Forget your Salman Rushdie. Put down your JK Rowling.Tomorrow sees the publication of one of the most entertaining, revealing, captivating books of the year – the autobiography of Rod Stewart. Truly.
If the extracts are anything to go by, it's unlikely you will spend a more diverting few hours than in the company of the tousle-haired 67-year-old CBE from north London.
Most books serialised by newspapers have enough new or revelatory material for, at best, three days or so – but Rod's has been going strong for the best part of a week, with no sign of running out of steam. There's enough sex, drugs and rock'n'roll to satisfy even the most jaded of palates, and the tales from the wilder shores of showbusiness, from his three marriages to his passion for model railways, is captured with wit and panache. So much so that it makes you wonder whether Rod himself has written it, and, if so, why is he not lauded as one of Britain's most brilliant comic stylists?
Or is there a ghost in the house? (This reminds me of the story of two famous old Welsh rugby players in conversation. Player 1: "I enjoyed your autobiography. Who wrote it for you? Player 2: "Thank you very much. Who read it to you?")
Whoever is responsible for turning old Rod's life into such a Rabelaisian treat deserves wider recognition. But of all the stories, the account of swapping Christmas presents with Elton John is unsurpassed. Stewart has a name in showbiz for being, let's say, parsimonious with money, while Sir Elt's reputation for generosity is the stuff of legend. He gave Stewart's first wife, Alana, a Steinway piano, so the bar had been set pretty high.
One Christmas, Stewart thought deeply about what to get Elton, or, as he says: "What do you get the man who has bought himself everything?" He decided on a novelty, portable fridge, which, on pressing a button, lit up and a bottle emerged automatically in a cloud of vapour. Not bad for 300 quid. Elton's gift in return was rather less of a joke – a Rembrandt.
For Elton's 50th birthday, Stewart had learned his lesson and bought his friend "a full-size, sit-under hairdryer like the ones you used to see in women's hairdressers". But Elton had not forgotten fridge-gate and, two years later, to mark Stewart's marriage to Rachel Hunter, he sent the happy couple a £10 gift voucher from Boots. On the card, Elton wrote: "Get yourself something nice for the house."
There is something unashamedly old-fashioned and unreconstructed about Stewart's view of the world, which will not be to everyone's taste, but I did admire the cheek of his conversational gambit for women he'd never met before. He would walk up to them and, "in a tone of genuine curiosity", would ask, in his best Cockney accent: "Hello, darlin', what you got in that handbag?"
"It worked for me every time," says Rod. My advice is that you should not, under any circumstances, try this at home.