One of Lady Thatcher’s least publicised qualities, which raised her above any other politician I have known, was the complete absence of schadenfreude or triumphalism. In 1992, I was fortunate enough to be asked by Alistair McAlpine, Lady Thatcher’s former Treasurer and close friend, to spend election night with the recently deposed premier and her family at his London home. Denis and Mark Thatcher were understandably bitter. When Tory wet Chris Patten, whose vitriol towards her had known no bounds, lost his seat, they leapt to their feet and whooped like Watusi chieftains. I shall never forget the majesty on her features as she reprimanded them: ‘Sit down at once! The misfortune of others is never a cause for celebration.’ She was also the only politician who succeeded in reducing my voluble Hungarian mother to silence. During a dinner party at my father’s house in north London, the discussion turned to Keynesian economics. My mother began to venture an opinion. At once, the Prime Minister turned and said, ‘Be quiet, dear, your turn will come.’ ‘Margaret,’ my father enquired. ‘Could you come to dinner more often?’
I am writing a book about Richard III, a figure even more controversial than Margaret Thatcher. I first became interested in Richard when I was 14, shortly after my father made the startling announcement that my half-brother Pericles was the rightful heir to the throne. My father’s third wife had been Lady Moorea Hastings, daughter of the 16th Earl of Huntingdon, John Clarence Westenra Plantagenet Hastings. ‘When Moorea dies,’ he explained, ‘your brother will be the senior surviving Plantagenet.’ I asked from which king he was descended. ‘He is Richard III’s nephew in the 19th generation.’ ‘Wasn’t he the one who killed the Princes in the Tower?’ ‘Certainly not! That’s Tudor propaganda.’ From then on I became an ardent Ricardian, much to the surprise of my history teachers, who were also victims of Tudor propaganda. My brother took less of an interest. He ran away from Harrow when he was 17 and now lives in Arizona where he runs a highly successful trailer park. After the identification of Richard’s remains in Leicester, friends find this highly amusing. ‘So the rightful king of England lives on a caravan site?’ they chortle. ‘No,’ I say through gritted teeth. ‘He doesn’t live on it. He owns it.’ Five hundred years down the line, poor Richard’s funeral is still proving problematic. The Richard III Society has raised £40,000 for a marble tomb to commemorate the last English king to die in battle. Leicester Cathedral is objecting on the grounds that it will obscure the view to the altar. The dean favours a slab on the floor. As an interested party in more ways than one, I find this mean-spirited. Surely Richard has been walked over long enough?
At a dinner party last week, someone mentioned the proliferation of celebrity diet books. The only celebrity diet to arouse my admiration is that followed by my friend Denis Healey, who was kind enough to come to my christening. Last time I went to visit the former Labour chancellor, he had lost three stone. ‘How did you do it?’ ‘Simple. Whisky and double cream.’ He’s a braver man than I am. My cholesterol is so high it is in danger of squirting out of the top of my head. Fortunately, though, I am in a position to dodge low-fat yogurt and yoga this summer. Whilst mooching in a boutique called Mooi, in London’s Abingdon Road, I was told by an assistant that she had a new line of frocks that make you drop a dress size. ‘Ha ha,’ I replied. Offended, she informed me that A-listers were hoovering them up the way a croupier rakes in chips. She then reeled off an explanation of their properties in much the way that a boffin would explain relativity. In essence, I learned that the S-Dress, as it is called after its alleged slimming effect, has been manufactured using ‘state-of-the-art technology and ultrasound’ to create a dress which not only causes the wearer to appear Miss Concentration Camp 2013, but never creases, prevents perspiration and is machine washable while remaining eco-friendly. Cowed, I tried on a number in lilac. Lo, if the figure looking back at me in the mirror wasn’t that of Audrey Hepburn, it was certainly an approximation of that of a thin woman. It isn’t often that you can walk into a shop a size 10 and leave a size 8, so I bought it before you could say Einstein. Who said fashion wasn’t rocket science?
I have what Harold Wilson would have called ‘a little local difficulty’ with my papillon bitch, Mini. She has been on heat for nearly a month, which has caused me untold embarrassment where I live. When I take her for a walk she seizes on the first human leg she sees. So far she has dislodged countless shoes and relieved herself sexually on the right foot of the local policeman. Could readers suggest a remedy, perhaps?