It was our last day in Courchevel, and everyone was having a snowball fight by the lifts at 1850, when my friend Charlotte said in urgent tones, ‘You know you’ve been looking for Posh Spice?’ Too damn right I had. Le tout Courchevel had been hunting the maritally troubled superstar, who was rumoured to be somewhere on the slopes patching things up with ‘the most famous Englishman since Nelson’ (Rees-Mogg). One wife of a stupendously rich Goldman Sachs banker had pursued her so fast down Pralong, a blue run, that she had beaned herself with her own ski and needed four stitches. ‘Well, don’t look now,’ said Charlotte, ‘but she’s standing about six feet away over my left shoulder.’ I goggled and, by Jesus, there she was.
With the exception of Bill Clinton, all the celebrities I have met have turned out to be smaller than expected, but Victoria Beckham is minute. She was standing in a circle of gofers and parents and children, and sort of glaring at the world. Her eyes were invisible behind enormous Dior shades, but her lips were thrust out in her trademark snarl, like some rainforest chief. She was wearing a furry waistcoat and odd, low-slung baggy trousers, but the most interesting thing was her bottom. It was either the top of her bottom or the bottom of her back. It was plainly visible, and appeared to be tattooed with some inscription or device. I scrambled after her up the stairs to the ski lift, in an undignified attempt to read the message. What was it? ‘Open other end’? ‘If you can read this, you are too close’? It turned out to be four stars, signifying, apparently, the birth of her two children. One of these, Brooklyn or possibly Bronx, said loudly, ‘I want to go home.’
All the women in our party said how stunning she looked, how those hair extensions, ripped from the heads of impoverished Ukrainian girls, were worth every penny of the £30,000 she paid for them. I must say, at the risk of seeming ungallant, that she was unquestionably beautiful but also a bit on the spotty side. Apparently these spots are never revealed to the public because she has some kind of deal with Jason Fraser, her favourite paparazzo. Wouldn’t it be nice if famous acne-sufferers, such as Posh and Cameron Diaz, were more upfront about their affliction? Should they not agree to take part in an Acne Pride Week, and help to relieve the agonies of self-doubt endured by millions of teenage girls and boys?
I cannot resist recording that I, too, was recognised in Courchevel. We were standing at a bus stop when a young coffee-coloured chap came up and said, ‘I am going to embarrass myself.’ I tried to look bogusly modest, as if the embarrassment would be all mine. ‘I am sure I know you from somewhere,’ he said. I did a bit more shuffling aw-shucksery. ‘Didn’t you use to work at the Welcome Inn in Reading?’ he said.
Some people see the ski slopes as a beautiful white page on which to inscribe the calligraphy of their turns. My own pleasure comes in getting down as fast as I can, and like the Goldman Sachs banker’s wife I came a cropper on Pralong and bust a rib. Luckily we were sharing a chalet with a titan of industry who runs William Ransom and Co. Pharmaceuticals (still trading at a ludicrously advantageous 42p), and he had suitcases full of something called Radian B, an ibuprofen gel. It is miracle stuff. You rub it into the affected area and, hey presto, pain’s gone. Even though the ibuprofen molecules must travel some distance from the surface of my chest if they are to have any hope of reaching the rib area, I was conscious of great improvement, and skied on all week.
Jacques Delors’s new Mémoires (Plon) contain at least one shocking lie. Why did Mitterrand decide to call a referendum on Maastricht in 1992?, asks Delors, and then supplies this answer: ‘He thought that the treaty engaged France in a very profound manner in the political and economic integration of Europe, and that it was a decision that ought to be taken by the French people themselves.’ What total flipping bollocks! The French people would never have been consulted had it not been for the Danish No. Mitterrand called the referendum in a panic after that glorious event, in the hope of rescuing a treaty that was officially defunct. And how can we trust the memory of a man who thinks there was once a Tory agriculture minister called John Gamer?
While waiting at the bottom of some lift or other, I had an insight into this government’s colossal increase in the number of clipboard-toting bureaucrats in health and education, and their dismal failure to improve standards. When one child fails to come down the piste, there is always the temptation to send another up to look for him or her. Resist. Pretty soon you run out of children.
As we queued for sandwiches at Aix-Chambery airport, a man slapped me on the back. Blow me down if it wasn’t Greg Dyke, lately D-G of the BBC, having shaken the powder of Val d’Isère off his boots and sporting a fine cut above his eye. ‘Greg!’ I cried. ‘Boris!’ he said, even though our relationship got off to a rocky start five years ago, when we ran a piece by Perry Worsthorne satirising his Spectator lecture. ‘Thanks for all your support over the Hutton business,’ said Greg. ‘Politics makes strange bedfellows, doesn’t it?’ ‘You betcha,’ I said, ‘but I don’t know why you resigned.’ ‘I didn’t resign. I was sacked,’ said Greg. ‘Outrageous,’ I said. ‘Who is going to take over from you?’ (the first question people always ask a sackee). Greg said he didn’t know, but that Mark Thompson of Channel 4 seemed to be in the frame.
Back in London I see a new sandwich bar off the Gray’s Inn Road, optimistically called ‘The Butty Boys’, complete with a pictogram of two beaming close-cropped young men. This is obviously good news, since it confirms that our society, like the Tory party, is becoming more vibrant, tolerant and forward-looking. But if Edith Cresson were to see it, I fear it might confirm her general suspicions of the English.
It was too much to expect the hallway of The Spectator to be silted up with entries for our new Classics Cup, but I must confess to being slightly disappointed by the response so far. We seem to have one competitor. He has sent in a haiku, not a form known to ancient verse. Come on, folks! Out with those Lewis and Shorts and Liddell and Scotts. There’s champagne at stake! Cups! It’s time for guts and determination.