My favourite summer party of the year is the ITV bash held at the home of the network’s boss, Peter Fincham. Anyone who can loosely be categorised under the wide-ranging umbrella of ITV ‘Talent’ congregates in a garden to drink champagne and fine canapés until midnight.
At which point it is extremely advisable career-wise to exit stage-left before alcoholic consumption leads to the inevitable slurred, indignant ‘ Why are you not giving me Ant and Dec’s air time and salary?’ conversation with Mr Fincham. One that is more likely to result in Keith Chegwin’s air time and salary.
I went with Amanda Holden, who flew into a panic as our car approached. ‘Oh my God, you’re sweating like a fevered warthog!’ she exclaimed, ‘I can’t arrive with you like this, it’s brand- damaging!’ Amanda ordered her driver to go round the block as she frantically powdered my face.
The preparation was superfluous though, as the paparazzi waiting outside took one photo of us together, then politely suggested one of Amanda on her own. I’ve seen greyhounds move slower as her elbow flew into my rib cage to barge me out of the picture. Her ego was thankfully restored to its rightful place when we went inside and bumped into Jeremy Piven.
‘Hey man!’ he cried, giving me a bear- hug, ‘ you were great in the movie!’ Amanda froze in horror. ‘WHAT movie?’
‘Oh, I’m co- starring with Jeremy in the Entourage film,’ I replied, nonchalantly. ‘And he’s really good!’ Mr Piven added. ‘A natural?’ I suggested. Jeremy laughed, realising how agonising this conversation was for Amanda, and nodded: ‘A natural.’
My own ego now suitably inflated to an even more gigantic state than usual, who better to deflate it than the terrifyingly bossy Mrs Patmore from Downton Abbey?
Actress Lesley Nicol, who plays the battle-axe cook, stood nearby, lurking among the begonias. ‘I love you in the show!’ I cooed sycophantically. ‘You play a blind woman with such power!’ She flashed me her most withering Mrs Patmore face. ‘If you love me in the show so much,’ she roared, ‘you’d know I’m not blind any more!’
I retreated in shame and sought refuge with a group including Andrew Lloyd Webber and wife Madeleine, who were in a heated debate about assisted dying. Britain’s House of Lords is about to vote on this, and Andrew – himself a lord of course – was torn about which way to go. ‘My fear is that it would be abused if it became permissible under the law.’
I agreed. There have been enough corrupt doctors exposed over the years to have genuine concerns that where a large inheritance lies in waiting, so might a dubious ‘assisted death’.
‘Madeleine and I have located two very friendly physicians in your neighbourhood prepared to sign off on your imminent demise at a very cheap price, Andrew,’ I quipped. But then TV doctor Hilary Jones intervened with a heartfelt and emotional defence of helping terminally ill people die.
‘ I f you have two independent doctors who don’t know each other, and they both agree a patient has less than six months to live, then I think it’s the right and humane thing to allow them to accede to that patient’s wish to end his or her life.’ He was very passionate and very convincing. I was persuaded. Andrew Lloyd Webber today revealed he will be voting in favour of the Assisted Dying Bill. He also revealed something he hadn’t mentioned on Thursday night: he was in such pain from operations following treatment for prostate cancer last year I went to the Test match in Southampton and England cricketer Moeen Ali, a Muslim, sparked controversy by wearing two wristbands saying ‘Save Gaza’ and ‘Free Palestine’.
I support his right to free speech, just as I would suppor t anyone who wanted to express suppor t for Israel. But inevitably, he was attacked by the extremists who dog both sides of the crisis.
The Israel-Palestine conflict is a constant running sore at the heart of global unrest; used and abused by terror organisations as an excuse for their barbarism.
It’s outrageous that Hamas fires endless rockets at Israel. Israel’s often massively disproportionate response, as we have seen in the last fortnight, can be just as outrageous. And what is inarguable is that the ongoing suffering of the Palestinian people shames the world. Yes, it’s a complicated situation. But so was Northern Ireland, where a religiously divided people waged similarly implacable battles. Peace was eventually won through diplomacy and bold, courageous leadership.
At some stage, Israel will have to sit down and negotiate with Hamas and do a deal that brings lasting peace to the region. It will stick in the craw of both sides, but it’s the only solution.
As Winston Churchill once said: ‘ To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war.’