Writing an autobiography feels vaguely indecent, like running round the park without any clothes on

I know that personally revelatory journalism, recording every shaving cut and change of underwear, is all the rage these days. To someone who started the old-fashioned way doing weather and temperatures on the Liverpool Echo, it does not come naturally. Writing and promoting a volume that the bookshops stock in the autobiography section - even if it is about many others, too - has felt vaguely indecent, like running round Kennington Park without any clothes on.

The worst moment came when I was on the Tube on Saturday, en route to Broadcasting House for Loose Ends. Thinking I had better check the dates of an episode or two that Ned Sherrin might ask about, I fished out a copy of my book and thumbed the index. Then I looked up to be withered by the curling lip of the man sitting opposite. He had clearly recognised both me and my picture on the book cover. He didn't have to speak. I could hear him thinking: "Just what kind of big-headed bastard is it who can sit on the Underground reading a book he has written about himself." My reference copy now carries no cover, so the worst anybody opposite can think is that I'm reading a dirty book.

"There's only one requirement if you write a book of memoirs," the former home secretary Kenneth Baker told me. "You need a thick skin." By Sunday, he was proved right. Black Dog, the political gossip column in the Mail on Sunday, wrote that my book was one long complaint about my sacking from the BBC last year. I had "glossed over" John Sergeant's hurt feelings at not getting my job, the column continued, and I had failed to mention the "famous incident" when I once dried on air and John declared: "Don't worry, Robin - it's nearly happened to all of us." In fact, the story of my departure from the BBC takes just nine pages out of 397. And the Sergeant story, which I told at his BBC leaving do, is there in full on page 177. Since the Daily Mail, under blood-curdling headlines, had run extracts from my book the day before, there must have been a copy somewhere in the office. Lazy Dog.

Going into the Sky News studio for Adam Boulton on Sunday, I met Ann Widdecombe coming out, complete with the Louis Theroux camera team who are currently shadowing her. An interesting contrast, I trust, to the Hamiltons, Theroux's other recent subjects. Or has Max Clifford something in store for her, too? I was able to thank her for my visit to her home on CNN's behalf two days before. Halfway through, a large black cat had leapt over the fence and advanced on us. Conducting an interview while simultaneously stroking a large pussy to stop it jumping on your subject's lap is curiously disconcerting, like one of those childhood games where you have simultaneously to rub your head and pat your tummy.

That night was not the best preparation for the next day's round-the-clock radio interviews. My wife and I were woken at 3am by the horror-film screaming which is the way urban foxes communicate with each other in our corner of Kennington. Our own little Burmese cat was rigid with fear on the end of the bed. Since one of the foxes killed a blackbird on our birdbath three months ago and then chased her back into the house, she has refused to enter the garden without human company. Most of the time, ridden with middle-class angst, we debate the rights of the foxes and how we might seek political asylum for them in Surrey. But, given nights like that and the views of our local MP, the feisty, delightful and wrongly sacked Kate Hoey, I suppose there is another solution. We could ask her to found the South Lambeth Hunt.

I needed to be sharp the next morning for the Nicky Campbell Show on Five Live. Following Paddy Ashdown's comment that Tony Blair was a "smarmy git", the programme's talking point was: "Which politician would you like to have a drink with?" Since Paddy lives round the corner from me, I've had a drink with him more often than most, but intriguingly the first three callers all chose Dennis Skinner. Nobody, surprisingly, chose his fellow maverick Tony Benn, probably the best debater through my years of Commons-watching. But I was able to offer Nicky a line from the book to explain that. Skinner, who is a keen athletics fan, told me once of a rare occasion on Labour's National Executive when he missed a vote. The Olympics were on at the time and he told his fellow left-winger: "I've got to go and see Coe and Ovett." "Oh, really," said the rather less worldly Benn, "are they your constituency delegates?"

I forget which interviewer asked me about the biggest difference between my years in newspapers and my last nine years in TV. Without doubt, it is the recognition factor. Your privacy goes. Many have only the vaguest idea who you are, but you daren't shout at children in the supermarket or wind down your car window to have a go at another driver for fear that somebody recognises you. Once, in a bird sanctuary car park in New Zealand, in scruffy old clothes, I had felt confident of my anonymity only to be hailed by a cheery Essex voice exclaiming: "It's Robin Oakley, isn't it?" But BBC Security can put you in your place. As I headed for a studio in Broadcasting House, a kindly soul asked: "Have you ever been here before, sir?" A year is a long time in BBC politics.

Robin Oakley is European political editor for CNN. His Inside Track is published by Bantam (£20).

This article first appeared in the 17 September 2001 issue of the New Statesman, The end of the open society?