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Helen Lederer: The day I went viral in the Claridge’s lavatory

27 April 2019

9:00 AM

27 April 2019

9:00 AM

The best moment of my Easter ended up being an impromptu debate with the delightful comedian Sarah Millican about the concept of ‘the ideal Easter egg’. If memory serves, Sarah may have preferred the large eggs with extra chocolates inside. I prefer the opposite — small, delicate ones with no extra treats. I hope my preference won’t be seen as another stereotypical middle-class protest against greed and excess…

I was asked to be a judge of the Churchill Awards, which celebrate the societal contributions of the over 65s. At first I thought it must be a mistake. Don’t you have to be old to do that? Then I checked. I am old. At the winner’s lunch at Claridge’s, Miriam Margolyes’s first words to me were ‘I’m hungry’. I sympathised, before hurrying off to check if I’d voted for her. Thankfully only winners were invited, which meant I didn’t have to feel responsible. I sat next to a nice man called Malcolm who wanted to show me a photo he’d taken of the gentlemen’s lavatories. I decided to go one better and get one taken of the ladies’ — albeit with me in it. The attendant turned photographer did an excellent job. She got me at a perfect angle. When I got back to show Malcolm, he’d scooted off to chat to Jilly Cooper on the next table. Feeling rejected, I put the image on Twitter saying: ‘Where am I?’ It went viral (which for me is 31 likes).

Book launch parties are golden opportunities to grab a gratis glass of wine and the odd crisp — although I accept the book itself still needs to be paid for. It’s best to leave them unsigned — more market value for gifting. As I entered Daunt’s very booky bookshop, I was reminded of all the yellow wine I’d drunk over the years in the very same spot and duly toasted Nina Stibbe’s excellent new novel, before networking my face off in the following two-hour literary wine and crisp window. That’s what I tend to do now. I like to call it working rather than networking. And book launches are the ideal setting for captive concentrates of nice-looking people who might want to support my new Comedy Women In Print prize which is looking to give cash to funny women novelists.


The thing about setting up a prize, is it needs to be executed with confidence. For me, the challenge is up there with having to sing in public when one is not on note or dive off a three-metre board for reality TV in a swim suit. The latter (which I was talked into doing in 2013) led to me being called a fat cow by an amusing columnist at the time. Although there were those who thought fat seal to be more apposite. All feedback is helpful.

I found myself in the House of Lords this week to meet up with Lord Pickles to sample the tea room. Just as we were about to go in, I got stopped by a policeman. I immediately thought, ‘Oh no, why did I bring drugs with me today of all days?’ – and then remembered I hadn’t. As it turned out, he’d stopped me to tell me he’d been the officer who’d pulled me over for jumping a red light in Brixton 20 years ago. He clearly thought this was something to celebrate.

On the way back, I got told off for eating in the Uber, which was very sobering. I apologised and tried not to move for the rest of the journey, lest I spill crumbs from my holdall and earn myself a bad rating. Popularity matters — I take it where I can.

Everyone’s doing podcasts nowadays. I keep expecting to wake up to find BBC executives have managed to talk the Queen into launching her own corgi podcast. And why not? If Drunk Women Solving Crime can be a hit, then royal corgis must be a commissioners’ dream. I was invited on Joe Haddow’s Book Off! podcast, where each guest makes a case for their own choice of book. I chose Starter for Ten by David Nicholls and Shazia Mirza chose Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl, a book about finding humour in concentration camps. The second book that was chosen, about the power of the human condition to find hope in humour, was considered timely.

I came across my teenage diary from 1969, which was prophetic about my comedic sense of being an outsider. I had written this: ‘20 July 1969. One of the most boring, uneventful, depressing days of my life. Everyone madly excited about the moon. Stay up ever so late to watch it on TV. They land! Had to go to bed.’ I think this sums up my life — other people’s excitements are different from mine. It’s just a pity that everyone else thinks they’re an outsider as well.

Helen Lederer is a writer, comedian and actress.


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