The week leading up to publication is a strange time for any author. You subject yourself to doing everything from BBC Radio Hebrides to reviewing the Sunday papers on TV, as long as they’ll give your latest book a plug. Mind you, most of them want to talk about anything except the new book. The Alan Titchmarsh Show wants to know whether I trained to be an auctioneer; the Daily Mail are more interested in how Mary (my wife) conquered cancer; The Telegraph are determined to learn more about a murderer I knew, who’s just got his MA, while the Times are keen to find out how often I attend debates in the House of Lords. It was ever thus.
You may consider Castiglione: Lost Genius at the Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace at 6 p.m., followed by Urinetown: the Musical at the St James Theatre at 8 p.m., an odd double bill for one night, but the venues had the convenience of being a couple of hundred yards away from each other, though I doubt if Her Majesty realises it. I enjoyed both, even though the contrast could not have been greater. However, it was E.W. Swanton who once said of Geoffrey Boycott taking three days to score a century for England, ‘Some very strange things pass as entertainment today.’
Mary and I start this morning with an hour in the gym, assisted by Jacqui, our New Zealand trainer, who only smiles when I groan. As I can now anticipate the pain, I groan a few moments before it’s about to happen, but Jacqui has now worked that out as well, so I don’t get away with it. For those fascinated by detail, I do 20 minutes’ running on a treadmill at 6.4mph, 20 minutes’ cardio and 20 minutes’ stretching, three times a week.
Have lunch with Priti Patel, MP for Whitham, who was a member of my London team when I stood for mayor. I’m fascinated to find out why so many of the most recent intake into Parliament — men as well as women — have already decided not to stand at the next election. Priti sums it up by suggesting that it’s not the best place to be working if you want to conduct a civilised family life. Return to the flat to talk to 400 Indian students in Madras via Skype. Timely, as I’d just read a World Culture poll on hours read per week per person that listed Indians as the nation who read more than any other race on earth:
No. 1— India, 10 hours 42 minutes
No. 3—China, 8 hours
No. 8—France, 6 hours 54 minutes
No. 22—USA, 5 hours 42 minutes
No. 26—UK, 5 hours 18 minutes
Mind you, that doesn’t mean you sell more books in India than anywhere else, because on the subcontinent, each book is read by an average of 20 people, while in the UK, this figure is 2.2. Think about it.
The next day, Mary and I have a long meeting with my accountant to discuss inheritance tax, when you have to admit out loud that you’re mortal while at the same time facing the fact that the government has found more new ways of stealing your hard-earned money — even after you’ve died. Lunch with my son William (a beneficiary) to discuss a musical he wants me to invest in. I’ve been investing in the theatre for 30 years, and my other son, James, cruelly reminds me that I’ve only made a quarter of a percent profit on my investment during that time. Still, what he doesn’t understand is how much I enjoy it.
In the evening Mary and I troop off to the Donmar to see Versailles by Peter Gill. I seem to be bumping into 1914 almost every day, because I’ve just finished watching the third of the BBC’s 37 Days, a docu-drama on how we ended up having to go to war because of a treaty with France. Now, we can’t afford to go to war with Russia, whatever treaty we’ve signed.
Before driving up to Cambridge for the weekend, we attended a performance by an old family friend, Patti Boulaye, at the Crazy Coqs. She can still belt them out, and has the packed room hollering for more. The following afternoon, we saw an excellent production of Pygmalion at the Cambridge Arts Theatre, and went on to supper with old friends in their newly converted barn. Returned to London on Sunday in time to join my son James and watch England play Wales at Twickenham — is it just possible to start believing that England might win the World Cup next year? My New Zealand trainer Jacqui says, ‘In your dreams.’