A Diary of The Lady: My First Year as Editor.
I had wondered whether Madame Arcati might make an apperance in her pages because I'd earlier this year described The Lady as 'the cunties' weekly' in a short piece about the magazine's readership and masturbation. But I'm adept at delaying gratification myself: I fancied I might happen on my name years hence as I leafed through a dog-eared copy in a secondhand book store (in Arundel perhaps).
This fancy was discarded instantly on receipt of Rachel's email: Madame Arcati is responsive to stroking, and judging by the contents of her book, she is masterly at the authorial hand-job.
If you don't know or care, Rachel is the editor of The Lady magazine, once an incarnation of all things nanny-ish and scone-ish. Then she barged in with her Sunday Times ponciness and pals and imported nasty things such as 'lady gardens' (pubes) and erections (euphemism: 'Everests') - these alone from a Jilly Cooper Jump!extract. The Lady's venerable owner Mrs Budworth regularly channels outraged reader reaction, calling Rachel a 'monster' and 'sex-obsessed'. This is all splendid for Rachel's CV.
Now, I said I'd review her book but in all honestly it's too late for that. A Diary came out in late summer. Instead, I have a few observations to make which touch upon my own preoccupations. What is first so striking about her day-to-day life at her mag, described with staggering frankness, is the evident ghastliness of many of the London writers and editors she encounters and of whom Madame Arcati has already demonstrated an insightful and notorious dislike.
For instance, you may think unwarranted my occasional barbs at AA Gill's prolific and dyspeptic smugness. Yet dip into this book and witness him, with Rod Liddle, mocking Rachel at a party for being dumped by their cash cow, the Sunday Times. The paper's editor John Witherow dumps her after promising he wouldn't - then thoughtlessly rubs her nose in it later by praising her replacement as 'grrrreat!' William Cash - he of the sad heiress-wives fixation - staggers about drunk at a party feeling sorry for himself and volubly moaning that no one of his generation (ie his Oxbridge milieu) has done anything worthwhile, including Rachel's husband Ivo. Even the down market Kelvin MacKenzie pops up in Rachel's office and fills it with his special mix of noxious methane.
Nicholas Coleridge, the world's worst novelist and the MD of Condé Nast, comes across as a gracious and generous house host, even if one who insists on memorialising, in annotated albums, his every social interaction with those deemed sufficiently important. I read elsewhere he also collects animal corpses: all this is beyond anal, doncha think?
In the (Boris) Johnsonian tradition, the slights, betrayals and insults (and there are many more) are borne lightly by our heroine. She'd be perfect in a war. But she too is not averse to gross insensitivity. I'm not sure Roger Lewis will have been entirely happy to be described as the least attractive writer she's ever met, as he name-drops Michael Winner at their first meeting. And I can't imagine what the daughter of Rachel's predecessor, Arline Usden, must have felt to be characterised as a rather hapless and hopeless member of staff. Indeed many contributors will have delighted in Rachel's grouchy view of a lot of the journalism submitted (each piece requiring the effort of eight emails on her part) after fulsome and luvvie-ish encouragement.
As for Lady Antonia Fraser... well, she always looks slightly appalled anyway.
In other words, A Diary of The Lady is entirely riveting. Any student contemplating a life in journalism (high end, facile) should get this book for Christmas - as a warning. Robust souls may relish the rough and tumble, and Rachel makes for a marvellously blithe dame (in the Eton College sense). Oh, and Madame Arcati gets her name-check on pp 261-262: if there were an index, I'd be under M for masturbation.
One last thing. How can Rachel Johnson have lived as widely and well as she has and not know who Duncan Fallowell is? She should search him out on Madame Arcati: I think even Mrs Budworth might approve of him.
Rachel Johnson film on The Lady, knitting and chutney - click here.