30 JUNE 2001, Page 56

Sporting victories


Dear, oh dear. A perfect record has been spoiled. After losing one massive libel case to socialite Rosemarie Marcie-Riviere (now socialising somewhere down below) in 1986; another to the Aga Khan (we have since kissed and made-up) in 1987; and still another to Sylvester Stallone (I wouldn't kiss him even if he was as cute as Betty Grable) in 1991, Judge Morland has judged in my favour, a first for the poor little Greek boy in this tight little island.

When I lost to Rosemarie after two weeks of ferocious name-dropping in court 13, the then sainted editor Charles Moore ordered me to keep quiet in case Justice Otton held me in contempt. When the press demanded a statement I asked for the name of the Luftwaffe pilot who bombed the Temple in 1942 so I could name my next son after him. Now, having run out of time, I will name my first grandson Morland. As the case will probably be appealed by Mohamed Fayed, I better not go on, suffice it to say that it gave me back faith in British justice. After all, I only meant to help a poor man whom I've never met have his day in court, and bore no malice against Fayed.

I read the good news as I was leaving Ascot in a drunken haze, having got off the airplane from the Bagel that morning. Just defending myself cost me £80,000 pounds, and if I count all the cases throughout the years, it comes to a pretty penny, as they used to say in black and white films.

Mind you, one has to be magnanimous in victory and a good sport in defeat, and as far as I'm concerned the matter is closed. But somehow, suddenly, England doesn't look like such a bad place after all. And speaking of England, I went down to Devon to play cricket over the weekend, and now it's the Riviera that looks like hell by comparison. (More about cricket later.) The reason I hate Blair's government with such a passion has nothing to do with politics, but with his policies to dismantle England. What Philip II, the Kaiser and Adolf Hitler failed to do — all three enemies of freedom and of England — the British electorate seems to have succeeded in doing. Let me explain. If one thinks of America as a constitutional country, Britain has to be thought of as an institutional one. We must also remember that the Englishspeaking world began with England. This England, with its 800-year-old jury system and English common law, is about to be traded for the straitjacket of Continental law, with professional jurists deciding on the verdict. Worse, the philosophy of world domination, best known as socialism, was never excised from its original homes, Germany and France. The socialist twins now call themselves the EU, with yesterday's communists taking the helm all over Europe, claiming to be new, 'good socialists. Blair's Third Way is a ruse to make the English sleep, and once he has dismantled the country's institutions, it will be too late. But back to cricket and old England.

I had never been to Devon, 'the very land of green lanes and pretty thatched cottages with verandahs and shrubberies, with sounds of the harp or piano coming through the windows,' according to Elizabeth Barrett. It's the loveliest of counties, real England, and my host's house is on a hill which overlooks a broad estuary valley. Tim and Emma Hanbury are great hosts, seating 38 people for lunch and dinner, and putting up with a hard-drinking and harder-living bunch for three days. I was an usher at their wedding 21 years ago, and I'm devoted to them. Timmy was challenged to a cricket match by Zach Goldsmith, accepted 3-1 odds against, and rounded up some golden oldies like Victor Cazalet, a renowned gentleman cricketer and racquets player; the pride of Persia, Sharia Bachtiar: our captain John Parry; and yours truly, the worst player as well as the oldest on the field by 15 years.

Zach's team — although I don't go in for this sort of thing, I couldn't help notice was the best-looking eleven ever — were all in their twenties, and consisted of famous gamblers like his brother Ben, Sebastian Lee, lain Russell, Tom Parker Bowles and the pride of cricketing Greece, Manoli Yanagas (who hit about six sixes). It is very difficult to describe the absolute beauty of playing cricket with good friends on a perfect sunny day at a private cricket pitch on a June weekend. Perhaps Evelyn Waugh could do it justice, but I won't even try.

When two female streakers appeared out of the blue, Ben Elliott was so discombobulated, he lost both his cup and his wicket. The oldies lucked out because Zach's bowlers refused to go all out against types like me. Just as well. I had lost my heart to a 17-year-old on Friday night, and was a bumbling wreck throughout this most wonderful of English weekends.