Back in the dark, muddy months of winter 2004, the magazine I had edited for eight years, the "Erotic Review", was sold to a bunch of sweaty pornographers in Cobham, and my staff and I resigned. We did not mind the moist porn, but we did object to working in Surrey. Besides, one of the henchmen wore a stripey bow tie, and nobody does that unless they're a member of the Garrick Club or a children's party entertainer on day release.
It was clearly time for a radical change - instead, I decided I might write a book about my time at the "Erotic Review". "Aren't you worried about being typecast?" asked friends. I said there were worse things to have on your gravestone than: "Never knew when to hang up her corset."
So I drew up a book proposal, but the publishing world seemed strangely underwhelmed, by which I mean that nobody offered me hundreds of thousands of pounds for my unwritten masterpiece. "Bastarding bastards!" I thought, thinking of the zillions paid to Jordan and Abi Titmuss for their ghostwritten musings. Clearly I should have had the foresight to invest in bigger jugs.
Forced by cruel fate to suspend my erotic quill, I had forgotten the project when I returned home one December evening to hear my husband say: "A woman called for you from America about your book proposal. I think her name was Rachel Weisz. Isn't she an actress?" I would like to say that this is the kind of conversation that often happens in our household. You know the kind of thing: "Maggie Smith wondered if you were free for croquet on Thursday," or, "Clive Owen wanted you for his Scrabble tournament." But this sort of thing only happens to my friend Clare, who's the scion of theatrical luvvies. Whenever you say: "Oh look, isn't that Ralph Fiennes over there buying celery?" She'll go: "Oh darling Ralph, haven't seen him for ages!" and scuttle over for a chat.
I phoned the number and had a chat, during which I ascertained that the woman I was speaking to was indeed exotic British beauty and A-list actress Rachel Weisz. My husband later asked me why my voice "started sounding plummy, like one of the Mitford sisters". I could only respond that I am susceptible. Ms Weisz is not only an extremely talented actress she's a bona fide goddess. I've never seen the virtue in claiming to be immune to fame; it goes against human nature and is scarcely ever credible. Even presidents, prime ministers, gangsters and dictators go weak-kneed at movie stars.
Dewy-eyed worship of figures of fantasy is hardwired into the human psyche. I admire the frankness of an acquaintance who ghostwrites books for celebrities and once said: "If I walk into a room and everyone there is equally charming, good looking and intelligent, but one of them is famous, then I think on balance there's no reason not to prefer that person's company to that of everybody else." The proximity of celebrity, he explained, gave him a happy, golden glow.
Anyway, it turned out that my literary agent, David Godwin, had sent my book proposal to film people and somebody had forwarded a copy to Ms Weisz. To my astonishment, it appeared that there were those who thought there might be a film in my "Erotic Review" years. And once I had thought about it, I could see that there might indeed be potential for a classic British comedy of sexual manners in the vein of "Miss Henderson Presents" or "Kinky Boots". The proposition was no less slender than the original premise for "Calendar Girls", which you could pretty much sum up as: "WI ladies strip for charity calendar." In my case, the general idea seemed to be: "Publican's daughter from the Home Counties learns to write smut and strips to her scanties for the benefit of CP-loving majors and claret-sozzled solicitors."
What I found harder to envisage was how there was a possibility that the absurdly beautiful Rachel Weisz could play a character based on me. (Because I hasten to add that if this film gets made, it will be a fictional adaptation. None of these events ever took place, any resemblance to real people is unfortunate if not libellous, Michael Bywater doesn't own a cat-o-nine-tails and it's not David Cameron in that goat mask.) Even my dearest friends would never be so fondly deluded as to cast Weisz in a biopic of my life. Or, as one friend put it: "I'm not being mean or anything, it's just that Rachel Weisz is drop-dead gorgeous." This same man had a joke website for several years where his mates' mugshots were displayed as celebrity lookalikes for the model agency Pants People. My photo was there under the caption: "Hire Emma Thompson for the day!"
Even if I weren't upset by such put-downs, I still have to deal with the "Cambridge Effect". Respect, in this ancient seat of learning where I live, is solely earned by unintelligibly erudite dissertations and professorships. Nobody is bothered by celebrity - even when the celeb in question is a Cambridge graduate. On the drizzly day just before Christmas when I got to meet Weisz, time constraints meant that I had to fly straight from that meeting to a dinner party in the centre of town.
Secretly I was chuffed at this arrangement because I imagined myself dominating conversation with such riveting insider titbits as: "Yes, all the trimmings, a plate of chocolate digestives," or: "Off-white jeans and a size eight, I'd say". But not one person thought my meeting worthy of inquiry. Thus, for the exclusive benefit of myself, I mean "Independent on Sunday" readers, I must reveal the shocking news that despite being thin, beautiful, clever, exceptionally nice and possessed of an Oscar, Ms Weisz is a human being and breathes air like the rest of us. Oh, and she might play me in the film of my life. So there.Reuse content