Return of the native article - November 2013

Cherry Fletcher, Valerie Singelton and Guy Fletcher

Cherry Fletcher, Valerie Singelton and Guy Fletcher - Credit: Archant

Thomas Hardy cocktails, three viscounts and Mr Tumble’s dad; enough to dazzle even a hard-nosed Fleet Street hack - and, more importantly, his daughter.

I have always, bar an industrious fortnight back in 1982, been far too idle to keep a diary. And that is no doubt why I am so impressed by diarists: from Samuel Pepys to John Fowles.

In November 1963, exactly 50 years ago and just two years before he moved to Dorset, Fowles noted how he was struggling to perfect The Magus, surely one of the cleverest novels ever written. Who could not admire a book that begins with De Sade, closes on a Latin couplet and includes the marvellous word “desipience”?

When asked that age-old, time-wasting question – “Who would you invite to your ideal dinner party?”– Fowles, my intellectual pin-up ever since I was 16, always topped my list. That is, until now.

For I now know exactly who to invite, because I was sitting next to them on Saturday night: Mr Tumble’s dad and Valerie Singleton.

A journalist for a hundred years, I don’t really do starstruck anymore. I’ve interviewed Dannii Minogue in a bikini, Bernard Manning in his underpants and Fowles himself in a nightie. I’ve made Marco Pierre White cry, fallen madly in love with Kirstie Allsopp and grappled with Sid Owen.

But I was wholly undone at Puddletown’s palatial Waterston Manor - Hardy’s inspiration for Bathsheba’s estate in Far from the Madding Crowd, no less - helped on my way by our hostess Katherine’s rocket-propelled Gabriel Oak cocktails: 60 per cent goodness, 40 per cent gin.

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When I told my seven-year-old daughter Dory on Sunday morning that I had just met Guy Fletcher - the father of her beloved CBeebies star Justin, AKA Mr Tumble - I was elevated to immediate superdaddy status, a rank not held since I inadvertently introduced Dory to the equally brilliant Rachel Bright, her number one author, three years ago.

Songwriter Guy – who penned one of Elvis’ hits – was unsurprisingly lovely. He even shares my utter distrust and avoidance of dancing.

Happily, however, Blue Peter’s Val does not. Indeed, her enthusiastic shimmy to the boom of Gangnam Style must go down as one of the most life-affirming and joyous sights I have ever witnessed.

In fact, the entire bash – thrown to celebrate the glorious photographs of our mutual friend Lucy - was dotted with unexpected, starry delights. From watching two gimlet-eyed wives hurdling furniture – and their husbands - to meet Jeremy Vine, to being dazzled by Katherine, a woman who makes even tooth floss fascinating and whose impossibly grand house makes me want to weep with impressed envy.

But I was so tickled by meeting Guy – who I simply must stop calling Grandpa Tumble – that, on a wild London night out with a bevy of old Fleet Street chums, I couldn’t resist regaling them, thinking they’d be similarly taken.

Sadly, my jolly tale met with baffled silence, broken only by the features editor of The Sun, who asked: “Who on earth is Mr Tumble?” And there you have it: proof if proof were needed. Newspapers are going to the dogs.