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Petronella Wyatt: The time I saw Boris cry

21 December 2019

9:00 AM

21 December 2019

9:00 AM

Boris Johnson is nothing like Churchill, a view with which my friend Andrew Roberts concurs. But in the 20-odd years I have known Boris, I have often been struck by his similarity to John Wilkes, 18th-century politician, journalist and catnip to women. A wit and a showman, Wilkes, who denounced European entanglements and championed the rights of the electorate over parliament, was the first politician to achieve celebrity status. One of Boris’s endearing traits is that he has never regarded himself as an enticing proposition in the looks department. Wilkes had a squint, but he said: ‘Give me half an hour to talk away my face and I can seduce any woman ahead of the handsomest man in England.’ He stole Casanova’s favourite mistress and had numerous illegitimate children, and it was for him that Dr Johnson coined ‘Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel’. Yet he was a genuine patriot and the ‘common people’ saw him as a saviour. Once I took Boris to see Wilkes’s tomb in west London. It is a simple slab with the inscription: ‘A Friend to Liberty.’ I have a feeling that our prime minister, who shed what used to be called a manly tear at this, will also prove worthy of the epitaph.

My mother suffers from a condition called ‘unspecified dementia’. The other day I was telephoned by a social worker assigned to her care home. Some of these people are only mildly less imaginative than the patients they represent. ‘Your mother wants to become a concert pianist. She needs piano lessons.’ It transpired that I was also required to buy her a grand piano. At this, my inner sense of penury rose up in protest. ‘Do you know how much these things cost?’ The social worker replied: ‘But you must be one of the richest women in London. Isn’t your father Rupert Murdoch?’


My favoured cocktail for the Christmas alcoholiday is an invention of Errol Flynn’s. Flynn taught it to my late friend Diana, Countess of Wilton, back in the 1950s. Diana was a perfected presence, a swan among swans, and Flynn, who was living in Rome at the time, used to take her to lunch. Far from being a vulgar seducer, he liked to talk about Socrates and had wanted to become a writer. He was a tragic man, trapped by his own physical beauty. His eyes, the colour of Anatolian waters, had a terrible sadness. But he taught her to make a cocktail of such subtlety that it is like drinking moonbeams. ‘The Errol’ is a variation on a White Lady and I publish the recipe here for the first time. Into a cocktail shaker, pour 1 part gin, 1 part Cointreau and 1 part freshly squeezed lemon juice. Add a teaspoon of white rum. Shake with ice and serve in martini glasses.

In Vile Bodies, Evelyn Waugh refers to ‘almost naked parties in St John’s Wood’. I have lived in St John’s Wood for 12 years, but to my chagrin I have never been asked to a naked party. The closest we came to debauchery this year was at Panzer’s Deli, which celebrated its 75th year with a soirée for its customers. Guests and their dogs (for Panzer’s thinks four legs are good) entered through an arch of flowers to encounter frosted champagne buckets, white truffle pasta and a live band. Humans and quadrupeds tossed themselves into exuberant dancing. By the end of the night two local eccentrics had divested themselves of their shirts, and a bulldog and a terrier went home with concussion.

Mini, my papillon, has been living in terror of a Labour government. She read somewhere that John McDonnell planned to nationalise dog biscuits. All dog biscuits were to be exactly the same. As Mini’s biscuits are baked by the chef at Soutine, our local Corbin & King establishment, her concerns were understandable.

During the election campaign, my friend Robert Peston asked me to appear on his ITV show. At the studio I noticed a hole in my sweater. I can afford a hole in my argument but not in my clothing. Fortunately, there are some deft sempstresses at ITV and my reputation was saved. Afterwards, in the green room, I was chatting to Nicky Morgan, another guest. I had been in Derbyshire staying with Matthew Parris, and I showed her photographs of his llamas. Nicky suggested I post them on Twitter. The following morning came the response of another Twitter user: ‘So this is what they talk about in High Society.’


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