Diary – Monday 7 August 1995


Will Carling’s relations with the Princess of Wales are not nearly so intimate as various scummy tabloids have been suggesting. In fact, the two friends might have had cause to quarrel quite recently when one of the Princess’s better secretaries left to work for Carling.

According to my spies, the young lady (whose identity I have promised not to reveal) was showing visible signs of ennui at her royal post – one imagines nail-filing, yawns, etcetera – details picked up by the eagle- eyed Carling. “He asked her, during a visit to the Princess one day, if she would like to work for him,” explains my source, “and that, so to speak, was that.” The young lady, I gather, is now wonderfully happy in Carling’s employ. The Princess, on the other hand has been heard ruefully muttering something along the lines of “Why is it always the best ones who go?”

News from Knin, Croatia, where one of my oldest friends, Roland Dangerfield, a captain in the Royal Dragoon Guards, is the sole British Army officer in residence. He was taking a shower when the war started and had to retreat to his bunker clad in only a towel.

“It has been pretty terrifying,” he told me on a crackly line yesterday. “Now there is only small-weapon fire throughout the day. We’re not entirely sure what it is. It could be Croatian celebrations or it could be Serb retaliation. Whatever it is, I’ve got to stay here to act as liaison officer – just in case the Serbs counter-attack.

“It is very weird being in a town whose ownership has changed overnight. Windows are smashed. There are craters in the ground and, of course, refugees all over the place.”

“Why, though,” I had to ask him, “were you taking a shower minutes before 5am if you knew in advance that was the appointed hour for the war to start?” “I didn’t expect them to start a few minutes early,” he replied.

Back home, his father, Michael, a retired major, provided a further explanation. In the vein of Anthony Andrews playing Sir Percy Blakeney in the film of The Scarlet Pimpernel, he advised: “It’s absolutely imperative, m’dear, to be tidy for a war.”

I know I promised a month ago that you’d never have to hear about my wedding ever again, but judging from my postbag and phone calls beseeching me to give just a teeny post-mortem, I have decided to indulge all of us.

The day went off with only two minuscule hitches. First, my now step-uncle-in-law arrived late for the church and, oblivious to all signposts, parked in the space designated for my car. This meant I had to walk through a small wilderness to get to the church, catching my veil on all sorts of nasty bushes, which flattened my carefully coiffed hair. The real disaster, however, was my “hold-up” stockings (pounds 12 a pair from Harvey Nichols). No sooner had I arrived at the church porch, resplendent on the exterior, than beneath all the petticoats, the stockings fell down. Horreur! I couldn’t get my father or the vicar to rectify the situation, nor could I traipse down the aisle with frilly lace stocking tops peeping out over my shoes. Fortunately, my wonderful dressmaker leapt to attention and with one deft movement – too quick, she assures me, for anyone to see a flash of thigh – she hitched them up again, shaking with silent laughter all the while.

Contrary to what you may have read in other newspapers, it is not the fact that the unorthodox composer Sir Harrison Birtwistle has been commissioned to write a piece for the last night of the Proms that has worried anyone. Rather, the problem is that it will be played in part two, not part one of proceedings. BBC2 (serious, musically intellectual) shows part one; BBC1 (newsy, musically populist) shows part two.

I’m told that when BBC1’s controller, Alan Yentob, discovered that Sir Harrison would be shown on his channel, he went, to quote a colleague, bananas, calling emergency board meetings and conferences with Proms director Sir John Drummond.

Yentob, it is widely rumoured, even went so far as to suggest that if there could not be an interval, there could at least be “a technical fault” blocking transmission during the Birtwistle performance.

All to no avail. Sir John has remained firm, my sources tell me, wallowing, doubtless, in the delicious irony that the Birtwistle piece is entitled “Panic’.

BBC and Proms people deny this – so I’ll be watching BBC1 with bated breath on the night.

You would have to be blind, deaf and dumb not to know that John Major is on holiday in the Dordogne. Not a day goes by without somebody writing a piece speculating about if and how he will accidentally bump into Tony Blair, en vacances in the same region.

But there is one, however, who has remained in blissful ignorance of the Prime Minister’s whereabouts. Step forward, Terry Major-Ball, the PM’s brother, who has himself enjoyed a one-day holiday with his wife, Shirley, in Eastbourne. “Oh, is he on holiday?” he asked me, rather surprised, last week. “In that case, I must remember not to call him up in London.”

It has been an unfortunate week for nationwide book retailer Books Etc. Its nominated children’s book of the month, The Garden, by Dyan Sheldon and Gary Blythe, is advertised prominently in all branches with posters showing a small girl in a tent in a garden at night.

The wonder of it is that they say that no customers have complained, in the wake of the horrific murder of seven-year-old Sophie Hook more than a week ago.

“These things are very, very difficult,” sighs chief executive Richard Joseph, who has small children himself. “Where do you draw the line? The posters were printed months ago. It would have been very difficult to find a substitute. None the less, we would have reacted if any of our customers had said anything. The last thing we want to do is to cause offence.”