Diary - Jenni Bond
On the after-dinner speaking circuit, I find myself doing a turn for Coutts. The guests are more int
I'm celebrating a half-anniversary this week: it's six months since I cut the comforting umbilical cord that bound me to the BBC for 26 years. I should be refreshed and rejuvenated, enjoying the slower pace of life that comes with giving up the day job. But nothing could be further from the truth.
"How's retirement?" people shout, as I race around the country in pursuit of the rich variety of new projects that have come my way in this post-Beeb existence. Or is it post-jungle? For there is no doubt that 14 years as the BBC's royal correspondent registered next to zero on the public barometer as compared to a fortnight on I'm a Celebrity . . . Get Me Out of Here! If only I'd known that eating a few insects and lying in a coffin of rats would earn this kind of recognition, I'd never have spent all those years standing outside royal palaces in the pouring rain.
There seems neither rhyme nor reason to the huge numbers who watched our jungle exploits. On the after-dinner speaking circuit, I find myself doing a turn for Coutts Bank - keeper of many a royal secret. Which of these high-flying financial thinkers, I wonder in some trepidation, could possibly have had the time or inclination to watch a bunch of so-called celebs whiling away their lives in the Aussie jungle? Well, almost all of them, I discover - with considerable relief. They seem quite as interested in my views about Jordan's boobs as they are in the future of the monarchy. In fact, rather more so.
Even Michael Portillo and Ann Widdecombe seem to know about the jungle. We meet at a lunch party in the ornate surroundings of the Apothecary Society; we're filming it as part of a documentary I'm presenting for Channel 5. With the help of a fistful of feisty historians, we are setting out to decide who was Britain's greatest monarch. Reality television pops up again in the form of another of the guests: Al Murray from Hell's Kitchen. I had no idea he was an Oxbridge history graduate; there's clearly more to him than his fish pies. He makes an excellent case for Henry VIII, while Ann champions Charles II and Michael flies the flag for Elizabeth I. It's the second time I've dined with Portillo and I can't help but like the man. Off-camera, I ask him if he has really, truly, deeply given up all hope of becoming Tory leader one day. He laughs incredulously: "Absolutely and for ever. You can't come back twice," he says. A shame, I think.
When royal stories break these days, it's fun to be asked to comment. It was curious to be part of the BBC team again this week when the Diana Memorial Fountain was finally unveiled by the Queen. Now, though , I am a guest, a commentator - free to express whatever view I choose. And that's great. But it's even more fun to be able to say "sod off" if I'm busy. On the afternoon that Diana's mother, Frances Shand Kydd, died, I found myself fumbling to answer my mobile just as my daughter and I, weighed down with popcorn, were going into the cinema to see Harry Potter. Reluctantly I did one radio interview, crouching in the foyer as my daughter scowled at me. Then, as the messages and missed calls kept flashing, I simply hit the "off" button - something I could never have dreamed of before - and marched into the cinema feeling triumphant.
How much more tranquil life was, how different the pace, in the WBM - the World Before Mobiles. I'm the first to say I couldn't possibly live without mine, and I'm pleased my daughter is on the long leash of hers - but oh, the constant intrusion they bring. One of the greatest pleasures of spending 15 days in the jungle was the extraordinary peace and quiet, the lack of any communication. No phones, no texts, no e-mails. Life and all its problems had to wait until we were ready. Nothing was instant in the jungle. We had to earn our food and then wait long hours for it to be lowered into the camp. Chickens came with heads and feathers still attached; rabbits with fur on. What's more, it was a perfect detox: starvation rations, little or no alcohol, tea or coffee. Lots of water and fresh air. I felt a million dollars when I left and vow every day that I will resume that healthy regime - after one last glass of Sauvignon.
Who could have got through the traumas of Terrible Timmy tension at Wimbledon or Rooney-mania at Euro 2004 without a glass in hand? Great sporting occasions are uniquely thrilling, and I've been caught up in both the footie and the tennis. Driving around the country, I've been glued to Radio 5 Live; I was brought up with the sound of Test Match Special, which my mother always enjoyed as she did the housework, and the habit has never left me. Listening to a ball game is perhaps a strange thing to do, but I find it utterly absorbing. The commentary is so graphic, so fast, so emotional, that I feel I've been at the match myself.
Along the motorways I started counting the St George's flags, and I was about to hoist one aloft on my car (despite my husband's disapproval) when Beckham shot that penalty skywards . . . and our noble lads were on the next plane home. Never mind: I'm off to Portugal myself this week, with husband and daughter in tow. I've been asked to review a book for Richard and Judy's Summer Read, and we're going to make a little film about it in the sun. Nice work if you can get it. Long may this post-Beeb renaissance continue.