I've always fancied watching an election unravel from the "inside". When I got the call asking me whether I'd like to be on the BBC boat party, moored underneath the London Eye, I jumped at the chance. I suppose, in my mind, I expected it would be like being in JFK's hotel suite (not alone, not dressed as a lady). We would all be huddled around the telly swapping insider gossip about what was going on.
Instead I arrived at one of the weirder drinks parties that I've ever attended. Everywhere you looked were famous faces. I had to elbow my way between Jeanette Winterson and Martin Amis to get a drink. Wine in hand (there was no champagne – the BBC was trying to look financially responsible, but there was a rumour that Alan Yentob had a secret champagne hot tub room on top of the boat) I turned to face the throng.
Above me to my right, Bruce Forsyth and Ben Kingsley were beautifully lit on a platform above the melee. Bruce, possibly a little confused, seemed to suddenly think he was back doing The Price Is Right and started to try to get the people below him to do the "higher... lower" thing. It bombed, and he was eventually given a chair to sit on in front of a television, like some elderly relative.
Meanwhile Peter Snow, another TV elder statesman, was intently leaning into another television to hear what Jeremy Vine was doing on the swingometer. Then, with the first of many power cuts, for a moment the boat was turned into a kind of celebrity Poseidon Adventure. I wondered whether the Beeb had decided to pay for the party by simultaneously filming a new reality show. When the lights went back on, Joan Collins was standing near Richard Madeley – neither had run for the lifeboats.
Election-wise, it was almost impossible to follow what was going on as the celebrity chatter was turned up to 11. Kirsty Allsop suggested going to the ITV party. There were rumours that they were serving champagne. I stuck with the BBC and was soon ushered over to a table to join an odd little social group. On my left was Fern Britton, to my right, Dame Kelly Holmes and David Baddiel. We stood awkwardly and waited for Andrew Neil to glide on to us as though by happenstance. We were in a relatively empty part of the boat, but then I noticed that the area behind us had filled up with random revellers. As in parliamentary TV, it appeared that we'd been "doughnutted".
As we were about to go live, there was another power cut and everyone was stood down. Ten minutes later, we were back on, and Neil arrived asking us about our impressions of the campaign. I wondered how the Lib Dems had managed to keep Lembit Opik out of sight. I looked straight into camera and begged him to call. Neil turned to Fern Britton but the power went again. "Sorry Fern, we've lost you..." said a producer. "That's showbusiness," I muttered.
I fought my way past Greg Dyke and Michael Portillo to the bar. More red wine in hand, I discovered another part of the boat where you could almost hear the television. I watched Ben Bradshaw hang on in Exeter and then slipped through a glass door on to the rear deck. A couple of people were smoking in the shadow of the multi-coloured London Eye, gazing over at Big Ben. I felt my phone vibrate in my pocket. I had a message: "Hello Dom, it's Lembit here... I'm still alive." I was slightly concerned that he had my mobile number. An hour later, I watched him lose his seat. I'd better change my number, he's got a bit too much time on his hands now.Reuse content