Diary – Monday 24 April 1995


Ye whose spirits have lifted with this year’s unusually early spell of warm weather (alas, now over) be warned: there are evil side- effects accompanying such natural bounty, and one has already reared its ugly head … or, to be more precise, its children. I refer to that terrorist of the wardrobe: the moth. There is an epidemic of the things, the like of which has not been seen for several decades. Hardware stores all over the country report huge rises in sales of moth-killer. One customer alone in Peter Jones, London, bought as many as 60 packets of moth-killer (mothballs went out years ago, dahling) in one fell swoop. “Although she probably didn’t need that much,” explains a salesperson, “this year people are complaining about plagues and things.”

Staff at the Natural History Museum in London are suffering, too. “They’re eating away in my house,” complained the receptionist when I rang to speak to the entomologist David Carver. “It is because of the warmer weather,” he agrees, “and also because of the high humidity caused by the extremely wet winter. There are two guilty parties – the house moth and the clothes moth – but of course it is their grubs that actually do the eating of fibres … particularly those that are unclean and have sweat patches.” Ahem.

All those who have ever idly queried the intelligence of the Liberal Democrats could have a point. For the forthcoming elections, candidates from all parties must fill in a nomination form on which there is the category “Description”. This is meant to be the slot for individuals to show which party they represent, but it is causing some confusion. Nobody to date has misread it so badly as one prospective Lib Dem lady, who wrote: “Blonde, five feet eight inches, and about 12 stone.” Luckily the powers-that-be at Lib Dem HQ returned it for a rewrite just in time.

Poor old Elizabeth Hurley! No matter how she tries – and she tells her friends she tries – she just can’t get people to take her seriously. Just imagine her thought processes before Sunday night’s Bafta awards: “What to wear? It ought to be glamorous, but not overdone. I can’t risk getting known for my cleavage alone … what about borrowing that backless fuchsia John Galliano dress I wore on a shoot for Town & Country magazine in New York? OK, I can’t wear a bra with it, but it’s a lot more understated than the Versace safety-pin number … perhaps those tabloid beasts will start to realise that I’m more than just a pretty face …”

Contrast, if you will, the low-key attire of the Bafta Best Actress winner, Juliet Aubrey, whose performance as Dorothea in the BBC’s Middlemarch is still talked about among the chattering classes. Ms Aubrey was attired from head to foot in elegant if funereal black. As a consequence, her picture did not appear in the papers at all, but her reputation as a serious actress was secure, while Ms Hurley, who jiggled her way down the Bafta stage looking like a pint of strawberry jelly, is still forever a fashionable flibbertigibbet.

Still, Hurley would have been quite at home at last week’s premire of Roman Polanski’s Death and the Maiden at the West End Curzon, since the dress code there appeared to be “the more famous, the sillier”. (In my list of costume awards the playwright Steven Berkoff came third, for looking – well, like Steven Berkoff; Maurice Saatchi came second for his foppish cream cravat, but winning first prize by a long way was Jeremy Irons, who distinguished himself by wearing dark glasses inside the building.)

Among the normally dressed, however, I was pleased to note the reassuring presence of the no-nonsense Downing Street caterer Clare Latimer, who was kind enough to divulge the recipe of her fruit punch (I won’t spoil her trade by repeating it here) and, more surprisingly, that of the Chilean cultural attach. She sought me out to explain she had come to represent the ambassador, who, as I have chronicled here in previous weeks, had suddenly withdrawn his offer of wine for the occasion. The attach’s gesture touched Ariel Dorfman, the play’s Chilean author, who was formerly exiled from his native land under the Pinochet regime. “I’m glad,” he said. “My relationship with the Chilean embassy has been somewhat” (long pause) “complicated.”

Rumour-mongering about the imminent retirement of Max Hastings, editor of the Daily Telegraph (initiated, I noticed, by the London Evening Standard, edited by the fiercely ambitious Stewart Steven) is being viewed with mirth by those who profess to know the truth at The Telegraph plc. I can only assume that the Standard’s misconception stems from Mr Hastings’s current predicament – he has slipped a disc and so gives a rather good impression of being on his death bed. Around 11am most mornings he may be viewed taking the daily conference flat on his back on a sofa in his office.

This morning Nicholas Payne, director of the Royal Opera House, will announce the good news that after an absence of two years, Jos Carreras is to return next January to play John the Baptist in Massenet’s Hrodiade – a lightened version of the biblical story of Salome, in which the heroine dances before King Herod, who is so beguiled he says she can have anything she wants … and her answer is the head of John the Baptist. In Massenet’s version, however, John’s death is blamed entirely on wicked King Herod, and Salome is an innocent. Tickets will be upwards of £200, and why not? It all sounds like the sugary stuff we’ve come to associate with Carreras’s performances – until, that is, Payne comes to mention the name of the producer: Hermann Nitsch. Nitsch’s genre is described at home as “orgien- mysterientheater”. This, loosely translated, means orgies-and-mystery theatre – and its very mention causes mass giggling at the press office of the Vienna State Opera. “Hermann Nitsch?” asks a spokeswoman, “yes it was his production of Massenet’s Hrodiade that was controversial here.” Naked bodies? I query. “Yes,” comes the sighing reply, “lots of naked bodies.”

Apathy appears to be the current watchword among BBC staff, judging from the pitiful response to an internal questionnaire emanating recently from the office of managing director of network television, Will Wyatt. Only 38 per cent of the Beeb staff reciprocated the unusual gesture of internal consultation and returned it, playing, of course, right into the management’s hands. But then, perhaps I have misread the situation. Perhaps it is precisely because they have such utter confidence in their superiors that they feel they need not interfere.