Budgets maybe tight at the Daily Mail but the Richard Kay, Ephraim Hardcastle and Books teams managed a festive get-together last night for staff, contributors and various hangers-on of dubious value – yes, Sir Dai Llewellyn, you have charmed us long enough.
As my companion said to me as we got ourselves trapped in Northcliffe House’s new revolving door, just behind Piers Morgan and his statuesque female companion: “There’s nothing like a Mail party to make you feel younger.”
She was alluding to the reassuring faith the paper places in staff maturity: the contrast between picture bylines and actuality is most pronounced and could conceivably be the basis of an interesting board game: Guess Who. High salaries ensure these talented veterans are kept in good nick (Glenys Roberts is a perambulatory advert for the joys of Park Lane gyms); and simply being employed (ie desired, valued, needed, etc) beyond normal retirement age adds lustre to the otherwise sad weathering process, though Peter Mackay (Ephraim himself) always looked that way.
The Mail home in London's Derry Street may prompt déjà vu in shopping mall habitues. A shiny central atrium from the steep escalators herds you to glass lifts. Up you shoot in post-vertigo jadedness to a higher level wreathed in office flora – probably authentic. But instead of the ringing of tills there was the welcome clink-clinking of wine glasses.
A famous publisher and a very famous agent were having the following conversation (names altered to protect them from their authors):
Edna: “Darling, what’s the name of that author of yours. Up something."
Wilma: “Up? Up what? Up – oh!”
Edna: “Uppity, up up, oh what is it?”
Wilma “Oh I know who you mean. Up up – oh I can’t remember!”
Edna: “But she’s your author!”
Wilma: “It’s on the tip of my tongue.”
I engage in conversation with Wilma who knows Robert Harris very well. “Publishing is not right,” she pronounces. “It’s Chantelle this, Chantelle that – all these books about these TV nothings. If you keep publishing this stuff you create no backlist which is where the money comes from, you just pursue the next Chantelle and the next. It’s like a drug, chasing the dragon – it’s most worrying.”
Journalist and gentleman Tim Satchell sidles up for a chat. We gaze at the Evening Standard property gossip Compton Miller (“Daisy” of old Private Eye fame). Tim says: “I divide people between polite and impolite and impolite people are a waste of space. I can’t bring myself to talk to Miller.” We discuss the dumping of Sheridan Morley at the Express: "A minute's silence for dear Sherry," I suggest. "A minute's silence for the Express would be more apt," concludes Tim.
Bon voyage to Sherry by the way: I hear he's emigrating to New York. No doubt his pushy wife Ruth - who writes a lot of theatre reviews under his byline - had something to do with that decision.
The crime writer Simon Brett gives me party face time. “And who are you?” he asks, a little sexily. I am mysterious. I say I am an astrologer for Paul Dacre. “I thought that was Jonathan Cainer,” he replies. “Ah,” I say, improvising, “I am his personal astrologer.” His female companion, who I think writes for the Mail, asks: “How long’s he going to last?” “A year,” I say promptly. High octane bullshit must always be delivered without hesitation. My answer lights up a few faces about.
Then Simon gets serious. “Astrology is rubbish,” he says. “But I’ll tell you something. I have noticed that most good crime writers are Scorpios. I am a Scorpio. Strange isn’t it?” He lists a load of names by way of example that I now forget. I concur. Scorpios in my experience are deft at the sneakiness, the vindictiveness and sour scepticism essential to excellent ‘tec stuff. I tell him so.
Novelist Claire Colvin – now the opera critic of the Daily Express - presents herself for inspection. She is cling-filmed in kinky black satin, crystal stones hanging loose like testicles on a tropic day from her neck. She is a lovely soul, I adore her fictive depictions of Venice. She tells me she attended the recent Arcadia Books party hosted by its proprietor Gary Pulsifer – and Duncan Fallowell was there! “No!” I say. The two had not seen eye to eye about the marketing of Duncan’s novel A History of Facelifting. But they’re talking again. Christmas’ healing balm.
I burrow deep into the corpus of the party. Peter Mackay is talking, bellowing, but no one can make out much of what he says. His accent of origin makes no concession to southerners. I spot pompous Michael Cole (Mohamed al-Fayed’s former adviser on such matters as stylish cuff-links) pressing his business cards into open hands. I recall someone telling me that Cole is not unfamiliar with the interiors of Spearmint Rhino establishments where I understand beaver is not an endangered species.
He once advised a friend of mine: "You can do just about anything in this city, the trick is not to get found out."
Media pundit Stephen Glover makes an approach, hangdog countenance his trademark. Former Independent on Sunday Editor and Telegraph emigre Kim Fletcher is schmoozing expertly: his likeness to the delinquent property magnate Nicholas van Hoogstraten is most striking.
So many other names here, but my interest is starting to wane ….
Budgets maybe tight but the French wine flowed copiously and the canapés tantalised citric tums, served by charming persons in uniform. From the balcony I peered into lit abandoned offices where Dacre’s famous creative tension rules. I gazed down into the dizzying atrium maw – “It’s funny how no one has jumped to their death yet,” I said to a man in a good suit.
He gave me a strange look and walked off.