Diary – Monday 3 July 1995


Most people in the Tory party think they know all they want to about Peter Tatchell, the campaigner for Outrage, the action group for homosexuals. But he has one secret that may, I imagine, cause certain MPs to seethe with fury: Tatchell has been accepted into the Army.

Not now, of course (even though, as announced yesterday, an independent commission is looking into lifting the ban on homosexuals), but in the late Seventies. While working as an undercover journalist, he applied for, and was offered, an Officer’s Commission in the Royal Artillery. As a result of his brief but impressive training stint, he was offered a place at the Royal Military College, Sandhurst. He declined, to the evident disappointment of the college’s powers-that-be; they wrote him a letter expressing their “great regret” that he was not taking up his place.

“I reveal the news,” Tatchell told me, “in my new book, We Don’t Want to March Straight.

Talking of which, this forthcoming book (published 13 July) is raising eyebrows in the publishing world on account of the title’s remarkable similarity to Ed Hall’s new publication, We Can’t Even March Straight (published 4 May), on the same theme. According to Hall, the publisher Cassell was originally in negotiation for his book, but did not offer him enough money, so he went to Vintage. Whereupon Cassell commissioned Tatchell to write a critique of Hall’s work. Cassell, of course, denies this. And Vintage is shrugging it off; a spokeswoman said “Look at Tatchell’s title; it’s completely different. And ours is a serious work.” All very strange.

Still on military matters, on the eve of John Major’s shock announcement that he would be standing down as Tory leader, a body of British war veterans visited the Prime Minister at Downing Street to ask if they might have his backing in their pursuit of reparations from the Japanese for war crimes perpetrated in the Second World War – their court case in Tokyo begins on 27 July. In retrospect, one might have expected Major to be less than attentive. But far from it – he extended their allotted time with him from a quarter of an hour to 35 minutes. “Actually,” says a proud Japanese Labour Camp Survivors Association secretary, Arthur Titherington, “he kept both the President of the Board of Trade and John Gummer waiting outside.”

The burning question remains: who wrote Liz Hurley’s “I am alone” speech? Her publicists, Phil Symes, swear blind that she did it herself – and I am inclined to agree. When I phoned the agency last week to inquire after her welfare, I got the impression that perhaps it was not focused wholly on poor Miss Hurley’s predicament. A spokesman said: “Well, there’s nobody here at the moment. We’re incredibly busy. You see, Claudia Schiffer is in town.”

A year ago, the America’s Cup-yachtsman-turned-millionaire-entrepreneur Peter de Savary swore to me that he would never forget me since he thought, erroneously, that my name was Figgy. This, I should explain, happens also to be the name of his dog – “every morning when Figgy jumps on my bed to wake me, I shall think of you,” he had promised. Imagine my dismay when I ran into de Savary again last week at a drinks party to launch his exclusive golfing country club in the Scottish highlands, and found he had completely forgotten me. Never mind. It was a pleasure, though, to meet his beautiful, unspoilt daughter, Lisa, who clearly carries something of her father’s adventurous spirit in her genes. She had just returned from accompanying her boyfriend, Tim, on horseback around South America. Wasn’t it a bit uncomfortable, not to say dangerous? “But of course,” replied the amiable Tim. “That is why we did it.”

Yet another tale of how legislation emanating from Brussels is frustrating the best of commercial intentions comes from one Mark Vallance, owner of Wild Country, Britain’s leading provider of what is perhaps best described as “outside gear”. This weekend’s Euro-decree stated that mountaineering ropes should be left in “a controlled, humidified environment” for about 24 hours as part of a safety test and that, in order to test ice-screws (used to anchor something into ice), one should “find water of a certain purity … take it to freezing point and then drive the ice-screw in and test the force”.

“What a palaver,” says Vallance, “created by men in grey suits. Frankly, you could use a steel box to test the ice-screws; and as for the rope – what, for goodness sake, is wrong with dunking it in a bucket of warm water?”

On Saturday afternoon, only hours after the erstwhile Tory chairman Lord Tebbit publicly announced his support for John Redwood, I encountered him walking his dog – a nice-looking, healthy-sized kind of collie (not one, I imagine, that jumps all over his lordhip’s bed) – in London’s Belgrave Square. I, along with 250 others in hats, morning dress and the full wedding regalia, was on my way to a reception in Knightsbridge. Tebbit, in a green jersey, was grinning broadly at this spectacle of wealth, materialism and elitism – until a young woman in our midst suddenly yelled out at him, “Vote for John Major!” Tebbit’s mouth trembled, but the grin stayed fixed – accompanied this time by a slow, wolfish licking of the lips …

Boob time, I’m afraid. Last week I chronicled, on the strength of onlookers’ reports, how the British art dealer Anthony d’Offay had caused bad feeling at the Venice Biennale by using the British Council’s phones to make his own deals. Well … poof! My onlookers have vanished into thin air, and Mr d’Offay is feeling rather hard done by since he did not use the British Council phones once – a fact corroborated by Andrea Rose, head of the British Council. A thousand grovels to Mr d’Offay … and a memo to those now-vanished gremlins who swore they saw him using the phone: you were half-right; he did use the phone all day – but it was a mobile and, incidentally, his own.

The long and the short of it: a snippet of gossip hot from Wimbledon. Andre Agassi cuts his own hair. Or at least he is putting out the word to that effect. “Agassi, who does your hair?” a voice in the crowd yelled at him last Thursday. He shrugged: “It’s just a pair of scissors …”