Confessions of the kleptocracy

The chef Tom Aiken falsely accused a diner of stealing a spoon, but hasn't everybody done it? Anna Melville James finds out
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The Independent Online

Me and my spoons (yes, mine) - Sarah Roe, Businesswoman

As we were about to leave, Tom Aiken came out of the kitchen, put his hand across the door and said, "A silver spoon is missing from your table - what do you know about this?"

Second-hand cutlery lifted from restaurants is really not my thing. Recently my husband and I were thrilled to receive a canteen of solid silver cutlery as a wedding gift. I would venture to suggest that our cutlery is considerably smarter than that which we used at Mr Aiken's restaurant, which made the accusation even more laughable.

I am aware that many celebrated people have lapsed into the odd bit of minor-league larceny - and some suggest that if you pay £600 for a meal, however good, you might feel that the restaurant owes you something - but nothing could have been further from my thoughts.

It is horrifying to be accused of stealing a spoon. I did put it to Mr Aiken, a little sarcastically I'm afraid, that I hadn't realised it was common practice among arrogant young chefs to make such accusations. When we ate at The Ivy last night I made a point of taking a very small clutch bag that wouldn't even hold a teaspoon.

Uri Geller - Psychic and spoonbender

The only time I have ever stolen anything was as a child.

We were very poor and I was envious of all the other children who had beautiful Torahs, so I stole one from one of them. I intended to return it, but the teachers found out and came to our apartment. I was severely punished and it was a major lesson in my life.

A lot of people steal on my behalf though: when I am recognised, they generally come up to me with a spoon. If I bend it and sign it, the spoon becomes very valuable - recently a spoon I bent fetched £8,000 at auction.

A lot of famous people have pocketed my spoons. Even the Duke of Edinburgh pocketed a Concorde spoon that I bent for him once, and Margaret Thatcher was chased by a waiter after popping one of my spoons in her handbag. She just smiled and walked off.

Denise van Outen - Actress, who smuggled souvenirs out of Buckingham Palace in 1998

I'm afraid being locked in a loo at the palace with all those things was just too tempting.

I got myself into a right panic and stuffed [an ashtray and a velvet cover for a toilet tissue box] up my cardigan. I was astonished nobody noticed. I sent the cover back with a small furry camel I bought on holiday and I wrote, "Sorry, Ma'am, I didn't mean to give you the hump." I know it's a bit naughty and I apologise now.

William Boyd - Novelist

The only thing I have ever stolen was a book while I was at university in the mid-Seventies.

It was The English Auden; a collection of early poems, from Blackwells I think, in Oxford, and it was simply beyond my purse. I love Auden, and I couldn't afford it, so I wrapped it in newspaper and walked out. I thought stealing literature was justified - it was a good cause. Now I'd say that stealing is not a good thing to do.

Jo Brand - Comedian

The last thing I stole was some flying saucer sweets from our local sweetshop when I was small.

I got caught. The shopkeeper gave me a telling-off in a Kent village kind of way, stern yet kindly, and threatened to tell my mum and dad. I've never done it since, so he was very effective. Now I think banks are fair game to an extent - not violent robbery of course, but pilfering. They can afford it. The local shopkeeper can't.

Terry Jones - Monty Python star

I remember nicking a coffee cup from the restaurant La Coupole in Paris.

Everybody used to nick the coffee cups, so I think they've started selling them now. The waiter connived, though. We asked if we could buy one and he looked around and said, "No, just put it in your bag."

Beryl Bainbridge - Novelist

I did as a child, from Woolworths. It was only things like fountain pens.

In those days it was more of a dare. But I don't think any of it is acceptable, really. When I was about 27 and I had two children and very little money, I went into a phone box. On the shelf was a new box of cornflakes. I thought it couldn't do any harm, so I took it. When I got home my wallet had gone. It's superstition, but ever since I've thought if you take something you'll lose something.

Jenni Murray - Broadcaster

I stole some sweets when I was four, black jacks and sherbet lemons, two for a penny, from a tantalising display.

My mother made me take them back. I did it because I was greedy, my mother had said I couldn't have them and so I put them in my pocket. When she found out, back I went. I was crestfallen. I don't think it's really acceptable to steal anything. I do believe that from little acorns great oaks grow: if you step a little out of line, you compromise your principles.

William Hague - Former leader of the Conservative Party

Yes, I think it's morally wrong to steal a spoon; even if you've just spent £600 on a meal.

That's just not part of the deal, is it? I've never stolen anything, not even something as small as a spoon. Not consciously, anyway. I was brought up properly.

Alanis Morisette - Singer and songwriter

I went through a real kleptomania phase in my early teenage years - chocolates and other tiny things from stores.

Really embarrassing, but I've done my penance! I got caught once and just got rapped on the knuckles. The rapping I gave my own knuckles was far more intense! I was such a good, good girl, overachiever, straight As - it was a way for me to act out my rebellion. There's something cool about being sneaky like that as a kid. Plus it's a huge high.

Mike Gayle - Author and former agony uncle

I've got too much of a guilty conscience for stealing.

The nearest I come is helping myself to free stuff from hotels. I am addicted to it now. I never use the very small bottles of shampoo, but I still like to take them. It's a grey line: no-one says they are free, yet it's taken for granted. I also like the small pots of jam in hotels. It's the dinkiness, and to feel like you're getting your money's worth - but jam is really on the wrong side of the grey line.

Amanda Craig - Former advertising executive turned writer

I absolutely hated my first job in advertising and I had what was then an enormous debt of £500 and a meagre salary.

One of our accounts was Andrex, and I used to steal the pink loo paper and the Persil, which was also hanging around the office in the product cupboard. I felt I was being resourceful in those circumstances, I was utterly broke and I hated my job, so I felt morally justified too. I would have preferred white loo paper though.