Last Saturday was shaping up to be one of the best days of my life. Freddie, my ten-year-old son, had been chosen by Queens Park Rangers, our football team, as one of five ‘Local Heroes’ to be honoured at half-time — part of the club’s excellent ‘QPR in the Community’ programme. This was on account of his charity work, believe it or not.
After seeing the club’s Game4Grenfell, a pro-celebrity football game organised to raise money for those affected by the Grenfell Tower fire, Freddie was inspired to organise a football-and-netball tournament for under-11s at Club des Sports in Acton. With the help of his mother, he managed to raise £3,250 for the same cause.
Only one of Freddie’s parents was allowed to accompany him and even though it should have been Caroline she was happy for me to do it. For her, it would have been a bit of a chore, but for me it was a Boys’ Own fantasy. Not only would I get to dine in QPR’s ‘Premier Lounge’ and watch the game in the directors’ box — a treat usually reserved for fans who’ve paid £5,000 for a VIP season ticket — but at half-time I would be able to walk out on to the pitch via the players’ tunnel. With a bit of luck, I might even bump into some members of the team on their way back to the changing room.
The icing on the cake is that we were playing Sunderland. QPR’s current form isn’t anything to write home about — we’re lying 16th out of 24 in the Championship table and just avoiding relegation at the end of the season will be a result — but we’re not doing as badly as Sunderland. The Black Cats, relegated from the Premier League last year, are sitting at the bottom of the table and are heading for the drop. If we couldn’t beat Sunderland, of all teams, we deserved to join them in League One.
The day started well. Freddie and I were ushered into the club restaurant and introduced to the four other ‘Local Heroes’. They were, as you’d imagine, exemplary characters: a man who’d raised £25,000 so the children caught up in the Grenfell tragedy could be bought Christmas presents, a youth worker from a local secondary school, the founder of a food bank and a professor at University College Hospital who’s leading the fight against prostate cancer.
But just as I was beginning to enjoy myself, I spotted another guest at a neighbouring table: Dawn Butler. For those of you that don’t know, Dawn is the Labour MP for Brent and the Shadow Secretary of State for Women and Equalities. She was also extremely rude about me in the House of Commons and on Question Time at the beginning of the year. In spite of being a Corbynite, she pushed the nuclear button, making a string of terrible allegations that were wrong in almost every particular. I had been itching for an opportunity to point out these inaccuracies. Not in public, since that would risk reigniting the imbroglio over my appointment to the Office for Students, but in private. At an occasion such as this, in fact.
But I realised that if I marched over to her table and gave her a piece of my mind, the ensuing row might cast a shadow over what was supposed to be a celebration of everything that was best about humanity. I would be diverting the spotlight away from these upstanding citizens and towards me. And what sort of example would I be setting for Freddie if I hijacked his day to settle a score of my own? No, it just couldn’t be done. I had no choice but to bite my tongue. If I happened to catch her eye, I would just smile politely and look away.
It then got worse. The reason she was there, I discovered, was because she was presenting the trophies to the ‘Local Heroes’ at half-time and then posing for photographs with the whole group. My plan was to stroll out on to the pitch with Freddie and bask in reflected glory, but I had no wish to be photographed with Dawn. I daresay she wasn’t that keen to be pictured with me, either, and even if I swallowed my pride and went through with it, there was a risk she’d cause a scene. Disaster! So I stopped at the edge of the tunnel and sent Freddie out on his own.
It could have been worse, I suppose. QPR beat Sunderland 1-0. But I probably won’t chalk it up as one of the best days of my life.