Gyles Bran­dreth’s Di­ary

It will dou­ble my panto fee but de­stroy my cred­i­bil­ity, my wife says

The Oldie - - NEWS - Fol­low Gyles on Twit­ter: @Gylesb1

If I am asked again next year, should I con­sider ap­pear­ing on Strictly Come Danc­ing?

I have said no to rum­bling in the jun­gle with Ant and Dec, de­spite the in­vi­ta­tion email men­tion­ing a fee of £140,000. (I don’t like creepy-crawlies and I’m scared of heights.) I have said no to The Real Marigold Ho­tel, though it worked won­ders for Miriam Mar­golyes. (The money wasn’t enough to make up for the weeks away from home.) I have done Celebrity Mas­ter­mind, Celebrity Point­less and Celebrity The Chase be­cause I en­joy a good quiz show (and they are three of the best), and Celebrity Antiques Road Trip was fun be­cause I was teamed up with my old friend Ni­cholas Par­sons, 94, who in­sisted on do­ing all the driv­ing.

My agent is keen for me to do Strictly. He says it will dou­ble my money for panto. It’s a won­der­ful show, no ques­tion, but my fear is that I am not equal to the chal­lenge. I have no sense of rhythm, no ear for mu­sic and I am the wrong shape. The older, nov­elty con­tes­tants who have done well on Strictly have all been on the spher­i­cal side: John Sergeant, Ann Wid­de­combe, Rus­sell Grant, Ed Balls. I’d be out in week three and I’m fright­ened of fail­ure.

I’m also fright­ened of my wife who re­minds me on a reg­u­lar ba­sis that ev­ery time I ap­pear on any­thing that has the faintest whiff of ‘celebrity’ about it, I am putting an­other nail in the cof­fin of what­ever cred­i­bil­ity I might once have had. She does not need to re­mind me. This morn­ing, at the bus stop, a stranger stared at me for a while and then said, ‘I don’t know who you are, but you’re a celebrity, aren’t you?’

I must have been an odd young man. At Ox­ford in the late 1960s, I re­mem­ber be­ing pre­oc­cu­pied with the ques­tion of which of our gen­er­a­tion would be the first to join the Or­der of the Garter.

I as­sumed it would be Wil­liam Walde­grave be­cause, when he was Pres­i­dent of the Ox­ford Union, he han­dled a visit from the Queen with such ease that he seemed the ob­vi­ous even­tual shoo-in for Her Majesty’s old­est or­der of chivalry.

Sub­se­quently, the boy done well, glid­ing through the Cabi­net to the House of Lords and end­ing up as Provost of Eton, but he was beaten to the Garter by some­one who wasn’t even on my list. And a woman, too.

El­iza Man­ning­ham-buller was ap­pointed to the Or­der of the Garter in 2014. At Ox­ford, she starred as the Fairy Queen in my un­der­grad­u­ate pro­duc­tion of Cin­derella. She was sen­sa­tional but, af­ter Ox­ford and her mo­ment in the lime­light, she dis­ap­peared into the shad­ows. We dis­cov­ered why, in 2002, when it was re­vealed that she had be­come the head of MI5.

I was work­ing for the Sun­day Tele­graph at the time and the only pho­to­graph of her we could find was a still from our stu­dent Cin­derella. The edi­tor ran it on the front page, un­der the head­line, ‘At last, MI5 has a real fairy in charge.’

For that 1968 Cin­derella, I in­vited as­sorted stars of stage and screen to come to Ox­ford to per­form a pro­logue.

One of them was the great James Robert­son Jus­tice, best re­mem­bered as Sir Lancelot Spratt in Doc­tor in the House and its se­quels. Half an hour be­fore he was due on stage, I went to the Ran­dolph Ho­tel to col­lect him. I knocked on his bed­room door. The fa­mil­iar voice boomed, ‘En­ter!’ I did. And there I found him, a moun­tain of a man, stark naked, ly­ing flat on his back, spread­ea­gled on the dou­ble bed.

What do I re­mem­ber most about his ap­pear­ance on that oc­ca­sion? His whole body was cov­ered with a for­est of curly, sil­ver hair and nestling in it, on his chest, was a sil­ver hip flask, open and now empty. I helped him to his feet. I helped him into his clothes. I helped him to the the­atre. He took the stage, un­helped, and by storm.

Jimmy Ed­wards was the next per­former I saw stark­ers. I was a young writer in my twen­ties and he was in his six­ties, with the glory days of Whack-o! and Take It From Here be­hind him. I was help­ing him with his war mem­oirs (he had earned his DFC). He pro­vided me with a fine liq­uid lunch at his cot­tage in the coun­try but, just be­fore throw­ing the steaks into the pan and open­ing the sec­ond bot­tle of wine, he took of all his clothes and sug­gested I might like to join him in his hot tub.

I didn’t, but I did spend many hours with him, talk­ing mainly, I re­call, of his woes and his money wor­ries. At the time I had money wor­ries (my first mort­gage), and felt for him.

If you have money wor­ries now, I feel for you, too. There’s noth­ing worse. Chat­ting re­cently with my friend Jef­frey Archer, he told me that of all the trou­bles in his life – a prison sen­tence in­cluded – noth­ing had been worse than money wor­ries.

I in­ter­viewed the late, great stage di­rec­tor Peter Hall when he turned sev­enty and while I wanted to talk about Shake­speare and Beck­ett, he talked mostly about the prob­lem he had pay­ing the school fees. He re­sented the fact that he had never hit the jack­pot as some of his con­tem­po­raries had done. ‘Trevor Nunn made a for­tune out of Cats. The near­est I’ve come to mak­ing any­thing was with Amadeus.’ Hall had six chil­dren by four wives. ‘Why do you keep on get­ting mar­ried?’ I asked.

‘Be­cause I’m a per­fec­tion­ist,’ he said. ‘When it isn’t all right, it’s all wrong’.

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