On Any Questions? I had to bring together right-wingers and savage lefties - and I still love doing that

I arrived at BBC Broadcasting House to join my fellow guests for Radio 4's Midweek programme. I was invited on to Midweek because my first book - about networking and friendship - has just been published. We nodded to each other as we were silently escorted up in the lift, drank our coffee in the "green room" and studiously avoided the sticky buns on offer. Minutes later, we were in the studio and on air - and Libby Purves turned first to me.

I felt I had been a failure so far that morning, as I hadn't yet exchanged one business card, but I nevertheless explained that I just had this constant urge to bring people together. There was a gasp from Libby as I came clean and owned up to rarely offering food at my social gatherings. With me, the name of the game is simply circulate, circulate, circulate; sitting down is a sin and monopolising the most illustrious guest there is unforgivable. At my gatherings, I try to do exactly what Libby does in her programme - put very different people together, make them talk and get to know each other. I got the habit when I was producing Any Questions? Every week, I'd have to bring furious right-wingers and savage lefties together to strike sparks off each other without coming to blows. And though I long ago left the BBC, I still love putting people together.


I suppose I'm like every other first-time author. I have never had a baby, but I feel it must be a little like giving birth - this sense of wonder and achievement when, after a long gestation and difficult labour, you actually produce your very own book - and it looks like you! Now I can't resist rushing in and buying a copy whenever I'm passing a bookshop. I have to stop myself shouting: "It's me, Carole Stone, I'm the author!" as I hand over my £7.99. And I'm doing all those naff things like ordering dozens of copies for myself and rereading the book in bed, much to my husband Richard's annoyance. I'm told this phase will pass. Meanwhile I'm trying to fit in every promotional opportunity I'm offered. I have talked to any local radio station that will listen, agreed to speak at a literary lunch in North Yorkshire and I'm off to East Anglia at dawn for local television. Meanwhile, I've talked on the phone to the Lady, the Press Association and Top Sante magazine. I'm about to meet the London correspondent of the French daily La Tribune and I'm wildly clutching at straws to find an excuse that would make me eligible for a piece in Cheshire Life. I've had my hair done three times in as many days for photo-shoots and now Hello! is on the phone - no money, but . . . I know I'll get withdrawal symptoms when I'm no longer in hourly contact with Sarah, my publicity genius from Random House. I could get hooked on all this attention . . .


But an interview with Danny Danziger for the Sunday Times took me by surprise. He concentrated on my childhood. He asked me detailed questions about those early years, growing up with my brother Roger, who was a disturbed and pathologically shy child (he was later diagnosed as suffering from paranoid schizophrenia). I think it was Roger's inability to communicate with other people that made me aware, early on, of the value of friendship and connecting with people. That interview made me think about what I had hoped for in life all those years ago. I had always assumed that I would marry and have children, but in fact no one proposed to me until I was 57 years old, and by then it was a bit late to reproduce. But I enjoyed those single years, and I realise that if I had married earlier it is unlikely that I would have had the time to make the wide circle of friends I have now. My wedding was a late, unexpected bonus - and a chance to aim my bouquet at my best friend.


There are lots of other things I wanted to do that haven't happened. No one ever thought of me as a potential management person at the BBC, for example, and there was a time I dreamt of being Britain's answer to Oprah Winfrey. Yet now, later on in life, I'm having some real success, doing my own thing. I think it is because I have stuck to what I really enjoy. "Take life by the scruff of the neck," my mother used to say, and "if you miss one opportunity, another will come along later." She was right. If I have missed some of the targets I was aiming at, I seem to have hit others I didn't even know were there.


The pleasure I get from putting people together who might otherwise never know each other has turned into my business, too. As a media consultant, I run a series of lunches where people from journalism, politics and business can meet on neutral ground to talk and argue about issues that interest them all.


My diary has always been essential to me. When anyone invites me to something, I hold my breath as I turn the pages to see if I'm free to accept. If I am, I'm elated; if I'm not, my tummy starts churning and I set about working out how I can move something or squeeze two events into the same time slot. Will I ever accept that it is possible to say "no" to an invitation and live?


"Making friends is wonderful; helping other people make them has proved more satisfying still. For me, friends are the joy of life, the demonstration that we're not alone in this world." That is a direct quote from my book, Networking: the art of making friends (Vermilion, £7.99) - and it's not even bedtime.

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