How would Princess Anne say "lingerie"?

When an HRH is sitting at your table, you need to come up with an icebreaker . . .

I've been hosting the (very glam) UK Fashion Export Awards in the presence of its president, the Princess Royal. I found myself on HRH's table, two guests away from her but definitely within the eavesdropping zone. (I'm the kind of person who can hear a person five tables away complain about the size of their chop - which mercifully, on this occasion, was more than ample - but you get my point. I'm paranoid.)

So there I was, having an intense discussion with HRH's lady-in-waiting, fuelled by soundbites gleaned from top TV viewing on both sides - for example, had I seen the new Great British Talent Show (I hadn't.) Ah, but had she seen the new series about embarrassing illnesses on Channel 5? Sadly not.

In the end I could bear it no longer - I intruded on Her Royal Highness's conversation to ask what her considered view of the correct pronunciation of "lingerie"might be.

There was a pause. Everyone looked at me. But then followed a keen exchange between HRH and the banker on her right and the FedEx global sales manager, on my left. Finally they suggested trying "long-er-eee" as a safe bet. In fact, the correct phonetic has it as "laing-jer-eeh". But at least I had broken the ice. Pity my speech didn't quite hit the melting zone in the same vein - but hey, a lot of them were French, I was told later. Of course, this could have been a lie.

Actually, it's interesting that what might feel a well-prepared and apparently witty speech, when you leave the house, can suddenly appear weird, dull and completely off the point in situ. Interesting and quite worrying also.

Ironer's elbow

This week has also seen some extreme domestic displacement activity. My 17-year-old's erstwhile boyfriend went off with her friend before they officially split up, allegedly, so I decided to exorcise my shameful maternal overreaction by washing all her clothes, sheets and cushion covers and what's more iron them - a departure for me, and not one to be repeated. I'm knackered and have developed ironer's elbow.

While exhausted from obsessive ironing, I faced the challenge of pitching a project to Sir David Frost. I met up with two producers at a juice bar beforehand to focus. This was understandably easy: not one bottle of wine in sight, only vats of seeds and eco sink bleach. In this context, a carrot and ginger juice felt unusually racy. We reviewed our dream cast list - was Ali Campbell still in or out? Would his current overexposure - sorry, dignified book-plugging - improve our "inspired but eclectic mix of happening guests" list or hinder? Sadly no one knew.

The next dilemma was how to address the Great One. Should I say "Sir David", as my producers were doing, or just "David", and risk being common? In the end I avoided any direct naming that may have wrecked what I hoped to be a direct and very personal pitch. It was such a hot afternoon that I was sure I'd left a small pool of sweat on the seat, and considered placing my business card on top as I left. In the event, I decided against, in case it drew undue attention or, worse, got stuck.

Do I need a squeeze?

The novelty of driving again still hasn't worn off. I was recently the recipient of a plethora of points that surprised even the magistrate. The same red lights in Brixton - you'd have thought I'd have worked out there was a camera there, but no.

However, I forgot the important rule, that you can't drive and speak on the phone at the same time. (Strangely, speaking to yourself is allowed but drinking a bottle of water isn't.) Sure enough, I was rightfully stopped on Vauxhall Bridge. I sat back to take my punishment with resignation. It was not my day - dealing with the domestic, the worrying speech about lingerie and the imminent meeting with Sir David.

The policeman went to check my credentials. "I've got absolutely NO points whatsoever," I told him proudly, "because they have all been wiped . . . whoops . . ."

The policeman, after a stiff warning about my general illegality, told me I could "carry on". I was beside myself. He also suggested "I needed a squeeze". "From whom?" I asked eagerly - but he'd driven off . . .

This article first appeared in the 16 July 2007 issue of the New Statesman, Chavez: from hero to tyrant