'Isn't that Richard Madeley? I thought he was meant to be interviewing OJ Simpson at this very moment...'
Prolific writer and commentator John Walsh contributes columns to the paper as well as writing features, interviews and restaurant reviews. He has been editor of The Independent Magazine, literary editor of the Sunday Times and features editor of the London Evening Standard.
Thursday 16 May 1996
Richard E Grant, the actor with the electrifying eyes and irritating middle initial (Eric? Eustace? Ethelburga?), threw a bash at Planet Hollywood on Monday for With Nails, his frantically self-deprecatory record of life among the Beverly Hills crowd ("28th April. I am woken by a call from Victoria Tennant. 'Welcome to LA! Steve [Martin] and I were wondering if you had already made lunch plans?' ") filled with howling capital letters to indicate intense feeling. There was quite a lot of bellowing at the party, too, mostly by people triumphantly misidentifying other people. "You see that chap I was talking to?" said a woman, indicating a short, bearded actor called Danny. "That's Gary Oldman." "Good Lord," said another, indicating a handsome Sunday Times hack at the bar, "Isn't that Richard Madeley? I thought he was supposed to be interviewing OJ Simpson at this very moment...". Elsewhere, Lee Evans and Jenny Eclair and Mel Smith and Stephen Berkoff and James Wilby and the gorgeous American actress Elizabeth McGovern all pullulated around Mr Grant, who stood by the bar like a scornful caryatid, drinking from a pint tumbler of what was obviously Campari. Terribly Withnail, I remarked. "It's cranberry juice," he said, "I'm allergic to alcohol."
Blast. Another illusion shattered.
Thank goodness there are some people who act up to their media image. At the Planet I met James Brown, dreadlocked editor of Loaded magazine, that shockingly adolescent celebration of lager, footie and young women Getting Their Kit Off. Last week it won Magazine of the Year award for the second year running. It is, clearly, in danger of becoming the voice of the Establishment.
"Yeah," said Brown. "'Course, we didn't believe for a minute we'd win it again." He sniffed. "Otherwise we'd never 'ave dropped acid at four in the afternoon...." Hmmm. Had it affected him badly? "Not at first. We met at the Ritz, and decided the only way to get through the evening was by being out of our heads. By the time we got to the Dorchester, we were flyin'. They were carrying chocolates around on trays of dry ice and we slung the ice in our glasses of red wine, so they were steaming like in Dr Jekyll's lab, and that started gettin' very weird, and then I was fantastically sick everywhere and ended up sitting outside the Dorchester among the flowers...." No change there then. Was he planing more serious projects? "Oh yeah," said Brown. "I've bin talking to a literary agent about writing a novel for loads of cash, an' I've started it. But you know...." He gave a tragic sigh with which Balzac would have sympathised, "You have to stay in so much."
Barely 24 hours later, I was in media diaryland again, at the Royal College of Art where Brian Eno, the former keyboards maestro with Roxy Music (he did the der-der-dit-der-DONG middle bit in Virginia Plain), legendary record producer and one-man fan club of airport music, was launching A Year with Swollen Appendices, his chronicle of 1995, complete with batso speculations ("28th May. Woke at 4.30. Funny thing - in Ireland I rarely get an erection...") and a virtual obsession with large female bottoms. Given Mr Eno's transmedial celebrity, the place was full of writers (Salman Rushdie, Hanif Kureishi) as well as rock journos and installation artistes. It's the kind of place where you suddenly find yourself standing tongue- tied beside Jarvis Cocker, being elbowed out of the way by a Finnish blonde in search of an autograph, then rescued by John Brown, the publisher of Viz. More striking was the way the young and desperately groovy all traded up, creatively speaking, in Eno's presence, as if being a pop star were hardly enough when rubbing shoulders with such a pan-aesthetic genius.
Thus it was that your humble scribe found himself conversing about poetry with Robbie Williams, the naughty-boy singer formerly (m'lud) with the Take That dancing ensemble. A vision in green velvet frock-coat and jungly sideburns, Robbie revealed that his forthcoming solo album will not be his only surprise for his critics and fans. "I've been writing poems since I was eight - I started with limericks - and I hope to get a collection out after the record," he said. But since Take That weren't allowed to drink, take drugs or have girlfriends for the last few years, what did he have to write about?
"School..." said Robbie, mysteriously. I couldn't quite see why, until I met an Irish Faber employee, of such melting Celtic beauty it would make Brian Eno think again. "Robbie recited one for me," she breathed, "It was about being nine and having his teacher tell him he'd never amount to anything. It's obviously preyed on his mind ever since. It was very moving".
The lowest form of wit is not sarcasm; it is the columnar barrel-scraping that makes fun of people's surnames and thinks English translations of foreign menus are a hoot. But I must pass on a document found by a friend in her hotel in Antwerp. An oxymoronically trendy Belgian tour guide has been writing helpful notes for tourists. Some are too good to be true ("A hospital welcome awaits you at the restaurant Tai Yang") but others have the authentic ring of someone trying that bit too hard (of another restaurant, "Here dandys wallow ... in the delicate culinary selection. Afterwards they cherish their lyric ebullitions or start writing a book" - sounds like a place to avoid). And there's a kind of inspired, epic- bollocks quality about his recommendation of the local cathedral: "From 1352 her slender tower spire sings a welcome greeting from far away to pilgrims. Nor looting neither arsony could stop that each time she went up again. Admire Rubens' paintings but also watch how the sun roars through the stone lacework...."
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