Dom Joly: Taming my inner political animal

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The Independent Online

Oh Jesus, someone had clearly spiked my tea. I was starting to hallucinate. I was in a tiny television studio and a hairy Scot in braces was asking me a question. I answered, I know not what, and then it got really weird. Opposite me, sat on a really small sofa, were Michael Portillo and Diane Abbott, squashed together like some weird Siamese twin experiment. Portillo was looking right at me. All I could see was this pair of enormous, fleshy lips.

"I totally agree with Dom," said the lips, moving in slow motion. It must have been LSD - Portillo was agreeing with me on live television. Sadly, it wasn't. I was on This Week, an odd little political discussion show hidden on BBC One after Question Time.

In my "respectable" past I worked in Millbank, where the programme is made. In my twenties, before I donned the squirrel costumes and started to shout into huge mobile phones, I was a political anorak. I started as a diplomat in Prague, and then worked for the ultimate anorak publication - Roth's Parliamentary Profiles. My job was to collate cuttings and useful facts about every MP. These would be filed and eventually appear in their profiles. I began to amass an impressive knowledge of MPs and their interests. This eventually led me to land a job with ITN where I was a producer for the ultimate anorak television show: House to House.

At one time it was presented by Sheena Macdonald (Gordon Brown's ex-girlfriend) and edited by Andrew Brown (Gordon's brother). Sadly, I never used these New Labour "ins". My specialty was the predilections and hobbies of Tory MPs so, when the great New Labour landslide happened and almost all Tory MPs were slung out into the wilderness, I was suddenly of very little use in Westminster.

I told Portillo this vaguely amusing tale as we waited to go into the studio. He didn't seem terribly amused. I forgot that it's probably still a night he'd like to forget. In the end, I left ITN because, although I enjoyed the intrigue, I just wasn't as dedicated as others who were clearly headed for the top.

But, deep down, you never get over being a political animal so, when the telephone call came, asking me if I'd like to make a little film and then go on the show to discuss it, my ego said "yes". The producer who asked me was a king schmoozer, whose job was clearly to butter up minor celebrities and get them to inject a little bit of "fun" into the serious stuff. I agreed to make a film down here in the Cotswolds and we decided that it would involve Huxley and me wandering around the idyllic countryside while I waffled on about how rubbish the UK is.

I was intrigued to find out if this producer had what I lacked - the ruthlessness needed to get to the top in political TV. So, half an hour before he arrived, I rang him to tell him I would have to cancel as my au pair had fallen and broken her leg. There was a short, panicky pause. "Where is she now?"

"Lying at the bottom of the stairs - it's just happened," I said insouciantly.

"Is there any chance that we can quickly film the thing before you take her to hospital?" He was good.

"No... I think she's in quite some pain," I replied.

"How about if we follow you to the hospital and do the piece there." I could hear his brain whirring.

"I think that would be a tad insensitive," I said, trying to sound caring but firm.

"Is there no one else who can take her?" It almost sounded like an order. He was not giving up. I was impressed. I told him that it was a joke and there was hollow laughter at the other end of the phone.

"Very funny, God that's brilliant, really hilarious," he said unconvincingly and fully back on schmooze mode. This guy was going all the way to the top.

We made the film and I had the discussion. I was hoping to be highly praised for my firm grip on current affairs. But all anyone talked about was how good-looking Huxley was. I suppose I'd better face facts - he's the real political animal of the family. s