Penny Smith gives a rundown of her week
No matter what happens, Friday is always a big day for those of us who do five days of getting up at sparrow’s cough. The prospect of two days of lie-ins is so exciting it makes me feel giddy. My self-imposed rule of no drinking and no caffeine is broken at weekends. Friday is Clare Nasir’s birthday. She is our vastly overqualified weather presenter. I share a dressing-room with her (or Andrea McLean) and whoever is reading the news on the GMTV Newshour. Our room is barely big enough to hold a stag beetle wrestling match. Clare is very useful for site-specific forecasts. ‘The Opera House, this evening?’ I ask. ‘You’ll be fine without a coat,’ she says. She’s right. I bump into actress Sue Johnston in a restaurant where I nip in for a bowl of stir-fried veg and a glass of champagne beforehand. Don Carlo is a long old slog, and I can’t do it on an empty stomach. The Opera House is packed — Rolando Villazón is singing the title role. Oh no he isn’t. Apparently, he’s got a cough or something. Darn. His replacement has a good voice, but he has the stage presence of a sock.
On Saturday, I drink three cups of coffee, and get so shaky I could sand the sitting-room floor if I had scratchier soles. Do paperwork until it’s time to head to the Opera House again. Yes, I agree, it’s excessive. Ever since I discovered the joys of sinking into a warm morass of warbling, I’ve been addicted. Tonight, it is brilliant. Ariadne auf Naxos, by Richard Strauss. Chocolatey, scrumptious, meltingly beautiful music.
On Sunday, awake at 11 a.m. Stretch and reflect on the bliss of an 11-hour sleep. Then suddenly remember that I’m supposed to be at a church in Putney for a christening. Phone my sister to check on what you wear. ‘Posh,’ she warns. Phone Clare. ‘Sunny,’ she says. Hastily iron a frock, and throw myself into the car. Make it with five minutes to spare. After the church service, we retire to the after-christening party where I sit with my friends under a tree in the garden, drinking elderflower cordial and discussing the big news of the day — a presenter we all know who allegedly had her hands round the neck of a photographer during a scrum after a court case.
Monday, 4 a.m. Noses back on grindstones. Mondays are always hideous. Peer over the computer at my Newshour co-host John Stapleton. ‘How was the weekend?’ He dined with friends and relations on both nights. The local bottle bank had been alerted. We go through scripts and write our questions for the interviews. John has a rant. I throw a smouldering faggot on the burning embers and he’s still at it in make-up. We laugh a lot. Or he laughs at me, and I laugh at my own jokes.
He does a different sleep pattern — he carries on after GMTV, and goes to bed at 9 p.m.-ish. I always go for a four-hour sleep after work, and then do the other four hours at midnight. Tonight is Candide at the English National Opera. It is superb. One of the best things I’ve seen there recently. Inventive and brilliant. Bump into Richard E. Grant and his wife Joan, who look very elegant. I hardly sleep for worrying that no one will turn up to my book launch tomorrow.
Tuesday I do an interview for the Daily Mail, and then don’t sleep for worrying about it. Have I said something I oughtn’t to have said? Have a coffee to perk me up at 4 p.m., then spend an hour deciding what shoes to wear. Phone Clare. ‘You’ll be fine in sandals.’ At 6 p.m., totter from the flat to go to the venue in Soho, where friendly people from HarperCollins force a glass of champagne down my throat. Christopher Biggins is already there. I needn’t have worried. It is so packed by 8 p.m., you couldn’t insert a flat fish. At 9 p.m., just as it is thinning out, Sarah Brown drops in with a couple of security men. Who’d have thought when we became friends 18 years ago at a wedding…
Wednesday morning my co-host is Jonathan Swain. The Stapes is off doing another corporate. It’s a surprisingly smooth morning. There are days when links don’t happen, phone interviews don’t connect, guests don’t turn up — but today is not one of them. Have a good sleep, then take the Tube to Mile End to see Radiohead at Victoria Park. Leave before the end. It’s a bit samey and they haven’t played my favourite wolf song. And I need to get home to sleep.
On Thursday, John has a rant about a sports item. I don’t get involved because I don’t care. In the evening, I go to see Relocated at the Royal Court. It’s ‘a sinister mystery’ and there are some horrible images which I know will give me nightmares. Sleep poorly and get so badly tangled up in my pyjamas that I still have a button mark on my face by the time I go to make-up on Friday. On the Newshour, I’ve written a link for John to read in the throw to Andrea, who’s at Glastonbury. He misreads it and asks her if they’re going to be ‘happy campers or saggy campers?’ I stay on to do GMTV Today with Ben Shephard. We’ve all been working together for so long, it’s like swapping a slipper for a comfort shoe. Interview Meryl Streep and Pierce Brosnan down the line from Greece. They’re good fun, and afterwards I get a text from one of our showbiz team saying well done — always nice. Fiona Phillips texts me to say she’s at the airport ‘armed with the book’. Phone Clare Nasir for the weekend weather. ‘Hmmm. Possibly a dress. But I’d recommend a trouser tonight. And a bonnet on Sunday.’