David Cameron had me in his arms. His breath was warm on my face. Oh, be still my beating heart! It all lasted less than an hour, but I shall never forget. Yes, the probable future Tory leader and I enjoyed our own brief encounter — on the dance floor. I first met Mr Cameron when he was 25 or so and working for Norman Lamont, who was then Chancellor of the Exchequer. Mr Lamont, who had been on holiday with my family, had heard me sing. Rashly, he asked me to perform at his 50th birthday party at No. 11. Being a Eurosceptic, he was particularly keen on the German song ‘Lilli Marlene’. Poor David was put in charge of the arrangements. We sat next to each other at a dinner beforehand given by Carla Powell. I can assure the public there were no drugs taken except alcohol and cigarettes, mostly smoked by me. I was a trifle clattered when I arrived in Downing Street. It is no mean thing to have to get up scantily clothed in front of such people as Nicholas Soames and young Winston Churchill, and perform. Still, they stamped their feet — perhaps in disapproval. After it was over Mr Cameron asked me to dance. Though Mr Cameron was tall, good-looking and had all the necessary limbs, I was chary of this. I had yet to meet a young man who could dance. Most men in their twenties who look good in a stationary vertical position, upon starting to move to music resemble a puppet manipulated by a bulldozer. Mr Cameron was biblical in his revelation. He touched the floor with the grace of Astaire and the manliness of Gene Kelly. This week I even felt a sense of loss when I had dinner with Rosemary Lamont. She said that after the dance she had hoped David and I would ‘get on’. A while later I recall that he asked me to a Tory winter ball at a London hotel, but one of us was forced to cancel. Shortly after that, he began going out with Samantha Sheffield, Annabel Astor’s infinitely more suitable daughter. As Professor Higgins says, ‘Damn, damn, damn!’ Oh, why did I muff my chance to become the wife of the next Conservative party leader and perhaps First Lady? I have always looked rather good in the pillbox hats worn by Jackie Kennedy.
Apropos the Camerons, I have a sword- stick that was a gift from Samantha’s grandmother. Not to me, but to my late father. He was in love, much to my mother’s fury, with Annabel Astor’s mother Pandora. Pandora was the Vivien Leigh (minus the dottiness) of the 1960s. My father took her present to be symbolic — but his hopes as a swordsman were never realised as far as she was concerned. The silver handle of the sword-stick is engraved with lines from Oscar Wilde’s ‘The Ballad of Reading Gaol’: ‘The coward does it with a kiss, the brave man with a sword.’ Now it is illegal to use it. But it enjoyed one last outing recently. I used it to extract a burning-hot piece of steak from the back of my oven. Sadly appropriate, now that we are just a society of steak-holders.
This week the Independent telephoned to ask me ‘why men are crap’ for a feature they were doing. I was actually lost for words. For a whole minute I could not think of any reasons why men were ‘crap’. The woman on the other end of the phone seemed horrified. ‘Come on now,’ she chided à la Margaret Rutherford. ‘It can’t be that difficult.’ Suddenly it vomited out of me. They look foolish when they smoke cigarettes, like baboons holding Fabergé canes; technology baffles them, and so forth. When the interview was over I felt guilty. No, I admit it, petrified. Would I ever get another date? On the other hand, it seems endemic to attack men. Maureen Dowd, the venerable New York Times columnist, has written a new book entitled Are Men Necessary? Dowd obviously thinks not. She advocates the presidential candidacies of Hillary Clinton and Condi Rice on the grounds that they possess ‘real’ testosterone. ‘Both can be steely by day and shimmer at night. Condi even set a new standard for dominatrix diplomacy when she reviewed American troops in Wiesbaden wearing a long black Matrix jacket and black leather stiletto boots.’ Pace Dowd, this isn’t new at all. Catherine the Great used to review troops in a male military uniform and a Cossack hat. Queen Christina of Sweden wore thigh-length men’s footwear. It is not true that women have always been the footsoldiers of history, as it were. I prefer the men to wear the uniforms, though. Indeed I recant everything I said to the Independent. Now why doesn’t that telephone leap from its hook?
My old mentor Peregrine Worsthorne has written an astonishingly nasty review of the Duff Cooper diaries, edited by John Julius Norwich. Sir Peregrine refers to Cooper as a ‘shit’ and a ‘bounder’. I gather he was rung up by a newspaper diarist who asked him if the review had anything to do with his dislike of John Julius Norwich, Cooper’s son. Sir Perry replied, ‘It has nothing to do with my dislike of John Julius.’ When I started work as a trainee journalist on the Telegraph, I occasionally wrote profiles for the Sunday comment pages, edited by Worsthorne. One day he summoned me into his office and said, ‘I want you to write a profile of John Julius Norwich.’ I was told that the piece must be highly unpleasant, as the seemingly delightful Norwich was really the most evil man in the world. I duly did as I was told. It later turned out that Perry had become incensed at poor Norwich because he had the effrontery to disagree with something he had said at a dinner party. It is the only journalistic work of mine of which I am truly ashamed — on moral grounds. John Julius behaved like the genuinely delightful man he is. He forgave me.
Pundits, including Lynne Truss in a tome called Talk to the Hand: the Utter Bloody Rudeness of Everyday Life, complain about the declining standards among the young. But what of the declining standards among the old? Lately I have been shocked by the behaviour of elderly people. They have become impatient, aggressive, hard-drinking, and many appear to suffer from Tourette’s syndrome. Perhaps it is the fault of the fiftysomething generation that grew up in the 1960s and abandoned all respect for the aged. But the aged have abandoned respect, too. They are even breaking the last social taboo — jumping queues. In Waitrose the other day an old man with a large trolley manoeuvred himself ahead of me and my small basket. When I protested he replied, ‘Shut up, you bitch.’ I was forced to tell him to mind his linguistic output. Another example: boarding a train I offered to help a female pensioner with her bag. She looked at me with the 20/20 steeliness of a gangland hitman. ‘I know the game of people like you. You just want to nick it.’ People like me? Just want to nick it? As she leered at me I sniffed liquor on her breath. Drunk, too, eh? Moreover, they display a shocking ignorance of history and current affairs. A 70-year-old man I know who was educated at Oxford refused recently to believe that Barbarossa was the name given to a wartime invasion plan.