Tales in many tongues

I beamed myself to the Dorchester Hotel on Park Lane on Wednesday evening for a party in honour of Sidney Sheldon. "The world's master storyteller", as his publishers describe him, has just got into the Guinness Book of Records as the world's most trans- lated novelist. His estimated 275 million books have been distributed to more than 180 countries in 51 languages, so I feel quite special in not actually possessing one of them.

A very sprightly 80-year-old, Sidney tells me he puts his success down to his empathy with his characters. "I feel everything they feel," he says. "If I'm writing about a character who's in pain, I'm in physical pain. If he's happy, I'm happy." Goodness knows what happens when he writes a sex scene.

Sidney has never been abducted by aliens (at least to his knowledge - I didn't have time to hypnotically regress him) but he reckons there's something to it. "I wouldn't be surprised if the government's covered it up," he says.