An idle diary. Reviews, Views and a glimpse behind the Interviews. My squint at the world…for what it’s worth.

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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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.


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 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…

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….


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

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 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.


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, 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.


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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 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 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

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…


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.


I text back and then the call comes . . .


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 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.


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.”


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. 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 –

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.


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!


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…


[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…”


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 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.


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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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.



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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.

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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Hail be to Damien Hirst, Lord of the Blag-n-Swag, the leading Taking The Piss-Artist of the 21st century, he has sold his diamond encrusted skull to a group of Bandwagon Believers for $100million. Bravo, and what a snip for them, I say. And to think, they don’t even own all of it – Damien still owns a slice. Incroyable! Really, I do doff my diamante Von Dutch trucker’s cap to him.

Well, in a scoop of journalistic enterprise to rival Damien’s 29-carat chutzpah, I have managed to snag the interview all those vile media people wanted – a chat with the real owner of the skull. Yes, after a flurry of calls to contacts in the Afterlife, I managed to track him down to a silver lined cloud, playing his platinum harp, for a full and frank talk. A genuine out-of-this world exclusive.

Naturally, as the progenitor of this interview idea, I really should not have to be arsed with actually doing the bloody thing myself. Like Hirst, I am generally minded to get serfs to do the tiresome nitty-gritty of creativity for me, to save my energies for photo calls, preview nights and, of course, money counting. Unfortunately, all my writing slaves are currently hard at work in my Word Factory in Wapping compiling articles, film scripts, plays and novels for me to bask in the glory of their creation at a later date. Hence, it fell to me to conduct this work. Yawn-bloody-yawn, work, what a mug’s game. If there was already such an interview in existence I would have just copied it, but alas No.

I discovered that the real owner of the skull was a young man called Mikel Sumjuans-Rippunmeov, who heralded from the darkened nether regions of Central Europe in the early 18th century. He was something of a star in his day, rising from humble roots in Bristolianav to become a celebrated alchemist. However, it all went a bit pink pear-shaped when the tricks of his trade were revealed and people realised that he was not making gold after-all, but instead a yellowy worthless lead. Ultimately, he died a premature and violent death, but more of that later.

I meet Mikel – who prefers to be called Mick – at a secret location. Tired and little bit grouchy at the skulduggery of recent events, he opened is heart to me.

RM: Well, Mick, welcome back to Earth with a bump. How are things for you at the moment? I see you are not wearing a head today – is that a fashion statement on the Other Side?

MS-R: Yeah, being headless is a bit in vogue ‘round my neck of the woods, but I’m not a big follower of fads – it’s all bollocks. I’m not wearing my head simply because some chuffing sheister nicked it centuries ago and I never found a decent replacement.

RM: Hmm, ouch, I see. What happened to it?

MS-R: I don’t really want go in to it because it all feels like another lifetime to me. I’ve moved on since then. But, basically, a group of gravediggers called the Shite Cubists dug me up and took my head. They were a big bunch of crooks at the time and got up to all kinds of shit.

RM: But surely that was illegal? Why weren’t they caught and hung, drawn in pencil and dunked into gooey liquid and put on show at the Sarky and Malarkey gallery for violent offenders?

MS-R: Well, they managed to blag everyone that they were recycling body bits in the name of Art. I mean, how anyone fell for it, I don’t know. But people were pretty stupid back then. Not much has changed, that’s for sure.

RM: How do you feel about your skull now being made of platinum and encrusted with diamonds and sold for a moderate Earth fortune?

MS-R: Not good, I can tell you. No.1 – I could do without the flaming publicity. I was chilled out on Cloud 9 before all this. And No.2, I’ve had it up to here (Mick raises a rotten hand to his collar) with being exploited. I mean, these people are messing with my head – literally. And who is this bloke Damien Turdst, what right has he got to bleed my image rights dry? How the hell would he feel if I came down to his castle in Devon with a big rusty sickle and said, “Alright, mate, I’m here for your head because I’ve got this exhibition coming up in Heavenox Square in St James’s and my manager Dank Dumpy needs something a bit fresh. Swoosh. See you later.” Not happy, I bet.

RM: I see that the celebrated art historian Rudi Fuchsup has called Hirst’s skull “celestial” and a “victory over decay”. You’re clearly someone who knows about decay, do you agree?

M-SR: Fuchsup is talking out of his big fat decay tube. I tell ya, man, these art people make me want to kill myself. The bullshit they come out with. And people believe ‘em!

RM: Now that the skull has been bought, do you have any message for the buyers and indeed Mr Hirst.

M-SR: Oh, yeah. For the love of God give me my fucking head back, you little shits.

Part Two of this interview “The years before I lost my head” continues soon…

For the Love of God, Your’re Taking the Mick

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As much as it pains me not to be moaning in a Monday morning Post, one must give credit where credit is due: the wretched Ryanair seems to be on top of its game and provided a faultless service from Stansted to Oslo at the weekend. Easy check ins, on time departures, early arrivals both ways. All for sixty-something quid per head. What more could a penny-pinching passenger wish for? They now even have a fully functioning “Priority Seating” plan which kept the Artist and I out of the demeaning seat scrum for a few extra pounds.

A couple of minor questions: why would owner Michael O’Leary spend $10 billion on a stack of new planes – and boast about all this in the rubbish in-flight magazine – when he totally messed them up on delivery. Tell me now, who in their right mind would splash out that kind of dosh and then say: “D’yee know what dees planes need to loiven dem up is some broight yellow head-rests and panels. Dat’ll froighten de loife out of dem fecking passengers.”

Seriously, who the hell thinks screaming canary yellow fittings are a good way to decorate a plane. Pass dat derre sick bag.

And is it really necessary to fleece your customers so gratuitously for the in-flight refreshment service? A sky-high £2.80 for a micro tin of Bavaria piss lager? Only an idiot would pay so much.

That’ll be me then.

Fair Plays To Yee

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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.

Lighter Than Ryan Air

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On such a glorious morning, after such a privileged chance to jog by the river to awaken my world, I really should apologise for stopping by to let my bile dribble across your screens. But I must return to the chuffing C-c-CON-gestion Charge (Blog 1476a/delta.doc).

I got a nasty, neat note from the bastards running the big bad Transport For London computer yesterday demanding fifty quid. It was a shock and it took some remembering, but then I realised that Yes I should indeed be fined – for having the imbecilic indecency to be human for a moment last week and behave spontaneously.

I fleetingly re-routed a weekend escape trip out of London to buy presents for some children. A modest little something that took me to a toy shop on the Kings Road before I headed out of the Smoke. My mind temporarily slipped from the disgusting Big Brother programme that has been forcefully up-loaded into the brains of all K&C residents since the introduction of the Extension Zone last February: think, plan, pay before you do anything. Or they will stick it to you.

This is no way to live. I know I should have taken my unfair punishment in one instant hit by paying a year’s subscription to the Thieving F-uffing Liars when this sorry lie was first spun. Instead I have let them mug me whenever my guard is down. You see, I have forgotten before and I will probably forget again. Because that is what humans do and what machines will never do.

Tell me, why is it not possible to alert you when you have been in the Zone? A text message, an email? Surely this is possible but, of course, not profitable, so why would they do it. TFL rely on people being human, so they can get you. Well, they can shove my fifty quid right up their big fat Ethernet port. I hope it makes them happy. Ken, you are a complete C-c-con.

I hate this scheme and I hate the people behind it. Above all, I hate the way it makes me feel. Watched. Powerless. Robbed. Angry.

Thank you for listening. Do send me the bill for the rag to wipe away the bile!

Fifty Quid’s Worth of Bile

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“I’m so vein, you’ll probably think this Blog is about me …”

It’s not often you get an invitation to be a guinea pig in the name of cosmetic science research. A righteous cause if ever there was one. “Rob, do you fancy getting your veins zapped?” asked Sarah Chapman, a dear friend and respected skincare therapist (soon to be tycoon). “Erm, well, super offer, thanks. But are you saying I actually have veins that need to be zapped?” As if I didn’t know.

Now, amongst the legion of freebies I have shamelessly accepted in the course of journalistic enterprise, this has to be one of the oddest. (Actually, a week on the QE2 with Terry Duckworth takes some beating). Naturally, like all well-trained free-loading hacks, I said Yes – although my real motivation, you see, was to help Chapman train a new therapist and had absolutely nothing to do with the red insignia gradually appearing upon my cheeks and nose following years of strenuous bar work.

And, so, I stretched out on a treatment bed at the ‘Skinesis’ clinic in Chelsea, with the sound of clinking crystal from Daphne’s below drifting through the window, while three women examined my face with a special glow lamp to reveal the tracks of my decadent past. Much to my amazement, my broken veins are not bad at all and my fears that I am heading for payback in the shape of a port nose that could light up the Embankment are ill-founded. That’s not to say my hard partying has gone unnoticed. Heaven forbid.

For about 20 minutes, the new assistant deftly ran a laser probe across various patches of my face and nose while I “Ooh’ed” and “Argh’ed” like a wimp at each and every light nip of the skin. And then it was done.

Today, those areas are red and blotchy, like I have had a good go at some spots in the mirror, but by tomorrow they will be gone. And, then, I will be free to go out in pursuit of new badges to represent my partying heart.

OK, call me vain, but at least you won’t call me veiny.

Phew, I’m not so vein afterall

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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.

First Sight of the Proms

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“We apologise for the recent extended Intermission in this Blogging service. This has been due to some much needed technical improvements to Rob McGibbon’s life.

He is now fully rebooted after being installed in a new home, a new office and, indeed, in a new life – as a married man.

Hence, the previous erratic blogging service will start and stop again very soon.

Thank You.”

Intermission Announcement

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A good while back I suggested to Gordon Ramsay’s publicist that his client is in desperate need of new recipe for his flabby, over-cooked public persona. He basically told me to eff off and stop being so stupid.

I was vaguely interested in Ramsay for a short time, long ago, but I knew that distant fascination had turned very sour recently when I was out choosing new crockery. I came across the Ramsay range and raged to my dearly beloved, “There is no way I’m having that git’s branded crap in my house. I would rather smash every one of them and eat off the carpet than have his name under my fucking dinner.” We went for Vera Wang Something-or-Other and Jamie Oliver’s Teflon pans instead. Now, Jamie, he’s a nice, genuine lad, I could cook with him. Ramsay, I would just want to beat to death with the heaviest pan in the collection.

I watched the return of the F-Word to see if it had improved. Starting from such a low heat, it didn’t have far to rise, so I felt it might be better. Oh dear, no. This has got to be the biggest, nastiest dinner any dog has ever been served. Here are a few alternative F-words for this show: Fundamentally Fake, Facile, Faeces.

I wish Gordon well with his empire. No doubt he is a madly driven, great businessman, he might even be a truly brilliant chef, but when it comes to telly, his ridiculous swearing, yobbishness, bullying, bare-chested, vainglorious nonsense is about as appealing as a burger made from manure with a rabid dog’s piss dressing.

Hey, Big Boy, could you do me, Channel 4 and everyone else a big favour and Fuck Right Off?

The answer you are looking for, mate, is: Yes, Chef.

A F-f-few F Words For Gordon

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A few quick steps back to the Blog to let you know I’m still alive. People do worry. All is well. Indeed, I am all-a-jive.

After a week of brash, high volume showbiz ‘n’ media, exchanged over tepid Veuve Clicquot, cold canapes and tickling spit in my ears, I headed to groovier, more wholesome entertainment last Saturday: The Rivoli.

This was an impromptu, last minute call – often the best – and what a night to cherish. The Rivoli dance hall in Brockley is a proud relic of the 1950s, a fragile, time-warped shelter of crushed crimson velvet, flaking fake gold leaf and dust laden ceiling lanterns. But despite the delicate museum nature of its contents, the Rivoli has a strong, passionate beating heart and, on this night, an equally loud swing band.

These days, I would normally require a keg of beer with an oak aged barrel chaser of wine before I start dancing, but I was up there, doing my stuff on the smooth parquet after no more than a sip of Krononbourg (£2.30 a pint. Positively 1950s prices compared to the rip off Royal Borough bars, where it is, I think, £3.40). So, I got to jive with my mum, a couple of sisters and an aunt and another girl picked at random. What a hoot. And what a sweat. The ballroom is tantamount to a tropical gym with spinning and hopping people doing manic five minute interval training sessions. I caught one guy, clearly a dedicated dancer, changing into his third shirt of the night in the loo. “You can’t have too many,” he said sagely.

What you notice most at the Rivoli is the laughter and smiles. The people on the dance floor are a vision of grinning faces, as are those looking on. There is a huge age range – early 20s to 70s, maybe even 80s – and everyone seems bonded by a deep sense of nostalgic innocence and an over-riding quaintness. For a few hours, you are not exactly transported to a time that may have been better – when people, possibly, never had it so good – but you certainly feel happily disconnected, however fleetingly, from the claustrophobic complexities of digitalised life in the 21st century. The modest, threadbare room and simple bar erases all pretension: you can sip a cup of tea here with a bread roll, or tuck into champagne, it’s all fine; guys can ask a girl to dance without appearing to be on the pull. And girls say Yes – they even form a polite queue at one end of the floor. Imagine something similar in a posing modern club. Never.

The Rivoli has a definite, enduring magic. Thankfully, its owner turned down £4 million from McDonald’s to preserve it. Good on him, a modern hero. I was born a few hundred yards away and my mum and dad used to go there in the early ’60s. It was always cheerily pointed out during drives into town when we were kids. Now I have been and I’ve even jived there with mum. Very cool.

Maybe you should go, too. Take your mum. The Rivoli is a delightful departure from wherever you are in 2007. Go. Swing. Sweat. Smile.

Jive’s Alive – and so am I!

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Some pleasing news on the progression of the Sally cards. My March statement from Peartree Heybridge shows we sold 4,260 in our first full month. Pretty good going. The team are so happy that at a meeting in London yesterday we agreed to add four new cards to the range and bring out a branded weekly planner and a spiral notebook. The Sally duvets and liveried Beetle are a year or so away.

Ps: Can I dispense with a few items of clutter in my head from that Easter break?

*My first visit to the boat race was nearly a sinking stinker. My crew got clogged up amongst the mob by the pubs at Hammersmith Bridge, or as I now call it, “Hammered-twats Bridge”. It was choked with people getting so totally wasted that I reckon the Spanish Armada could have sailed by and they wouldn’t have noticed a thing. Why does every sporting event in Britain revolve around people getting blotto? Not that I can talk, mind. Anyway,the day was saved by wading back up (or is it down?) river nearer Fulham. I have to say that it was nothing short of joyous seeing those boats and those fine – and truly blessed – men s’oaring for all their worth. The sun blazed high above the old Harrods Depository and danced over the water as the two boats passed by a few feet apart. A stunning freeze frame image to treasure. (Oh, and the rose wine was cold and delicious, too).

*Gary Lineker seems a decent bloke and he has an amiable enough telly delivery, but he just doesn’t fit with golf and The Masters. Call me a southern jessie but that (Leicestershire?) accent of his irritated me like hell each time his voice over came on to say “The Masss-tas” with some clunking round up. Bring back the smooth, knowledgeable Steve Rider. And will someone tell Peter Aliss to takes his bloody clubs home. Really, enough.

*I got stuck in an hour-plus, eight mile traffic jam on the M23 with the rest of the day out mob on Sunday. Weight of traffic, road works, an accident? No, nothing so predictable. There was a stock car rally on some waste ground by the motorway near Gatwick. No hoarding or screens up, so you had thousands of drivers slowing down for a quick look. There was even a police car there to monitor the jam – with the cops also watching the races. I have never experienced such a ridiculous, annoying, easily avoidable traffic jam. Get the organisers to put up some screens, or it will be a stock car race on the M23 next time.

*I do my bit to be ecologically well behaved, but really, I do despair. What is the bloody point in me putting up energy saving bulbs at home when every single motorway light pylon is at full beam at midday on a sunny day? Give me a break.

Ahh, that’s better. Thank you for sharing all that with me!

Sally On The March

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I’ve never been much of one for doing the giving up stuff for Lent. I’ve always seen it as a bit like those New Year’s resolutions – novelty discipline for the weak willed that is doomed to failure. Well, that’s what always happens to me anyway. And, besides, I live my life by deadlines, so why create yet another one with Lent.

For some reason I found myself giving up things this year. Don’t ask me why. Maybe I am becoming bi-religious-curious, or something. I thought long and hard about what form my hair shirt would take and chose two luxuries I consume regularly and would miss badly: chocolate and beer. Chocolate is always there to cure the boredom and beer finds its way into my life on most days, normally as an instant sedative in the casualty ward (aka: a pub) where I check into after a rubbish day.

Amazingly, I have not had a drop of beer since Lent began. It has been suprisingly easy and quite fulfilling. Discipline is good, I recommend it, although I admit I have drunk probably twice as much wine, so what have I really achieved? I had also not touched chocolate until a few hours ago when I walked past Charbonnel et Walker in Mayfair and was seduced by a man with a tray of champagne truffles. A free truffle? Don’t mind if I do, thank you. Only as that divine, dusted ball disappeared in one gulp did I realise that I had suddenly failed my fast. A moment’s memory lapse and I had messed up, fallen splat with the finishing line in sight. I cursed myself, then went into the shop and bought of few boxes of truffles as presents, which earned me several more freebies. I swallowed them hungrily with pleasure. If you are going to fail, fail with a flourish.

But, I’m still OK on the beer front. I can hold out until Sunday, no problem. So, Easter for me will mean everything. It will mean a big decision – like lager or bitter? Lager and bitter, probably. Very spiritual, I’m sure.

Happy Easter.

Happy Discipline

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A full and varied week has just drawn to a close with a surreal moment.

Now, I’m fairly used to celebrities in my local health club. I’ve had the likes of Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant spread out beside me on the stretching mat and, you know, they wince just like the rest of us folk in the gym.

But it was a slightly more unusual sleb sighting earlier as I stood in the changing room in only my unters watching the cricket. A guy came in, alighted right next to me and stripped off in a flash. It was none other than Ralph Fiennes. Like all good reporters, I made my excuses and looked away.

Now, if I had experienced this a few weeks ago, I might have been minded to annoy Ralph by validating his performance in The English Patient (year?), or more likely for his stunning Hamlet which I witnessed from Row A in Hackney (year? Oh, the memory doth failest me). But, as he stood next to me and we did all we could to avoid eye contact, my mind began racing with a string of disrespectful, inappropriate questions, one of which included: “Hey, Ralph, would you recommend the in-flight entertainment on Qantus?”.

Terrible things, tabloid newspapers. They quite change the way one thinks.

Celebrity Changing Rooms

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The hangover has just about cleared and I am wondering what I can report from the British Press Awards. The reason I’m slightly at a loss is that it was quite a dignified, if not muted, affair. Quite extraordinary, really, when you consider the Great Room was packed with around 700 journalists. But, I’m sure it is better this way than the feral rattle pit of the Hilton in years gone by.

Press Gazette did a fine job and I think the winners were a fair and balanced reflection of talent and achievements. Certainly, I was satisfied with the outcomes in my two judging categories – Scoop and Interviewer (Daily Mirror’s Prezza Affair and the Daily Telegraph’s Jan Moir respectively). I feel that Robert Crampton deserved a commendation – he is an excellent interviewer and writer who had a good year – and I was relieved that the Sunday Times won Team of the Year for their cash for honours expose, which evened out missing the Scoop award.

I was delighted for Roger Alton. He has worked wonders with The Observer, but deep down I felt the Mirror had shaded it and had been my pick for a stand out year. I understand that Roger modestly, graciously said as much, too, but the Mirror had plenty to cheer about.

The award winning drunk of the night was won hands down by Nick Cohen who hugged me like a long-lost brother (we’ve never met) while glugging white wine with an unquenchable thirst. Lord knows how he felt the next day.

But one of the highlights of my night has to be an impassioned chat with *******************. I don’t remember a single bloody word of it. Now that’s what I call a result!

British Press Awards

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I don’t want you thinking that I’m some Wembley groupie or anything, but here’s a quick chip in following a second visit for the U21’s game against Italy.

This time I got to mix with the mob by going on the Tube and walking up Wembley Way, then sit in the family area. There is definitely a sense that the new Wembley is being easily accepted with a similar, if not greater degree of affection and mysticism as was afforded to the old gaff. People were excitedly yelling into mobiles that they were there, or posing for pictures. There were plenty of grumbles, too, about the food prices. And there was a visible sense of shock in the gents loos when some bloke (probably mistakenly) started the hot air hand dryers. They are tuned to such a volume and force that you feel you suddenly on the tarmac nearing a charter flight to the Balearics.

I did further seating research by wandering around the stadium checking out views and there doesn’t seem to be a particularly bad seat in the house, although I have some reservations about the press box. It is neat and functional and obviously brilliantly placed, but it is a little bit cramped. I fear for the comfort of some of Fleet Street’s more fuller figured scribes when they try to squeeze their indulged forms into the fixed swing chairs. Actually, I don’t give a toss. I hope they get chronic cramp as they watch some of the best football from the best seats in the house, the lucky bastards!

Certainly, all seems more than well for Wembley. One thing for sure made me realise I was back came when a sneering, pot-marked weasel stood in front of me and snarled: “Ticket? You need a ticket?” We had a momentary chat and he offered me a £10 ticket for £60 – “OK, giss’a a bullseye.” Yes, of course, please let me. Then I heard another lizard from the abyss hiss: “‘eds up, Frank. Old bill.”

Some things never change.

Wembley 2

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I will quickly go back in time and give you a squint at last night’s Premiere of Dr Who, the 3rd series. The word “premiere” seems a bit grand for a TV sci-fi show, but I guess we’re in National Treasure territory.

Certainly, there was quite a media scrum when I arrived at the Mayfair Hotel. Late, I turned up just as David Tennant and new girl Freema Agyeman arrived. We walked in together, past the pack of paps and adoring Who fans. I expect they have a proper group name. One – with teeth from the middle ages and hair specially doused in Castrol GTX for the occasion – asked for my autograph. Such is fame. He must have thought I was an alien from the new show. Did he think I was in, or out of costume? I would like to think he was in.

There were a few faces there who appear in various guises of the new series. Dawn French, Michelle Collins, Catherine Tate, Roy Marsden. You know, the domestic loved ones from the BBC archives. The booze was red/white plonk from Oz, beer, and the spread of food was, um, pistachio nuts. Yes, on their own. I expect the Beeb believes these nuts will be all humans will need to survive in the future.

Jonathan Ross – there with all his family – sat behind me for the screening of the first two episodes and …

more follows later. I need to pop out to the 1860s…

(Well, I can tell you – the 1860s aren’t all they were cracked up to be. Where was I…)

… I do admire the man’s enthusiasm. He clapped and cheered and wriggled in his seat like an over-excited 10 year old, getting up for the loo twice, loudly scoffing two tubs of popcorn etc. The Ross family en masse are quite crew. Full of fun and affection, they seem to throw themselves into a party. Mum Jane even smuggled the newest edition to clan into the screening under her coat – a tiny puppy called Sweeney. I’m not good on dogs, me, but it was one of those little bug-eyed ones with bandy legs. I think the old dear in EastEnders had one sometime last century.

Anyway, back to the Tardis. I was a Dr Who fan in my younger years. Jon Pertwee, the Brigadier and the Master was my time. I remember liking the dinosaurs and London scenes, but I was never a really Who-spod. (What are they bloody called?) I interviewed Jon once, over a Thai lunch in Soho in around 199-not-so-sure. Hilarious. I also interviewed his son Sean a couple of times back in The Chancer years in 199-oh-I-don’t know. A good bloke.

Anyway, back to the new series. I haven’t seen a single shot of the recent revival. Can’t see the point, really, not on my sonic radar, so I came into this way off-the-pace. It’s very good, a real inter-galactic romp with wit and action, as well as – naturally – a plot that never changes. I liked Tennant, although I suspect his arching eyebrow and beady eyeball will become quite tiring by Ep13.

The special effects are very good, but I can’t help thinking that this new Dr Who is almost too good. I’m sure that is a well-aired, weary complaint from my generation, all dewy eyed for wobbly sets and badly painted table tennis balls. But, actually, I don’t yearn for any of that tat, it’s just that all this blue-screen digital enhancement smothers natural imagination. Terry Gilham made such a point, far better than me, at a fantastic lecture at the Artworkers Guild recently.

But there I go, drifting back to the past again. Time for the present.

Dr Who, 3rd series Premiere

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The morning haze drifted over me while I listened to the brilliant John Humprheys get precisely nowhere with Gordon “Uncle Joe” Brown and it reminded me of a previous post.

By repeating myself, I am in danger of sounding like a politician, but let me put this to you, if I may, in the clearest of terms: What really is the fucking point in interviewing Gordon Brown?

Purge these thankless political interviews. Now.

And let me put this to you, too . . .

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Two very quick little tips.

Dinner last night at Cafe du Marche in Smithfields was, well, merveilleux. It was my first visit to its downstairs restaurant, Le Grenier. Four us. A bottle of Montagny 1er Cru helped us through some fine starters. Mine was faultless fish soup. Then my mate and I chomped like ravenous game reserve beasts through a spectacular, bloody cote de boeuf – it is made for two – with a bottle of Chateau Sarget St Julien 2000. The girls had skate wings and venison. Pear tart to finish for me. A duo on piano and double bass tinkled and plucked away sweetly in the background. A cosy venue on a freezing night. Immaculate service, no attitude and no needless frills. Allez!

Something I forgot to mention: the small but perfectly formed collection of Gwen John’s work is worth a squint at Browse and Darby in Mayfair. I went to the private view last week. Her light, pencil portraits and drawings – torn from pages of sketch pads she probably meant never to be exhibited – are like whispers from her mind. Her work is in short supply. It’s not exactly expensive, so why not drop in and buy something, if there’s anything left, that is.

In case you have been wondering, my first canvas is nearly finished and will be exhibited here soon. Thrilling, non?

En passant . . .

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It was good to be back at Wembley on Saturday. I say “back” because it gifts me the chance to throw in a favourite anecdote fom the annals of my (insert an adjective of your choice) life. By all means skip the next par or two.

The last time I was at Wembley was in November 1999 when I scored the winning goal in the final of a cup competition. Do let that sink in. This puts me in a very rare club. I make no apology for this shameless boast, although it does need a touch of earthing, some qualification.

The final was in a media game. Twenty minutes each way with every player pulling up regularly to gasp for air, hands on hips and face to the scared Wembley turf, before limply booting another misguided pass. I was a ringer for the News of the World and we had got through various rounds to play GQ in the final. I was up front. I can still see all the “action” of my goal now. It was as if it happened in slow motion. In fact, at our pitiful, schoolboy-strength of play, it was slow motion.

In the first half, a cross came over from the right and one of my brilliant team mates – let’s call him Pele – headed it back across the goal. Well, it ricocheted off his shoulder and he fell over, as if hit by a sniper. The ball bounced ahead of me in the six yard box and seemed to freeze. It was an invitation to immortality. A ball, a few yards from me, in front of a goal, at WEMBLEY. I lunged for all I was worth, the keeper scrambled, but I managed to connect with the ball first with toe and studs and gave it a desperate little poke. It dribbled into the right corner, barely troubling the string of the net. But it was a goal. Ultimately, the goal. The crowd (can you call 100-max in a stadium a crowd? OK, the gathering) went wild. The commentator called out my number (8) on the Tannoy and then, after a pause as he looked me up on the team sheet, my name echoed – literally – around the hallowed stadium.

My celebrations were curtailed. There was no excited, fatty-boy jog to the fans because in my desperation to stretch and score I had ripped my right hamstring to shreds. In total agony, I could hardly walk and immediately had to go off. (The sub was the NoTW’s “official” striker and he has – quite seriously – hated me to this day for stealing what he considered his moment in history). Whatever the merits of my skill, that was the goal wot won it. We followed our inspirational player/manager, Jimmy O’Leary, up the famous steps to collect the trophy – bizarrely, a shiny ice bucket – from Geoff Hurst and Jimmy Greaves. Cheers and bubbles in the famous bath and songs and beer on the coach home to Wapping in suits provided by Burton. Thank you for sharing this with me.

Anyway, as I was saying, I was back at Wembley for the community day, and what a stadium. It really is vast, wonderful, and even beautiful, as much as concrete and red seats can be. Even with no more than 20,000 watching a celebrity kick-a-bout, the noise when something happened was tremendous. The steep-sided Coliseum-like bowl seems to make the noise twirl and whoosh up over the crowd with huge force. When full, the atmosphere will be extraordinary and will make your heart pound. I will be back there again on Saturday for the Under 21’s and will report back.

Naturally, there were a few teething problems on this opening day, although it seems unfair to dwell on them. I queued for 45 minutes for fish and chips at a food bar that resembled Gatwick on a strike-hit bank holiday. I gave up when it was clear I had another half an hour to go, so I settled for a bag of crisps (Walkers SnV Big Bag, £1.50). Later I climbed to row 45 of the upper tier to check out the view from what I guess will be the worst seat in Wembley – and one any self-respecting ligging hack hopes never to occupy. Such is the altitude, I half expected to see Ralph Fiennes cavorting with one of the ticketing stewards. Oddly enough, the view of the game is not that bad up there. Maybe, it was an optical illusion caused by lack of oxygen.

During my descent, I stumbled across a queue-less snack stand and returned to my comfy executive seat with a piping hot and surprisingly tasty spicy chicken pie. I then enjoyed seeing Brian McFadden pull a hamstring and my old mate Chris Evans in left back fall on his arse and let a player through to score. A pie on the terraces at Wembley while watching rubbish football. Wonderful. As I said, it was good to be back.

The Wembley Coliseum

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Amusing news that my dear old, cuddly leperchaun (sic) pal Louis Walsh is writing his autobiography. Note the pay off to the story. The Sun are hoping for serial rights, then.

So, Louis has decided to spike the chapter slagging off Ronan Keating because he has finally blagged him into reforming Boyzone. As is always the case in showbiz, nothing heals old wounds quicker than the sniff of cash. I admit, I’m a little surprised at Ronan. Not more than a year ago, he vented his spleen to me about Louis and seemed certain never speak to the man again.

But it’s commendable to bury grudges – good on them – and to celebrate I think I will do a tie-in release of my own and bring out a bootleg of my interview with Ro’ and link it to the blog. It has some great lyrics, including the unforgettable line “The man’s a fucking bull-shitter.”. You see, it’s important everyone cashes in with a boy band. In fact, I think I might mash my single with the music to ‘Father And Son’. (Idea spark – new lyrics on the way..!)

Anyways, I wish them alldebest, although I think their hopes of replicating Take That’s comeback are wide of the mark. Still, it’s good that Louis is busy once again now that his X-Factor days are over. Just think, all that effort he must be putting in to working out which cover version Boyzone should do first. I’m telling yee, yer man’s a genius.


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In general, I loathe reality TV and avoid it like corked wine, but Comic Relief Does The Apprentice, Part I, was a vintage treat, the sommelier’s pick. It can’t really get much better, so I knocked it back in one heady, happy gulp.

Early on, I nearly had to call for an ambulance, such was the force of my laughter convulsion when I saw the owl-eyed horror in Rupert Everett’s face as he suddenly appreciated the reality of being in a room with Piers Morgan and Alastair Campbell. It was like the world’s fluffiest, most mollycoddled poodle falling from a great height, shaking itself off only to find it had landed in a sealed pen with two ravenous pit bulls salivating upon its arrival.

Rupert complained of lacking dialogue without a screenwriter’s folios, but, really, the sheer, unintentional brilliance of the comedic lines he delivered in those early exchanges beat anything he has ever brought to us on the screen. It was only later, when my wanton cruelty was highlighted by someone less infected with media cynicism, that I had a touch of sympathy for him, the poor, vulnerable, messed up, ex-heroin whacking, tranny-shagging, thesp.

It all got quite embarrassing for most of the cast and looked like being a telly car crash. Our well-meaning celebrities had clearly not considered just how revealing it might be. Almost naturally, they all started behaving like a set of spoilt luvvies, as far removed emotionally from Africa as their Mayfair Hotel penthouse suites were geographically.

The fight-scene was cringe-worthy, but came with a priceless denouement: “Undignified” Trinny’s weepy melt-down. Medication, please. Extra dose. Trinny is clearly a fully paid up member of the Fucked Up Club and as finely balanced as a door with its hinges attached only by the last thread of one screw. Sobbing over being called undignified? Do a day in a newsroom, luv, and you’ll take that as high praise. And then there was Cheryl Tweedy-Cole, who doesn’t eat fish “anyways”, but has a brain like one.

The undoubted star of the show had to be Morgan, the “Human Dick On Legs” (Copyright: Maureen Lipman). As a (say it quietly) long-time friend of the celebrated chronicler of badly recalled memories, I am use to dispatching lacklustre reviews to him for his television appearances. But this was probably Morgan’s finest TV hour. (Well, obviously, there are degrees of “fine”, as we will soon discover with “Britain’s Got Talent”.)

Always unsparingly competitive and enthusiastic, Morgan was up for the task from the off. He got stuck in, grafted and made the boys tick. Although that didn’t it add up to much, cash-wise. He doesn’t give a stuff about the egos of his fellow stars and gladly baits them. Fair play to him for all of that. Best of all, he got stuck into Campbell, a haunted stress ball who was trying so hard to appear contained and in control that he looked close to self-combustion. Apparently, their face-to-face combat hits ferocious levels tonight.

Well, it took a problem as big as Africa to give Morgan’s television career some warmth and humour. I only hope he made a sizeable contribution to Comic Relief. As for Rupert Everett – the Hollywood star who hates cameras and doesn’t know anyone – I’m not sure his career, lofty coolness, or A-list standing will ever be quite the same. Poor dear.

Comic Relief Does The Apprentice

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This is probably not going to mean much to most of you …

During a mid-week, pre-recycling collection day, high-speed flip through of my weekend newspaper supplements – a lazy reading timescale only available in hackland to those without desks to answer to or PAYE to collect – I contentedly nibbled, as always, on AA Gill’s Table Talk.

In his piece about Awana, he writes amusingly about taking a pee and I couldn’t help but recall the moment when the great man, he of pulchritudinous prose, goitred with soliped leitmotifs, crenellation and spittle, took one next to mee.

Now, don’t go thinking that AA is near the top of my all time best “Who took a piss next to you?” list, or anything, but it was a stand out (ooer) moment in the incalculable history of pissing moments. There I was, at Stamford Bridge at half time – must be three-plus years ago now – and he took up position at the bowl next to me. Gave me quite a fright. No, not that, just him, being so near, in a donkey jacket, chewing gum speedily, open-mouthed.

And, you know what, afterwards he didn’t wash his hands! Now, I can forgive any man for not washing his hands at a football stadium loo. Touch only what belongs to you in such a hub of effluvia, although, out of habit I managed to catch the end trail of water from an auto tap pressed by someone else, before slipping out the door, also activated by another. But AA strode out with not so much as a glimpse at the sinks and it made me wonder, as you do. So few blokes bother, you see.

Anyway, don’t let this put you off AA. I’m sure he is as rawly scrubbed as a surgeon when he’s at the tables of SW3 and W1. I read his latest book ‘Previous Convictions’ recently and it was excellent. So good in fact that it sent me back to ‘AA Gill Is Away’ which is even better.

It would be wrong of me to end my review of AA in the loo without delivering some degree of criticism. When I was doing the Press Gazette beat last year, I put in several requests for an interview – directly to him through the Sunday Times and also through his publicist at Orion. I have had ‘No’s’ from the best and the busiest of them, and it is never a problem. Letting a hack know the score is all that matters, we move on quickly. But there was never so much as a ‘No Thank You’ from AA or his people’s people.

In my book, that really is taking the piss.

Rating: One Star. AA Spill

AA . . . On The Piss

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So Louis Walsh has been booted off X-Factor by Simon Cowell. At last, a sensible reverse “talent” spotting decision. How on earth did it take so long? If only ITV had put the eviction to a phone line vote, it would have made a fortune without any complaints.

And Kate Thornton has gone, too, although I can’t think what else she could have done to present it better. Anyway, only one more person to go – Shazza – and X-Factor might even be watchable.

Ah, Louis, so many happy memories …

Xit Louis. See ya.

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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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Well, I can faithfully report that there was some very healthy and, ahem, robust debating at the Press Association HQ in London yesterday at the final stages of judging for the British Press Awards. Certainly, in my two categories – Scoop and Interviewer – we were all able to absolutely agree on one thing: the quality of all the entrants. There you go, some nice, super-safe, inter-industry puff for you.

But, in all seriousness, an extremely fine thread exists in all categories between the best and the next best when you get down to the short-short list, as was the case yesterday. Like all other judges, I don’t know the final out-come for any of the awards. But I am certain that there will be some cheers as well as some jeers – hopefully, gracefully muted – when everyone convenes at the Grosvenor House on 26th March.

I am confident that there will be no decision that cannot be straightened out between opposing sides by pointing champagne flutes at five paces…

We’re all winners! Yeah, right.

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Well, not the easiest of weeks in my Island life, it has to be said. It has sped by in a blur of enthusiastic hustling, idea pitching, planning, talking, stalking, waiting. All part of riding the freelancing beast.

My eyes are red and watery from staring at this screen and it feels like a jagged chunk of metal is stuck in the right side of my neck. All I want now is a slow, deep massage in a hot climate followed by a cold, colourful cocktail with an orange sunset to gaze at. Oh, well, I’ll have to settle for a workout, a sauna and a pint in the local. The only trouble being that I have given up beer for Lent. As if life isn’t fucking hard enough.

Anyway, I haven’t stopped by to grumble. Plenty of things have gone right this week and it has drawn to a close on a pleasant note, which got me thinking. Always dangerous.

I received my first statement for the “Sally” cards today, which came as something of a shock, to put it mildly. As someone familiar with the accounting systems of newspapers, magazines and book publishers, I am used to, at best, chasing my money for several months, or – as is the case with books – waiting a year or more while some bastard in accounts works out every algebraic permutation that means the company keeps my royalties.

Amazingly, this is not the case in the card business. No. At the end of each month, they – the distributor Peartree Heybridge – have the bloody cheek to tell me, very simply, how many cards they have sold and then pay me my cut. Quite extraordinary. The Sally cards have been out for just three weeks and she has already sold 3,332. By my mathematically backward mind, that’s a touch over 3K a week. I’m not saying I am in for a fortune, but it is a healthy beginning from a standing start. Who knows…

Now, I have long thought that the accounting systems in the newspaper and publishing businesses are archaic – and that’s me being polite. Newspapers generally pay monthly plus a week, if you are lucky, but you usually miss a month’s pay run so you wait two. In the days of computers, why can’t they start trying to pay the day after publication, or upon invoicing, or weekly? But, come on, why would they?

It is the publishing business, however, that takes the Garrick’s butter soaked shortbread. It pays twice a year based on a system that is stuck in the days when books were printed with hot metal and delivered by steam trains and steaming horses. This insane, appalling system is an insult to authors worldwide and weighted in the favour of publishers to suit their cash flow. But these companies are book creators, not glorified banks designed to hold onto hard earned royalties. They have fancy computers and EPOS systems, so they know who sold what, when and for how much. Why the wait?

Authors unite, start a revolution and make them pay quicker. Because, if the high volume, low margin, card business can cough up right away, then why the hell can’t all the others pay?

Ok, I know, I’m dreaming. It’s been a long week. Adieu.

Sum ******* Week!

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Hmmm, schadenfreude, an ugly, self-defeating emotion that saps the purity from one’s own soul. Resist it, beat it back at all times and you shall live a healthier, more fulfilled life. A wise person told me that with a gentle smile when I was younger.

The trouble is, I have one recurring subject that is defeating all that worthy anti-schadenfreude philosophy: The London 2012 Olympics.

I saw the headline on the front of the Evening Standard yesterday screaming that the Games could now cost up to £10 billion and I felt a strange, unwanted flutter of joy. How bizarre, why on earth should I feel like that?

I am actually a moderate supporter of the Games and believe in their positive effects for the country. I get all emotional – a little absurdly at times, it has to be said – watching people win in sport generally, especially during the Olympics. So, deep down, I want London 2012 to be a huge success.

The thing is, every time I see a bad headline about 2012 I think of the day last October when I interviewed Lord Seb Coe. The resulting piece was widely read within media circles and became quite popular, not least because I drew attention to the unwanted attendance of Jackie Brock-Doyle, Seb’s Director of Communications, during the interview.

Seb and Jackie made unnecessarily heavy weather of what should have been a straight forward interview. I wasn’t there to stitch anyone up, but she behaved ridiculously and it bounced badly for them.

Now, whenever I read about another set back for 2012, I get this vision of Seb and Jackie, up there in their skyscraper glass office, with the British media throwing stones at them. And I think, Ahhh, it couldn’t happen to a nicer couple.

As I said, schadenfreude, is a terrible thing. But we all have our weaknesses.

10 Billion Bad Headlines

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Fresh from my dispiriting flight of fantasy to the Oscars, I bring you a more earthly trophy polishing event: The British Press Awards.

I have the honour – and I genuinely mean that, folks, in the most unshowbizzy fashion – of being a judge again in these awards. The shortlist of entrants has just been announced on the Press Gazette website.

For the past couple of weeks I have been judging the submissions from the long-list of entrants for two categories – Interviewer of the Year and Scoop of the Year. It is a testing and time consuming task, and one that I conduct with a considerable sense of responsibilty and pressure, as well as pride.

The work that is produced by the nation’s hacks is quite awe-inspiring. I have been a journalist for 22 years now – I’ve got the neck ache and thinning knuckle cartilage to prove it – and all except one year has been spent writing for the national newspapers. It is a career that is as rewarding as it is exasperating.

But, it is when you get a chance to really examine, professionally, impartially, what is achieved day-in, day-out across our newspapers that you really see the broad and brilliant talent that blesses our rags.

Steady on, mate. I really mustn’t turn this into a complete kiss-kiss love-in. Any hack worth a round of drinks would take the piss and suspect I was angling for an extra drink at the Grosvenor. All I want to say is this:

On Scoops: the newspapers of this country produce more stories than anywhere else in the world. These stories set the agendas of TV and radio stations, magazines and websites in every corner of the planet. They ALL feed off us. Collectively, our newspapers are amazing.

On Interviewing: I know a lot about this beat. I’ve done it for virtually my entire career and I can tell you that it is often a labour-intensive, up-at-dawn, pride-swallowing siege (if I may bastardise a movie line). The quality of the content and prose in this year’s long-list entrants (30 of ’em) was exceptional. Only five writers make it to next week’s second round of judging.

But why on earth am I bothering to say this? Er, not sure really, except to maybe poke the ribs of the clueless, spoilt cynics, often the casual readers, who pick up a newspaper and too easily slag off the devoted work of the journalists who made it all happen.

Journalism is a tough career and one that is hardly well paid. These awards are a worthy reminder of the incredible work that is achieved each year in this business. Bravo to all those entrants.

All that said, mine’s a large one. I thenk you!

The British Press Awards

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Well, another year gone and another bloody speech I didn’t get to make at the bloody Oscars.

I don’t know, it’s all a tad irritating, isn’t it? I mean, how many ceremonies have I got left in me? You know, some of the key people I need to thank might be among the departed if I faff around much longer.

Let’s face it, my own personal little screenplay – my, y’know, “jooourney” – is actually unreeling in a very UN-Hollywood way. I should have been up there – F-A-C-T – years ago. People say that my dear pal from the neighborhood Marty (Legendary director Martin Scorsese to you lot) – has waited too long, that it was his turn, his night. Well, screw that, you muthas. What about ME? Where’s my little friggin’ gold man and goodie bag of diamonds?

To cap my disappointment, I’ve just read an acceptance speech online in MY category only to discover that some nobody bloke from Nowheresville has only gone and nicked the name of my lead character. Hmmm. There’s only so much I shall take.

OK, enough. I’ll take a chill pill, rise above it all. The Oscars, what a hoot. I feel obliged to stop by, blog-style, and acknowledge “the most glamorous night in the whole-wide-world”. I only dipped in with an hour – OK, OK, I’ll admit to two – on the “E” Channel. I was expecting to see that insufferable idiot Ruby Twatx presenting. Yes, she with the poorly pirated copy of a sense of humour. Imagine my relief to see she wasn’t there – I was able to remove the iron grill I always put across the screen when she is on to deflect the bottles of Bud – so I stayed. Ryan Wotshisname from American Idol was very good. The right pitch. And that gazing gay guy (or as Hero of the Hour Marty would label, “that fockin’ faggot” – a disgusting term I would never validate) was mesmerizing. It was like watching a fully camped up, 21st Century, politically corrected Action Man having his voice cord pulled every once in a while. His occasional side-kick was a bag of bones in a red dress hoping to grow up one day to be a Size 0.

Anyway, I’ve gotta dash, I have parties to go to. I have decided to give it all a wide berth next year. As any self-respecting, lying celebrity will tell you, it is all trivial nonsense … until of course you are nominated. Yes, I’m staying away, like Sean Penn. He boldly said, “The Oscars? I’d be embarrassed to be there.” Until of course, he totally milked his standing ovation for Mystic River a few years later. Cooool.

Right, back to my speech … am I out of time? Can I just say a few Thank Yous? Pleeease. Most of all, I’d like to thank the one person who has stood by me through all the years of struggle blogging about the speech I didn’t get to make about the book that didn’t get published and then didn’t get made into that great movie starring…


And the Oscar doesn’t BLOODY go to …

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It has been a long, thankless and quite brutal week in my world of interviewing. I hit a red light, next to a giant Stop sign in a cul de sac that ended with a 1,000ft sheer drop. I will spare you the details – for now – but I can speak from years of experience, not just the past few days, to deeply sympathise with John Humphrys this morning.

His much yearned-for and keenly plugged face-to-face with Prime Minister Tony Blair on Radio 4’s Today programme has just faded from the hi-fi in my office. To be honest, I nearly didn’t make it through, despite Humphrys sterling efforts. The reason: I found the entire talk annoying, frustrating, predictably fruitless. It wound me UP!

You need a fighting chance with any subject to get a decent interview, no matter your skill. Few are better at it than Humphrys. But if a subject is interminably dull, like the “superstar” who defeated me this week, or impossibly intransigent, like Blair, then you haven’t got a hope in hell. No amount of guile or charm will work. No killer question will provide an answer worth hearing. Either there ain’t nothin’ to get, or they ain’t got nothin’ to give.

So, let me put this to you, if I may, in the clearest of terms: What really is the fucking point in interviewing Tony Blair?

Let me put this to you…

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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.

My Verdict: GUILTY. The lot of ’em.

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Hmmm. A rare moment to post something of a lighter note, something more up beat. You know, that’s the trouble with this blogging gig, it is all too easy and obvious for it to simply become a whinge machine, a place to vent thy spleen. It’s a shame really because you just end up sounding like – and feeling like – an angry old grouch, that nothing is all that good, when indeed most of the time you really do look on the brighter side…

News that The Police are reforming to tour again brought back a happy memory. My first concert was to see them. I’ve just had to check the actual date – I’m not a spod for things like that. (Two clicks and I found that date. Still amazing, isn’t it?) So, on the 22nd December 1979, I saw Sting and the other two at Lewisham Odeon. The concert was a major treat after one of my sisters – Ali – had queued from 5am at Capital Radio and swapped some toys for some tickets. I think it must have been the earliest days of Help A London Child.

When I was picked up from boarding school for the Christmas holidays and told by her that I was going to see The Police, well, that moment of elation is still a freeze frame in my head. A real, grown up concert. I was 14. OK, I have no doubt there are better, more dangerous, rarer “first concert” anecdotes, but for me it was, Wow.

My singular lasting image of that night – incredible that only one survives – is Sting singing Roxanne. We had good seats, central, me standing on mine. When he hit the chorus the entire theatre lit up red. And there was Sting, immersed in this red glow. Hell, I wanted to be a rock star.

I’ve just flipped through a normally detailed diary from 1979 – a diary was the spleen venting equivalent of a blog during boarding school – and I’m a little gutted to find no entry for 22nd December. You see, I was too busy having fun to write. (Now there’s a lesson!) But on the 23rd there’s a couple of lines, asterixed from after Christmas detailing presents received etc. It says: “I bought a really nice pair of black Pointed shoes with the money grandad gave me. With wooden heel, leather soles and leather uppers”.

I may have just seen The Police, but what I didn’t know then was that becoming a semi-Mod and seeing The Jam at The Rainbow awaited…

The Police

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Now, don’t get me started….

I am typing with trembling hands and gritted teeth as I try to calm an all-consuming impotent rage.

This is the final week of life as I and countless thousands of others know it in West London. The countdown is ticking before the man whose name I can only snarl – lying, sneering Ken Livingston – lets loose his latest con to cause mass-scale disruption and frustration to everyday folk doing their best to get on in this unforgiving city. I am referring, of course, to the Western CON-gestion Charge Extension Zone.

I don’t know what to do with my anger, so all I am left with is to spit a few pitiful pars into the ether. Quietly, in my head, I want to start a revolution, inspire the mob to destroy the cameras and bring this imminent fiasco to an abrupt end, but how can you do that? I have been on the marches, written the letters, filled out the questionnaires. Nada. No-one, least of all, King Ken Con, could give a flying toss. It is all about to happen, despite the opposition and agreed wisdom that it is pure folly.

The thing is, I am actually on the upside of this mess. I live inside the zone – you know, in “rich” Chelsea – so I will get the 90% residents discount. I am lucky. So, what are you complaining about, I hear you ask? Ugh! Just everything about this scheme’s appalling undemocratic implementation. Then there is the physical and psychological stuff – those ugly, sinister cameras that have gone up all over the borough, about to watch you, take your picture, monitor your life; those big fat ugly red “C’s” burnt into the roads; the big ugly red warning signs drilled into the pavements; the big fat ugly queues of cars that will squeeze into the few side streets available to escape the charge; then the big fat ugly car park that will soon be on the few roads looping the zone. All because Ken Con said it should be so. How I loathe his power.

I feel exasperated that yet more expensive bureaucracy is about to blight my life. The days when I could pop up in the car to my bank on the Kings Road, the shoe shop, or the library with only the traffic and the lottery of finding a parking space to worry about are gone. Now I will have to be organised and pay the charge in advance, or remember to pay it later. How many times will I forget and cop a hefty fine? And because I live right by the no-charge loop, it will take me forever to get past the seething, desperate souls trying to avoid the eight quid charge. Arghh. As if life isn’t irritating enough.

Hell, it pisses me off. Oh, and one more thing. You know the 90% discount us residents get? Well, that’s a lie, too. They won’t let you pay 80p to go into the zone once. Oh, no, they say it’s not possible to account for such a small sum. It’s not viable. Huh, and this from a company that can photograph and bill thousands upon thousands of cars in the blink of an eye. No, us residents, have to buy five day’s worth at £4 quid.

Well, I don’t want drive into the zone every day, so my quick trip up the road will now cost four quid and some planning and care just so I don’t screw up. Handy, all that. ******* *****.

To be bloody continued…

King Ken Con

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Well, two long years and three months after I had a simple idea to bring out a quick range of greetings cards, they are here. May I introduce… SALLY!

So, who is Sally and what does she do? Well, she’s a free-spirited young woman who approaches the challenges of life with unbridled enthusiasm, but all too often things don’t work out the way she had hoped. Nevertheless, she deals with it all with her own special brand of irreverent humour. In some way, I hope that Sally echoes what women really think. (Not that I would profess to have any special insight into that particular science).

Generally, I find the cards on the market a bit dull, old hat or plain stupid. And often they are unnecessarily cynical. Call me over-sensitive, but have you seen those ranges where they use old black and white photos of people – someone’s loved one, long since dead – and simply add a nasty, cynical caption? They piss me OFF!

Well, it’s good to get that out of my system. Moving on. I hope that Sally is a welcome and fun addition to the cards shops. They have been launched to the trade during the Spring Fair at the Birmingham NEC over the last few days and the feedback has been very good. So, Sally should be in a card shop near you soon.

Sorry, I must dash, I have Disney on the phone wanting to talk about the movie rights to Sally …

[Drum roll] May I introduce … SALLY!

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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.

Loseur Theroux

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Apologies for my blogging absence but I have been in rehab’. I had been acting a bit stupid lately, you know, gobbing off at people, seeking publicity, so my manager checked me into the Priory for an obnoxiousness detox and a nice new sheen on my image. I’ve gotta say, for fifteen grand it was a bargain. Watch out for the new me next week on all the comfy daytime TV sofas. And also on 18DS on Monday evening.


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So, Jade Goody has received serious shock treatment for her acute bullying and racism symptons. It was delivered homeopathically – the medical philosophy of treating “like-with-like” – so she got severely bullied by the rest of the world and its media. And me. I’m sure it was richly deserved, but anyone who is genuinely against bullying must have winced at the sight of her falling apart beneath the nation’s glare and glee. She cut a pitiful figure during the Davina McCall interview, no matter how soft it was. The News of the World Q&A interview was also toe-curling in its pleading. But the video footage of that interview, played constantly on Sky, digital was excruciating and sad. She sobbed her heart out. It was like watching a five year old, who had been told off beyond all proportion to her deed, hyperventilating her way into a desperate frenzy to say sorry. Please, enough apologies, although I think that was only the beginning. Any continued Jade witch-hunt would obviously be absurd and unfair. She has had a tough enough kicking. I can’t help thinking that the experience might even be good for her in the long run. You know, in a personal development kind of way, but who knows. I won’t hold my breath.

Oh, to be a fly on the wall in her agent John Noel’s office these past days. (Take a look at the intro to that website). It would be fascinating to hear the discussions and ideas being floated to re-boot the Jade “brand”. I bet Noel has never worked harder for his 20%. It was reported yesterday that Jade could fly to India next week, although apparently her visa application is on hold and being discussed at the “highest levels”. I pray to the big, racially neutral and politically correct poppadom god in the sky that the trip goes ahead. It could provide some of the most unintentionally funny copy, photo shoots and headlines of any envoy mission from the British Empire. As Jade is greeted by an angry mob (well, five bemused passers-by and 200 journalists), I think the papers will have a field day, from the red tops involved in the big money (all to charity, mind) buy-up, to the serious diplomatic writers of the heavies. What chance The Sun will come up with something along the lines of “Jade Tikka-d Off By India”?

The D-Star Of India

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URGENT PERSONAL PUBLICITY WARNING. Please be aware that the following blog features a Blatant Plug for a product created by and owned by me with the sole intention to begin promoting it herewith. In the world of journalism and PR, this would be described as “pre-publicity” because the products are not even out yet. Please do not read on if you are easily offended by bare-faced publicity that is not masked by someone pretending to talk about something else while holding up a CD, a book, or reciting the booking number for a theatre. What follows is unrefined, arm-over-the-shoulder, self-back-slapping publicity.

I have just got the first retail order for ‘SALLY’, my first and utterly brilliant greeting card range. It has come from the equally brilliant card shop chain Paper Passions which will display these delightfully wry and irreverently amusing cards at its Kings Road branch and other London outlets. Considering that Paper Passions is the first shop I have approached, I am delighted to report a 100% success rate. I am mildly excited, which is an emotion I keep to a minimum in moments of baseless optimism. ‘Sally’ will become a global brand (no irony intended) soon after she is officially launched at the utterly brilliant Spring Fair trade show at Birmingham’s NEC on 3rd February.

Talking exclusively to his own tape recorder, Rob McGibbon garbled: “I am delighted to be successfully aligned with such an iconic – if, as yet unknown – creation as ‘Sally’ and fully believe that in Paper Passions we have found genuine cross-fertilised synchronicity with oceans of blue sky ahead of us for this venture. Most of all I would like to thank…” Drrrrrrrrrrrr. LOW BATT.

Sally Cards Plug

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Apologies for my absence, but I’ve been upto my elbows in the silt of my life while clearing out my loft. Heck, the things one keeps and what a bizarre high-speed slide show it is, going through the fragments of your yesteryears. But that subject is for another day. I simply need to quickly blog by on the big bother at Big Brother.

I have traditionally hated BB. I don’t watch it, apart from the odd dip in, like watching my old friend (well, 53!) Carole Malone make her dignified exit. But generally, I don’t watch because I don’t like the way BB makes me feel; it’s all that voyeurism, all those posers, idiots, and all that boredom. I get enough of that interviewing celebrities, so I choose to slump in front of equally crass TV on the other channels.

But as of last night, I’m now in da House, sadly hooked. The publicity about the race row suckered me in like a Two-For-One sticker in a supermarket. After watching an early screening of The Last King of Scotland (a tour de force from Forest Whitaker) I got home quickly because BB was in my mind. Not a nice feeling. I flicked on the TV and hit the moment it all kicked off. Most fans have spent countless hours scavenging for little highs from this series, but I suddenly main-lined neat reality TV heroin. It made me feel instantly sick. Seriously, it disturbed me.

Jade Goody is a snarling, foul-mouthed, tragically ignorant bitch, of that there is no doubt. I thought that long before last night. Honestly. I have been appalled by the heights of fame, media coverage and financial success she has been awarded. Er, for WHAT? Now, I believe, all that has gone for her. Oh, goody. Her true colours – blue aired and misty red with bilious rage – have been shown. The lovable, daft clown is really a volatile, vindictive vixen with deep-rooted bitterness in her veins and an enormous chip on her shoulder. She is a big, bad bully. And, yes, I believe she is racist, whether overtly or covertly. Her line of racism is probably based on pig ignorance, rather than the seething hate you see in a tattooed skinhead gobbing his way down Welling high street. What perfume manufacturer, TV production company, or any other product would want to be associated with Jade now? (That said, she might get the Iceland telly ad contract from the belching drug-mum Kerry Katona. They’re clearly not fussy.) The newspapers will love her until she has done her exit buy up, and she’ll get another book deal, but little else.

There will be a certain poetic justice if this is indeed the end of the Jade show. Live by the plastic vanity sword of reality TV fame, then die by it. I have little sympathy, but I do feel distinctly uncomfortable at the prospect of the world watching her unravel even more in the programmes ahead. She may be a veteran of the House but she must be unaware of the scale of the outrage focused on her. How can she be allowed to continue on this racist collision course? Big Brother must step in, illuminate her ways and give her the chance to save herself, although I doubt she has the brain or maturity to undo what has been done.

Watching Jade’s assault on Shilpa made me shudder and squirm. She was scary, unhinged, but the people I felt a real loathing for were her sniggering co-bitches Jo and Danielle. They are the worst type, the cowardly stirrers beside the bullies, mixing it from the sidelines, vicariously soaking up the thrill of confrontation without personal risk. Looking at those three girls, I felt a real sadness. They are products of the swearing, liquor swilling ladette explosion of the ‘90s and what a sorry sight they are. Devoid of intelligence, compassion and culture, they are the templates of the vacuous, Me-Me, gimme everything for nothing generation that haunts Britain’s youth. How on earth are they going to feel when they see their behaviour? The prospect of these vain little creatures, with their bolser wood characters, coming out to the baying crowd hardly bears thinking about. But maybe their ilk will be in the majority and they will be cheered. God help us if they are. Whatever happens it will be compulsive – and uncomfortable – viewing.

I feel slightly ashamed that I will now almost certainly be tuning in to Big Brother. Am I just standing in the playground circle with the other kids shouting, Fight, fight, fight? Maybe, but not exactly. My excuse is that this is now part of a wider debate and news story and I am a journalist. I believe that Jade and Big Brother have inadvertently revealed a dark and powerful heart of racism that beats silently, but ever more strongly, across Britain today.

Personally, I hope that I will be watching the end of Jade Goody’s ill-gotten fame some time very soon, but, most of all, I hope we will also be seeing the death throes of Big Brother and its perverse, spiteful sport.

One thing is for sure – I think the time is now right to sell off a piece of memorabilia I came across while clearing out my loft. I found the original Channel 4 press pack from the opening day of the first Big Brother house. I walked through that building in 2000 and wondered what on earth this programme would be like. I didn’t much like the idea of it then, and I have hated it since. Rev-up the bulldozers. And Ebay here I come!

Big Bother

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Yaaawn. Stretch. Creak. Squint. Re-focus. Hello.

So, that was Christmas. What did I do?
Another year over.
Oh no! A new one just begun.

I haven’t got my blogging head fully back on just yet, but I felt I should stop by and, you know, wish everyone I don’t really know a “Happy New Year”, whatever that actually means. Consider it mass-market PR, blog-style.

I for one am feeling genuinely positive about 2007. Purely on a personal level, I am expecting powerful, transformative shifts in every aspect of my life. I will be fitter and healthier than ever, professionally more successful and fulfilled, emotionally and romantically blessed. Yes, I am annoyingly bouncy with watery-eyed optimism for the future. I even have happy hopes for the world.

Ask me again in a week.

‘ello 2007

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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.

Le Grand Hotel, Paris

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I cursed out loud when I heard about plans to bring in sound sensitive sensors close circuit surveillance cameras. Give us all effing strength, I thought. I am a big hater of the proliferation of cameras. It is nothing short of insidious and reflects the utter disdain with which the dark powers of our country view us all and our civil liberties. If I wanted to be watched everywhere I went, then I’d sign up for a reality show. I have a deep fear as to where it is all going, or, indeed, has already gone. What are we leaving our children? And don’t give me that rubbish defence that cameras stop crime. Were the Ipswich girls protected by being watched by some copper in a watchtower 20 miles away twiddling his joy stick? Or was PC Sharon Beshenivsky, or John Monkton and countless others?

My London borough – Kensington & Chelsea – is currently being legally vandalised with the erection of cameras for the CON-gestion Charge extension which begins in February. Pretty, old, quaint streets are being blighted by these black poles with their sinister little cylindrical eyes. You never ever witness them going up though. I reckon all the work is done over-night, in secret shame.

I will save my full rant about the State sponsored insanity that is this Extension for another time, but for now, I say bring on the Sound Sensor censors. I often walk past a speed camera, or high altitude CCTV lense, or even a bus lane camera, and stick two fingers up to the sky like a demented village idiot. At least the new cameras will get the full value of my venom with the audio because I frequently accompany my pointless salute with the words: “FUCK OFFFFFF!”

Sound Sensors – ******* Censor This!

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A wise internet expert lawyer friend called Mark Lloyd told me ages ago that having a blog was like owning a dog. You have to walk it otherwise it looks miserable and unwell. What can I say, I’ve been busy getting on with life on my island, hence the lack of blogging exercise. Not that I haven’t been thinking about it. In fact, there’s too much to write about and I could happily tap away every day, but there’s only so much writing self-indulgence one should consume. However, here’s a potted round up of vignettes, or soggy, one-bite blog canapes I’ve ben chewing during the past week or so. Think of this as me putting the unfit blog on a lunge and making it sprint a few laps around the office.

THE RAT TRAP: In need of creative solace for various writing ventures that are still in long-term incubation, I headed alone to the Finborough Theatre in Chelsea to witness some actors putting themselves through the mill at the outer limits of the creative world.

Fringe theatre is a sobering leveller for anyone wanting to create something. This is the reality, the kind of place where stuff really begins, once it has exited the painful solitary place of one’s head. The Finborough is a small room above a pub with the audience so close they can feel your breath and see the quiver of your veins. Actors are peeled back to the bone in such places and you cannot fail to admire the hideous, personal excavation work they do when you see them up close at a mini crucible like the Finborough. I can almost forgive some of those mad-as-hatters actors I have interviewed over the years for their vainglorious verbiage when I see what they go through. Almost.

The Rat Trap was written by Noel Coward when he was 18 – yes, 18 – in 1918 but was only put on for 12 performances in 1926. It has been revived by director Tim Luscombe. It is a moving and powerful play which follows the turbulent marriage of two writers, their love shredded by imbalanced success.

Whether this play could carry itself on a bigger stage, I do not know, but I was riveted by this production and the performances across the cast. Most notably, the leads by Catherine Hamilton as thwarted novelist Sheila and Gregory Finnegan as the feted playwright Keld. They were superb. There were just 21 of us in the audience and such was the intensity of one of their argument scenes I felt physically uncomfortable, to the point where I felt a sudden auto-defence release of adrenalin, as if protecting myself from their venom.

So, if you are ever in need of an ice cold sluice of creative water, go along to your local fringe. Watch the actors unravel, marvel at their dedication. It is wonderful, almost inspiring. And it is not very often you smell freshly toasted tea cakes props from the stage, or see the steam from tea, or have the lead actress look you square in the eye and smile as you enthusiastically applaud.

TV ROUND UP. THE X-FACTOR: As expected, the winner was Simon Cowell. To slag off the X-Factor is pretty pointless. It would be like standing up in assembly at an infant school this week and lecturing against the commercialisation of Christmas. I have watched only a few episodes of this series – maybe five or six. If you have known Louis Walsh like I have and could control him with a remote control, you too would hit the Off button. I’ve known Cowell a bit, too, and he’s great, priceless, so I persevere intermittently just to see him.

The discovery of Leona Lewis is quite something and I think Cowell cannot believe his luck. But, as they say, be careful what you wish for. Now we have a brilliant spin-off reality show: PRODUCER X-FACTOR. Has Cowell really got the talent to make Leona a star?

No excuses now. Even Gary Barlow warned him, so he must be in trouble. Everyone acknowledges that this girl is a supreme singer, but what will Cowell do with her? He has some tough decisions ahead – like what cover versions to give her. Judging by the “original” debut single handed to Leona from the show, I fear the worst. Within one listening I was humming my own chorus:

“Some people watched this show for a lifetime,
For a crap song like this…”

EXTINCT: I felt a shudder of disgust when I saw this show unfold after the X-Factor, not least to discover that Zoe Ball’s TV career was not actually extinct. This was a bad start. Flippancy aside, I felt utter revulsion at the prospect of people voting to keep animals alive. I didn’t get past the first ten minutes – I had endangered species to eat at my local illegal steakhouse – so I am sure it had some worthy intentions. But I can’t help worrying about the message this phone and text voting culture sends out to children. OK, it’s fine for the talent contests, but with wildlife? Surely there is something morally wrong here. I can imagine a scene in 50 years time when the last polar bear is found floating face down in an arctic lagoon as warm as the Caribbean and little Leona from Essex – named after the legendary diva – says: “Well, it ain’t my fault they all died. I voted for them in 2006.”

Over a rare silver back gorilla fillet later that night, I went into a state of reality TV excitement. I suddenly imagined a hybrid show of X-Factor and Extinct. It would be called X-STINKS and you could vote for certain living creatures to be extinct. I’m not a reality show voter by nature but I immediately started multi-texting the word LOUIS.

THE SUFFOLK MURDERS: And I thought the Prime Suspect series had ended recently. I admit, at times, I felt quite ashamed at my acute addiction to News 24 and Sky during the past week. However ghoulish, let’s be honest, it was all so appallingly riveting. Sadly, right now, I don’t have the time to examine the macabre reasoning for that in detail, or indeed all the fascinating aspects of the media coverage that this case has thrown up, especially in light of Tom Stephens’ arrest.

However, I must offer up congratulations to the Sunday Mirror and its editor Tina Weaver for their scoop interview with Stephens. It presents a mouth-watering prospect: Tina going round to Andy Coulson’s office at the News of the World to collect his £250,000 reward.

Walk The Blog

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I’ve just flipped through the multi-scented January edition of GQ and alighted on the Cameron Diaz beach photo shoot by Mert Alas and Marcus Piggott. Styled and dyed within an inch of her recogniseable, natural self, she cuts quite a figure in the sand and surf. I only write because I am perplexed by the shot on Page 179 with her in a see-through shirt, the sunlight casting a Ready Brek glow around her right breast. Is it an unwanted truth-telling trick of the light, or a printing error, or is she proudly showing off her boob job scar. Maybe she is very open about all this, I don’t know. Or maybe they simply ran out of puff for the airbrush.

Camera Diaz

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I finally caught up with Casino Royale yesterday. I had some dead time, needed to veg’, and wanted to see it for myself. Call me a victim of hype. Quite what keeps me going back to James Bond all these years on, I don’t know. As with most blokes of my era, my childhood threaded through the Connery/Moore transition. Quite a golden thread to have in your life. But I’m not a Bond-buff with box sets and vintage posters, although I do still have the signed picture from Roger after I visited The Spy Who Loved Me set at Pinewood in, I think, 1976. I saw the submarines, the car, some filming, the lot. And then big Rog, in a black polo neck jumper, smoking a long cigar, came over for a chat. It was quite a day, which easily secured another 20 years of Bond interest.

I thought I was finally over it all after those awful, bouffant Pierce Brosnan vanity walks, but I still went back to see Daniel Craig. Keeping tabs on Bond is a bit like keeping in touch with an old friend, no matter how far the friendship has drifted. Things are nowhere near the same, but it’s good to see how he’s getting on.

And, clearly, Bond is getting on well. It seems churlish to criticise it. I’ve always liked Craig. A fine actor, marvellous in Layer Cake, and yes, he delivers on all the fronts required in Bond – no mean feat, bravo – but doesn’t he pout a lot and sounds so dry-mouthed you want to give him some water. And does anyone else think he over-did the weights and protein? And wasn’t that switch from Venice to the interior set tragically, unbelievably obvious. Who did the lighting there, eh? And, didn’t that card scene go on beyond all belief – what were they playing, group patience? And… oh shut up, it’s a Bond film, it doesn’t matter, it was fine. Thanks to Craig, the “franchise” (highly irritating word) is in good shape and is better stripped back from all the gimmicks. But blimey didn’t it go on? With the amount of blokes piling into the loo afterwards, I thought I was in for a tear up like the scene when Bond-baby gets his double “O” just so I could have a double “P”.

The trouble with Bond is that it has to be everywhere to succeed. Bill-boards, bus shelters, mag covers, newspaper giveaways, TV trailers, making-of documentaries. I’d seen the best bits and was sick of it before I sat in the darkness. Bond marketing is so highly pumped it is as if you are beaten into submission – rather like in a protracted Bond fight scene – until you go. I went to Paris for a weekend with the Artist the other week and Bond had even taken over our hotel – The Grand – for the post-premiere party. It is impossible to get away from it. Craig walked by me, pouting, in a grey suit, and thought, I’d ‘ave him, no bother. I’d have glassed him with my craftily acquired flute of Bolly, then clubbed mercilessly with my steel NHS crtuch.

If there is one thing I have learnt from Bond, it is to be utterly shameless in the pursuit of off-setting costs by blatant product-placement. Hotels, airlines, cars, watches, lap-tops, mobile phones, clothes, they all get blatant banner positioning in the Casino Royale banker. Hence, from now on, I’m going full out for brand connection in my life, so don’t be surprised when you next hear from me that I am sipping a glass of Krug while posting from my 118 Wally powerboat.

If it’s good enough for Bond, it’s good enough for me.

Bond. Plugger Bond.

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Last Friday: The mobile goes while I’m on the M4 without a hands free set (please don’t tell). It’s Press Gazette. I nearly drive across three lanes to the Next Life exit. “But you died,” I say. “I wrote a sad farewell with TS Eliot and everything. I saw the hearse. A voice from beyond the grave, this can’t be so?”

But it was. Tony Loynes and the publishing company called Wilmington started banging on the coffin lid as PG was lowered into the ground and out it lurched. (Best I put us all out of the misery of this death analogy). OK. This company has bought the magazine and plan to publish this week. It is wonderful news, but talk about drama and leaving it all a bit late. I don’t understand. The editor and all the staff have collected their P45s and many of the key contributors have been, well, hacked off, but let’s not go over old ground. It is almost as if Mr Loynes and his team are having to re-launch the magazine from a standing start. Such a scenario seems crazy and unnecessarily difficult.

Mr Loynes wants me to continue the “Press Conference” interviews and we are going to talk again. Who knows how it can pan out for Press Gazette. A ruthless reduction in staffing and costs will help the accounts in the short term, but it will need decent news and features if it is to grow and continue to appeal to the most discerning readership you can imagine. However, it is the very nature of this readership that, in my brilliant opinion, is PG’s greatest asset and hope.

I only managed to blag all those big names to talk to PG because I believed in the unique demographic of the readership. I billed it in various mutations of breathless hyperbole along the lines of “the most powerful magazine readership in the whole world”. Seriously. A stream of PRs, managers and agents, from Tom Cruise’s people down, got the hairdryer treatment from me as to why their client MUST appear in one of the smallest circulation magazines on Earth. I have to laugh when I think of some of the people I tried to get to. The Dalai Lama anyone?! But you can sell something if you genuinely believe in it. And a similar belief is what the new owners need to have.

Press Gazette has something special in its readership, but that readership is disappearing. So, there is a tough task ahead. Now that Wilmington has bought the magazine, they need to SELL it to the media world, so that in turn it will be bought. Only then can it have a healthy and prosperous new life. Welcome back.

Press Gazette Lives!

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I feel obliged to reveal the answer to a minor mystery laid down in the archive of this blog with more cunning suspense than anything Dan Brown could conjure up: the subject(s) of the interview that took me on a Jalfreizi jet to New York and, ultimately, to casualty and a month on crutches. Please carefully put down all fragile objects, the Phew! moment is here. It was Duran Duran.

The interview will run this weekend in the “Live” (as in LIVE each day, not perform LIVE!) magazine supplement of the Mail On Sunday. It was a decent interview – or “talk” as they/we say in the trade, with a good “line (angle) – which is them talking about the sudden departure of guitarist Andy Taylor.

They’re a pretty good bunch to meet. Very normal, gracious, grounded, a laugh. They’ve been there and done it all and got out alive. By “it” I mean everything – the girls, the drugs, the booze, the fame. They are all in their mid-forties now, but they are still doing it – although without the substance support. Good on them. Their energy and indestructible desire for it all is quite remarkable and, no matter your musical taste, their back catalogue is impressive.

I had a drink and a chat with Simon Le Bon at Carina Round’s gig later that day. I reminded him that we had met years earlier – 1992/3’ish, I think. (“Hey, Rob, it’s you! Have you done any good comebacks since then?” Numerous). Naturally, he didn’t remember and I wouldn’t have bothered if we hadn’t met at a slightly memorable event, rather than, say, a quick Hi at a party. No, I met Simon on one of my all-time favourite fantasy writing jobs that turned to mush in the face of cold-stone reality. And I’ve had a few.

Hello! and Autocar magazines asked me if I wanted to cover the inaugral London to Venice race of luxury super cars against the Orient Express. What a gig, yes of course. Imagine it – me, in a Ferrari or an Aston, hurtling across Europe, a babe taking notes for me in the passenger seat. Champagne and a masked Venetian ball on arrival, followed by a chilled out return trip on the Orient Express to rock my hangover away. I’ll murder to do this job.

I turned up at Victoria Station for the gala send off. The train was there in all its romantic Pullman splendour and the cars looked, well, amazing, and I’m not even a petrol head. Consider, if you will, my surprise when the race began and I was still on the platform with my photographer. When the fumes eventually dispersed, we were led to a silver Renault Espace, our home for the next 20-odd hours with other hangers on. Surely some mistake? No. Our vehicle was driven by a chain-smoking lunatic who was having a great time being “involved” in such a glamorous event. I’m not involved in anything, I thought, I’m in a van with you, you nutcase. I’m involved in misery. He insisted on playing Salt ‘n’ Pepper’s ‘Let’s Talk About Sex’ at full blast every time the party mood slackened. I had bus fever before we got past Maidstone.

Anyway, Venice in October was deserted, freezing and wonderful. We made it in time – only bloody JUST! – to attend the big party at the Cipriani. My solo glide across the lagoon on the hotel’s wooden Riva* was worth every fist-clenching, tooth-grinding hour on the road. Well, just about. I remember chatting with Simon that night. He had won the race in a red Diablo and was very happy. He smooched the party away with Yasmin before slipping back to their suite to rest his aching ankles from all that pedal pumping. The Diablo is a tiring drive. Me, on the other hand, had a sleepless night in a twin room in what amounted to a hostel for the homeless with the photographer snoring like a sick pig. Then it was back into the no-Effingspace. Now that’s what I call rock ‘n’ roll.

*Le Bon told me he owns a Riva.

Duran Durankle

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… I’m still slightly fumbling around in the Blogosphere and have just noticed some previous comments with heartfelt sympathies about Press Gazette, as well as some compliments about my efforts. Thank you!


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And so, to 18 Doughty Street for my web TV debut. Isn’t it amazing how fast things move in this electronic age? It only seems a few keyboard taps ago that I was blogless and clueless of broadband TV’s existence, but now I have more links than a medieval knight in chain mail and a place on this emerging i-station’s new sofa. But what is it like and why would one do it?

Naturally, vanity is always part of anyone’s desire to go on television. Shamelessly, I’ve had a few high-profile ego fluffings over the years – ITN, the GMTV sofa, several celebrity-based compilations on the Beeb and Channel 4. Hear this – I even went on America’s Geraldo Show in the 90’s in front of a whooping New York studio audience and live viewing figures equal to the population of several big countries. But, once the buzz is gone, it’s pretty grim pontificating about the Spice Girls or some celebrity you knew for an hour. I’ve given it all a wide berth for years.

Vanity alone was hardly enough to up-load me onto 18 Doughty Street. At least for now, its viewing figures are tiny, but growing. More than anything, I was fascinated to see it all in motion, to experience a part of this revolution, to wiggle about on a piece of television that exists at the thinnest extremities of the Long Tail. And no matter how few people are watching, live TV is live TV, with cameras, lights, microphones, so it is still a challenge to think on your feet – or on your bum on a sofa with the other stooges. In this case, they were Chicken, Cicero and Boysie (I think we’re on first name terms now).

So, how did I do? No idea, really. There’s something missing in my Safari software on this Mac, so I can’t watch my debut, but I know I enjoyed it, in a bizarre, self-indulgent way. I chipped in on some subjects, expressed some opinions, which is not bad for me. I’ve spent my professional life interviewing people, which requires you shut right up while someone else spouts off, otherwise you spend hours transcribing your unwanted voice. Hence, it was quite a novelty to switch off the enforced mute and have two hours on the stage of fringe theatre live TV. Let’s face it, no mainstream TV station would seek my views on Tony Blair’s apology for slavery, the Litvenenko poisoning, crime by black people, etc. Heck, if I had been listening for the first twenty minutes to the impassioned dispatches from Nick Boys Smith, instead of scanning the titles of biographies on the book shelf and generally looking around, I might even have delivered some instant wisdom on Welfare Reform. That alone might have produced a stunning piece of Colemanball’esque waffle.

As we all sat there, with the dead of night approaching, I couldn’t help but feel we were in a kind of ‘Lost In Translation’ timeless nothingness. I don’t mean that in a negative way, yet we were all talking earnestly, animatedly, about some serious stuff, but to exactly whom and why? Iain Dale’s affable, laid back anchorman delivery added to the virtual vibe, as if it were honed from the Bill Murray school of skilful underplay. Without question, it was fun to be Lost In Broadband at 18 Doughty Street and I wish them every success.

When it was all over, I wondered if my excited emptiness was roughly how the people who did the first television broadcasts felt when much of the world was devoid of TV sets. Did they blink back to reality and tell their friends about this intriguing new communication experience, only to get the reply: “Hmmm. But would you not rather talk to a big audience – like on the wireless?”

Lost In Broadband. 18 Doughty Street: The Review

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As everyone [and no-one knows] Press Gazette passed away around 6pm last Friday. It had been ill for some time and had only been kept alive recently via an unsustainable cash drip. It was a spirited act of CPR by all hands at the end, but finally the big Goodbye Switch had to be flicked. It is sad, but, as with any expected death of something you care for that is in pain, there is also a sense of relief.

PG will always have an affectionate place in my cuttings heart. My early pieces were a fun departure for me and I am happy with most of my interviews of the past year. I’ve just totted up that I did 37. I have the crow’s feet to prove it. Setting up all those interviews was an exasperating, energy-sapping, solo siege, the grim details of which I will spare you. Hence, I shall not miss a moment of that Herculean task, but no regrets here. “Press Conference” was fresh, it worked, and I am pleased about that.

Let’s be brutally honest, though, very few tears are being shed at PG’s demise within the journalistic community (er, is that one of them oxymoron things?!). In general, I wouldn’t say journalists are prone to sentimentality over such things. We have tougher, more immediate things to deal with. It is inescapable that PG failed because people didn’t want to pay for it. Journalists love a freebie, which is why the queue for PG in newspaper offices was always long. I haven’t seen each new edition of a magazine waited for so patiently by so many since, well, boarding school.

I can’t help but think there is a dark, foreboding irony that the newspaper industry’s trade magazine should fold at this time, when the nerves and belief of journalists are being shredded by dramatic changes across the business. Take-overs, sliding circulations, receding ad revenues, cost cuts, death. What could prove to be a metaphor for newspapers across the land has just happened in microcosm with Press Gazette’s hollow death. And it all happened with barely a shrug.

This is the way a trade mag ends,
Not with a bang, but a whimper.


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I post this note with some reservations as it involves whingeing. Worst of all, it is a whinge about money, but sometimes certain things need to be said. Better out than in, as they say.

Press Gazette magazine survives for another week, financed by the Administrator, Mr Robert Allen. Like a leaking life-raft on a stormy ocean, it continues to float, with all loyal hands clinging on. Who knows, it could yet be rescued.

The bad news, that falls upon me to report, is that all those freelancers who provided some bright flags of creativity aboard HMS PG during the past year have been unceremoniously chucked over board, without so much as a rubber ring, and told to whistle for their money in the choppy waters.

I speak on behalf of the acerbic columnist The Grey Cardigan, the scurrilous Axe Grinder diarist, the inexhaustible photographer Phil Adams and me, the Press Conference bloke. In many respects, we have been like staff; when ideas or copy were needed, always at a rapacious rate with difficult deadlines, we came up with the goods. And we always waited patiently, stoically, for our money to be squeezed through the constipated accounting system. When we got paid, it was what could be regarded as a “Creative’s Rate” for our efforts. But it was our choice, we’re grown ups and we were happy to throw our lot in. Maybe other things, beyond money, helped motivate our productivity.

As soon as the financial plug was pulled on 3rd November, we ceased to exist and so did our back-pay. The staff continued to be paid – quite rightly – but not us. We are now getting to grips with the water-tight legal-speak of liquidation, but surely there is a moral obligation somewhere here, a point of principal? Afterall, this magazine is still trading. Naturally, there is not.

I spoke with Mr Allen this morning. He was startled and a little miffed I managed to get him on the phone. He bluntly [but not unkindly] informed me: “You are all basically sub-contractors with no employment rights.” Nice. So we are now in the long soup kitchen queue with the Post Office, a telecoms company, printers and many more. The chances of getting paid for those witty columns, gossip stories and photographs, or even that three page monster interview with Kelvin MacKenzie, with a splash thrown in, are zero. Even if the “Consortium” [FYI that is Associated Newspapers and the Telegraph Group] take over the magazine, I am reliably told there is no plan to pay the freelancers. Can you all please, very quietly Fuck Off, thank you.

We have no issue with editor Ian Reeves. He is a decent guy, in a deplorable situation. And we have no personal gripe with Mr Freud or Piers Morgan. Sympathies to them for the money they lost. They had the best intentions for PG, but theirs was a business venture, a punt, with all risks visible on the table. We, however, were hired to deliver and that we did, and more. So, our beef is with the Adminsitration process, the cut-off point that lumps us in with the paperclip suppliers.

Now, we know that ours is just a little sorrow. We will survive and these things can be quickly forgotten. African poverty, this ain’t. Really, no need for Bono to get busy. There will still be turkey for Christmas, but when we are in the zone £3,000 per “sub-contractor”, it does make you think that there are better things to do with your hard-earned dosh than have someone lob it in a big pot with a tight lid. I quite fancied a little trip to the Caribbean this winter with the Artist, or some new clothes, a couple of nifty suits. I’d quite like to give three grand to my mum. Maybe not.

I can’t help thinking of Tommy Cooper who once quipped: “It’s not the principle. It’s the money.”


Ps: Since this post, PG Editor Ian Reeves has asked me to state that he is fighting for payment to all journalists if PG is sold. I have suggested he post a comment here…

Mess Gazette

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I address you during the deepest of troubled moments for Press Gazette, the journalism trade magazine I have famously written for in recent times. Well, famously, only if fame can be measured in the tiniest of fractions. PG is certainly not famous for its circulation, so my work has been at the extreme outer orbital limits of readable existence in its printed versions. To be honest, if ever a hard copy is actually spotted, I always expect a breathless David Attenborough voice-over to play. “Ahhh! And here we have that rare specimen…Press Gazette.”

Well, as of tomorrow – Thursday – it could indeed be extinct. There are three potential buyers still interested, but it is going to the wire. If they have a genuine rescue package it needs to appear, like now, or it’s liquidation time for the 41 year old magazine. A sad day that would be.

At least I have an interview for no-one to read running in what could be the final edition, available almost nowhere tomorrow. It is with Michael Barrymore with his views on the press coverage he has, er, enjoyed over the years. He has had a tough time, not least over the tragic death of Stuart Lubbock in his swimming pool. He has been castigated by the newspapers for that and much else besides, so he gets to have his say in the article.

When I met Barrymore last weekend, I told him that our interview might well be in the obituary edition of the journalists’ trade bible. “Just think, Michael,” I told him. “An interview with you could help kill the magazine. Then all the press can blame you for that as well!”

Blame Barrymore

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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.

That was Somme TV Show

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Slumped on the sofa, with the gammy left foot in the air, I channel hopped to relieve the pain and boredom of my enforced incarceration. I alighted for 15 minutes at Sky One’s The Race and suddenly felt better, although somewhat sadder.

I was surrounded by other crocked souls, but these were exhibiting their severely injured careers in the latest mangle of car crash TV. With Denise Van Outen and her hair extension at the wheel, it is always a dead cert to be a bawdy, sickening multiple pile-up. She is a bleached relic from the awful Ladette 90’s, but is thankfully getting ever nearer to her rightful telly destination: the breaker’s yard.

There were the usual £30K-plus-exes suspects. I was shocked to see Nick Moran there, rightfully looking embarassed. I interviewed him last year, at length over brunch at Soho House. He struck me as honest, talented and a decent bloke. It was a good interview but annonyingly hit the spike. I may exhume it for my website some time. Moran readily admits that his big mouth and ego has cost him dear and pissed off some serious people in the acting world, but I can’t believe his career is in such a slump that he needs to take this crass role. Reverse J-spin out of there now, Nick.

However, it was the sight of David Coulthard and Eddie Irvine that nearly gave me whiplash. It seems only a few laps ago that these guys were leading the glitzy G-force life of Formula 1. Surely, they don’t need to be doing this, either for the cash or their profiles. Why? With their grey fuzz showing, and the physical bloat from less training, they are setting off on a dangerous road getting aboard this wreck.

Tacky Races

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For a fleeting moment, I have just marvelled like a little boy at the giant Palm airship as it floated by my window in London. What a bizarre, beautiful sight, set against a glorious blue sky. Two helicopters, blackened in shadow, hovered like giant flies near the beast. Then it was gone, meandering somewhat erractically into the distance above the river.

With the image gone from my easily seduced naked eye – and now only available on Sky – the wearily matured, journalistic cynic in me reared its ugly, sober head: Publicity stunts, the old ones are the best. Put the word “biggest” in front of something and the media run like lemmings. It’s just a bloody big estate agent’s hoarding made of helium. And, to be frank, it is plugging one of the most vulgar man-made creations I have ever witnessed up close and in person.

I sat on a beach in Dubai a few years ago (2002, I think. I was there to interview Nell McAndrew and her bikini. Nice work if you can get it) and I looked out for hours on end in utter horror at the mid-point between me and the horizon. I was fixated by giant machines sucking up sand from the sea bed and spitting it out in furious flumes across the waves into humongous piles. I was told that this was to be Palm Island in a few years time, the most beautiful place on Earth – or, er, sand – to live.

Since then, the PR spin has been moved better than anything Shane Warne’s wrist could flick and the Palm Jumeirah is now billed as the “Eighth Wonder of the World” in today’s press release [courtesy of Orient Planet PR & Marketing]. Eighth Wonder, my arse. The hyperbole is appalling and the media should be ashamed of themselves for falling for this stunt, no matter how pretty it is. Save yourselves and airbrush the name “Palm” out of your scenic London skyline photos of this airship.

All I can think about is the millions of fish and tiny sea creatures and stones and shells shaped over thousands of years that were forcibly evicted to become the hardcore for the foundations for these apparently exotic homes. But, you know that old saying about castles built on sand…

Hot Air

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Well, my harmless little bit of pain with the sprained ankle thingy unexpectedly kicked into another gear. The foot ballooned and flared over the past day or so until the agony hovered around the Red Zone last night. Consequently, I have just had 14 hours at Chelsea & Westminster hospital. And a fine set of hours they were, too. I bascially received the varying opinions of about six doctors and four nurses. The consensus was that the injury had inexplicably exploded into a freak infection. They wanted to keep me in overnight in case the infection spread into my bloodstream and caused death. All this for twisting an ankle.

I resisted the over nighter B&B option for all my worth because I have a piece to write and a dealine to meet. I am back home now with a bag of pills that would make Mr Tambourine Man jealous. All that is left to say is a heartfelt Thanks to all the amazing, caring people who paid such phenomenal attention to my bloated piece of flesh and bone. Throughout the entire excursion, there was not one open palm in sight.

A foot note…

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OK, this is the last item from that New York trip…

While there, I met up with a dear friend who has lived in NYC for about three years in a tower block apartment on the east side, mid-town. In late November, early December every year she gets a Christmas card from the superintendent of her block with a list of all the people who work there who will require the traditional Christmas tip. There are generally 22. They all expect about $50 each. When you add up the number of apartments, it means each guy is getting around $8,000. Most doormen earn about $35,000, so that’s a fair bonus. Nice. It’s not bad when you consider that they get tips every day of the year for doing their jobs, like hailing cabs, or masterfully pressing a button on the wall to summon a lift. To tip them $1 these days is an insult. $2 or $3 is minimum. From November onwards, I am reliably informed, these normally surly, huffing ‘n’ puffing oiks in trenchcoats and peaked hats at the block suddenly become alarmingly – no, expensively – friendly.

And this is not all. In New York at Christmas, my friend has to tip her nanny at least a week’s wage, her cleaner, the newspaper boy, the grocery delivery man and many more. She even has to tip ALL her two kids’ teachers – that’s the dance and swimming coaches, as well as all the academic ones. Teachers in the States don’t like soppy little cheery gifts like chocolates, or scented creams. Oh no, they like hard currency, greenback-style or gift vouchers. As my friend says: “Everybody has got their hand out in New York at Christmas”. You can just imagine Christmas morning over there: “Sorry, kids, no pressies this year. We gave all our money to the doormen.”

OK, one more point to close. My cab driver back to the airport was very friendly. Originally from New Delhi, he is very happy to have his Green Card and be driving his cab. He tells me he takes home about $9,000 a month, plus $2,500 for renting the cab out to a night driver. So, he’s on about about $138,000 a year. He also owns the “Medallion” of the cab after buying it outright for $175,000 over a period of years. I’m not sure of the detail of the Medallion, but it’s a big deal to own this in New York. It is now worth $400,000. He rattled off these figures cheerily and told me how he had certain tactics in place to avoid tax. I was slightly aghast at the brilliance of this man’s financial structure. And, me, a humble writer. I told him plainly: “It’s great that you are doing so well. The only downside is you’ve just blown your tip for this fare. You clearly don’t need it!” And you know what, he looked deeply and genuinely pissed off. Huh!

One more tip on tipping…

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[Further recollections from my mini NYC jaunt…]

I don’t know, this blogging game. Suddenly I have an outlet for all this stuff that happens along the way that doesn’t really add up to too much. But, as they say, better out than in].

[NYC, Second night]. 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: The Review

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[Further pointless recollections from last week’s NYC trip…]

Thankfully, for this interview job, I was switched at the last minute from the Hell Inn in Harlem to the Grand Hyatt Hotel 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: The Review

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[Another New York re-cap…]

Largely due to work, America is the country I have visited most in my life. More than France, even, although I’m not going to do a precise count up. New York is certainly the foreign city I have visited most. People always say, “But New York’s not America”. I first visited there in 1979 on a family holiday [we even flew first class from Miami] and have been many times since. It has always seemed pretty American to me.

I have a life-long troubled ambivalence towards America. It’s too difficult and multi-layered to explain here. Much of it, I think, is down to watching too many cops’ series and thrillers set in the States at a very young age. Just that unmistakeable prolonged ring of an American telephone triggers a Pavlovian fear in me. I hear it and know that someone, somewhere has been murdered and Columbo will arrive soon. These things stay with you.

As soon as I get through immigration in America I always tip the first 50 people I see. Anyone will do. I give them money for looking at me, for not looking at me, for snarling, for smiling, anything. This helps get me into the groove of giving money away. If only you could pay for your tips in advance, like an entry tax, then it would save all that awkwardness and brain sapping arithmetic.

On this last trip, I think I hit the tipping point with tipping. You can’t do anything these days without hearing about the friggin’ Tipping Point in one business or another, so why not The Tipping Tipping Point? The trouble is, if I grouch about tipping, everyone will simply think I am tight, so this could be a thankless exercise. I don’t believe that I am tight, but I have a growing, very British problem with tipping. And America peels it back to the raw.

In fact, I was brought up TO tip. Generously. When we were flush in the 70’s, my dad told me that tipping showed “style” and he used to scatter pound notes around with reckless abandon. Waiters, petrol pump attendants, doormen, they all got a bung. Such is the legacy of seeing this that I have always been ultra sensitive to tipping and, consequently, I have stylishly given away small fortunes.

As is widely known, Americans in the service industries have a deep suspicion [hate] for the British because we are relatively tight tippers. The expect 15-20%. We’re still locked into the days of 10%, or 12.5% if you are good at maths, which I am not. I noticed in New York this time that many bills have a tip guide for the tight, blind and the British. Fanelli’s, an old traditional bar and burger joint in Soho [Tourismoville. Medium-rude. Good burgers. But don’t bother] has this clear message on their receipts: “SERVICE IS NOT INCLUDED. 15-20% is CUSTOMARY.” They then gave a break down as follows for my $20.30 bill. “15% – $3.05; 18% – $3.66; 20% $4.06.” The excuse you always hear is that you have to tip well in the States because the service is great, but the waiters are poorly paid. Surely, if the wages are so bad, that is an issue for the employer and the staff? Even, the Government.

I have a friend who owns a number of restaurants in London. He is very succcessful and he loves the Service Charge system. He gets to pay his staff the minimum wage, while everyone else picks up the tab to keep them happy. He gets richer and richer quicker.

As a writer, I have never received a tip. No one has ever read a piece and said, “Hey, Rob, that was great, here’s something for your back pocket. Buy yourself some nice new ink or something. Be lucky”

Anyway, I’m starting to whinge. Ugly. Enough.

Tipping: The Point?

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[The trip to New York is over, so I’m back to catch up on my Blog. Here are some thoughts from along the way on my rock star glamour jaunt…]

Not a good start: my up-grade blag crashed and burned at the check in desk at Heathrow’s Terminal 3, so get yer hankies out for a tale of woe from Row 53. My blagging spiel is all adrift these days, so it was not much of a surprise. I have no one else to blame except me.

I’ve been pretty good at blagging up-grades over the years, but the gusto in my efforts has all but disappeared. Something in me has died. Before, it was a bit of fun, a challenge, and it was always worth smothering your pride for some embarrassing pleading because, when it works, there are few things sweeter than sinking into that big seat and sipping an instantly delivered glass of champagne when you know that the Unfortunates who are folding their legs in Economy are a good hour away from a cup of tap water in a foil sealed plastic cup. But these days, the whole process of asking to be up-graded is a bit too demeaning, pathetic even. My pride simply won’t be so easily swallowed. Why is this?

Let’s be honest here: I had really hoped by now that I’d be flying First Class, or at least Business, without breaking sweat. Even if I am not paying, then at least the people hiring me would reflect my worth by bumping me up front. This is not the case. So, when I begin my patter to the check in supervisor about my qualifications for a better seat, for free, I can’t help but feel a sense of failure. This is not a position of strength from which to blag and, hence, my argument withers easily. I now genuinely believe that people beyond a certain age should not go asking for up-grades. Just accept your financial short-comings and, thereby, your position in life and humbly take your uncomfortable place at the back. But please, at all times, do keep your pride and self-worth in the up-right position.

This is all rather deeply psychoanalytical, a bit deep. I’m still too new to blogging to know how far to go, so I will leave it at that and get on with the Air India review…

You know I said I had an open mind about Air India? Well, I lied. My mind was full of preconceptions and they were all proved to be correct. But, to be honest, it is too much of a wide open goal to slag off this airline. Yes, its aircraft have threadbare carpets – speckled with yesterday’s rice – torn and wonky seats and plastic trimmings that are jaundiced with age. Yes, the food is iffy and the cabin was whiffy. But you cannot hide the fact that for a last minute flight to New York, Air India offers good value. And, well, the Cobra beer was as cold as any beer I have been handed on any other airline, so that helped ease the pain and shame. It certainly soothed the tooth ache…

Air India: The Review

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Another week, another interview to prepare for. The secrecy of the commissioning process means I have to be cagey. Sorry. As if anyone will read my fledgling blog, then set up a rival interview with the same people to spike mine. But you cannot be too careful. I’m interviewing a group of showbiz icons – it will have to be as vague as that. Two days trawling the net in search of cuttings has left be foggey eyed. Now I’ve got to pack a bag. The interview is in New York. It’s all very exciting, high-end glamour, you know. Naturally, I’m going out up front on BA to test out the flat bed, then staying at the Drake to rest a bit before working…

…well, of course I’m not. I’ve never heard of the hotel I’m booked into and the flight is on Air India. I have an open mind. I’ve never flown with them, so it might be amazing. But, deep down, I already know that the up-grade blag is more crucial than ever. Two other things are also on my mind: I never eat garlic, or curries before interviews. And I have tooth ache that ascended to Amber alert over the weekend. It could be on Red by the time I arrive. So, ahead of me I have eight hours in mule class on the Jalfrezi Jet to hole up in Harlem somewhere. Then I get to eat mints and whack up on pain killers, to then have precisely one hour to get stories out of four weary celebrity legends. To then get back on the plane. Rock n roll.

… well, I got this far…

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…and so, it came to pass on this grey London day, that I started a blog. Exactly for what reason, or where I expect it to go, I haven’t a bloomin’ clue. But maybe I will find out somewhere along the way…

…the first keyboard taps

150 150 Rob McGibbon

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