Image: Brijesh Patel
May 10 2011
It’s my habit to walk from home in Vauxhall to the studio in Soho. Forty-five minutes normally does it. That, or take a Boris Bike. I am still enjoying the hire scheme as an idea, but the execution is flawed. Until they get better knowledge of the distribution patterns, the risk of not finding an empty dock at journey’s end is too high for anyone with even the weakest approximation to a schedule. And the murderous psychology of London traffic is draining. I find I get off a Boris with clenched shoulders and a Battle of Britain fatalism, sighing to myself, “Got away with that one, then.”
First meeting: Speakers for Schools, a brilliant initiative that’s a darling of Robert Peston’s. The simple idea is that schoolkids often find contact with interesting people inspirational, but there’s no organised delivery mechanism. The more so if you are at a state school in a poor area. It’s not too hard for Eton to snare a spare PM, but a Peckham comprehensive would have difficulty in getting even me. Speakers for Schools creates a sort of virtual faculty. Cleverly, to avoid unreasonable pressure on the more lustrous members of its roster, schools only get to bid for speakers in categories – Business or Media, for example – not as individuals.
Of course, this also avoids unhelpful and unhealthy rivalries between well-meaning members of the virtual faculty: imagine how sour your good intentions would become if no one requested you. I had this experience at a book-signing in Harrods some years ago. Three of us were in a row: Chris Patten, Alan Titchmarsh and myself. Patten and I spent the whole evening completely untroubled by punters, while the queues for the telly-gardener’s title-page autograph snaked around the entire building.
Too much of today has been spent haggling about fees. A well-known and thriving chain of shops asked me to speak at a staff away-day. My agent mentioned a fee. They came back ashen and said they were under pressure to “get something for nothing”. I told my agent to say that when I was next arrested for shoplifting, I too would claim the getting-something-for-nothing principle. We have not heard back.