Diary – Monday 30 January 1995


It seems that something happened last week: proof, at last, that Britain’s national identity has been lost for ever. What was it – has the Encyclopaedia Britannica dropped its second name? Is Rule Britannia no longer to be the rousing finale at the last night of the Proms? Of course not. A building society, The Britannia (a title I have always thought is much better suited to ships), merely decided to get rid of its logo, the woman warrior in classic pose with Union Jack shield and trident. So what?

After all, the Bank of Scotland is soon to produce a Star Trek bank card, which is a far cry from the bank’s traditional St Andrew’s Cross-festooned chequebooks, but nobody north of the border has raised so much as a squeak. The Britannia, too, needs to find a popular image that will help bring it the commercial success it needs.

If anything, I’m glad the old, anachronistic Britannia symbol is going. I spend a lot of time defending my country against accusations by north American friends that Britain is out-dated, jingoistic and isolationist. Now I will, at least partially, be able to prove them wrong.

Talking of Britannia, I am reminded of a yarn about the athletic Labour MP Kate Hoey, whose hearty enthusiasm once caused Neil Kinnock’s imagination to work overtime: he called her Ho Ho Hoey. Ms Hoey, a former Northern Ireland high-jump champion, has earned a few people’s disapprobation by landing various soccer bigwigs in the proverbial manure, as she did in the Commons last night.

Still, in Hackney they love her unreservedly. Many moons ago Ms Hoey, then a local councillor, founded a leisure centre, which she named the Britannia. She would not rest, however, until she won permission for a wave machine to be installed in the pool there – something that gave the councillors coronaries just to think about. (They wanted money spent on sensible things, you see.)

“They hated her for it,” says a friend, “but she didn’t care.”

Spotted by yours truly at the Royal Opera House on Friday night was the BA chief executive, Sir Colin Marshall, and his wife, accompanied by – you’ve got it – the former Saatchi’s director, Maurice Saatchi, and his novelist wife, Josephine Hart.

Theoretically, of course, the £60m BA account is still open, although if I were a rival ad exec I wouldn’t fancy my chances much.

I know that Valentine’s Day is a whole 15 days away, but is there a man in the country who has not already booked the flowers, the restaurant, the gifts?

Oh yes, there is. My fiance has a quite stunning record of forgetting about it every year, no matter how hard I scribble all over his diary in January, “Remember 14 Feb”.

Trouble is, boys, the longer you leave it, the harder it is to get in anywhere. Le Caprice, in London’s West End, and Albert Roux’s Quat’Saisons outside Oxford, are already fully booked. Further researches revealed a similar state of affairs elsewhere inthe country. Ah well. If you fail you can always copy my fiance, who says every time: “Of course I didn’t book anywhere – you’ve got far too much taste to want to sit in a restaurant with hundreds of gruey twoeys.” Humph.

Memo to Gary Lineker: Please would you consider moving to Essex? The brash reputation of that county was reinforced for me when I learnt that David Sullivan, the man who is bringing a soft- porn channel to our televisions, lives there – in the inevitableneo-Georgian mansion. As a former citizen of the county I wish fervently that we could produce one icon of decency to compensate for men such as Sullivan.

As it is, many people I know who live there still find themselves apologising for the fact. Only the other night I overheard a middle-aged couple greet another couple at a London theatre. “Where are you living now?” inquired one man of the other. “Essex,” replied the man. “Suffolk,” replied his wife simultaneously – treading, I noticed, rather hard on her husband’s foot.

Prince William is to have, it is reported, 18 bodyguards at Eton, should he go there – paid for by local taxpayers. Eighteen? Isn’t that rather excessive, given that the Thames Valley police force, from whom they are to be recruited, is likely to lose 150 officers in cuts this year?

Still, bodyguards have their uses – not all of them as obvious as you might think. A friend of mine who was at Cambridge with Prince Edward once commented on his popularity there. “No question the Prince was very amiable,” confided my friend, “but that wasn’t the reason for asking him to dinner,” he smirked. “The truth was that one of his bodyguards was bloody good company.”