From Daley to Dimbleby, with no Speedos

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The Independent Online

Nobody can accuse me of being pigeonholed in this weird world of showbusiness. One week I'm standing on top of a 10-metre diving board, dressed as an overgrown convict, about to plummet to my doom in front of 7 million viewers on a Saturday night, the next moment I'm in a car heading up north to Lancaster to be on Question Time. I've always loved Question Time and was thrilled to be asked to be on the panel. Alarm bells, however, were ringing like billy-o in the back of my mind.

My recent mainstream TV appearances haven't exactly been triumphs – first I lost £89,000 for charity on The Chase and then nearly paralysed myself by screwing up a high dive on Splash! Would Question Time be my TV hat-trick? Would I be asked about my views on childcare reform, only to clam up and sit like a startled goldfish before finally admitting that I had no view whatsoever on this matter and that I'd like to go home now please? I checked out the panel: an ex-home secretary, a Tory baroness, both a Guardian and a Telegraph journalist … and me. Guess who was supposed to be "the turn"?

The Telegraph journalist, James Delingpole had tweeted something highly misogynistic about journalist Suzanne Moore that morning. It was all very much a storm in a media twea-cup, but it did give me an "out" on the show. The previous week, academic Mary Beard had appeared on the panel and then complained about the vitriolic abuse she got online. I realised that, should I be faced with a question from a Lancastrian housewife wanting to know my opinions on council-tax benefit cuts, I could pretend that I could contain my outrage no longer and turn on Delingpole, ignore the question and let him have it with both barrels. I'd read quite a lot of his stuff and felt that this would not cause me any moral problem.

Unfortunately, when I met him in the rather grand surroundings of Lancaster Town Hall, he was not the foaming Nazi that I had imagined. He had more the manner of a slightly decaying geography teacher and I rather liked him. This is so typical of armchair vitriolists: when you meet them in person they are either rather harmless, or even strangely likeable. Delingpole was both.

Aware that I could not use the Delingpole Gambit, I was forced to rely on answering the questions as best I could. I used to wing television appearances, and so crash and burn very badly. I have learnt that it helps to do a little homework, which I had. The title music rolled and the questions started. All went well until education came up. I tried to express my conflicted thoughts about whether to send my kids to private or state school. It was not my finest moment and I believe I ended up weirdly calling for the abolition of private schools.

It was a frosty wife who answered my post-show phone call. She felt I'd ruined our kids' chances of getting into any private school, which, in a way solved my problem but she was having none of it. Ah well. At least no charity lost money and I wasn't in Spandex.