From Dame Joan Collins
Q. Invariably, when I escape to the ladies’ room or powder room or restroom (whatever the current politically correct term for this place is), I am asked for a ‘selfie’, and the request usually comes while I’m washing my hands or powdering my nose. What is the correct way to handle this awkward situation? My gut feeling is to say, ‘F*** off, you’re invading my space’ — but perhaps this would offend?
A. Yes it would offend, and dismay, although of course the selfie-seekers have been offensive first. They mean no harm but, because nothing panics a fan like propinquity to a star they will probably never again have such intimate access to, normal protocols go by the board. Help them to calm down by answering, ‘Yes, of course, but my agent would never forgive me if we took it (Lady Bracknell voice) in a lavatory. Will you wait for me upstairs?’ In this way you signal that, while you will comply, they must leave you alone now to complete your grooming. As for the current correct term, ‘ladies’ room’ will provoke in offence-seeking circles, while ‘restroom’ is too coy. The elegant ‘powder room’ is perfectly safe, despite its ironic hijacking by drug takers.
From Rory Stewart
Q. I am running for Mayor of London, and had hoped I could get people to focus on practical questions: do you feel safer than four years ago? Is your commute better? But many seem to think the role is largely ceremonial and it is not fair to blame the current mayor when things go wrong. And many are impressed that he stood up to Trump. So my question is, how can I persuade Trump to send rude tweets about me? (If he is really rude, I might win — and thus get the chance to improve the signalling on the Piccadilly line.)
A. Voters are coming round to preferring a leader who is patently good, rather than just the enemy of someone patently bad. There is no need for a firefight with Donald Trump. Instead you can enlarge your territory by the simple expedient of ever more street and doorstep meetings with Londoners. Even those too busy for such concepts as the mayoral budget or mayoral powers still have their human instincts intact. Just as speed-daters can tell within seconds if they ‘fancy’ the other person, Londoners who meet you in real life will not fail to realise your empathy and effectiveness.
From Prue Leith
Q. I am frequently put on the spot for ‘selling sugar to the masses’ by eating cake on television. How can I make people believe that I am in fact promoting baking, which leads to cooking, which leads to a proper interest in what goes into one’s body, which leads to healthy eating, which leads to a trim figure? The problem is that I weigh 13 stone.
A. But, dear Prue, you are a human cake. That’s why we love you so much. Explain to the naysayers that although for professional reasons you are required to maintain a high BMI so as to signal cosiness and comfort, others, who do not have to appear on telly, will find the pounds roll off them with every cake they eat.
From Judge Rinder
Q. My thank-you notes often include comments on where I consider a gift or weekend has gone wrong and suggest ways to improve in future. Sometimes I give marks out of ten (though rarely more than six). This is causing a certain coolness from some of my acquaintance — how do I explain that I am only trying to help?
A. You seem to be blurring your professional and private lives. Once you have got down from the bench, you can stop issuing verdicts. While some of those who have given you hospitality or presents will welcome these notes, delighting in your comments, even constructive disparagement will affect the self-esteem of the less confident, leading to sense-of-humour failures. Is it worth the risk of alienating this second group? Maybe so, if you have too many friends and wish to cull some. Only you can be the judge.
From Kay Burley
Q. I have recently begun presenting a breakfast television programme which involves me setting my alarm at an ungodly hour. Ever since I began the new regime every person I meet seems to want to ask what time I need to get up in the morning, which is greeted with a forlorn expression and a ‘Poor you’. It’s become so frustrating I want to throw my alarm clock at them. Rather than resorting to tempus fugit, I wonder if you could suggest another option?
A. Once you realise that they are only patronising you because they are envious, you can take a different attitude to these taunts. It’s much better to be the focus of pity than of envy so agree that, yes, it’s all a stressful nightmare. It will make them feel happier about their own dull lives.
From Johnnie Boden
Q. I am the founder of a clothing company that bears my name. Although I would not consider myself a celebrity, I am sometimes recognised by customers on account of my distinctive hair and ruddy complexion. This is usually accompanied by pointing and whispering. I have in the past pompously introduced myself, but it has gone terribly badly. Help!
A. I’m afraid this level of minor celebrity is the price to pay for success, but there is no need to take part in any social congress. Just acknowledge the interest by smiling and giving a small wave, then continue to be yourself so onlookers can be reassured that your public persona is on-brand with your company’s wholesome, stylish clothes.
From Alan Titchmarsh
Q. I am frequently asked by passers-by: ‘When are you going to come and do my garden?’ My response is either ‘In 2049’ or ‘I’ll add you to the list’ — both of which seem a little ungracious, not to say unhelpful. Can you suggest a reply which would leave my interlocutor feeling less short-changed (bearing in mind there is very little likelihood of my ever being able to answer in the affirmative)?
A. You do not want to lead anyone up the garden path, so to speak, by giving them hope that you could ever have the time to help with their patch. Yet you can still keep these encounters light-hearted and amiable with no need to verbalise the disappointing truth. Make a point of never leaving home without some Alan Titchmarsh wildflower seed bombs about your person. If you don’t already make these yourself, then Plantlife.org.uk does. When someone stops you, hand one over and say pleasantly: ‘Well, here’s a start…’