Irise at five, shave, shower, put on my lightest suit, favourite tie and shiniest shoes, and leave my flat in Lambeth. A car awaits to whisk me off to breakfast television — a four-minute opportunity to plug my latest book, Only Time Will Tell. On the journey to the studio, I rehearse a snippet that mentions the title three times (28 seconds), a synopsis of the story that will make the viewer want to rush out and buy a copy before going to work (42 seconds), and finally a passage that will make them laugh (26 seconds) and another that will make them cry (33 seconds). By the time the car pulls up outside Broadcasting House, I’m ready for whatever they throw at me. I sit in the green room, and don’t eat the fattening food or drink the awful coffee, or talk to anyone, as I go over my lines for the last time. A young woman escorts me to the studio and sits me on the sofa. I shake hands with the presenter. He smiles. I relax. ‘Hi Jeffrey,’ he says. ‘It’s been one hell of a week. What with the royal wedding, bin Laden and AV, I just haven’t had time to read your latest book. Could we chat about where you think the coalition is going from here?’
Mary and I are off to see John Cleese at the Corn Exchange in Cambridge. It’s the opening night of the Alimony Tour. When Cleese walks on to the stage, he’s greeted with warm applause. The first 20 minutes, in which he talks about his ex-wife, is worthy of Hancock or Sellers, and he then offers his audience a steady flow of anecdotes and film and television clips that sends us all home in a happy mood. The next morning, I read in the Mandrake column of the Daily Telegraph that John has a new girlfriend, who is extremely attractive and 31 years younger than him. Should they marry, she will be the fourth Mrs Cleese. So by the time he’s finished paying off the third Mrs Cleese, the timing should be perfect to open a new tour for the fourth. I look across the breakfast table at the first Mrs Archer and smile. I’ve made some stupid mistakes in my life, but I will not be writing the next book to pay for the second Mrs Archer.
home to Grantchester feeling a lot better. The Ruskin five, as the organisers call themselves, won’t make a column inch, even in the Cambridge News, because they didn’t get drunk, weren’t on drugs and didn’t break the place up. But it’s nice to be reminded that the next generation have ideals, and believe they can change the world. To hell with the cynics and belittlers, I tell my wife before turning the light out.
Off to the University Arms Hotel to conduct a charity auction in aid of Help for Heroes, organised by five students from Anglia Ruskin University. Among the auction items are a day with the Red Arrows, a Chelsea Football Club shirt signed by John Terry, a visit to the Henry Moore workshop and a five-day wine-tasting holiday in South Africa. The students raise around £20,000, and I return savoiradvertSPEC59x125:Layout 1 3/3/11 1
I’m walking down the Fulham Road when I see a beautiful young woman heading towards me. She smiles. I return her smile. She stops. I stop. ‘Could I have your autograph?’ she asks politely, making me feel about 45. ‘Of course,’ I reply, attempting my shy, modest, surprised look. She thrusts forward her bus ticket. I remove a pen from inside my jacket. ‘Who shall I make it out to?’ I ask. ‘Victoria,’ she replies. ‘What a pretty name,’ I declare, and sign the back of the ticket with a flourish. ‘Thank you,’ she says. ‘My pleasure, Victoria,’ I say. ‘Oh no,’ she says, ‘I’m not Victoria. She’s my grandmother, and reads all your books.’ Then she walks away. She reminds me I’m 71.
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Madness. It’s publication day. 6.45 a.m., ITV’s Daybreak. 7.30 a.m., phone interview with Alan Jones, 2GB Radio, Sydney. 8.15 a.m., radio interview for Talk Europe’s book show. 9.30 a.m., ten questions from Reuters. 10.15 a.m., interview with Die Zeit. 11.30 a.m., Woman’s Hour with Jenni Murray. 12.30 p.m., down the line with Radio Scotland. Lunch on the run — a cup of soup and an apple. 2.00 p.m., Richard Bacon Show, Radio 5 Live. 3.30 p.m., interview with China Daily (plus photographer). 4.30 p.m., record Alan Titchmarsh Show. 6.30 p.m., Hatchards Author of the Year party — grab a sausage on a stick and a cranberry juice. 8.15 p.m., Paul Holmes’s talk show, New Zealand. 9.30 p.m., the Kerri-Anne breakfast show, Australia. Midnight, collapse into bed. Fall asleep, thinking about the plot for the next book. Madness.
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Jeffrey Archer’s Only Time Will Tell is published by Macmillan.
the spectator | 21 May 2011 | www.spectator.co.uk