Diary – Monday 15 May 1995


On Saturday, putting aside all professional rivalries, I attended the glorious and touching wedding of two (I must admit to it) great friends on a rival broadsheet. Politically, it was a highbrow occasion. One could not move without running into a cabinet minister or newspaper editor or twentysomethings hell bent on becoming either of the former. Interestingly, though, the smalltalk was not of Lord Nolan, but of Imran Khan and his impending nuptials with Jemima Goldsmith. “The really strange thing about it,” enunciated one politico “is not so much the matter of race, age or suddenness, but Ms Goldsmith’s proposal to use a British designer for her traditional Pakistani costume-style wedding dress.” Quite.

I bring, however, good news for all those similarly concerned. The designer Catherine Walker, who has been approached to make Ms Goldsmith’s Muslim gear, is thoroughly experienced in making them look truly authentic. Her last client requesting a genuinely ethnic look? The Princess of Wales for her royal trip to India.

One of the throng was Steve Hilton, the prodigy who used to run the Conservative Party account for Saatchi & Saatchi. (Nowadays he works for the New Saatchi agency, set up by Maurice Saatchi after his ignominious ousting from old Saatchis, which he and his brother had founded).

It seems that in addition to taking the £60m BA account from old Saatchis, New Saatchi intends to make further headway by setting up a branch in Hong Kong. Hilton, who has a new marine-style haircut, and his colleague Nick Hurrell are responsible for getting it under way. “I am just going for a few months to kick-start the whole thing,” Hilton told friends on Saturday. His flight, apparently, was on Sunday morning. Only one thing about the trip puzzled me: why was he flying Cathay Pacific?

I glean from my flatmate (a City man) that after the Barings fiasco, employees of certain British banks are, for the time being at least, showing an above-average appreciation for the daily presence of their colleagues – tea and coffee-fetching, dry-cleaner runs and trips to the shoe shiners are becoming regular features of office camaraderie. Alas, I fear the same is not true of certain American investment houses. On Friday, I was on the phone to a senior executive at Goldman Sachs. He suddenly interrupted me and said brusquely to someone who must have just entered his office: “No, I don’t want that.” Then he resumed his conversation. “Oh, that,” he explained airily, “was one of those collection envelopes that people bring round when one’s colleagues are leaving.”

Call me a snob but I’m afraid I associate Whiteleys shopping mall in London’s Bayswater with hordes of children, licking ice-cream cones, accompanied by harassed-looking parents trying in vain to look as if they are enjoying the family’s weekly outing to the shops. So when I received an invitation to visit the Ridley Art Society’s annual exhibition on the third floor last week, I was filled with dread at the incongruity of the prospect. The RAS is a genuinely serious artistic body and the modernity of some of their younger exhibitors would leave, I imagined, the ice-cream brigade somewhat bewildered.

On this point, I discovered, I was right. Pram wheels had left ugly tyre marks on Patricia Mackinnon-Day’s floor-work of red carbolic soap tiles – supposedly a work reflecting the very serious issue of Catholic guilt. Somebody had tried to get into the high chair of the RAS’s president, Brian Robinson – “I have to put it away in the evenings now,” he explained. But the mass exposure of the venue did pay off for Alexandra Julyan, whose design “Woody”, a striking cardboard sculpture of the rear end of a dog, was bought by one Whiteleys meanderer who chanced to be in the music industry. It will feature on a CD cover for an album called Woody’s End by a group called Officer.

Jill Morrell (you remember, the loyal girlfriend of the former hostage John McCarthy) has clearly been able to put the past behind her. Despite (or perhaps because of) her partner’s terrible experiences in Beirut, when he was kidnapped by Muslim fundamentalists, she is shortly to release her own book – on safe travel. “I hope she will do it in conjunction with a BBC TV series on the subject,” says her agent, Mark Lucas, adding, appropriately, in highway code: “We are just waiting for the green light.”

Though everybody else in Perth and Kinross, the former seat of the late Sir Nicholas Fairbairn, is expecting the SNPs to trounce the Tories at the by-election on 25 May, the Tories themselves remain blithely optimistic – at least in public. So much so that their candidate, John Godfrey, is launching one campaign from an erstwhile funeral parlour in Scott Street, Perth. “I can see the irony,” a spokesman admitted, “but in these situations you’ve just got to grab whatever premises you can.”

Dinner last week at Langan’s Brasserie in Mayfair was made even more entertaining by the arrival near midnight of the renowned conjuror Fay Presto, whose tricks really are quite something. “No, you do not have to be drunk to appreciate this,” she rebuked me sternly as she appeared to push a wine bottle through the table without the faintest tremor. Yet Ms Presto’s confidence ebbed when one bright spark round the table recognised her. “Fay Presto? You sold your Austin Allegro 10 years ago to a friend of mine.”

Ms Presto went a vivid shade of crimson, which I’m sure was merely down to the fact that the car had been mustard-yellow with brown Velcro seats, and not possibly because it had proved to be a complete proverbial “crapheap” with a lifespan of only 18 months for the poor buyer. Either way, there was a poof! and Ms Presto vanished from the restaurant.

So, Blackburn Rovers have won the Premier League championship, narrowly defeating Manchester United points-wise. I do not pretend to be a footie expert, but even I realise that it was a close thing. Blackburn, however, clearly never doubted the outcome. Last Thursday (the decisive match was on Sunday) a newsagent in Milcombe, Oxfordshire, received a list of forthcoming “one-shot” publications, one of which was a 32-page poster magazine called Blackburn Champs Special. The prescient blurb went on: “to celebrate Blackburn Rovers winning the 94/95 Premier League season.”