I give an after-dinner speech occasionally called ‘Media Training for Dummies’. That may sound condescending, but the dummy in question is me. It’s a compendium of anecdotes about my disastrous media appearances, each more humiliating than the last. At some point I’m going to turn it into a PowerPoint presentation, interspersing the talk with clips so the audience can see that I’m not exaggerating.
Until recently, my most embarrassing moment was in New York in 1995, when I took part in a spelling bee broadcast live on the radio. I was the first contestant and my word was ‘barrette’. I’d never encountered this before — it’s the American word for hairclip — and asked the quiz-master if he meant ‘beret’. I said ‘beret’ in a thick French accent to advertise just how cosmopolitan I was, but he was unimpressed. ‘No,’ he said. ‘The word is “barrette” and I’m pronouncing it correctly.’ A few seconds later I was leaving the stage, tail between my legs.
I now have an experience even more humiliating than that: my appearance on a television programme called Pointless Celebrities last Saturday. Now, if you’re unfamiliar with this I can hear you thinking: ‘Why would you agree to appear on something called Pointless Celebrities?’ But it’s not actually a programme in which D-list nonentities struggle to explain to a panel of people who’ve actually achieved something why they should have heard of them — although, come to think of it, that would be quite funny. (‘Hi, my name’s Jeremy and I’m the leader of the Labour party.’)
No, it’s the ‘celebrity’ version of a quiz show called Pointless in which the contestants are asked to come up with the most obscure answers they can to general knowledge questions. To judge how obscure your answer is, the same questions are asked of a hundred members of the public beforehand and the best possible answer you can give – a ‘pointless answer’ — is one that none of them have thought of.