Who knew that there was such a strict hierarchy of after-dinner speakers out there in Celeb Land?
Astronauts, sportsmen, professional satirists and TV comedians make up the premier league of post-prandial monologuists, as do Top Gear presenters and a handful of actresses. At the topmost level of the roster of talent at the JLA speakers' agency, there are just three names: Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, the first men on the Moon, and (a little bathetically) P J O'Rourke, the irreverent right-wing American commentator. These are the Double-A-team: each can command more than £25,000 per appearance, regaling your dinner guests with their lunar memories or Republican views.
Immediately below comes the A-team of Ian Hislop, Angus Deayton, Richard Hammond, Matthew Pinsent and the like, alongside the more elegant figures of Diana Rigg and Joanna Lumley. (It's bizarre to discover Pierluigi Collina, the Italian referee with the mad, staring eyes in this company – but would you argue with him?) All of them can trouser between £10,000 and £25,000 for doing a turn over the coffee and brandy.
But, as with Northern Rock shares, your stock can go up or down on the corporate entertainment circuit – as John Prescott learnt the hard way. Snapped up last autumn by JLA, the pugnacious ex-deputy PM was offered to the business world as an A-grade £10,000-plus speaker. That's right, John Prescott, the man who cannot articulate his own name and address with any confidence, and who mangles every pronouncement into a kind of Esperanto gurgle. He's just been demoted to B-grade status, and could pick up as little as £5,000 a night for his gilded rhetoric.
He is, however, in good company, with other washed-up MPs (Kenneth Clarke, David Blunkett,) Esther Rantzen, and the charismatic P Y Gerbeau, last seen in 1999 trying to persuade us to love the Millennium Dome. Spare a thought, however, for one Bob Curtiss, a "Comedian and Character Actor," who inhabits a special E-grade all by himself. You could snap him up for "under £1,000", if you hurry.