It was one of those moments which stick in the mind.
A group of us were in Tap lolling around drinking pints (at school, it wasn’t a case of the authorities turning a blind eye to underage drinking; rather they stood up and applauded it) when Althorp walked in. We had all heard the news and, as ever, Boris was the first to speak.
“Hot cripes, old chap, isn’t this the most wondrous of wondrous things. Big Sis will be Queen and the Queen’s your auntie.” Still blustering away, he staggered forward to hug Charlie, simultaneously humming a few bars from “Zadok the Priest”. Fortunately for Boris, he had already established a minor reputation for being a joker so, with everyone else assuming he was joshing, he escaped near-universal condemnation for having committed one of the graver faux pas in Eton’s history. That Boris was not being ironic was proven by the speed with which he stopped in his tracks when the rest of us offered our condolences.
“Terrible shame, old man.”
“Such a promising filly, too.”
“What can she have been thinking of . . .”
“Let me get you a pint of snakebite. God knows, you look as if you need one.”
We spent the rest of the morning buying drinks for the inconsolable Althorp. What Boris had failed to register was that, for those of us whose families stretch back a decent way, the Windsors are, at best, parvenus. They are not common, that would be going too far, but certainly beneath the salt.
All that said, hats off to them. They do a pretty decent job: in fact, very decent, when you consider the material with which they have to work. And I was saying as much only the other evening to all and sundry at the Speccy Summer Drinks Party. This gathering is said, albeit only by Spectator columnists with contracts up for renewal, to be the one social occasion which can break or make a Tory politician’s career.
I find this hard to believe, and particularly so this year, when I was staggered to see Piers Morgan in attendance. To be charitable to the organisers, I assume he bought his invitation from a hack down on his luck, but nevertheless it was unconscionable for the editor not to have given orders for the poltroon to be evicted as soon as he noticed the calamity which had befallen his party.
Peacocking around him at this year’s do were Gove, back from getting his expenses in order, and a more bumptious than in a long while Osborne. The reason for the shadow chancellor’s high spirits was the good reception given to his crack about spending as much as 40 per cent of his time on the economy. Compared with Lamont and Clarke, this is, of course, very high, but it is just the kind of flashy comment we do not need from a man who, if ever he becomes chancellor, will do well to survive his first Budget.
Surprisingly, the columnising community lapped it up. No longer granted access to an increasingly aloof Cameron, they are desperate for tittle-tattle from the inner sanctum. Osborne is nothing if not a purveyor of tittle-tattle and the columnists, to boost their own importance, have dangerously overegged GO’s importance. Suddenly he is being described as the general election co-ordinator, the strategist-in-chief, the brains of the operation.
He is none of the above and to make up such things will only ensure that he is broken even sooner.