Scandalous men and terrifying women
Loose Women want to run a clip of me interviewing someone interesting, so they call New
The note from the publishers was direct, but confusing.
"How do you feel about Loose Women?" I took a deep breath before emailing back. "Er, how do you mean?" As I waited for a reply it occurred to me that being the author of a novel had certain advantages over being a presenter on Newsnight. One: I did not have to wear a tie. Two: shaving was optional. Three: strange inquiries about loose women.
Power, intrigue and mud
Off to Hay-on-Wye to promote the book. The last time I was at the Hay literary festival it was as an interviewer, with Monica Ali, Vikram Seth, Terry Gilliam and Alan Alda, and it was sunny. This time I had to perform, and it was pouring with rain.
Nowadays, the festival is sponsored by the Guardian. About 20 miles from Hay we stopped to buy a copy of the newspaper, hoping to get an idea of what was on offer.
There were no Guardians, though there were plenty of copies of the Telegraph and the Times. "We shoot Guardian readers around here," the store owner said helpfully. Then he frowned. "You off to Hay?" At least the sun seemed to be coming out.
The publishers get back to me to explain that Loose Women is an ITV daytime show and they are interested in talking to me about my book A Scandalous Man. I had never seen the show before, so switch it on and immediately decide to do it. It looks like fun, though a bit daunting, all women presenters and an all-women audience.
I remember once going into a stitching factory in south Armagh where there were 200 women stitchers, and only two men - the manager and me. I can't write down the sort of things that were shouted at me by the women on that occasion, but let's just say they would make a sailor blush. I wondered if Loose Women might be a bit the same. What the heck. No one on Newsnight will find out. They'll be far too busy researching endogenous growth theory or watching Prime Minister's Questions on another channel.
"Yes," I tell the publishers. "Put me down for Loose Women."
The Hay Festival is - as always - a delight, despite the mud. I'm on stage with Melissa Benn, being questioned by Guto Harri, who used to work for the BBC and now works for Boris Johnson.
"The front cover of A Scandalous Man says it is about power, intrigue, terror and lies," Guto says, helpfully.
"Just like your new job," I reply. Fortunately Guto laughs. He'll be good with Boris.
Don't kiss the ladies
Lucy from Newsnight calls. Loose Women want to run a clip of me interviewing someone interesting, so they called Newsnight. And I'm busted. Totally. I decide the best interview clip to show will be of me interviewing Dolly Parton - a woman who is as sharp politically as anyone I have ever met (and that includes Mrs Thatcher and Bill and Hillary Clinton). When Lucy puts the phone down, I start to fret. Maybe she won't mention Loose Women to anyone in Newsnight. If I'm going to have to survive endless banter I may seek political asylum in Wales and grow a beard.
At the Loose Women studios everyone is welcoming. Despite the programme title, the presenters are referred to as "the ladies". I am slightly alarmed. Then come very strict instructions from the floor manager, who checks that my mobile phone is off and tells me: "When you walk on stage, under NO CIRCUMSTANCES must you kiss the ladies." I burble something like, "I wasn't planning to kiss anyone . . ." and she adds: "And UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES must you say on air that I have told you not to kiss the ladies." By this point, I am terrified.
Who knew there were so many rules on television? On Newsnight we tend not to ask for permission, though we do sometimes ask for forgiveness.
Unmasked by the BBC
I am supremely confident no one at the BBC will have watched me on the other channel. I switch on my mobile phone. It beeps 15 times with text messages.
"We stopped work to watch you," one message from a colleague says. "You ****!"
Gavin Esler is the author, most recently, of "A Scandalous Man" (HarperCollins, £17.99)
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