Thud. It’s my advance copy of Dorothy Byrne’s new book, Trust Me, I’m Not a Politician, landing on the doormat. I’ve known Dorothy, Channel 4’s head of news and current affairs, since we were in the newsroom together at Granada Television in Manchester almost 40 years ago. Then as now, she took no prisoners. I remember her curtailing her research conversation with a regional politician with the words: ‘No, I’m afraid I’m not inviting you to appear on tonight’s Granada Reports, councillor. You’re simply not coherent.’ Dorothy’s book reflects on the startling fact that more Britons believe in aliens than trust politicians, and asks what’s gone so badly wrong. Mariella Frostrup describes it as ‘blisteringly brilliant’ and Helen Joyce of the Economist writes: ‘I want to be exactly like her when I grow up.’ There. That’s your first Christmas stocking present sorted.
Novelist Jilly Cooper is still in the writers’ ring throwing punches with her forthcoming new one about football, titled, ahem, Tackle (her last one in 2016 was Mount; stop it, Jilly!); and halfway through a live television interview with Jeremy Corbyn when Judy and I returned to our television alma mater This Morning, I suddenly remembered an earlier Cooper confection: Rivals, set in the world of commercial TV. Cooper’s anti-hero, the womanising, rakish former showjumper-turned-Conservative minister Rupert Campbell-Black is being interviewed by the Dublin-born TV host Declan O’Hara, a sort of Parky/Wossy on acid. Irish republican O’Hara hates Campbell-Black’s right-wing politics. But he is increasingly beguiled by him as the interview progresses. ‘I like this man. Why am I trying to crucify him?’ he thinks. I had a similar epiphany. Well, sort of. Of course I despise Corbyn’s politics, which haven’t changed in half a century. But in the flesh, the man has charm. To my astonishment (and, frankly, annoyance) I found myself warming to him. He was polite, good-natured, and actually quite funny. (Launching Labour’s campaign two weeks ago, Corbyn had a coughing fit and splutteringly ad-libbed: ‘It’s OK folks, I’ve only got another six weeks of this to go.’) Out on the stump, his favourite platform, he will be an effective campaigner. It would be a big mistake to underestimate him.
What will my former school chum, Philip Hammond, do with himself now? He’s thought better of standing as an independent in the coming election, cut his losses and walked away from parliament. I wonder if he’ll be tempted to return to his roots. When I knew Phil ‘the Goth’ at Shenfield Comprehensive in Essex, he had a finger in a lot of pies. When he wasn’t fencing in intellectual debate with our history master (Phil was easily the cleverest boy in the school and ran rings around his teachers), he was making money. One of his projects was running a disco. Later on, he flogged second-hand cars. Soon ‘Eeyore’ will be a fading memory and we’ll be looking for a new soubriquet. Funky Phil? Or maybe Forecourt Phil: would you buy a used car from this man? You might not have a choice — Phil doesn’t tolerate no deal.
One of the hats I wear is that of Daily Telegraph agony uncle. I took over from Graham Norton when he stepped down from the job last year after more than a decade of delicious agonising with his readers. In his valedictory column, Graham revealed that the most common problem to land on his desk concerned weddings. He said he could have devoted every single column over the past ten years to wedding angst alone. Well, #MeToo. These supposedly joyous occasions seem to be almost invariably fraught with tension, disputes and outright hostility. Last week alone I had half a dozen letters from anguished brides-to-be, parents, even a vicar. The one I eventually picked for publication was from a mother whose husband is behaving, as Steve Martin ruefully describes himself in the classic comedy Father of the Bride, ‘like a complete jerk’. This man exploded when his daughter’s fiancé’s parents kindly suggested subverting the tradition that it’s the bride’s parents who pay for the day. They offered to split the costs of the wedding 50-50. He took it as a personal insult to his financial probity (uhh?) and when his daughter dared argue with him he informed her that if that was how she felt, he no longer wanted to give her away. She was so hurt, he so immovable, that they haven’t spoken since and the wedding is on ice. I’m still considering my reply. Is it possible for a woman to divorce her father on grounds of stupidity? I’m looking into it.