Dear Nigel Lawson

The former Chancellor is a man transformed. So much so that his friends might walk past him in the street

Anybody who has managed to control their eating, drinking or smoking deserves unqualified praise: and you have evidently managed two out of those three. It is an achievement that takes self-discipline and stamina. Anyone can reduce their eating by going on a diet for a week, and most of us do so - several times a year, starting on Mondays. However, to cut down on food, as you have managed to do, for almost a whole year - from last August until this July - indicates a tenacity of will-power that is truly awesome. I take my hat off to you.

Those are the compliments; now for the questions: why did you do it, and do you look any better as a result?

The question why will doubtless prompt a good deal of prurient speculation. Let us assume the obvious first: your doctor said you were in line for a premature heart attack if you didn't do something about what he frankly described as your dangerous obesity. That would shock many people into losing four stone, and it might have worked for you.

The second possible reason is that you, your wife, and your family finally decided that cuddliness had tipped over into grossness, that you looked revolting in anything but a well-cut Savile Row dinner jacket, and nowadays were straining at the seams even of that. The time had come to face the mirror and face facts. Time to diet.

My mother always says the simplest and most successful diet can be set out in two words: eat half. Forget calorie-counting, kilo-joules (is that what they're called?), diet sheets, F-plan and grapefruit. Save the cost of health farms and simply use your common-sense. Eat and drink whatever you normally would, but half as much. Works like a charm. I bet that's what you did, too. I hope you'll resist the temptation to publish the Lawson Plan diet. Some of your other programmes for the nation's health were not well received.

Now we come to the tricky question: do you actually look any better? Well, you certainly look different, and no doubt you feel better. You have gained the sort of ageing male glamour sported by Peter O'Toole and Lords Snowdon and Lichfield, rapidly overtaking Lord Archer and best exemplified by the extraordinary features of the late WH Auden. It is the look of a well-spent youth repented; of misdemeanours once enjoyed but now renounced; and it betrays the pleasures of the flesh formerly indulged. In the late middle-aged male face, this look takes the form of craggy lines, veritable canyons that hang and droop and sag in folds, yet still reveal the all- too-evident skull beneath the skin. It is the look of imminent mortality.

Women pay fortunes to cosmetic surgeons to avoid both this and its opposite, a plump face cushioned in pouched cheeks and reposing upon several comfortable chins ... come to think of it, rather like the previous Lawson face.

Was it worth those months of denial, those cakes and puddings you rejected, the whiskies you refused? In terms of health, certainly; in terms of physical attraction ... do you know, Lord Lawson, I'm not entirely sure that it was.

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