Rachel Johnson

Diary - 14 April 2016

Plus: The V&A’s knicker exhibition; categories of holidays; John Whittingdale; my shaggy hair problem

Diary - 14 April 2016
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With hindsight maybe it was silly for me to bleat, ‘As everyone knows, the Johnsons are neither posh nor rich’ on Newsnight just before my older brother published his tax returns showing the impressive sums he’s made in journalism and publishing. I can only imagine how the antlers of rival 12-point stags such as Niall Ferguson and Andrew Roberts must have drooped as they calculated how many copies the full-time Mayor and MP and bestselling ‘popular historian’ must have shifted to earn royalties running into the hundreds of thousands.

Having heard him toot about his eye-watering advance for his forthcoming Shakespeare, I felt only admiration that he paid almost a million pounds in tax over four years, and this is what I should have said on Newsnight. My parents never had a bean, but they did give us an education. I find it hard to care or mind about what people inherit. What they earn is far more interesting. The recent race to publish personal tax returns has become an ‘I’ll show you mine’ game, not a true exercise in transparency (nothing offshore or in trust shows up) — but a willy-waving exercise to show who’s got the biggest. And now we all know who has!

This week I’ve had two hits of Nicholas Coleridge CBE, Condé Nast supremo, and new chairman of the V&A. First was an ‘in conversation’ with Peter York for the Media Society. As Nick once agreed to interview me in darkest Devon in front of the Exmoor squirearchy, while in the natural order of things I should have been interviewing him, turning up was the least I could do. At the Groucho, he delivered himself of the most heavenly ‘humblebrag’. When asked why he became an author, Nick agreed it was curious. ‘Yes, you see the only person in the family who’s ever written anything,’ he mused, ‘was Samuel Taylor Coleridge.’ He has 54 million readers a month and maintains there is ‘no cheaper treat in the whole world’ than a fat glossy.

The second hit was the opening of the new underwear show at the V&A. Nick’s brief speech about knickers contained two mildly titillating references which he said had been inserted for the benefit of me and the critic Camilla Long, a.k.a. the Sunday Times’s cameltoe correspondent. Nick used to be Camilla’s boss when she was at Tatler. ‘She is a tremendous expert — in lingerie and shoes,’ he confides. Unlike Camilla — or indeed Nick — I am such an ungirly girl that I have no real sense of what this means.

I am very sorry that I inadvertently upset Mary Killen and Giles Wood in my last Spectator Life piece. Giles and Dear Mary are generous to the point of recklessness, as I am happy to make clear now. The point of the piece was to anatomise the different categories of holidays, some of which are only available to journalists. Everyone knows about the ‘freebie’. I think I invented the ‘paybie’ (you pay for everything) and also the ‘staybie’ (when you stay with friends but arrive laden with wine and insist on taking everyone out). I would like to add another important category: the ‘skibie’ (a press trip to the Alps). If you are interested, my full guide to ‘holiday hacks for hacks’ is up on Spec Life’s excellent website.

I sat next to John Whittingdale at dinner last month and found him very good company (his plus-one was a tall Slavic blonde), so I was puzzled to read that he ended a relationship with a woman when he discovered she was a dominatrix. I can’t see the problem there. Surely the ‘sex worker’ Dear Johnned him when she found out he was an MP?

I am starting a new gig as a co-host on the Sky News debate show called The Pledge next week (Thursdays at 8 p.m.). It’s lovely, of course, to be asked but… my brain wipes clean everything I read, and every morning I wake up and find my mind has been restored to factory settings. I am the oldest woman on the panel. I fret about my appearance. Hair up or down? Reading glasses on or off? Sleeves or bare shoulders? Also, whenever I appear on screen someone says on social media, ‘Does Rachel Johnson go to a 1970s hairdresser?’ The overall impression is of the Dulux dog. I would like to thank all the brilliant Johns at Sky (McAndrew, Kent and Ryley) but I do wish someone at some point would make an executive decision about my fringe.

Rachel Johnson is a former editor of the Lady and author of, most recently, Fresh Hell.