Charlotte Edwardes reports that Boris put his hand on her leg during lunch 20 years ago. Full disclosure, I put my hand on Boris’s leg 20 years ago during lunch. It wasn’t that I was making a pass at him. I just wanted to hold his attention while I was telling him something I wanted him to listen to. Now I am worrying. What if Boris and/or a cohort of other males come forward? ‘Mary assaulted me in a historic sex abuse incident. #SheToo.’
These are topsy-turvy times. Anything could happen and now I think about it, I’m sure I have been putting my hands on legs and generally assaulting men for years — absentmindedly.
But the past was a foreign country. They did things differently there. At one time it was honestly the norm for men to have their hands on the legs of the women on either side of them during dinner. I know this because Marigold Johnson (aged 90) told me. Moreover she added that when she and Paul Johnson were friends in the early 1960s, with the then famous journalist John Freeman, he told her that when he travelled to Switzerland to interview Carl Jung for his television series Face to Face, Jung kept his hand on the leg of the woman who would become Freeman’s (third) wife all the way through lunch. It was not foreplay to full sex, just a bid to make her feel welcome.
Marigold said she loved it when Freeman, while telling her the story, kept his hand on her leg all the way through lunch as well.
And indeed now that I think about it I remember assaulting Richard Ingrams as recently as about 12 years ago while we were both on a small plane in Jamaica. I had taken a party of nine journalists out there as part of my work for Butch Stewart, the Caribbean magnate who owns the Sandals and Beaches hotel chains. Butch is a good man who wants to promote his beautiful region to help bring employment to it. There are 15,000 employees in his various hotels and franchises but the region needs more work. What better than for me to bring out some influential journalists (as journalists once were) to remind outsourcing employers of the potential of the gloriously warm Caribbean people.
There was Richard Ingrams, Peter McKay, Decca Aitkenhead, Christina Odone, Char Pilcher… in any case, ten of us altogether. Butch had kindly supplied his plane so we could see Port Antonio at one end of the island without travelling all day from Ocho Rios along pitted roads (as they were in those days before the sinister influx of the Chinese, who have repaired many of the roads. I wonder why they have been so kind?).
For the return journey, the pilot had given me a deadline, explaining it could not be extended because he could not fly safely in the dark, and so there I was trying to chase the journalists into the five-seater plane, as we had to go in two batches.
Two batches. I decreed the group would leave in alphabetical order. The first lot wouldn’t stop taking silly pictures of each other and laughing. They simply wouldn’t get into the plane. I seemed to have no authority over them. It was terrible. I kept thinking of John Kennedy Jr’s wife who wouldn’t stop shopping in 1999 and by the time they got into the plane to take them to Martha’s Vineyard it was dark and JFK Jr was disorientated and the plane plunged into the sea.
Finally the first batch got on board and I waited with the other four journos for the plane to return. Watching the clock. The plane came back to collect us. We got on board. I was in charge of shooing them in so I got in last. They were still laughing. No idea of the danger they might be in if darkness fell. Taking my seat and looking out through the window, I saw, to my horror, that it had indeed fallen. In the Caribbean it goes suddenly dark every night at about 6 p.m. because it is near the equator. I was terrified. I asked Richard Ingrams, sitting next to me, if he was. He said no, because at his time of life, it wouldn’t be a problem if he were killed in a plane crash.
I asked if he would hold my hand during the short flight. He let me, and I remember not only gripping it throughout the short flight but also pushing my bosom up against his chest in a bid to be totally enveloped by this calm alpha male. I was genuinely fearful as I looked down on the darkened landscape.
When we landed and the plane doors opened I was startled — it was blazing bright sunlight outside. How come? It emerged that the plane simply had shaded windows like a rock star’s limo, and in my anxiety I had not twigged this.
Would Richard come forward now to report that harassment? Would he become part of an angry cohort of men who have joined the new movement #SheToo?