Gyles Brandreth

Diary – 18 March 2006

The author shakes the hand of Winston Churchill

Observation of the week: all too often a diary is the achievement of those without achievement. I was an MP and a whip in John Major’s government. My political career did not amount to much, but at least my diary provides a partial record of those years. I have been keeping a journal since 1959. In many ways, it keeps me going. Much that I do, I do because of it. I seek out people and experiences, not only for themselves but also — and, sometimes, solely — so that I can write them up. My diary is proof of my existence. As Alan Clark observed, ‘A day that goes unrecorded is a day that’s disappeared.’

Recollection of the week: meeting John Profumo for the first time, at Toynbee Hall in the summer of 1968, and finding him (according to my diary) ‘the most charming man I have ever met’. I have encountered some considerable charmers since, but Profumo still ranks among my all-time top four — alongside Bill Clinton, Desmond Tutu and the actor Vincent Price. Profumo had the three essential qualities of the charmer: he appeared unconcerned with self; he gave you his undivided attention; he had impeccable manners.

Surprise of the week: Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex, is something of a charmer, too. I am making a documentary TV series marking his parents’ 80th and 85th birthdays and went to interview Edward (42 last Friday) at Buckingham Palace, in what is known as the Duke of Edinburgh’s Sunshine Room. On past experience I’d written Edward off as a bit of a whingeing wimp. On this occasion I found him wholly engaging: funny, friendly, unstuffy and, when he talked about his father and the achievement of the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme, both passionate and oddly moving.

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