In Devon, where we holiday, celebrity sightings are extremely rare, and for me this is a good thing. This is because in London every trip to a public place carries with it the risk of a chance encounter with fame, and Matthew gets overexcited at the possibility of causing me crippling social humiliation.
There have been many incidents I have tried and failed to forget. One involved a religious leader. About 10 years ago, walking in Hyde Park, we spotted Cardinal Basil Hume. Matthew greeted him from 50 yards away with a deafening cry of "Humey!" (He appends a "y" to every celebrity name, to make them all sound like footballers.)
So there we were in Hyde Park with Cardinal Hume, Matthew now walking just behind his victim and muttering the name Marcinkus, as in the controversial Paul Marcinkus, the cardinal implicated in the death of Pope John Paul I. Thankfully, "Humey" was characteristically forgiving. He remained silent, carried on walking and completely ignored Matthew, giving no opinion on the murdered Pope theory.
Other victims, however, tend to get cross, and all I can do is suggest they thank their lucky stars that, unlike me, they don't have to go home with Matthew. I used this technique to calm down Mike Batt, of Wombles fame, after Matthew approached him in a Holland Park restaurant to confirm his identity in an exaggeratedly quizzical "I thought you were dead" manner, before turning on his heel and startling this easy-going composer of "Bright Eyes".
In Devon, however, the celebrity risk factor is very small indeed. It is true that there has been the odd famous visitor to the country estate upon which our holiday cottage nestles, and I often offer a prayer of thanks that Matthew wasn't there the day Prince Charles dropped in by helicopter. We were not so lucky, however, when John Nott appeared with his fishing rod the other side of the pond. Matthew strode towards him, saying he was going to invite him to re-enact the sinking of the General Belgrano. I knew he wouldn't actually do it, but it was worrying. Still, things are generally quiet. And then along came Martin Clunes.
What particularly upsets me, looking back, is that it could all have been avoided if I had just kept my mouth shut. But the shock of seeing Mr Clunes in a small, remote Devon pub was too much for me and before I knew it I had yelped out his name. Matthew went into Celebrity Alert Mode, repeating: "Clunesy? Clunesy? Where? Where's Clunesy?" I was particularly embarrassed for our friend Catherine, her daughter Frances and, of course, Louis, who like me will never quite be able to sit by and ignore this kind of paternal behaviour. By now, poor Martin Clunes was queuing at the bar not 3ft away from Matthew, who, in mitigation, did have his back to him.
"Clunesy?" yelled Matthew again, and I have to hand it to this fine British actor, not once did he turn round. Lot's wife could have learnt a thing or two from him. He stood at the bar, back ramrod straight, while Matthew continued to repeat his name over and over again.
"Why didn't you tell me I was yelling?" asked Matthew when we had returned to the cottage. "You know how deaf I am. What have I done to poor Clunesy? Ruined his lunch, if not his life. He must hate me. And you know how much I love the man. I have always been a fan. He is one of the best comic actors this country has ever produced, he never fails to nail a line, immaculate timing and, oh my God, do you think he heard me?" He then gave a startlingly complete resumé of Martin Clunes's career, from a 1980s appearance in Doctor Who all the way to Men Behaving Badly, Goodbye, Mr Chips and Doc Martin. "I must apologise to Clunesy. Where is he? Where is he?"
Sadly, the answer to this wasn't long in coming. "I just saw Martin Clunes," said our friend Giles, who had popped in for tea. "It was most confusing, he was just up the lane with your dog, Steptoe. Whatever is going on?"
"Clunesy? Clunesy?" says Matthew. "Is he here on the estate? Clunesy? Good God, he must be staying at the hotel."
Matthew, in the 10 years we have been holidaying in this cottage, has never actually been for a walk in the area, which is why, if I am busy, Steptoe has to take himself for his own walks. Now, I was intrigued to see if the possibility of re-encountering and provoking Martin Clunes in order to embarrass me would be enough of an incentive for Matthew to take his first-ever stroll around the estate. As it turned out, it wasn't, but he did send the children off, saying: "You're in the country, take up a country pursuit: stalking. Find me Clunesy."
They returned to report that he was definitely staying at the hotel. Matthew set up a position in an armchair by the sitting-room window and began a vigil, with binoculars and, oddly, a guide book to British wildflowers.
Late the following morning, Catherine and I actually witnessed the departure of the Clunes entourage. But we didn't let on.Reuse content