I turn up at the offices of "Biva" radio a full hour and 10 minutes before I'm due to go on air, thanks to the obsessive back-doubling of my driver. He remains taciturn until we get to the Elephant and Castle, then in a sudden burst of garrulousness says, "Go on, you're dying to ask me, I can tell: 'how come he knows south London so well', go on then, ask me." The ice broken, he then tells me his views on the Princess of Wales ("bimbo"), Nick Leeson ("done a deal, annee?") and magistrates ("bimbos"). At Biva nobody comes out to greet me, and I have to sit in the chilly reception area getting more and more nervous.
Finally I am rather grudgingly allowed to sit in the warm office. It is quite disconcerting to find that I have metamorphosed from VIP to mug overnight, such is the disdain which emanates from the person who only yesterday unleashed a charm offensive of Operation Market Garden proportions in order to get me to turn up. I feel like a ticking bomb. Why aren't they more scared? It reminded me of learning to drive: there was I, struggling with the wheel and my interior demons while the good citizens of Mottingham calmly went about their business, all unknowing that the Angel of Death was trundling past in a Vauxhall Corsa. Likewise the babes at Biva: how do they know a stream of Exorcist-style obscenities isn't going to issue from my mouth as soon as I get behind a mic?
Finally I am escorted into the studio and introduced to the show's hosts, Annie and Bill. A kind of giggling mock-incompetence rules here, thank God. We have an interesting conversation about John Redwood with a woman who specialises in PR makeovers, and a much more spicy one as soon as the "Mic On" light goes out. We dutifully discuss Di and I find myself shamefully hijacking something the PR just said off the air. This reminds me of a story about a well-known TV personality and a friend of a friend. The FOAF, a humble guest, shyly proffered a clever anecdote, whereupon the star shouted, "Can we go for another take? I wasn't happy with that," and promptly claimed the FOAF's witticism for himself.
Annie and Bill might run an amusingly slack ship, but their voices are impressive: expressive, husky (Annie's), masterful (Bill's). Even the big-booted, pierced vision who suddenly appears in the studio with a sheaf of papers reads the traffic news in a voice oozing with charm: "That accident on the M20 still causing problems London-bound ..."
This startling vocal transformation is even more noticeable in the TV world. This time the car doesn't turn up on time, and I arrive at the studio with 15 minutes to spare. I have never, outside Habitat, seen so many sofas in one room. I am to review children's books and engage in a stories-versus-computer-games stand-off with the resident techno-head, a thin, pony-tailed creature whose slight air of depression is explained by his having been up until 3am drinking. Claudia, the presenter, is already in position on her sofa. People in headsets are arranging my books in an artistic heap. The techno-head fusses with his CD-Rom. The floor manager does a count-down and instantly Claudia and the techno-head begin to throb with vitality and awareness. Like Zen masters they are perfectly relaxed, yet intense. They are themselves, only more so. From what I can see from the corner of my eye in the monitor, I too am myself, only less so: just an indistinct blob at the end of the sofa, under a mushroom-cloud of unbrushed hair.
But it's not too painful. The longest segment is seven minutes and most of the time is filled with top videos, best-selling albums and footage from the roving showbiz reporter. The best bit is when the Robson and Jerome video comes on and Claudia complains: "They've cut the bit where they go into their little dance - it's so funny!" We all scream with laughter at a brief flash of the "little dance" - truly an excruciating pop moment - and then have one second in which to recompose our faces for an on-air goodbye. Fixed grins all round: I'm glad to see that even Claudia and the techno-head cut it fine that time.
Ms Kerry MacKenzie
In Suzy Feay's column on 1 October she wrote about her time as a young PA to "Madam X", described as the Editor of a now defunct women's magazine.
Ms Kerry MacKenzie, formerly Editor of Women's World, has expressed concern that readers may have understood her to be the "Madam X" referred to. This was not intended and any embarrassment caused to Ms MacKenzie is regretted.