Archer dips a tentative toe into the capital's social sea

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The Independent Online

As his wife sipped champagne on the lawn at Buckingham Palace Jeffrey Archer spent his first night of freedom taking tentative steps to reintegrate himself into high society.

After a bruising first day of liberty, the 63-year-old peer had started the evening in much the same way he had spent the previous 730 ­ away from prying eyes and under lock and key, but in the comparative luxury of his Thames-side penthouse.

However, his seclusion ended shortly after the departure of Lady Archer, who was attending a palace reception. First, he paid an impromptu visit to Chris Beetles at his London art gallery, where he enjoyed a guided tour of the current exhibit of more than 400 watercolours, oils and sculptures as he caught up with his old friend.

"It was great to see him again," said Mr Beetles. "He looked remarkably well as for two years I have only seen him in prison garb. It felt like old times."

Lord Archer of Weston-super-Mare then headed straight for the Belgravia restaurant Mosimann's, where he dined in a private room on risotto and lamb. The peer politely thanked the host, Anton Mosimann, for his "good meal" as he left with one of his sons shortly after 11pm.

It was a glamorous finale to a day that had started in far humbler surroundings. He had been released on licence from Hollesley Bay prison, near Woodbridge in Suffolk and driven out of the Category D open jail by his son William, 31, in bright morning sunshine.

He spent much of the day dealing with huge media interest ­ first posing for pictures with his wife, Mary, and then being caught in a mêlée as he arrived to meet a probation officer in south London.

From his farewells to fellow inmates in Bosmere block (known as Bosnia to its occupants) to being pursued home on live television via a helicopter, the message was clear: just as Lord Archer was no ordinary convict, he will be no run-of-the-mill former jailbird. Dave, 57, another middle-aged prisoner with a slight paunch leaving Hollesley Bay early, put it succinctly: "Listen mate, he's done his time and now all he has to do is decide which of his two houses to live in."

The peer, who was given a four-year term in 2001 for perjury and perverting the course of justice, looked glum and scowled as his car slid by the honour guard of lenses and flash bulbs outside the jail.

But the journey to his house in Grantchester, near Cambridge, obviously lightened the mood. As the car pulled up on the drive of the Old Vicarage, Lady Archer emerged to hug her grinning husband before the pair struck a pose. The Krug-drinking master of self-publicity had taken a mere 70 minutes to stage his first photo-op.

Had he known it would be the PR high-point of his day, he might have lingered a little longer. After jostling through yet more cameras, the peer cut a lonely figure as he sat in the reception area of the Brixton branch of the Probation Service, opposite a Portuguese snack bar.

The one-time would-be mayor of London spent an hour and 10 minutes with his probation officer. He must return once a week for the first month, have a home visit within the first 10 days and have regular contact for 12 months.

By early evening, the first day of liberty had taken its toll. Shortly before 6pm, Lady Archer was driven to the Palace for a reception with the Queen as trustee of the Cambridge Foundation.

Once, her husband would have been certain to accompany her. Instead, it appears that a quiet meal in Belgravia was more appropriate than an evening with royalty for his first night of freedom.