Magazine article The Spectator

Diary

Magazine article The Spectator

Diary

Article excerpt

Thousands of words have been devoted to describing the recent Paris fashion collections, but nobody mentioned how much nudity there was. At John Galliano's rather brilliant show, which had an Egyptian theme, many of the supermodels were to all intents and purposes stark naked. Sitting in the front row at the Musee des Monuments Franqais, I could have reached out and touched a score of superbreasts or stroked the furry pudenda of a dozen girls as they paraded by. Since we were all there in a professional capacity, to watch a creative event, it is considered indelicate to comment on nudity; you are meant to be noticing the clothes, such as they are, not leching over the girls. But the fact is, upperclass British models like Jodi Kidd and Stella Tennant are now so famous that there is something startling - and, let's admit it, sexy - in seeing them like this at such close quarters. Jodi Kidd has perkier boobs than you would have expected, by the way, while Stella Tennant looks neat below the waist. I kept thinking that only boyfriends or gynaecologists would normally see this, and how seductive the idea of high fashion must be that models who would be horrified by striptease will so willingly strip off for Galliano.

Of all the shameless things I undertook to hype my new novel With Friends Like These, my favourite was a marathon Waterstone's literary lunch in Manchester. For a start, there were no fewer than five speakers, the others being Michael Dobbs, Gerald Kaufman MP, Sebastian 'Birdsong' Faulks and a mysterious Chinese anaesthetist, Adelin Yen Mah. A couple of hundred Mancunians, more dressed-up than an equivalent audience down south, had rolled up to the Ramada Hotel to hear the five of us plugging our wares. There was outrage among the other speakers, however, when we spotted in the programme notes that Sebastian Faulks had been singled out as 'gorgeous': `the gorgeous Sebastian' was how his biog kicked off. Nothing was said about the physical attributes of any other speaker. It struck Michael Dobbs and me as incredible that Faulks should have been selected for the appellation gorgeous when we, let alone Gerald Kaufman, had not. In his speech, Michael Dobbs told the audience that there is a great fellowship among authors and that, while we compete for sales of our books, we are really part of one big happy family of writers. I suspect this was a tactic by Dobbs to get the audience on his side by playing the Mr Nice card. If so, then it worked. The moment of truth at a literary lunch comes when the authors leave the rostrum and sit behind a row of tables piled high with their books for sale. Within seconds, you can see who has won by the respective length of the queues. In Manchester, Dobbs won hands down. I came a respectable second, I couldn't help noticing. This was a relief. At a similar contest in Cambridge years ago, I remember selling just three copies of a book while Jeffrey Archer, the top-of-the-bill speaker, sold 238. Even the waiters at the Garden House Hotel were handing over wads of cash. There is no more humiliating or lonely predicament than sitting behind a mountain of unsold books, entirely ignored, a brave smile playing on your lips, while the entire audience forms up at the next table.

I gave one of the Christina Noble lectures last Wednesday at the Royal Geographical Society. …

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