The pilot refuses to get going until everyone is seated and quiet. When we take off there are raucous cheers. I am on a midday budget-airline flight to Ibiza. Louder cheers welcome the drinks trolleys which are noisily ransacked. Along from my seat a gentleman is reading The Spectator. It transpires we are heading for the same occasion.
The ceremony takes place on a raked clifftop amphitheatre on the beautiful and quiet north side of the island. Boiling sun, cliffs and glittering sea boast the backdrop. Assembled friends and family swelter in the full lamp glare of the sun. I keep my jacket on. Though this may sound like sunstroke, the ceremony is conducted by Benedict Cumberbatch. As he explains beforehand, he is a longstanding friend of the grooms and they have asked him to act as celebrant. Though he remarks that this may spell the descent of his acting career into doing children’s parties and bar mitzvahs, what follows is serious, poignant and beautiful. The couple have gone through a civil partnership in London before heading here for the public ceremony. The grooms’ brothers escort them in. There is music, a speech and two readings, including one from Walt Whitman by the deeply beautiful and pregnant Louisa Clein. Then Cumberbatch leads the couple in the vows and exchange of rings. At the post-cocktails dinner both families speak, as do both grooms and best men. There is a message from the Chancellor and not a dry eye as the mother of one groom, and then the father of the other, welcome a new son into their respective families.
I respect some opponents of gay marriage. But it has always seemed to me that once you accept that homosexuality exists, there is no decent non-religious reason not to permit equal civil rights, including civil marriage. Some have credited me with influencing the Prime Minister’s stance on this matter. I do not know if this is true. But when the present government passed the equal marriage act last week I certainly became one of the few people remotely likely to swing Conservative because of it.
Not that this augurs well for the Tories. In this space six or seven years ago, I told of my switch to Labour because of the Iraq war. One of Tony Blair’s ex-ministers said afterwards, ‘Well, better one sinner that repenteth and all that.’ Or as one Labour MP put it, ‘Great, we lost millions of voters and we got you.’ I expect the Conservative reaction to be even less warm, but am used to coming in swings of one.
After the wedding dinner there are more drinks and a disco. At a late stage I have a well-oiled dance-off with Julie Burchill. The effort finishes me for the evening and I retire a sweaty mess. We reconvene the next morning by the pool. Hardier than me, Julie is having a two-martini breakfast and doing her Hebrew revision. When I first met her, having bonded over being two of Britain’s few philo-Semites, Julie boasted a Hebrew speaking ability of a five-year-old. She says she has now reached that of a child of six. This puts her Hebrew six years ahead of mine — and, I realise later while trying to direct a taxi, about four years ahead of my Spanish.
A taxi-full of us try to find our way to an after-party at a villa rented by the brilliant Ivan Massow. We are dropped on a remote and dusty track. Soon doomed for the airport, I am lugging my bags and, finally defeated, my jacket. Just before suffering what is known as a ‘sense of humour failure’, we get some phone reception and find the villa. I have a last swim and drink overlooking the glorious Ibiza sunset before sadly catching my midnight budget flight home.
Now that I am safely back in England I intend to stay put. There is nowhere in the world I prefer. Some friends recently gifted me their old bicycle. The scorching weekend before last, three of us cycled 30 miles across country together, visiting five or six spectacular Norman churches on the way. Stopping at the top of a valley for a picnic (prepared, slightly Enid Blyton-like, by the girl in the couple) we spotted a perfect English village beneath. The sound of a fete carried across the wind. We freewheeled down the hill. The fete was in the vicarage garden and cost a pound to enter. It had teas, a tombola, a book stall, a coconut shy and much more. As we entered the garden a three-man band was quietly playing and children were soaring on a huge swing hung from a tree. I felt slightly faint, as if I had seen a dead friend at a party. Neither of the friends cycling with me could quite believe we had found it. I could, because I have found such places before. There are still parts of our country that no one has screwed up. But you have to go ever further to find them.