Mr Gossip reveals all!
Prince Philip’s other woman. Diana’s bad skin. HowMPs really fiddle their expenses.TV star, ex-MP and royal confidant GYLES BRANDRETH is the ultimate insider. In the year’s most colourful diaries, he shares his secrets
TThursday, August 30, 1990
HIS may be the day that changes my life. Nearly 20 years ago I met Jeffrey Archer for the first time. He was then the Conservative MP for Louth and he told me: ‘When you’re ready to become an MP Gyles, let me know. I’ll get you sorted.’ I’ve decided it’s time to take him up on the offer.
This morning I called Jeffrey. ‘Yes,’ he barked, ‘it’s about time.’ The man I need to see is Tom Arnold, vice chairman of the Conservative Party, in charge of candidates.
Tom Arnold went to my old school, Bedales. I’ve written to him.
Monday, November 5, 1990
SIR THOMAS and I exchanged pleasantries and then I came to the point. ‘Officially, the list is closed,’ he said. ‘But . . . you never know.’
Thursday, December 20, 1990
I HAD my second encounter with Tom Arnold last night. I knew I had to be in two places at the same time: on the stage of the Wimbledon Theatre, where I am appearing in panto — Cinderella — and in Sir Tom’s office at 32 Smith Square, London SW1.
Happily, the gods smiled on me and a moment or two before six, the theatre supper-break was announced. I tore off my Baron Hardup costume, threw on my charcoal-grey suit, leapt into a cab and stepped into Tom Arnold’s room on the dot of 6.30. ‘I appreciate I’m not on the list,’ I said, ‘but if a possibility crops up, would it be okay for me to throw my hat in the ring?’
He glanced furtively to left and right and then leant forward and in a voice barely above a whisper said: ‘I don’t see why not.’
Thursday, February 21, 1991
HALLELUJAH! A letter from the City of Chester Conservative Association inviting me to attend an interview.
I told Michèle [Gyles’s wife] and her first response was: ‘It’s f****** miles away!’ There wasn’t a second response.
Saturday, March 16, 1991
THE questions from the interview panel were a nightmare. Several I didn’t understand at all. One of the first was about farm subsidies. I hadn’t a clue.
Michèle said: ‘Don’t be very disappointed if you lose.’
Afterwards, we stood around, laughing nervously making small-talk. Then the local party chairman approached: ‘Congratulations. The vote was decisive. You are to be our prospective parliamentary candidate.’ By George, we’ve done it!
Thursday, March 21, 1991
Friday, October 11, 1991
A ‘BRIEFING’ from Peter Morrison, the current Conservative MP for Chester, who is standing down. The conversation didn’t exactly flow, but the gist of it was clear: ‘Write an awful lot of notes. The troops like to get handwritten notes. Sometimes I do 20 a night.
‘If you want my advice, never talk politics in the constituency. On the great national issues, take the moral high ground. On local issues, keep your head down. And anything to do with planning, don’t touch.’ THE Party Conference is an extraordinary phenomenon. It’s only the activists who sit through the debates. Everyone else is junketing, non-stop. I fell into conversation with one man who was standing as the candidate in some godforsaken northern backwater. ‘Do you live in the constituency?’ I asked. ‘Good God no,’ he spluttered. ‘Happiness is the constituency in the rear-view mirror.’
Wednesday, March 11, 1992
Wednesday, March 18, 1992
The General Election has been called for April 9. TODAY on the hustings our star attraction has been Jeffrey Archer. He has become a caricature of himself, thrusting his hand out towards bemused tourists and barking: ‘Jeffrey Archer. This is your candidate, Gyles Brandreth. Jeffrey Archer. Jeffrey Archer. Jeffrey Archer.’ Michèle was so embarrassed she slipped home.
Friday, April 10, 1992
I AM now the Member of Parliament for the City of Chester.
I’ve won. And it does feel good.
Thursday, April 16, 1992
THE Queen came to Chester today to bestow upon us the gift of a Lord Mayoralty in a little ceremony at the Town Hall. When I arrived at the Council Chamber it was made clear to me that a Member of Parliament is of little significance on these occasions. I took my allotted place at the end of the third row back. Mayors past and present, Sheriffs, Councillors and dignitaries by the score, processed to their places.
Just as the Queen and the Lord Mayor followed by Prince Philip made to leave, Prince Philip caught my eye. He moved down the line towards the cheap seats. ‘What are you doing here?’ ‘I’m the Member of Parliament.’ ‘Good God, are you really?’
It lasted only moments, but the effect on the Councillors was noticeable. And gratifying.
Monday, April 27, 1992
IT IS difficult to describe quite how miserable I feel. The plain truth is, today has been my first full day at the House of Commons and I have hated it. At 12.30, as arranged, I met Neil and Christine Hamilton in Central Lobby. Neil (now a junior minister at the DTI) and I set off to bag our places in the chamber.
Neil said we should sit in the second row, just behind the Prime Minister. We reserved our seats and went off to lunch.
At 2.30 we were back in the chamber for the election of the Speaker. The place was packed. I sensed immediately that sitting, literally, at the Prime Minister’s right ear was wrong, preposterous, risible. The whole amazing process of the election of the Speaker as good as passed me by.
When the vote was announced — the place erupted. History was being made. The Commons had its 155th Speaker and she was the first woman [Betty Boothroyd]. It was quite an occasion, but I loathed every minute of it. And it went on for two hours. At 5pm I made my way up to Committee Room 10 for the New Members’ Meeting. As we shuffled out, my Whip, David Davis, hauled me from the crowd. ‘I don’t know what you think you were doing sitting right behind the Prime Minister. Not a very good start. Don’t let it happen again.’
Tuesday, April 28, 1992
AT THE centre of Matthew Parris’s political sketch in The Times today we read: ‘Though Mrs [Edwina] Currie returns to her post as Madam Limelight, Gyles Brandreth (C. Chester) who, on his first day, walked straight into the prime TV “doughnutting” space behind the PM and sat down, is already mounting a challenge.’ This is exactly what I don’t want.
Thursday, May 7, 1992
MR FLETCHER in the Fees’ Office advises us that we should register London as our main residence (which it is anyway) because that’ll work to our advantage with the mileage allowance. For travelling between London and the constituency it’s 68.2p per mile if your vehicle is 2,301 cc and above, and 43.4p if you are between 1,301 and 2,300 cc.
Our old Mercedes falls into the lower bracket. Mr Fletcher explained that a number of MPs upgrade their cars to take advantage of the higher mileage rate. I don’t think we’ll be doing that. My salary is going to be just £30,854. Michèle is not amused. ‘You didn’t think about the money, did you? You were so desperate to find yourself a seat you rushed in regardless.’
Wednesday, July 15, 1992
THE pound is sagging, the Euro-nuts are rampant, Bosnia’s in crisis, but what seems to be exercising the PM [John Major] most is the rebellion on the Office Costs Allowance. Around 40 of our side voted to increase our secretarial allowance by about £7,000 more than the Government wanted.
The PM kept shaking his head and, of course, we toadies all followed our leader into the lobby, knowing that the rebels and the Opposition between them would give us the cash we need anyway. The new amount is £39,960. I shall claim the full amount, or near it, and at the same time enjoy the plaudits that come from having voted for restraint.
Tuesday, October 6, 1992
THE talk of the town is Norman Tebbit’s vulgar grandstanding barnstorming performance on Europe. I know he’s suffered for the cause of the party (his wife the more so), but there’s something quite nasty about Tebbit.
Wednesday, December 2, 1992
I HAVE just come from drinks with the Princess of Wales in the Cholmondeley Room. Everyone said how wonderful she was looking. I thought (ungallantly) that her skin had rather gone to pot: a sort of light pebble-dash effect on her beaky nose.
Wednesday, December 9, 1992
AT 3.30 today the PM got to his feet to announce the separation of the Prince and Princess of Wales. John Smith was commendably brief. Paddy Ashdown less so.
Tuesday, February 9, 1993
I DID my stuff as auctioneer at the Winter Ball. It turned out they asked me because they were weary of ‘Jeffrey’s hectoring tone’.
The best bit of the evening was encountering David Cameron, special adviser to the Chancellor.
‘Well done,’ he purred, pink cheeks glowing. ‘I hear you’ll soon be joining
us at the Treasury.’ ‘Really?’ I tried to look as if I knew exactly what he was talking about while being far too discreet to let on. ‘Tell me more.’
‘PPS to the Financial Secretary. Can’t be bad.’
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if it were true? In case it isn’t, I’ve not mentioned it to Michèle.
Wednesday, February 10, 1993
Monday, June 7, 1993
Tuesday, June 15, 1993
JUST as I was wandering off from the six o’clock vote, Stephen Dorrell, Financial Secretary to the Treasury, tapped me on the shoulder. ‘Have you got time for a drink?’
We went to the Smoking Room, happily deserted, and sat in one of the deep, uncomfy leather sofas by the window. ‘How would you feel about being my PPS?’ I heard myself saying: ‘Well, if you’re going to be a dogsbody you want to be one to a decent dog.’ IN the Whips’ Office, I arrived for ‘Drinks’ to be asked: ‘What do you know about Gordon Brown? Is he gay? We need to nail the bugger.’
The mood of the meeting was that Gordon ought to be gay, could indeed be gay, should in fact be gay, but maddeningly we have no evidence of any kind to suggest that he is gay! IT’S 9.30 on Tuesday night, Committee Room 10, where we are on Day 6 of our weary trudge through the fetid swamp of the 1993 Finance Bill. Michael Portillo is wishing he was at the Mansion House listening to the new Chancellor of the Exchequer [Kenneth Clarke] making his debut.
Michael bought white tie and tails for the occasion and then found that Harriet Hopeless [Harman — Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury] wouldn’t pair. She’s a cow.
(She’s also an inexplicable half-inch away from being wonderfully attractive. In the right light she’s almost gorgeous, but then she opens her mouth and suddenly you realise she’s not that pretty, she’s not that bright and — worst sin of all — she has no sense of humour.)
Saturday, September 11, 1993
THIS is so terrible I don’t want to write it down. Simon [actor Simon Cadell, Gyles’s best friend since their schooldays] is going to die.
We were in the kitchen having lunch. The phone went. Michèle answered. It was Simon. ‘I’m in the Harley Street Clinic. It’s not good news. I’m riddled with cancer.’
He was so brave and several times he tried to be funny. When we had both talked to him (and been wonderfully British and brave, too) we put down the phone and stood in the kitchen clinging onto one another, sobbing uncontrollably. It is so awful.
Friday, September 17, 1993
Friday, July 8, 1994
SIMON is the lead story on several front pages. ‘I am dying says Hi-de-Hi! star Simon’ [he played Jeffrey Fairbrother, holiday camp manager, in the BBC comedy series].
It is so strange to see my best friend’s funny, lovely, lopsided face, alongside these stark headlines. It’s an odd (macabre) thing to say, but I think he’ll be quite pleased with the coverage.
I’m going to lose Simon. That’s life. And I can’t bear it. ‘THE millionaire novelist and Conservative peer Jeffrey Archer is at the centre of an official investigation into alleged insider share dealings in Anglia Television, of which his wife is a non-executive director.’ O Jeffrey! Jeffrey! Jeffrey!
Sunday, December 4, 1994
WE WERE at the Albert Hall as guests of the ever-generous Chairman John Clelands and his wife Annie. John told us that Meatloaf had just given a concert in aid of the Prince’s Trust. Prince Charles arrived, not looking forward to it. John hadn’t been looking forward to it either, but it turned out to be sensational.
Said John: ‘All of Charles’s people were there having a great time in aid of the Prince’s Trust. And what did HRH do? He put in his earplugs and looked sad. As he left, he said: “Dreadful, wasn’t it?”
Tuesday, January 10, 1995
A MEETING with Hayden Phillips, Perma- nent Secretary at the Department of National Heritage, to discuss Honours [Stephen Dorrell has been appointed National Heritage Secretary and Gyles has transferred to the department with him].
After the door had been securely closed, he murmured: ‘This meeting isn’t taking place, you understand.’ ‘Of course,’ I murmured back. Of the great mysteries of British society — how to get a table at the Ivy, who decides who features in Who’s Who — none is more shrouded in secrecy than the honours system.
For much of the meeting Hayden held his notes close to his chest — literally — and, when I mentioned a name, he would glance slyly down at his papers and then purr at me, ‘ Mmm — Alan Bates? Mmm, yes, I think we can help you there.’ He played a funny cat-and-mouse game with a document which he eventually gave me, murmuring silkily: ‘I shouldn’t, I really shouldn’t . . . but why not?’ I presume he had intended to give me the paper — ‘Honours In Confidence’ — all along.
‘I felt the “K” for Robert Stephens was right, didn’t you? I saw his Lear and thought “Yes, yes.” ’ ‘Isn’t Donald Sinden on the list?’ He glanced down at his crib-sheet. ‘Mmm, it works on the escalator principle. You can be on the escalator for a year or two before you reach the top. I don’t think Donald Sinden’s been on the escalator in my time.’
‘I think he’s one for the escalator, don’t you?’
( Before he dies, Simon wants to see Don achieve his ‘K’ and if it can be done, it will be.)
Tuesday, July 18, 1995
I HAVE mastered the art of arriving at a Buckingham Palace Garden Party. The real time to reach the main gates is exactly 3.53pm. The riff-raff are already inside, so you have the pleasure of scrunching your way alone across the gravel, past the guardsmen, under the arch, across the deserted square, up the red-carpeted stairs and through.
Proceeding at a leisurely pace, taking in the pictures, pausing to admire the porcelain, you will arrive at the bay windows leading out onto the garden at 3.59 on the dot. It’s too late for the flunkies to push you out onto the lawn to join the crowds. You’ve
got to stay where you are, in pole position, for Her Majesty’s arrival under your very nose as the clock strikes four.
Wednesday, November 29, 1995
A SUMMONS to the Chief Whip’s office. He perched on one sofa. I perched on the other. ‘The Prime Minister hopes you will accept your first ministerial appointment by joining the Whips’ Office. Lunch?’
Saturday, December 2, 1995
MICHÈLE said to me: ‘I hope you’re happy now?’ She knows that we’re going to lose the election, that’s why she’s content for me to stand again. This could be my one and only chance to be in government.
Thursday, February 29, 1996
I WENT to see Simon at the Harley Street Clinic. It can only be a matter of days now. He has been so brave. He was too tired to talk, so I just burbled on, hugged him and kissed his funny bristly lopsided face and came away.
Thursday, March 7, 1996
SIMON died last night. He was my oldest and best friend.
Friday, March 8, 1996
SIMON gets a wonderful press. He claimed he never read his notices, but I think he’d have been pleased with these.
Sunday, March 10, 1996
DROVE to Honington for Simon’s funeral. I read the lesson without tears or a crack in my voice — which is really all I wanted to achieve. The church is small and the nave quite narrow and when I walked back to my pew, I somehow brushed the coffin — and thought immediately of Pa. When he died I remember my mother stroking his coffin as it was carried into the church. She stroked it so tenderly. I’ve had that picture in my head all day.
Wednesday, July 3, 1996
WE’RE not too happy with the PM because of his proposed Holy-Joe response to the recommendations of the Senior Salaries Review Body.
It looks as if the SSRB are wisely suggesting a £9,000 hike for backbenchers (up to £43,000 from £34,000) and what amounts to a sweet £17,000 more for ministers. This is 26 per cent plus-plus. The PM wants us to settle for 3 per cent. We want the money — we particularly want it now because it’ll mean enhanced pensions when we all lose our seats.
Thursday, July 11, 1996
AT around ten past midnight the deed was done. I am now £17,000 better off. The PM is seriously displeased.
Monday, December 16, 1996
THE evening began with the Chief Whip’s Christmas party at No 12. Deputy Prime Minister Michael Heseltine nodded a wintry smile. His wife Anne was rather more giving. I embraced her and introduced her to Michèle. Anne managed a good 45 seconds of tinkly charm before moving on. (M said to me later: ‘Don’t bother, really don’t bother. They’re not interested in you, and they’re certainly not interested in me.’)
Contrasting Heseltine’s common touch with John Major’s is fascinating. The PM arrived and the first person he saw was the Chief Whip’s assistant secretary Sarah Box.
He clapped his hands with genuine delight. She giggled and was thrilled. He took her hands in his, they spun round together. He kissed her. The PM is attractive to women in a way Heseltine (superficially more handsome, a self-styled hero) could never be.
Friday, February 28, 1997
THE Wirral South by-election result is entirely predictable: a 17 per cent swing to Labour. We’re doomed.
Tuesday, March 18, 1997
AT yesterday’s Cabinet, the PM announced the election would be on May 1.
Thursday, May 1, 1997
THE Chester result: Con: 19,253. Lab: 29,806. Lib Dem: 5,353. Referendum: 1,487. Loony and A. N. Other: 358. End of era. Chester RIP.
Friday, May 2, 1997
MAJOR has gone. Mr Blair has arrived and already the messianic fervour is a little too rich for my taste. And as for Cherie . . .
Sunday, May 18, 1997
THIS is perfect. We are in Sicily, and the sun is shining. I am lying on a deckchair by the swimming pool. It is 11 o’clock and my first cappuccino of the day has just been served. M booked this for us during the campaign. She knew we’d lose. (She proposed putting our flat in Chester up for sale during the campaign, too. Seriously.) She is very happy with the outcome of the election.
Everybody is. Britain is awash with hope. It’ll all go wrong, of course. But that’s not something that you can say out loud at the moment.
Friday, May 30, 1997
I AM on the train to Leeds, to record Countdown — six episodes. (And, yes, madam, since you ask, they do feed you the words through an earpiece. But, no, I won’t be wearing any more wacky jumpers.)
I am so lucky. Countdown called immediately after the election. I have a contract for a new novel. I have work — and plenty of it. Many of my colleagues have nothing. People think there are ‘directorships’ and all sorts of goodies awaiting ex-MPs. Not so.
What use is an ex-Tory MP to anyone? It’s fine for the few who are famous — e.g. Michael Portillo — but most of my former colleagues are shop-soiled, unknown, unfashionable and the wrong side of 50.
Sunday, August 31, 1997
I CAME down into the kitchen to make the early-morning tea and turned on the television and heard the news. Princess Diana is dead. I called Michèle and we just stood there watching. We just stood there. It was quite difficult to take in.
IT’S wall-to-wall Diana. Blair has been on the box and brilliant — if you like that sort of thing. William [Hague] botched it utterly. I am sorry for Diana, of course. And for her sons. This is a tragedy — but it is their tragedy, not mine. I cannot say that I am feeling this personally as the rest of the world seems to be doing. I am out of step with the rest of mankind.
Saturday, September 6, 1997
WE sat in the kitchen and watched Diana’s funeral. Tony Blair’s overemotional reading of the lesson was an embarrassment, but other than that it all worked.
INTERESTING call just now. I was surprised to see Prince Philip in the formal funeral procession, but I have now learnt why he was there. Prince Charles and Charles Spencer were expected to walk, with the boys, but it seems that Prince Harry and, in particular, Prince William were initially reluctant.
The Duke of Edinburgh, who had not planned to walk (he is merely the ex-father-in-law, after all), said to William: ‘If you don’t walk, you may regret it later. I think you should do it. If I walk, will you walk with me?’
Tuesday, December 9, 1997
AT THE Garrick Club lunch to celebrate Donald Sinden’s knighthood I sat next to Mary Archer. She was amazingly jolly, much less the ice maiden than she used to be.
I still can’t fathom the marriage. She gives him credibility, with the freedom to do as he pleases, but what does she get out of it? Money? A more exciting ride? It’s not a mere marriage of convenience: when they are together they do still seem to be in love: they certainly enjoy each other’s company. My psychiatrist friend says: ‘They share a life-lie.’
Saturday, April 18, 1998
I AM on the plane to Miami, on my way to the Bahamas. We are joining Sandy Gilmour [a friend of Gyles’s] and friends: the house belongs to his cousin, the Duke of Abercorn. The Mountbattens have their holiday home next door.
Saturday, April 25, 1998
MICHÈLE says this has been her best-ever holiday. It is idyllic here: pale sand, blue sea, clear skies, and easy company. The house is simple, but just right. We are in the room Prince Philip uses. They say he’s to be seen here, walking along the beach with the Duchess of Abercorn, hand in hand. We say: why not?
Sunday, November 21, 1999
IT’S all over. ‘Jeffrey Archer destroyed’ is the Sunday Telegraph headline. The News of the World has nailed him as a liar who was prepared to commit perjury in his libel action in 1986. The feeling is he’ll end up in gaol. Three to five years they reckon.
Michèle says I have been naïve. ‘He’s got self-deception written through him like the word Blackpool in a stick of rock.’
The papers are devastating. The collapse is complete. There is no bouncing back from this. Between 2pm and 5pm yesterday I managed to write a 1,000-word piece for The Sunday Telegraph.
I am going to write to Jeffrey now.
Monday, November 29, 1999
A HANDWRITTEN note from Mary Archer, in reply to my letter to Jeffrey:
Dear Gyles, YOU may choose to hunt with the pack or sympathise with the quarry. You cannot do both. Yours sincerely,
EXTRACTED from Something Sensational To Read In The Train by Gyles Brandreth, to be published by John Murray on October 29 at £25. © Gyles Brandreth. To order a copy (p&p free) for £22.50 call 0845 155 0720.