MONDAY, DECEMBER 2
Radio Times has released its coveted ‘Top TV 100’ list for 2019 – selected by the most powerful executives in broadcasting – and initially I was bitterly disappointed to find myself languishing down at No 32. But then I spotted Lord Sugar at No 33, Ant and Dec at No 46, Simon Cowell at No 77, Gary Lineker at No 90, and poor old Dan Walker, my so-called breakfast TV ‘rival’, failing to make the list at all. Suddenly, my despair turned to unbridled jubilation.
TUESDAY, DECEMBER 3
By the time this column appears, the result of the General Election will be known.
But whoever won, the biggest loser of the campaign is undoubtedly demented Brexit-hater Hugh Grant, who marched around offering his unwanted ‘tactical voting’ election support to any politician he thinks can beat a Tory, because nothing screams ‘anti-Tory’ more than an absurdly posh private-school-educated millionaire actor whose ancestors include Viscount Strathallan, the Marquess of Atholl and the Earl of Nottingham.
Hugh Grant canvassing in Walton-on-Thames in the Esher and Walton constituency with Liberal Democrat candidate Monica Harding
‘I want to do my bit to prevent a national catastrophe!’ he declared, with typically grotesque self-aggrandising pomposity.
‘Quit acting then…’ I tweeted the insufferable twerp.
To which John Cleese, Grant’s only rival for the title of Britain’s Most Annoying Thespian, retorted: ‘This jibe, from a man whose only talent is self-promotion, reminds me of an exchange some years ago. PM: When are you going to be funny again, Cleese? It’s been a long time. JC: When are you going to be talented? It’s been a lifetime.’
Ironically, this was the only time this former comic genius has made me laugh in 40 years.
WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 4
It’s been a sadly busy time for the Grim Reaper taking people I admired, with Clive James, Jonathan Miller and Gary Rhodes all dying last week. (The latter once cooked me a smoked eel with horseradish cream dish in Dubai that was one of the most delicious things I’ve ever eaten.) But today, one of my true heroes passed away. Bob Willis was one of the main reasons that cricket became such a lifetime passion of mine. His Herculean exploits in the famous 1981 ‘Botham’s Ashes’ series, alongside his great mate Beefy, electrified the nation and me, then just 16.
To my joy, I got to know both men well in later years, sharing some hilarious times. On one particularly memorable yacht trip up and down the coast of Barbados in 2004, Bob sat drinking for hours on the boat’s bow, oblivious to the fact that his sunscreen-devoid face was turning fluorescent. Or rather, one side of it was, as we went out in blazing 100-degree sun and returned in darkness. He ended up looking like a half-scarlet, half-albino zombie, much to Botham’s delight.
Several years ago, as part of Sir Ian’s extended 60th birthday celebrations, I was invited to play golf with them both at Sunningdale, followed by a seven-hour lunch at the wonderful Waterside Inn in Bray.
As the sun set, we retired to a small hexagonal hut outside, on the bank of the River Thames, where we smoked big cigars, drank even bigger brandies and debated everything from cricket and politics to Bob Dylan (Willis worshipped him) and wine (they created their own very palatable Australian vintage, Botham Merrill Willis) for several more magical hours.
It was one of the greatest experiences of my life. ‘I wish Winston Churchill was here,’ Beefy declared at one point.
No need. His spirit burned brightly in these two fiercely patriotic, highly opinionated, massive-hearted, never-give-in warriors of men. Bob and I bonded over our firm ‘better-out-than-in’ belief that if you’ve got something to say, say it loudly, proudly and preferably in a way that winds up a lot of people.
Yet beneath his apparently glum and inflammatory commentary style lay a man of fierce intelligence, wonderfully acerbic humour and tremendous loyalty.
It said it all to me that Botham, one of the greatest Britons of modern times, always behaved with such tangible respect bordering on awe around his great friend.
RIP Bob. They say never meet your heroes, but I’m so glad I met you.
THURSDAY, DECEMBER 5
‘I can’t bear the fact we’re now discussing him,’ BBC Newsnight star Emily Maitlis told Chris Evans when she appeared on his Virgin Radio Breakfast Show this morning. ‘He will love it,’ agreed Chris, correctly, before pointing out that my friend has devoted an entire chapter of her (excellent) new book Airhead exclusively to discussing me, which is why she now has to repeatedly discuss me on her book promotional tour. As the duo then continued discussing me, Emily mused as to whether someone who appears to have a skin as thick as mine ever got hurt. ‘Does he ever end up in a foetal ball and sob his eyes out?’ she asked.
What an absurd notion!
Tonight, Arsenal lost 2-1 at home to Brighton. It was our ninth consecutive game without a win, the longest run of shockingly poor form in over 40 years, and our performance was so diabolical it was met with furious booing from a half-empty stadium at the final whistle. I slumped home in abject emotional pain, opened an emergency bottle of comfort claret, glugged it a little too quickly, and ended up in a foetal ball, sobbing my eyes out.
FRIDAY, DECEMBER 6
It’s Christmas party season and yesterday I attended a delightful top-secret star-studded lunch held under ‘Chatham House rules’, so I can’t reveal what went on during a fabulously entertaining few hours. But before it began, I found myself standing between Britain’s two finest actresses – Dame Judi Dench and Dame Maggie Smith.
They’ve known each other, and frequently worked together, for 60 years, receiving countless awards in the process.
‘Who’s the best?’ I asked. ‘SHE IS!’ they both immediately replied. Like all the true greats, these two fabulous ladies’ talent is only matched by their humility.