Dom Joly: I'll never gate-crash a book launch again

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The Independent Online

Never go to award ceremonies unless you're getting an award. Never gate-crash a book launch unless you really care about the author. Simple rules for a simple life, you might think. I fell foul of one last week. Having been stuck in a tiny, sweaty editing suite all day, I staggered out on to a fire escape to see it was one of those beautiful, sunny days that occasionally grace spring-time Albion.

Determined to do something pleasantly summery before the sun disappeared again, I finished work and got on my Vespa. I've neglected my much-loved scooter recently as it's been too grim weather-wise. This evening, however, was perfect Notting Hill scooter weather. There's nothing quite like the feeling of puttering around W11 on a Vespa looking at everyone hanging around outside bars wearing stupid sunglasses and telling anyone who'll listen about their non-existent film projects.

Passing a friend's cool restaurant, I couldn't help noticing that it was very packed. It's a ramshackle little joint that normally attracts doting couples and a few quiet diners, but tonight it was rammed. I wandered inside to see what was going on. I should have guessed; it was a book launch, the freebie party where an author attempts to guilt- trip friends and family into buying their book.

I spotted my friend behind the bar and wandered up to grab a couple of free drinks and a chat. He was serving prosecco and elderflower cordial, very Notting Hill and very delicious, as it happened. We had a quick natter. It turned out that the book being launched was a cookbook. Great - just what the world needs, another bloody cookbook. Ah well, best of luck to them, I thought to myself.

Ten minutes later, and I was ready to go. I manoeuvred my way towards the exit past long blondes in longer floaty dresses. I reached the door and was about to step on to the pavement when I felt a hand on my shoulder:

"Excuse me, Dom - it is Dom isn't it?" A tall willowy blonde woman was blocking my exit.

"It was, last time I can remember," I said in yet another terrible attempt to say something amusing when someone tells you who you are.

"I'm so sorry to bother you, but thank you so much for coming. I'm Candida/Felicity/Araminta [or something Sloaney like that anyway] and I'm a bit of a fan... this is my book launch. Have you bought a book?" She was looking at me intently.

"Um... no, you know, I've already got too many cookbooks," I replied idiotically.

"Oh... right... well... mine's very different, but I won't force you." She looked very put out and I tried to use the moment to escape, but she was too fast: "Would you do me a favour and meet my daughter, she's such a fan, and she'll be so excited." I couldn't say no so I followed willowy blonde towards three bored-looking 15-year-olds leaning against a wall smoking.

"Darling," said willowy blonde to sulky looking young blonde. "Darling, guess who I've got for you to meet. Dom Joly!"

There was a long silence as the three girls looked totally bored and unimpressed.

"You know darling, the chap who shouts into the big phone." The girls remained unimpressed and started to look away.

"The squirrel man darling, you know, HELLO grey squirrel?" I started to back away as willowy blonde started imitating a squirrel. This was becoming suicidal and the girls were starting to snigger at me openly.

"I've really got to go, Candida/Felicity/Araminta," I muttered as I made a break for the road.

"They're so excited, you've really made their night. Thanks so much for coming, Dom Joly," she screamed, so that her friends could hear.

I'm going to stay in the country for the summer, everything's so... safe down here. The doctor says I need the rest... some peace and quiet.