It’s not easy working out what to give Lord Lloyd-Webber for his 60th birthday. I mean he’s got a few bob, hasn’t he? Three ties and a shoehorn seem a bit inadequate. Particularly as his lordship flew 46 friends to Deià, a spectacularly beautiful village in Mallorca, for a weekend celebration. I decided on something really useful. A gold bus pass. So I telephoned Ruth Kelly, Secretary of State for Transport, and spoke to her principal private secretary, Anne Snelgrove. The dialogue went like this.
MW: Tell me darling, do you think we could ask Ruth if I could have a gold bus pass for Andrew Lloyd Webber?
Anne: Why would you want to give Andrew Lloyd Webber a gold bus pass?
MW: Well, it’s his birthday, it would be a bit different.
Anne: Is it on the first of April? [Bit of humour there, perhaps!]
MW: It’s this coming weekend.
Anne: I said the first of April because that’s when the bus pass extension is introduced. That means that instead of just being able to use the bus pass in your own hometown, you can use it anywhere in the country. [I bet you didn’t know that!]
MW: So he can use it anywhere. But would it be gold?
Anne: We can’t afford that. It’s already costing us a million quid. We can’t give out gold ones.
MW: What if I slipped you five grand in a brown envelope?
Anne: No, you couldn’t bribe Ruth.
MW: Why not? [I mean the country’s in a right state when you can’t even bribe a Cabinet minister.]
MW: Can I get a bus pass made in gold for Andrew Lloyd Webber?
Ruben: We’ve never had anyone ask that before.
MW: I’m prepared to slip ten grand in a brown envelope. We must have a gold bus pass for him. He’s getting on.
Ruben: How old is he?
MW: Sixty. I want to give him an unusual birthday present.
Ruben: That’s a really lovely idea.
MW: Thank you, Ruben.
Ruben: There is one thing, I don’t want to rain on your parade because I think it’s a really good idea. But I can’t actually see Andrew using it.
MW: Well, he may use it.
Ruben: That’s easy to sort. It’s a standard design so theoretically it won’t be a problem at all. When did you want it for?
MW: I’d like it tomorrow.
Ruben: We don’t have a foundry here, not even the Lavender Hill Mob, to say the least.
MW: Be positive, Ruben.
Ruben: We did have some gold Oyster cards made, one was given to the Mayor and one to Peter Hendy. They may have one left. I’m trying my hardest on this. I’ll have to call you back.
I was getting very excited. I told my lovely fiancée Geraldine Lynton-Edwards. She was unimpressed. ‘An Oyster card is just a credit card, you swipe it for buses and Tubes.’ ‘You mean it isn’t free?’ I asked. Apparently it wasn’t. What I found odd was this: Geraldine is driven around in one of my three Rolls-Royces by my chauffeur. How come she knows about Oyster cards?
I had to go down another route. I have a wholesale account with J.B. Silverware. I’m a great believer in the Woody Allen school on this. In a film with Diane Keaton she said to Woody, ‘In my family it’s considered bad form to put your elbows on the table.’ Woody replied, ‘In my family it’s considered bad form to buy retail.’ Kenny of J.B. is looking into making this gold bus pass, larger than the normal size and mounted on a white marble base. Andrew may have to wait a bit, bless him, but it’ll be worth it in the end. I already have a very fetching photo I took of him in Deià ready to leap on to the bus pass. What more could any man want?
Other than illicitly recording phone conversations with government officials and others, I’ve been out flogging my book, Michael Winner’s Fat Pig Diet. This is a diet like no other. You can eat chocolate cake, ice-cream, anything, only eat less. I’ve lost three and a half stone and kept it off. Being not so much an A-list celebrity, more a Z-list celebrity, turning up for book signings is a hit-and-miss affair. Some are massively attended. Some not. The dopiest was when I was sent to Brent Cross shopping centre on a Friday evening. This is the time that Jewish people, who largely inhabit that area, start their sabbath with a special dinner and prayers. So we only sold 20 books in an hour. I desperately tried to encourage giggling girls, Asian families, anyone, to buy. The bookstore manager said, ‘You know, Mr Winner, the most successful signing we ever had, we didn’t sell one single book while the author was here.’ ‘How could that be a success?’ I asked. ‘The author signed 250 copies of stock and they all went in the following two weeks,’ was the reply. There’s a saying in the book trade, ‘A book signed is a book sold.’ Since hearing that I’ve been rushing round signing anything, Jeffrey Archer, Enid Blyton, Proust. Wha’do I care!
This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated March 29, 2008