Serves me right

What do you expect if you invite Michael Winner to supper? For Deborah Ross it meant rising at 4am, vacuuming the cat and alienating her family. And then she started cooking...

Michael Winner is coming to dinner. "Oh, no, not Michael Winner!" This is what everyone says. "Oh, no, not Michael Winner!" says my partner, who is wretched at the prospect. "Oh, no, not Michael Winner!" say my colleagues. "Oh no, not Michael Winner!" say my sisters-in-law, whom I savagely arm-twist into coming along. "What is he," I say, "some kind of monster?" "Yes," they all chorus, "some kind of monster!"

Michael Winner is coming to dinner. "Oh, no, not Michael Winner!" This is what everyone says. "Oh, no, not Michael Winner!" says my partner, who is wretched at the prospect. "Oh, no, not Michael Winner!" say my colleagues. "Oh no, not Michael Winner!" say my sisters-in-law, whom I savagely arm-twist into coming along. "What is he," I say, "some kind of monster?" "Yes," they all chorus, "some kind of monster!"

My son is different, though. My son is jubilant. "Calm down, dear, it's only a commercial," he keeps repeating, until I finally have to say: "Shut up, dear, or I'll punch you in the face." And me? I'm pretty cool about it. Mr Winner's a hopeless old sweetie, really, and great fun. "Yeah, right," everyone says.

So, to the day of the dinner, and suddenly I'm not quite so cool. I wake at 4am but find that I'm not thinking "hopeless old sweetie" but, "Oh, no, not Michael sodding Winner! Indeed, such is my panic that I get up and start rolling matzo balls for the soup. Calm down, dear, he's only the huffiest, rudest, sulkiest diner in London, Venice, St-Tropez, Barbados... Exactly. And what if he demands a better table? I have no other tables. Apart from a camping one. What's he going to make of our squashed, tatty Victorian terraced job? This is the Mr Winner who lives in Holland Park, in that house with 42 rooms, nine bathrooms, 100 phones, swimming pool, art collection, housekeeper and five full-time dailies. Five full-time dailies! "I'd be very surprised if I ran my finger along anything and picked up any dust," he once told me. I'd be very surprised if you ran your finger along anything here and didn't pick up great fistfuls of it, I'm minded to tell him. Still, at least we have 42 rooms, give or take the odd 37 or so.

I get to it, feverishly vacuuming and mopping and wiping and polishing until I feel quite faint. He phones mid-morning. Will there be somewhere to park, he barks. Yes, I say, although I do not add that there is no guarantee that his car will still be there when he leaves, as this is the poor end of Islington, after all. I hope you are not going to too much trouble, he further barks. Not at all, I say, with what I hope is a gay and casual laugh. I do not add that I started at 4am, or that I'm about to vacuum-clean the cats (not too tricky, so long as you have someone else to hold them down).

I get on with the cooking. Chopping and stirring and boiling until I feel even more faint. I go to Oddbins and ask the advice of an assistant, telling him what the occasion is. "Oh, no, not Michael Winner!" he says.

Mid-afternoon, the doorbell goes, and it's a man delivering the most magnificent bouquet: lilies, roses, gerberas. The card says: "Dear Deborah, thanks for a fantastic dinner, Michael and Geraldine." Oops, a day early, methinks. Still, I'm sure it's most sincerely felt, in a premature sort of way. And does this mean I can now leave a bit of cheese out for him, and bolt?

Dinner, 8pm, and here are my sisters-in-law, Mary and Koa, one of whom is my favourite, though there's not much in it (ha, that should keep them on their toes). Here is my partner, who wouldn't have bolted even if I hadn't locked all the doors from the inside and eaten the keys. Here's my son. "Calm down, dear..." Oh, shut up, do. And here's a knock at the door. Knock, knock.

Michael Winner is wearing a blue blazer and yellow shirt. He has small eyes and looks like a homicidal Jewish grandmother. He found parking all right, but didn't bring the Bentley. "I wouldn't bring the Bentley to Crouch End, darling. I don't know what they might do to it. I've bought the Suzuki Vitara instead." I hope you're insured, I say. I believe Esure are quite good. But maybe you've never heard of them, as their advertising is most discreet, and probably too sophisticated to be catchy. "HaHaHaHa," goes Mr Winner, boomingly. He then adds that, within three months of his first TV commercial for Esure, "they had to take on 600 extra staff. Phenomenal".

He can be, it's true, the most outrageous swanker. Aside from the Bentley, he also has "a 1966 Rolls-Royce Phantom, which is one of those enormous things the Queen goes around in". His recently published autobiography, Winner Takes All, has sold extremely well. "It's been staggering. They are having to reprint already." He does seem wonderfully allergic to humility. Come on, Michael, we demand later, tell us something you've failed at. "Some of my movies didn't make any money," he says. Then adds: "But that doesn't mean it's a failure. Citizen Kane never made a penny."

Anyway, he is with his "current girlfriend", Geraldine Lynton-Edwards, a rather severe neuroscientist in sensible shoes. Oh, alright then, she's a pretty, blonde former actress/dancer. She teaches Pilates now and, mostly, she teaches Michael, every morning, 8.45am to 9.20am. "She is the Hitler of Pilates," he says, rather proudly. "What if you're not in the mood?" asks Mary. "Not in the mood? Are you kidding? Mood means nothing to her. Nothing." Geraldine has a glass of champagne. Mr Winner has water, as he is driving.

Winner, you'll be surprised to hear, is wonderfully gracious. "Delightful house, delightful," he says, lyingly. He asks to see the living room. I give him a tour, which takes two seconds, maybe three. "Very nice," he says. I tell him that I don't have time to show him the other 79 rooms as dinner's ready.

I have a glass of champagne, too. Just the one, mind, or what would have been just the one, if I didn't have another and then another and then another. Calm down, dear, he is only a regular at all the top, most-starred restaurants in the world.

First course, which is a traditional Jewish chicken soup made with kosher boiling fowls purchased specially in Golders Green. I tell Mr Winner that it's soup just like his mother - "Mumsy" - would have made, if she hadn't been too busy gambling. (His mother lost £8m at the Cannes casino.) He says that, as it happens, his mother was a good cook. "Her lokshen soup was incredible, and she did an incredible meat loaf with an egg going though the middle. I still have very fond memories of her cooking, which she did until the gambling took over." Can you cook, Michael? "Only sausage sandwiches," says Geraldine.

He says that he used to give dinner parties marks out of 10. "Well before I wrote anything about food (in his Sunday Times restaurant column, Winner's Dinners), which I know nothing about, I used to grade private meals. I once went to the house of the famous agent Robert Lipman, and his wife was the most terrible cook ever, and she knew that I was grading her because word had got out. So she asked what mark I would give the meal. Well, I couldn't have told her the truth - a weak two - so, thinking I was doing her proud, I said a seven. She went bananas. Never spoke to me again."

"How is this soup?" I ask. "Very good," he says. "Good? It's absolutely delicious," says Geraldine, who I'm liking more and more with each passing minute. I press on. Is it historic, though? "You must know it's good because look, dear, I've slopped it all down my shirt." Grade? "A strong eight. Are the matzo balls home-made?" Of course. "But I saw the ready-mix packet..." says my son. I give him a look, one that says: I'll make you do Koumi maths and wear itchy coats with velvet collars if you carry on in this disloyal vein. "Maybe I imagined it," he adds, quickly. Michael notices the flowers. A little early, I say. "Not at all," he says. "I always send them on the day in case the dinner is terrible." My son shows Michael where the toilet is, and provides guidance. "I told him not to sit on it too hard or the seat falls off." Great.

Main course. This is beef stew with anchovies (Nigella's How to Eat, p112, should you wish to have a go). I'm serving it with mash, green beans and a pea, mint and avocado salad. I ask Michael what annoys him most in restaurants. Rude receptionists, he says. "To come to a restaurant and be greeted rudely is an absolute annihilation of what is meant to be the hospitality industry." And what would it mean to you not to have the table you want? "I wouldn't go, dear. I have to take all the table numbers down, and I'll say, is table seven free? If they say it might be, I say I don't care about might be. Or it's, 'I'll do my best', which drives me mad. I don't want them to do their best. Is the table free or not? If not, I will go somewhere else, it's quite easy. There are lots of restaurants. I don't go to restaurants. I go to tables."

He appears to like the beef. "Very, very good, darling. Look, I'm eating it like mad. Would you call this a stew? I love stew. You don't get stew in restaurants."

When I ask him what effect his mother's gambling has had on his relationship to money, he says: "I don't know, dear. I don't know." How much, Koa wants to know, did Mumsy gamble away? He says that aside from what she lost at the casino, she also "sold all our paintings and my father's jade collection, even though it was left to me". The jade collection, he continues, was incredible. "I have an old Encyclopaedia Britannica, and at the entry on jade, it shows my father's collection."

Mumsy was always much too busy at the card tables to have much time for Michael, which is perhaps why Michael now needs to be noticed by having the best table, biggest car, most magnificent house, and so on. It may, too, help to explain his magnificent immodesty: his mother never appreciated his achievements, so he's always had to seek recognition and admiration elsewhere. There could be something in this. But, then again, it could be pure codswallop. Still, there is a vulnerability and even an innocence behind the swank and the swagger. "My mother once told me we had a love-hate relationship," he says, "but where was the hate? I felt only total love." I think we all find that touching, somehow.

What if you had no money, though, Michael? What if you woke up tomorrow with nothing? "He could work as a stand-up comic," says Geraldine, perhaps over-optimistically, but with the sort of loyalty I wish I got round here. "Or a taxi driver. He knows London like the back of his hand."

He says: "I think to be poor now, if you had a cottage in the country with a lovely view and were surrounded by nice things..." - ah, so that's how the poor live these days - "...having rolled in luxury for so long, you could say that it's not totally necessary to continue. I hope it does continue, mind you." And what would you miss most? "Private planes," he says.

Before he discovered private planes, he continues, he had a good trick for normal aircraft. "I always used to book for Mr and Mrs Winner, and Mrs Winner never turned up, so the seat next to me was always empty. It really annoyed me when you were the only person crossing the Atlantic with an empty seat and they suddenly put an air hostess next to you." Oh, poor Mikey, we all groan. How awful for you. "Not many air hostesses are beautiful," he protests, "and then they give you their entire life story!"

I start clearing away. Did you enjoy it, Michael? "I was the first to finish, dear! Now, can I help at all?" You could redecorate the hall. "Plumbing. I can do plumbing. And electrics. Need any electrics doing?"

Pudding, which is a baked cheesecake and red-fruit jelly. Mary made the cheesecake, but I'm praying she'll stay shtoom. Some hope. "I made the cheesecake," she says. "It's my great-great-grandmother's recipe, and it was made by me." This is a splendid cheesecake," says Michael. "Not heavy, not cloying, and it tastes of cheese." We talk film. My partner asks what film Michael, as a director, would wish to steal and put on his own CV if he could. Kes, he says. "An incredible film. Deeply moving. Not many British films have such emotion in them. In Brief Encounter, they just sat in the railway station like a couple of old farts." Then he says: "Excellent cheesecake. Very difficult, cheesecake. Did you really make it?" "I did," says Mary. "I made it." I think I know who's my favourite now.

He signs copies of his autobiography for us. It's a very entertaining read, and comes with three appendices: "Stars on Winner"; "Others on Winner"; and "Winner Talking", which is basically Winner's quotes on Winner. You have to admire the nerve. He never reads, as it happens. "I don't know why. Actually, I did read Walter the Farting Dog. Geraldine gave it to me. Do you think she was trying to say something?"

"He did read it," confirms Geraldine, "but it's a children's book and there are only three lines on each page." I say that I wrote a kids' book a few years ago, shall I sign one for you? I get one. "How wonderful," he says, "you wrote this?" "Calm down, dear," says my son, "it's not that good."

The pair depart at 11-ish. We've had a good time. Michael Winner has been fun, and a great sport. Even my partner has been won round. "I liked him," he concedes, grudgingly, which is odd as he usually adores it when I'm proved right. A couple of days later, I receive a nice letter from Michael, which may or may not have been posted four weeks ago. In return, I tell him that our table, which is certainly the best table in the house, is his whenever he wants it. Just phone ahead. Oh yes, we love Michael Winner. Indeed. No question.

'Winner Takes All - A Life of Sorts' is published by Robson Books (£17.95). It is particularly easy to find in Waterstone's in Kensington, as Mr Winner is partial to going there on a Saturday and pushing all copies to the front

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