Before and after: the naked truth

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The Independent Culture
"You've Taken your kit off," said the promoter. I don't know what he promoted, but it was going okay. Big cigar. Two more in his top pocket. Me, I am an artiste. Just the one cigar, but a good one, a Cohiba, though slightly unravelled, the wrapper spiralling off like - I don't know, like my life. Like an unravelling cigar. And no spares in my top pocket either, also like my life. Feh.

"You've got your kit off," said the promoter, and, hello, so I had. Who'd have thought it? Bollock-naked, surrounded by fashionable young women in clever spectacles, also television cameras, minatory, hovering.

"Why?" said the promoter. Aha. It always comes down to that, and there's never a good reason. I suppose that's the allure of sadomasochism. "Okay, honey, I'm going to chain you to this crossbeam and torment you." "Why?" "Because I say so." "Okay." Such a relief.

"Why?" said the promoter. It's a long story. Dave the Trainer's brother Lindley rang up. Dave isn't really called Dave the Trainer. He's called David Baptiste and is a famous athlete, also a moral force. He denounced a woman to the police for sunbathing naked in Hyde Park; said it had to be stamped out before it got out of hand. Well there you are. "David gave me your name," said Lindley. He runs a PR firm. Has a way with him. "We want you to have a make-over. You know. Clothes. Image." "Why?" "Because I say so," said Lindley. "Okay," I said.

I didn't know I needed a makeover. I thought I was an After. You know, as in Before and After. I get letters from Befores. "We want to be like you," they write, "elegant and irresistible. Our wife spurns us and our secretary loses our chitties accidentally on purpose. What should we wear so that this sort of thing will stop?"

I am always happy to share my secrets. They must bespeak their clothes from James & James of Old Burlington Street, who, I read recently, used to make the late Duke of Windsor's celebratedly natty threads, or Douglas Hayward of Mount Street, Tailor to the Stars. If they don't (I tell them sternly) they haven't a chance. Why? Because I say so.

But that was when I was an After. Suddenly, that all changed. I was to present myself, a sad, hopeless Before, at the Brompton Arcade, where Stylists would have a look at me and turn me into the After which I had foolishly believed myself to be all along.

It was for charity. Oh well then. A posh American outfitters called Gant was opening a shop in the Brompton Arcade. The Stylists would get me up in Gant clobber and then I would have my picture taken for the television. In return, I could keep the clothes, plus they'd give their retail value to the charity of my choice.

Fair enough. So I turned up in my Before clothes and a Very Important Magazine Executive said, "Goodness, you look rather stylish" and I said, "This is Before", and she said, "Never mind", and off I went to be Made Over by my Stylist, Jo, a fashionable young woman in clever spectacles. She did me proud: plaid flannel shirt, soft, heavy cotton twill trousers, a comfortable Shetland tweed jacket which was called, inexplicably, a Blazer. You could tell it was called a Blazer because it said so, in big embroidery in the lining. "The Blazer." Presumably in case you looked in your wardrobe one morning and thought, "Dear God, what the hell is that ... oh, hang on, it's my The Blazer. Fair enough."

I must say, I looked pretty natty. James & James would probably have raised an eyebrow, and Hayward would have delivered a small homily on shoulders and canvassing, but I felt ... professorial. An East Coast professor in the English faculty, relaxed yet scholarly, probably played by Harrison Ford with Greta Scacchi as the eager ingenue who can't resist an older man in a Shetland tweed The Blazer.

"It's a very Gant look," said the Gant man, and so it should have been, if you think about it. The promoter was got up in bright yellow and red fleecy things, which was also a very Gant look, and an oriental-looking chap was got up in another very Gant look, a soft leather jacket and a nice sweater, and there was Paul Boateng MP, who was fine in his smart MP's suit, thank you, and had put in his assistant to be made over instead, and he was wearing a very Gant look too.

So when my turn came to be an After on the television, I was thinking, "All these chaps, made over, looking pretty damn' good in their new, very Gant look, but ..." And then I caught the eye of my Stylist, and she said, "You wouldn't", and I said, "I would, you know", and she said, "Why?".

There's only one answer. "Because I say so." "Okay," she said. So I took off all my nice new After clothes, and put on my sunglasses and relit my cigar, and my Stylist found a rather Stylish red cushion to hold strategically before me, and I borrowed the promoter's baseball cap and went on the television.

The reporter was very good about it, although he did choke slightly, once. "Why did you chose this look for Michael?" he said, stone-faced, and the Stylist said: "It's relaxed and comfortable and the baseball cap adds the final touch of louche elegance." And then he said, "You're a serious journalist, Michael", and I said, "No I'm not", and he said, "What about the famous British stiff upper lip?", and I gave him a Look and said, "Stiff what?", innocently enough, and then he choked.

Which was fine. All for charity, you see, though they did say that I could keep the clothes although I hadn't actually worn them on the television because they thought I might get cold otherwise.

It wasn't quite what they had in mind, but, like everything else, it was a learning experience and means I can give you better advice when you write in wanting to be stylish and irresistible, like me. "If James & James decide they cannot take you on," I shall say in future, "or if you are too tight-fisted to afford Hayward, you can always go for the definitive Gant look: baseball cap, shades, unravelling cigar and a fashionable young woman in clever glasses, holding a cushion. Oh - and, just to be on the safe side, you may want to get someone to embroider "Silly Old Fool" on your belly. Why? Because I say so." !

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