I have written a lot about gratitude of late and of all the people in London who have kept the faith with me while I was crying, falling down drunk and feeling all on my lonesome like some low rent Joan of Arc there is one who means the most to me. Geraldine Woods, my Yellow Poppy agent, picked me up off the floor after the Royal Ascot debacle when by mutual agreement I did not appear for the Tercentenary Royal Meeting in 2011.
I’ve never truly disclosed what happened and I will not do so now (much!) Well, new head of BBC Sport decides they want some fresh blood on Team Fashion. This I took as an insult after all the years and also because I was publishing my new book Fashion At Royal Ascot: Three Centuries of Thoroughbred Style at the same time. It was, I believe, approved by Windsor Castle before going to print and we were honoured that the Royal Ascot Authority chief himself, the Duke of Dev, wrote a splendid foreword.
Dad once told me that the late Dowager Duchess of Devonshire used to call me ‘that clever little boy on the television’. So the BBC in their wisdom decided that for the most important Ascot Fashion season they would cut my days to three and bring in a little Asian milliner with a mohican, a Swarovski crystal in his ear and not much else between the other one. We also had a new director who admitted to being anti-fashion and chippy to boot.
After a lunch at Rules with Di, Suzi, Dermot and that woman, I agreed to knuckle down and rise above it. Unfortunately, the director’s many emails chipped-away at my nerves until one evening I lifted a few, cracked my knuckles and wrote her an email that was basically an approximation of the ‘Joan Crawford addresses the all-male board of Pepsi Cola after her husband’s death and gives them a piece of her mind’ speech.
To precis, her best line began ‘Don’t fuck with me fellas, this isn’t my first time at the rodeo’. Of course my little billet-doux went round the BBC like the ebola virus. I didn’t expect Old Mother Balding to see the Faye Dunaway film reference from Mommie Dearest but would advise anyone with an interest to YouTube it, darlings. It’s quite a dillie.
But I digress. Geraldine has kept the faith though I haven’t really earned her a buffalo nickel. Imagine my surprise when she asked me if I’d like to be a guest on the new Paul Hollywood series produced by Reef and going global. We were filming at Clivden House, former home of the Astors and the location of that notorious poolside meeting between MP John Profumo and good time girls Christine Keeler and Mandy Rice Davis.
Christine and Mandy were guests of society osteopath (and pimp) Stephen Ward who took one of Lord Astor’s guest cottages on the Clivden estate at weekends. There’s a super dramatisation of it called Scandal with a belter of a theme tune sung by Dusty Springfield and produced by The Pet Shop Boys.
Anyway, this being the 60s, it didn’t go down too well that Profumo was the husband of popular actress Valerie Hobson or that Christine was also knocking-off a KGB spy. After much covering-up, Profumo resigned, Ward committed suicide and Christine went crazy. Only Mandy Rice Davis – who said in the dock when Lord Astor denied all knowledge of meeting her ‘he would say that, wouldn’t he?’ – had a good life. She became great friends with the late Queen Mother apparently.
But back to Clivden. When I arrived, I felt as though I knew the place inside out. I found the swimming pool in no time and posed for a Christine and Stephen selfie with Geraldine before we’d even taken morning coffee. Nobody likes a boaster, but I’m going to allow myself a little pat on the back for keeping-up with the talent that is Paul Hollywood on camera. His work ethic is as rock solid as his thighs and as for those baby blue ‘death stair’ eyes, be still my beating heart.
We made the pit crew laugh and that’s the sign that you’re doing a good job. Paul is totally uncomplaining and eminently professional on and off camera. He’s a jolly man who’s seen it all. He’s got a gorgeous Aston that roars like a lion when he fires her up. Well, only had two gin and tonics when filming to get the alcohol levels back up and take away the pain in my chest and head.
When we were finished, we decamped to the Library bar and a good time was had by all. The best Hollywood/Sherwood banter was when I commented that the Library looked like a room aboard RMS Titanic. I says to Paul ‘I’ve got a hot date up The Shard tonight so I’m definitely going down’. Monkey quick, he winks as says ‘it’s just the tip of the iceberg’.
It was ‘taxi for Mr Sherwood’ when we realised a couple lurking behind a potted palm might have been press. The last thing we’d need was to wake-up with our copy of the Daily Beast to see a headline screaming ‘My Night in Hollywood’. Wouldn’t happen anyway. He’s a happily married man. Until next time…