Diary – Monday 28 August 1995


Royal Albert Hall administrative staff must be rejoicing that there is, after all, a God. The power-cut epidemic has finally struck elsewhere – Glyndebourne, to be precise. Last Wednesday, an hour before the 5pm curtain-up for Tchaikovsky’s The Queen of Spades, everything suddenly stopped functioning – the lights, refrigerators, air conditioning.

The performance was delayed for almost two hours and the side-effects were not amusing. The Moet started to turn warm; men in their dinner jackets began sweating (including, noticeably, the governor of the Bank of England, Eddie George); glamorous women in their Belville Sassoon numbers could not go to the ladies because, once inside, they could not see. And of course, since the bar was completely unprepared for the extra demand, people had to queue for ages.

But the most disastrous news was delivered by a harassed-looking Glyndebourne owner Sir George Christie, after the fault (on an internal generator) had been fixed towards 7pm. The opera, Christie announced, would go on, “but on account of the time shortage … [small, tremulous pause] … those dining in the interval will have to choose one course only.”

Which news, according to my spy, caused the less-exalted and non-corporate picnickers to look very smug indeed.

Have any listeners to Classic FM spotted the mistake in the Rover 800 advertisement? The narrator describes the crowds eagerly awaiting the royal party in the Royal Enclosure at Ascot. When a Rover 800 draws up they presume, wrongly, that the Queen & Co have arrived.

A plausible enough scenario? No. Neither the Queen nor the other royal guests ever arrive at Ascot by car – they always travel by horse-drawn carriage from Windsor. Lintas, the advertisement production company, was impressed by my discovery (I felt it only decent to call) but will not be changing the ad.

It has caused amusement at Buckingham Palace, where they did notice the error but politely said nothing. “Actually, I do go to Ascot in my Rover,” admitted a press officer, “but then that is really neither here nor there.”

Time was when schoolchildren received their O- and A-level results behind closed doors. If you did well you didn’t have to perform an ecstatic whoop or a sultry smile for the lurking paparazzi wanting to shove your features on to the front pages of national newspapers. But now teenagers believe that getting a handful of As means automatic celebrity. And if the newspapers are remiss in coming to you, then you, in entrepreneurial spirit, think nothing of going to the newspapers.

Such is the behaviour of 17-year-old Justin Marston. Under the guidance of his proud parents he has issued a press release stating that he was awarded six grade. As at A-level and two grade 1s in A-level special papers. This, according to the self-published hand-out, “followed a week in hospital last Easter on intensive treatment for a painful wrist repetitive strain injury which made writing difficult. Though the injury was related to flute playing, Justin managed to complete music A-level. To ease the pain of continuous writing in examinations he was given a special pen holder, although this was not totally effective.”

Puke-making stuff which, alas, gets worse (youngest ever Fellow of the Royal Statistical Society, etc). Yet in the last paragraph it is revealed that this academic paragon has – horror – failed to get into Cambridge. Might this be the reason for the press release?

“Oh no,” insists his father. “I am not waging a campaign against the university. We were just advised to send off a press release about Justin after some of the local press were interested. After all, he is exceptional. His sister – who has just got 10 grade As in her GCSEs, six of them starred – is quite ordinary by comparison. I mean, that’s only GCSEs. We really don’t know how clever she is yet.”

This week sees the perma-tanned American illusionist David Copperfield having another crack at incorporating the UK into his international fan club. His first visit here last year, you may remember, was an unmitigated catastrophe. The British critics, including yours truly, panned the awful vainglorious schmaltz which accompanied his magic, spectacular though that was.

But this time Copperfield has received huge image-restoring aid from an unexpectedly prestigious British quarter – Madame Tussauds. Today he unveils a waxwork of himself there – flying. And no strings.

“It is the first time we have ever had a flying waxwork,” says the sculptor Stuart Williamson. “He is about six feet off the ground with no ropes. To be honest, he looks more like he’s jumping over a hedge than floating in the air, but then I don’t really know what flying men look like. I can’t tell you how its done, I’m afraid. But he did give us some excellent magic tips.”

Evidence that there is veracity in the weekend reports concerning the dangers of new police handcuffs. (They are far too tight, according to Greenpeace protesters seeking compensation for broken wrists, chipped nail varnish and the like).

On Saturday night, towards midnight, I was queuing for the Sunday papers in a newsagent’s on King’s Road, London, when a policeman started brandishing his handcuffs at me. I went into shock and stared dumbly at him. Before I could protest my innocence, he smiled: “It’s all right. I’m not going to arrest you.”

Big sighs all round followed by hysterical laughter from me. “What were you doing then, to frighten me like that?”

“Well, you see,” he explained, holding out the offending chains, “they are locked so stiffly, see, that I was trying to get them undone. But I can’t; so it looks like I won’t be arresting you – or anyone else for that matter.”

Benevolent comment on Virginia Bottomley from Labour’s Graham Allen. As “shadow minister for media, broadcasting and the information superhighway” and thus Bottomley’s sparring partner, Allen has just returned from the Silicon Valley in California fired with techno-enthusiasm. His expertise is demonstrated in an almost unintelligibly impressive essay in this month’s Wired magazine, all about online citizenship. I suggested, mischievously, that it might be a teeny bit high-powered for Virginia to get to grips with. “Possibly,” he conceded, modestly. “But that doesn’t matter. The main thing is, she takes a mean picture.”