway, if you are thinking you are in need of a detox to prepare for all those Christmas parties, or indeed you are planning a New You for the New Year, then you could do worse than book a mini health farm break at one of the Champneys resorts. The facilities at the one in Tring are superb. A sumptuous spa, immaculate grounds, great massages and numerous other treatments, excellent food and the giant bed in a Premier room gave me the best sleep in months. It was wonderful to see Frank Bruno happily clocking up the miles on the treadmill in the gym, although it was something of a shock to have Cherie Blair plonk herself down near me in the chill out zone in her white toweling robe.

Champneys is on its game and I’m told that the company will soon launch a number of city “Day Spas” across the country.

There you go, just a tip to lift any winter health blues.

Champneys Tring

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You can tell a lot about the true nature of a “famous” person when you observe them in the wild, as it were.

I am well versed in the charade of meeting celebrities for interviews, which is a time when, understandably, they are on their best behaviour. You have to take it all with a heap of salt thrown over my shoulder.

So, I was more than a little interested when Charley Boorman (he of the ‘Long Way Up Ewan MacGregor’s Biker Leathers’ and my recent bilious review. See blog Page 956) pulled up alongside me and thudded his crash helmet on the counter at Pret in Fulham yesterday.

As he was at the till, his mobile went off. No crime. But he then proceeded to have a conversation, while lobbing the wrong money at the poor server. There was no attempt at an apology, or an embarrassed plea for understanding. No, Charley kept chatting while fumbling for the right cash, then took off still chatting with not so much a glance in his mirror to say thanks to the girl, or apologise to the people who had been behind him.

I then watched him tear off at speed on his (free) BMW superbike, with his Pret bag swinging from the throttle grip. Unfortunately, he swerved just in time as he exited onto a busy road into the path of a car. Shame, that.

A Right Boorish Charley

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I have just read some great news: Donald Trump’s plans to build a golf resort along a stretch of stunning Aberdeenshire coast have been thrown out.

I was up that way for a famous “pheasant-less shoot” last month and walked along the very beach he planned to build beside. It is one of the most beautiful stretches of beach (it has an unusual pink grain to it) and collection of sand dunes I have ever seen in the UK. From what I heard from locals, Trump’s plans were gaudy, over-sized and driven purely by money without a passing thought for the damage his resort might do to the beauty of the untouched surroundings.

For once, a council has stood up to the developers and money did not win. Certain London councils – Kensington & Chelsea and the Lots Road development, for one – should take note.

The local Aberdeen farmer who stood to cash in and has been loudly bragging in recent months – “Mr Trump ese nice n deep-lay linin’ mey puckets” – should hang his head in shame now that the deal has been tossed in the bin.

Donald McTrumped

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ASDA should be giving their in-house PR a nice bonus some time soon.

The chain got some great coverage in the newspapers today for selling Dom Perignon champagne at £30 a bottle.

I have never been to an ASDA store, but when I read that, well, I was nearly in the car within a minute. But I know an offer that is too good to be true when I see one, so I called my nearest ASDA first and had an hilarious chat with a guy in the wines and spirits department.

“There are no bottles left.”

“Really? But you have just announced this amazing promotion. Surely they can’t all have sold already. How many did you get?”

“Six bottles. We are expecting six more at some point, but no one knows when.”

SIX bottles for a giant store. Hysterical.

Give a case of the stuff to the PR who came up with this wheeze.

Every Little Bit (of Publicity) Helps

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An up-date on my problems with Virgin Media.

I finally got through to Customer Services to register my complaints this morning. A pleasant chap typed away as I dictated. He then informed me that there was really no point in me doing this as no-one would read this complaint. Eh? “There’s no need to read it. At least we have a record of the complaint.”

What utter nonsense. And this is a company that states on its pre-recorded phone loop that it is the most popular portal in the UK. W

Er, why?

My Virgin friend then declared that to have a complaint actioned I would have to write to head office. Which I am now doing.

Expect a new email address for me shortly.

A very modern dilemma: Why do we use up so much energy trying to use things that save us energy?

Virgin On The Ridiculous 2

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Right, that’s it, I have had enough. I am having to resort to a Blog to get some feedback from Virgin Media.

I know Sir Richard Branson is busy buying Northern Rock, but I really think he needs to attend to this speck of his empire before making his next billion with that building society.

I have been with Virgin.net for years. There was no obvious reason for choosing them, except that I probably bought into the dependability and geniality of the Virgin brand way back when I started email and all this tech stuff that dominates our lives.

I’ve never changed provider. I suppose it’s a but like not changing your bank account – you feel safer sticking with what you know and you can’t really be bothered to change

Well, “what I know” is no longer good enough. My email has not been sending properly for weeks. It can sometimes take a dozen tries before a message finally disappears.

Plus, my broadband connection – sold to me as “up to 8meg” is nothing of the sort. Beware of the “up to” words. It is a blag. On a good day, I currently get around 2meg. Whoopee.

But why the Blog? Well, I have been watching my life disappear on emails, lists of tech instructions, and phone calls (25p per min) to Virgin Support. It is a nightmare and I am fed up. What is happening to this company?

In exasperation, I have tried to call Customer Service to complain and get some action. Can I get through? Can I hell. Clearly, the lines are jammed with other people like me tearing their hair out at the poor service they are getting.

Well, I think I have the answer. I have Sir Richard’s personal mobile number, so I am going to call him right now and get him on the case.

And if I can’t get through, then I will post his number here. I’m sure someone out there will get through to him some time and sort this mess out.

Virgin On The Ridiculous

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Sadly, I didn’t know ‘Dear’ Bill Deedes. I never even met him. I wish I had. The reaction to his death and respectful warmth to his phenomenal spirit and joyful character has been incredible to witness. Oddly, considering I did not know the man, I have found it all quite moving. Clearly, he was a truly fine chap. What a life. What a personal legacy. Oh, to experience, achieve and leave half as much.

Equally, I do not know Charles Moore, so there is no sucking up agenda here when I say that his fine address at the memorial service is worth a listen on the Telegraph’s media player.

Just that.

Adieu

Dear Bill Deedes, RIP

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Please be careful of the steam coming from my head…

It’s late, it’s dark, half the residents’ parking is closed off. You’ve had a long day. You make a mistake and park in the wrong bay. It turns out that there is a Disabled Only sign up somewhere high, out of immediate sight.

While you sleep, the Morlocks go to work. They give the car a ticket. Then a clamp. Then they tow the bloody thing.

The next day you get a shock, a pang of worry – Has it been nicked by the benefit funded vermin you help keep warm? – then the bitter bile of realisation begins to rise. You have had the idiocy to let your guard down in this unforgiving city.

Then you get the happy snaps of the Morlocks’ fine work – and the £260 bill. TWO HUNDRED AND SIXTY BLOODY POUNDS.

Where is that loot going? Who gets what from that swag bag of 21st century highway robbery?

The thing is, this didn’t even happen to me, just to someone dear to me, but I am still steaming mad with the absurdity, the blatant theft of this system.

The upside is, I have come up with an idea to beat the clampers and tow merchants of this world. I will invite you all in very soon and we can win…

Until then: Don’t you dare relax. Keep ’em peeled. Parking Warden crime affects every driver sometime. Don’t sleep tight.

London. I love it.

Parking Crime Watch

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As I am sure you are beginning to make last minute arrangements for your winter or New Year holidays, can I just stop by with a couple of recommendations following a glorious trip earlier this year.

The Madikwe Lodge safari lodge in South Africa is sensational. Luxurious and beautiful private rooms are carved into the granite of the local rock formations, with heated floors and a private plunge pool. You even get a private outdoor bath and shower overlooking the bush. Well, totally private except for the elephants and lions looking on – in awe – as they drink at a nearby watering hole. The Madikwe staff are fantastic, as is the food. The game drives are terrific and we easily saw many multiples of four of the Big Five (the leopards eluded us) – thanks to our cheerful, eagle-eyed tracker Johannes. What a star – although one lion got a little too close and looked me square (meal?) in the eye. Most memorable sight, apart form the animals, has to be the Mars-red, iron rich earth. I even brought some home to create my own paint. (Exhibition to be announced soon).

Mauritius is only a four hour flight from Johannesburg and is an ideal place for a beach side crash out after an exhausting safari. I would strongly recommend the Hilton. I always expect the worst when I hear that name – an air-con, high rise, business hotel – but this one is part of the five star ‘Hilton Worldwide’ range. It is stunning and lacks the stuffiness of some of the other five star resorts. I finally cracked mono water skiing, thanks to Tom from the newly installed Mark Warner water sports centre, and I had the best acupressure massages in my life at the dedicated health spa.

Both these trips can be booked via the Virgin Holidays website or by calling: 0871 222 0307.

One last tip (plug): Virgin Upper Class to South Africa is superb. But make sure you give yourself a good two hours in the Clubhouse at Heathrow – just so you are, ahem, nicely relaxed for that strenuous flight.

Some Winter Travelling Tips

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Always a shame, it is, when you get that sad, sickly feeling in your gut that comes with witnessing someone you sort of admire and like at a distance of a million miles, making a total arse of themselves. Step forward, in leather, Ewan McGregor.

I tuned into BBC2’s The Long Way Down when I finally despaired of Michael Palin’s creaking journey through wherever it is he was tasting odd food or doing odd things with odd people. I glimpsed McGregor’s first motorbike world journey with Charley Boorman and stayed well away. I knew what it was in one twist of the gas: two lads blagging a monster freebie holiday on the back of one lad’s big dollop of fame. Sunday night laziness and boredom brought me to this new show.

Funnily enough, I was at the London Book Fair in 2004 when McGregor announced the first venture. How many people could get a big book deal and TV tie-in for such a self-serving, vacuous venture? The publishing girls were going nuts as McGregor ambled through the trade fair. Hilarious. Now, the guy is a brilliant actor, no doubt, but, really, girls, would he be such an out-and-out hunk if you took away the fame?

Well, take away the fame from the Long Way Down and you really would have an average looking TV show with little sex appeal and no chance of getting on the air. I’ve always thought McGregor to be a cool, un-showy Hollywood star, something of a one-off. But in this he is more like one-off the wrist and comes across as supremely spoilt and self-centred. Quote of the night came as he sat on his new BMW freebie superbike: “Just think, from tomorrow, it is only me (Me, Me, Me) and my bike for three months”. Well, yes: You and a film crew and a back-up team including a medic, drivers, fixers, tent erectors, arse wipers, and of course your big buddy Charley. Which bring me to Boorman. I worry for the man. He looks ill, unhappy and particularly strung out as he clings for all his worth to his star friend’s famous leather coat-tails. The fact that Ewan’s wife has invited herself along on the trip – and he has said he “can’t wait” – promises some dark comedy.

The Long Way Down is almost worth tuning in to for its cringe factor. It is bike crash television.

Long Way Down The Pan

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SunSational – South Africa, Daily Mirror

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I’ve just witnessed a great British crime statistic – a double car smash ‘n’ grab. Not exactly front line reporting, I know, but it’s kind of a micro shock to hear the smash of glass and the sound of alarms outside your office window at 2.50pm on a wet Chelsea afternoon.

Broad daylight, an open air office car park, just off the Kings Road, and in pedal two fearless white oiks. In unison, they smash the passenger window of a silver land cruiser and the rear window of a BMW estate at opposite ends of the car park. Very slick sychronisation. Clearly old hands at this kind of public daylight robbery.

Smash. Alarms. Various faces at windows and off our wonderful youth cycle off with a couple of bags at no great nervous speed. I caught the back of them, but didn’t even have time to open the window and shout “Sod Off, scum.” Would have been very heroic.

They went home to, no doubt, their fully supplemented abode, via the Kings Road. If anyone has been around these parts lately, they will know it has more cameras watching over it than a branch of Currys, so, catching these criminals will be a breeze. Yeah, right.

Now, if these scum had been driving their own cars, as opposed to robbing those owned by law abiding citizens, then I have no doubt that they would have felt the full weight of the law for the slightest infringement – such is the pathetic state of the police priorities in this country. And ….

… before I dismount this high horse, can I just say that I am still seething about the lack of sentence not handed out to that deranged piece of violent scum in Croydon. That bastard punched a gentle 96-year-old chap in the face. He blinded him and ruined what remains of his dignified, kind life. The punishment? Nothing. Just three years supervision. NOTHING! WHY?

It beggar’s belief and quite makes one want to find a criminal and punch one oneself. Very, very hard.

Daylight Robbery

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And, so, I thought I would be the only Englishmen heading back on the Eurostar last Saturday, just as our fine rugby players took to the battle field. Not so.

Oh no. Who should I find myself amongst but none other than an all-conquering contingent of Britain’s finest, most cynical, avaricious bastards. No, not the England football team. Ticket touts.

Yep, a pack of them took over the restaurant car to knock back the 1664s while ‘aving a count up after their triumphant excursion. And, bloody ‘eck, what wads they had. To a man, they had chunks of notes in varying currencies the size of bricks. There must have been forty-fifty grand’s wurf between them. A right nice earner. They were the only true English winners of the day.

Now, I am all up for the reward of genuine entrepreneurial endeavour, so good luck to the touts for having the energy and balls to do a dirty job. I also know touts are impossible to control, and they have their uses to their customers, but tell me this: if the government , or the police cannot stop these geezers doing the business, then why the hell can’t they are least make sure they pay ‘effing tax on their grotesque profits.

With 4.5 million CCTV cameras watching our every move (with only a fraction doing a single thing to solve crime), then why can’t the police pick out the touts at various venues (what could be easier detective work than finding a tout at work?), then get their names, check their bank balances and tax records.

I only ask this because I happened to eaves drop with utter dismay when three of the bloated scrum on that Eurostar lamented about the busy week ahead of them – then whinge about what an “agg'” it was that they had to sign on some time. Oh, what an awful inconvenience for them to have to turn up to scribble their name for some free money.

Touts: lying, dodgy scum, the lot of them. It quite makes one want to get off the train early. At high speed.

And the winners were … les touts

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What’s the definition of Good Luck, Bad Luck?

GOOD LUCK: Booking a business trip to Paris two months ago, only to discover you have prized Eurostar tickets taking you to the French capital on the day England play in the World Rugby Final.

BAD LUCK: Discovering your non-transferable return ticket has you booked on the Eurostar departing at 7.20pm – forty Froggin’ minutes before the bloody kick off.

MERDE!

SACRE BLOODY BLEU!

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It takes quite a bit to get me interested in politics, but I can’t tell you how much I’m loving all this Gordon Brown fucking-it-up stuff.

I’ve always looked upon politics as a sinister, lethal microcosm of the showbiz world. With politicians you have vainglorious, narcissistic liars playing with people’s lives and the wealth of nations, as opposed to celebrities simply greasing their careers, banks balances and general emptiness.

I’m always getting asked what a certain celebrity is really like after I have interviewed them. Naturally, many are insecure, self-obsessed egomaniacs with incurable delusional syndrome, but in general they are decent enough folk. It’s the people around them you’ve got to watch.

The agents and managers are the worst. These are the ones in the middle, milking it, scheming, shafting everyone, playing a double game, sucking up to their “talents” while all they care about is their 20%.

This is why I’m loving the Brown comeuppance that he is receiving square on the nose from the media and the country. Brown richly deserves this, for all his Machiavellian, super snide tendencies that have finally been exposed. If he has any metal, this should make him a more honest man and a better leader. I won’t hold my breath.

But it is the people behind him that I can’t help thinking about, indeed chuckling at. Imagine the bollockings from Brown – “But YOU told me to do this, you little git?”. Think of all the sycophants who have been telling their Emperor how wonderfully dressed he is since his faux coronation, how must they be feeling now? Deeply rattled, for sure, and maybe – but very unlikely – just a little bit ashamed.

They have all been caught out – big time. It’s a bit like suddenly being back at school and seeing a coterie of teacher’s oily pets finally getting caught cheating in tests and getting royally bollocked in front of assembly. Wonderful. If only it wasn’t all so serious when it comes to politics.

The Brown Stuff

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A simple, quick tip on a fabulous restaurant I visited last Friday: Baltic. It’s been there for about six years and already has a huge following and great reviews, but has only just beeped onto my radar. Always up to speed, me. (Apparently, AA Gill slagged it originally, but has been seen back there many times).

The theme of the restaurant is Eastern European and has the most amazing, mouthwatering original menu. If I only I could remember the names of the dishes to make your mouth water. The trouble is, the tradition at Baltic is to serve a variety of head-banging home-made vodkas throughout your meal. Slam dunk those on top of some superb Meursault, Margaux and a Brunello to boot, then you know you will have to relive the experience just to anchor it properly in your memory.

That said, the Scottish Rock Oysters (er, is Scotland near the Baltic?) were silver slick, the Siberian dumplings with veal and pork were sweet and moreish and the bleeding lamb was so tender I started stamping the ground like thumper. For the life of me I cannot remember what I had for dessert. I blame the pre-pudding strawberry vodka.

B-Baltic is a b-brilliant, b-buzzing restaurant. Go there for a b-big b-blow out. It is so good it is almost memorable.


Note: I have just noticed that Baltic has made into the Evening Standard’s restaurant critic Fay Maschler’s top 25 London restaurants in today’s (3rd Oct) paper.

Baltic Restaurant SE1

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And, so, to Covent Garden and The Hospital for The 2nd Hospital Club Awards. After embracing such fine hospitality, it seems only fair to do a bit of product placement for what is an outstanding private members club. (1st grovel).

It began with a Veuve Clicquot reception, then we retired to the basement TV studio for a simple, yet fine dinner (dressed crab, shepherd’s pie and peas, summer pudding, Montagny 1er Cru, Grand Cru St Emilion. Merci). The guests were a select, high-end media crowd, plus some celebs – Thandie Newton, Sadie Frost etc. I was next to Jimmy Nesbitt on PR supremo Alan Edwards’ table (am I sounding enough like Michael Winner yet? apologies).

I’ve gotta say Nesbitt was great, which was quite a revelation considering how much I have privately loathed him thanks to those bloody Yellow Pages ads. Tracey Emin joined us later and did what she always does best – snarled at everything. A memorable moment from the night was probably meeting Liz Murdoch’s impressive cleavage. Well, not her bust as such, but the stunning, naked tear drop diamond swinging heavily above it. Clearly a fake. It has to be said that this ‘thrill’ was almost trumped by suddenly becoming unwilling witness to a contretemps between one well-known media executive and a star scribe. The said writer collared the said exec’ – in clearly a rare meeting – and complained bitterly (but playfully) about not getting any lurve from the office. No phone calls, no emails, no lunches. Bleet, bleet. Nothing to say how wonderful the said writer’s work is (except, of course, a big fat cheque for not a lot, thank you). Ahh, and to think that even the much-loved, stellar names yearn for big ego fluffs from the big boss – yet still get blanked.

The awards, which celebrate talent across the creative industries, followed dinner and were also something of a revelation. No stage, no gushing trailers, no lectern, just Mariella Frostrup trotting around the room with a mic, chuckling and ad-libbing neatly to hurry things along so she could get back to relieve the babysitter. She introduced a judge, the judge presented the award at the winner’s table. Brief, modest speeches followed, although most winners declined to talk. Applause. Fros-trot. Next. Repeat as before. All done in half an hour. Bosh. Get on with chatting and drinking. Cool.

So, The Hospital has discovered the antidote to long-winded, dull awards ceremonies. Bravo.

Mariella and her mic for the BAFTAS and Oscars, please.

"Hospital Finds Cure For Dull Awards Ceremonies"

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To the tune of John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’.
A mournful John at the piano and an empty chair beside him.
ACTION!


Imagine no Alan Yentob
It’s easy if you lie
No big time presenter needed
Just pre-shot hmms and a sigh
Imagine all those expenses
Living for freeee… (aside)… oh lucky me!

Imagine jetting to any country
It isn’t hard for Al and his Pals
No need to Meet or Question
And no Researching too
Imagine all those people
Taking the total piss…

You may say I’m a schemer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join TV
And the world will blag as one

Imagine no commissions
I wonder if Blue Peter can
No need for Socks or Cookies
A Network without phone-in shams
Imagine no more telly people
Deceiving all the world…

You may say I’m a schemer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will do Noddies at no-one

(With respect to JL).

Imagine: No Alan Yentob

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Monday night veg-out saw me tuck into a double portion of gut-churning culinary TV turkey, ‘Nigella Express’ and ‘Hell’s Kitchen’.

I had just rustled up a vegetarian shepherd’s pie, then failed to answer the closing questions on University Challenge, when up popped Nigella. At times, I wonder what onyx stone I have been living under because the entire Nigella Goddess phenomena-thingy pretty much passed me by, but suddenly here she was, in super nauseating close up, super glammed-up, and oh-so-super, super-sized in her super home.

Really, this programme had me spluttering on my lentils from start to finish. It was an unexpected, unintentional comedy gem. I found myself waiting for Nigella to suddenly double up over her spare tyre with laughter as the camera pulled back to reveal Richard Curtis, script in hand, directing a Comic Relief special. It is beyond parody.

Nigella, oh-so-busy, oh-so-stressed, hopping into a black taxi to the Waitrose in Belgravia, then back in a taxi to her hellish Eton Square home, then cooking frantically in her Mayfair restaurant-spec kitchen for her family and chums. I’m sure the stress of the taxi trips resonated with all those who struggle on the bus to the local Lidl with ten quid to feed five.

But it was Nigella’s menu that had me tickling the belly lard with mirth. Pork chops fried in oil with a double cream mustard sauce and gnocchi, or deep fried calamari with garlic mayonnaise. The gut-busting coupe de grace was Nigella coming home to twinkling Christmas lights after a liver full of champers, to curl up in bed with a couple of stale croissants baked in cream and egg. And, then, she came back for more with EXTRA cream before settling down for a late night heart attack. Hilarious. Rename this show ‘Nigella’s Express Taxi Route To Becoming A Fat Knacker’.

Another fat knacker turned up in ITV’s Hell’s Kitchen – Mark Peter White from Leeds, aka Marco Pierre White. Marco kept going on about the fact that he hadn’t been in a kitchen for seven and a half years. By the size of him, he couldn’t have been far from one. If anything, he looks like he’s spent the best part of his resting years on a park bench, or in a box on the Embankment. Marco sounds addled and looks so poorly he can only be a packet of fags or a Nigella pudding away from a defibrillator.

I presume the intention behind such a “Legend” doing this crass – and, it has to be confessed, pathetically addictive show – is to re-heat the souffle of his former glory. Well, by the sight of this opener, it ain’t gonna rise an inch. Would your taste buds get wet at the thought of Marco sweating and wheezing over your grub, his infested hair swooshing around while he man-handles it all with his grubby savaloy fingers? (I never realised just how much grease-ball chefs handle the food until these shows. Urgh).

Oddly enough, Marco didn’t come across as the beast that everyone at ITV expects, indeed insists. If anything, he seemed nervous and genuinely encouraging and avuncular to his hapless “celebrities”, rather than truly nasty like Ramsay. Maybe this genuine nicer side of him will gradually come across more and save his bacon.

But there is only one way to beef up Hell’s Kitchen and make it a dish worth serving: bring in Nigella.

Note: Since writing this blog, it has been revealed that Nigella’s home shots are a big fat porky pie and actually filmed in a studio in South London.

Fat Knacker Night

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