O bservation of the week: all too often a diary is
the achievement of those without achievement. I was an MP and a whip in John Major’s government. My political career did not amount to much, but at least my diary provides a partial record of those years. I have been keeping a journal since 1959. In many ways, it keeps me going. Much that I do, I do because of it. I seek out people and experiences, not only for themselves but also — and, sometimes, solely — so that I can write them up. My diary is proof of my existence. As Alan Clark observed, ‘A day that goes unrecorded is a day that’s disappeared.’ Recollection of the week: meeting John Profumo for the first time, at Toynbee Hall in the summer of 1968, and finding him (according to my diary) ‘the most charming man I have ever met’. I have encountered some considerable charmers since, but Profumo still ranks among my all-time top four — alongside Bill Clinton, Desmond Tutu and the actor Vincent Price. Profumo had the three essential qualities of the charmer: he appeared unconcerned with self; he gave you his undivided attention; he had impeccable manners.
Surprise of the week: Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex, is something of a charmer, too. I am making a documentary TV series marking his parents’ 80th and 85th birthdays and went to interview Edward (42 last Friday) at Buckingham Palace, in what is known as the Duke of Edinburgh’s Sunshine Room. On past experience I’d written Edward off as a bit of a whingeing wimp. On this occasion I found him wholly engaging: funny, friendly, unstuffy and, when he talked about his father and the achievement of the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme, both passionate and oddly moving. (He told me that the scheme, founded by Prince Philip 50 years ago, now has a presence in 115 countries around the world. Its impact is remarkable. In South Africa it operates in 45 correctional institutions, and more than 20,000 people have been through the programme. Of those released to date, only 12 have reoffended.) Edward is said to be his parents’ favourite son. I can believe it.
Royal revelations of the week (from other sources): the Duke of Edinburgh has dogs named after orchestral conductors (‘Here, Boult! Down, Beecham, down, boy!’) and the Queen, at the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales, was disappointed with the address given by Diana’s brother, not because of Charles Spencer’s ungracious remarks about the royal family, but because Spencer’s speech failed to do justice to his sister’s memory. Spencer was so busy knocking the press and insulting the royals, he left himself no time to pay proper tribute to Diana’s manifold gifts and achievements. The Queen (who takes her religion seriously) was especially saddened by the fact that her godson (Spencer) failed to acknowledge the importance to Diana of her personal faith. Horror of the week: in the hope of developing a new career as a straight actor, I had some publicity shots taken by the distinguished theatre photographer Fatimah Namdar. She chose to photograph me among the gravestones in Brompton Cemetery. As she snapped away, she suggested I keep my mouth shut. ‘When it’s open,’ she explained, ‘all your energy comes out of your mouth. We can’t hear a photograph: we can only see it. Close your mouth and your energy will come out of your eyes.’ Later she telephoned to tell me the pictures were brilliant, that I looked handsome, youthful and bursting with energy. I have just seen the pictures. I look like an elderly associate of Gary Glitter: Steptoe Senior auditioning for the part of Count Dracula.
Treat of the week: visiting the Americans in Paris exhibition at the National Gallery. The show is a sensation. As well as celebrated works by Sargent and Whistler, there are stunning pictures by a number of women artists I had never heard of, notably Cecilia Beaux and Mary Cassatt. I toured the exhibition three times and noticed that of the 97 different people portrayed, only one had her mouth open. (I also noticed that the catalogue says the model in Charles Pearce’s captivating ‘Fantaisie’, 1883, is ‘a young man’ dressed in a girl’s kimono. I am sure the model is a girl. I am a connoisseur of the boyish-girl thing. I’m with those who fancy Ruth Kelly and Jenny Seagrove. And yes, as it happens, I do share a birthday with Mark Oaten, but what’s that got to do with it?) Ialso share a birthday with Douglas Hurd, (8 March). Lord Hurd keeps a diary. He won’t be publishing it. He is definite about that. He does not need to, of course. His career is his achievement. That said, I suspect that, entirely because his diaries have been published, Alan Clark, who never made it to Margaret Thatcher’s Cabinet, will be better and longer remembered than Douglas Hurd, and most of the others, who did.
Highlight of the week: shaking the hand of Winston Churchill. I visited Churchill’s daughter, Mary Soames, who keeps a bronze of her father’s hand on her desk. It was taken from life and, as she said, is extraordinary because the hand is so small and delicate. Lowlight of the week: standing outside Huddersfield station waiting in the rain for a taxi, admiring the fine statue of Harold Wilson that dominates the station forecourt and finding that not one of the other eight people there knew who he was. It was 11 March, his birthday.