Toby Young

Oh for the Prince Maurice

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Around the middle of last year, I was approached by the writer Tim Lott to see if I’d like to be a judge in the annual literary competition he organises. On the face of it, the prospect wasn’t very appealing. It’s a romantic fiction prize and who wants to read dozens of chick lit novels, particularly as there’s no fee? But Le Prince Maurice Prize does have one thing going for it. The prizegiving takes place at the Prince Maurice Hotel in Mauritius and the judges get to spend a week there — all expenses paid.

‘Can I bring my wife and four children?’ I asked.

‘Er, no. ’Fraid not,’ said Tim.

‘Count me in.’

As you can imagine, it took some doing to square this with Caroline. At a stroke, thousands of units were deducted from my brownie-point bank account and I’ve been doing most of the housework ever since. But as I swept cornflakes off the kitchen floor for the umpteenth time, I told myself it would all be worth it when I was soaking up the sun in the Indian Ocean. Tim even let slip that one of the rooms in the Prince Maurice had its own private swimming pool. If I played my cards right….

Then, in March, I got an email from Tim informing me that there would be no prize this year. It had been cancelled due to lack of funds and if it were to be resurrected he would no longer have the power to appoint judges. ‘All I can do is apologise very deeply,’ he wrote.

Caroline was tickled pink. As far as she was concerned, this did not mean any brownie-point refund. It was the fact that she’d agreed to it rather than the holiday itself that accounted for her credit in the favour bank.

I accepted this with as much good grace as I could muster and bore Tim no ill will until last Friday when he appeared on Woman’s Hour to discuss the merits of family holidays with the journalist Rosie Millard. He was arguing that, all things being equal, he’d prefer to spend a week by himself in Mauritius, reading, dozing and getting drunk, than a week in Cornwall with his kids.

Now at that very moment I was driving to Cornwall with Caroline and the children on the hottest day of the year and we’d already had a blistering row. There was nowhere I’d rather have been than lying on a beach in a tropical island paradise and here was bloody Tim Lott — the very man who’d dangled this prospect in front of me, only to snatch it away — telling me I was a mug for going on a family holiday instead.

To add insult to injury, it sounded like Tim was being interviewed from his hotel room at the Prince Maurice. We hadn’t listened to the beginning of the programme because we’d been busy shouting at Ludo and Freddie, who were fighting in the back of the car, and, as I focused on the discussion, I became more and more suspicious. Rosie Millard was being interviewed from her holiday cottage in Cornwall, and so, logically, it made sense for Tim to be in Mauritius. He certainly sounded like he was in the lap of luxury.

‘You know what’s going on, don’t you?’ said Caroline. ‘The prize hasn’t been cancelled at all. He just told you that because he’s persuaded a bigger name to be one of the judges.’ She then started rattling off some possible candidates. Mehdi Hasan? Owen Jones? Decca Aitkenhead? ‘It’s obviously a more famous journalist than you,’ she said.

At this point, I was ready to kill Tim and began plotting a terrible revenge. I was due to turn in my newspaper column later that day and started composing an item about how immoral it was of journalists to accept freebies. I intended to name and shame the freeloading hacks currently holed up at the Prince Maurice along with the evil Mephistopheles who’d lured them there.

Luckily, before filing the story I listened to Woman’s Hour again on BBC iPlayer and realised I was mistaken. Tim hadn’t been broadcasting from the Prince Maurice, but from his terraced house in north London. Having witnessed my incandescent rage, Caroline was even more amused to discover the truth.

I’ve learnt my lesson. From now on, I will shun all prospects of going anywhere by myself and resign myself to spending every holiday with my family.

Toby Young is associate editor of The Spectator.