Andrew Roberts

Diary - 24 March 2007

If you can’t boast shamelessly in the Speccie Diary, where on earth can you?

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Off to the States for a fortnight’s book tour, trying to plug my A History of the English-Speaking Peoples Since 1900. Prepare yourself for a veritable carpet-bombing of name-dropping, on the basis that if you can’t boast shamelessly in the Speccie Diary, where on earth can you? The Chaos Club in New York radiates reactionary chic. Flanked by Tom Wolfe — complete in the high collar and three-piece white suit — and Norman Podhoretz, I set out my argument. Next stop a speech and dinner given by the wonderfully counter-counter-cultural magazine The New Criterion at the Cosmopolitan Club. Then a dinner thrown for my wife Susan Gilchrist and me at Le Grenouille restaurant by Jayne Wrightsman, one of America’s foremost philanthropists and the trustee emeritus of the Metropolitan Museum. On my other side was Barbara Walters, whom I asked what question she was most often asked, hoping it was about kings, presidents or Moshe Dayan. The answer: ‘What’s Monica like?’ Susan sat between the editor of the New York Review of Books, Robert Silvers, and the Chairman of the NY Public Library, Paul Le Clerc.

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The next night Harry Evans and Tina Brown gave a dinner for 50 at their apartment on the Upper East Side. After the main course I was interviewed for half an hour or so by Harry, then came polite but tough questioning  from Jon Meacham (editor of Newsweek), 9/11 Commission member John Lehman, the columnists Fareed Zakaria, Adam Gopnik, and others. When Joe Klein (author of Primary Colours) said: ‘There are so many things I want to take issue with in your thesis that I don’t know where to begin,’ I suggested he go for either alphabetical or chronological.

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The following night Henry and Nancy Kissinger gave a dinner party at their apartment only five blocks from Tina and Harold geographically, but hundreds of miles away politically. Mayor Bloomberg said the Kissingers had tracked down the last 20 Republicans in New York (who included George F. Will, Peggy Noonan and the New York Sun proprietor Roger Hertog). Rupert Murdoch turned out to have precisely the opposite of the personality caricatured in the left-liberal media; he was charming, witty, good-natured and even slightly retiring. If that wins me Private Eye’s OBN, it’s still true. I asked Bloomberg whether any of the rumours that he might be standing for president were true. ‘You’re the historian, Andrew,’ he replied. ‘Remind me the last time that a 5ft 7in Jewish billionaire from New York got to the White House?’

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Flew to Washington and stayed at the elegant Willard Hotel, which resonates with history in every brick. Saw ex-UN ambassador John Bolton in the lobby, who said he was enjoying the book. That night the economist Irwin Stelzer gave a big party at the Metropolitan Club for me, and his friends Irving and Bea Kristol, Charles Krauthammer, Richard Perle and Charles Murray stayed for dinner afterwards. Then there were more speeches at the Heritage Foundation, Hudson Institute and Anglosphere Institute, and an American Spectator party given in the Kalorama Circle palace of Bill Walton, chairman and CEO of Allied Capital. It was there that Lucky Roosevelt, Reagan’s chief of protocol, told me to address the President the next day only as either ‘Mr President’ or ‘Sir’.

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The next morning, after my lecture to White House staffers and Agency officials, we were asked if we’d like to spend some time before lunch in the Oval Office with ‘the reviewer-in-chief’. My original thought was the same as Churchill’s when Baldwin offered him the chancellorship in 1924 — ‘Does the bloody duck swim?’ — but I confined myself to saying yes please. When the door opened and we were ushered in, the President called out in mock surprise: ‘Andrew Roberts!’ So I adopted the same surprised tone, crying: ‘George W. Bush!’ (Lucky wouldn’t have approved.) Then Susan and I had 40 minutes alone with the Leader of the Free World, talking about the war on terror. He was full of resilience and fortitude — as I’d taken for granted he would be — but he was also thoughtful, charming and widely read. If he wasn’t the most powerful man in the world, he’d be the sort of chap you’d have as a mate.

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Lunch in the rarely-used Old Family Dining Room included Karl Rove, National Security Advisor Steve Hadley, White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten and a small group of distinguished journalists and proprietors. I sat next to Dick Cheney (who had been photographed holding my book the previous day while getting on to his plane after a suicide bomber blew himself up at Bagram air base in Pakistan). The President inaugurated a discussion about my book and its themes, and when I left the White House three hours later, I hugged myself with Mr Toad-like glee at having had such a fascinating and memorable fortnight.

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Flew on to Paris for an intimate dinner with Nicolas and Cecilia Sarkozy at the home of Robert and Mathilde Agostinelli, still in my reverie. Brought down to earth next day at the launch of Allan Mallinson’s latest bestseller, Man of War. Charles Moore: ‘Clever of Cheney to carry your big fat book for protection in case of another assassination attempt, Andrew.’ Simon Heffer: ‘Actually, I’m told it was to help him sleep on the plane.’