The Merry Wives of Windsor. October 2011.

Dear Rowley,

There isn’t a country in the world that can beat England luxuriating in the light of an Indian Summer. Bloomsbury could have been twinned with Biarritz this week. I popped into Pret this morning for my ‘white that’s flat’ as the natty fly boy who runs the gaff calls my coffee having given my Huntsman white cotton trousers and pink Converse an unexpected outing. My main man at Pret said ‘give that man a flat that’s white on the house. I saw you workin’ short last week and it wasn’t happenin’. Today you’re rockin’ the summer look’. Reader, I blushed like Fanny Price in Mansfield Park.

What a difference a day makes. Yesterday Mrs T and I set off for Windsor & Eton station for lunch al fresco at the Christopher Wren – swans, sunlight, two Eton boys practising in eyeline on rowing machines, what’s not to like? – and were due to meet a car at 2pm to drive us to Coworth Park for my talk on Fashion at Royal Ascot for the Windsor Literary Festival. For previous TV and live appearances, I’ve always operated the nil by mouth policy wishing nothing to excite the butterflies in the stomach. Who knew a tasty treat of sea bass actually settles the nerves? A revelation.

The drive to Coworth was heart-meltingly beautiful but nothing prepares one for the drive up to the house; a jewel in the Dorchester Group’s tiara of hotels. I have never been moved by landscaping so profoundly as the meadow planting at Coworth. It makes Monet’s garden at Giverny look like an inner city community project. The meadow – still with a surprisingly lush show of colour for the season – gently wafts towards a haha over which a charming wooden bridge takes one to the formal par terres in front of the Regency house.

Coworth Park has to be one of the most magical estates in England. The house is decorated with devastating chic and is surrounded by a spa that reminded me of Max Factor’s Hollywood dream factory in its 1930s heyday, a group of stables converted into guest suites, a dower house that has to be the smartest billet for Royal Ascot Week and terraces reminiscent of the glamour of Clivden in its Astor prime. I don’t think my pictures do justice to the soft Brideshead light and I didn’t show you the views over the paddock and polo fields. Mrs T and I appreciate pretty places and wondered if we could emulate suffragettes and chain ourselves to the tennis court wire netting until Cowarth agreed to give us a guest suite for the ¬†night.

I don’t think I’ve ever been to a more glamorous book event in my life. Tea was served to an immaculately dressed Windsor and Ascot audience washed down with lashings of Laurent Perrier. I had to abstain because alcohol and public speaking don’t mix. Ask Boris Yeltsin. It was utterly refreshing to sit in a room filled with civilised, like minded people having as Slim Aarons would have it ‘a wonderful time’. I’d had a shocking week and far from feeling unnerved by the extremely informed, elegant crowd was chomping at the bit to get into the lecture room salon and ‘give it a red hot steaming go’ as my friend Scott would have it. Frequently.

The speech was a revelation to me. I have never enjoyed an audience so much. Within seconds of commencing a romp through three centuries of thoroughbred style, my powerpoint presentation sputtered and died. Even a year ago (maybe a week ago) I think I would have been spooked. Not with a crowd like the Windsor Literary Festival sell out audience sitting expectantly waiting for a performance. So I said I’d had a speech all typed up but to hell with it. We’ll wing it. I had a ball. A ball Rowley. It was a lot of laughs, a lot of chat, a little knowledge imparted I hope and by the end of I’d spoken for well over an hour and – as the doctor said to the prostitute – was given the clap I so richly deserved.

Never pays to crow, though, does it Rowley? You know me. I ride the high but it doesn’t take long to wonder when the piano is going to plummet from the sky. Could have been a fluke. But who knew I’d channel Liza ¬†and end a speech saying, ‘you’ve been a terrific audience. I wouldn’t be here if you weren’t here’? Thank goodness I restrained myself and didn’t add ‘I love you all. Be lucky sweethearts’. As Suzi Perry would say ‘get you’. So I will cautiously say the Windsor Lit Fest was a success and hope the next time I am asked to speak it will be as enjoyable.

Mrs T was as always a palpable hit with our hosts and guests. She’d had rather a week of it having taken her brood to Clivden last week whiling away an afternoon by the infamous pool where Christine Keeler romanced John Profumo. I also bumped into the lovely Nathalie-Lucy who is one of the PR Directors of Ralph Lauren who was at Coworth with her husband to be planning an October wedding. The girl has incredibly good taste as did a group of laddoes on the train back from Ascot who had clearly been enjoying the day’s racing (and the rest). One leaned over me looking slightly flushed and said to Mrs T ‘you’re a very pretty lady’. Hear hear.