John Major was still Prime Minister on the morning the editor of the Daily Excess, surveying his roster of young, feminine, freelance talent, decided that Felicity Frant should be given her own column. All that was nearly 20 years ago, but miraculously, despite three changes of proprietor and countless redesigns and editorial reconfigurations, "Frant on Friday" survives. To her surprise, Felicity, once a fresh-faced and ingenuous twenty-something, now a slightly bedraggled woman in middle age, has become, if not a journalistic legend, then a Fleet Street fixture.
What was the newly appointed columnist to write about? Happily, the mid-1990s was the era of what Private Eye had christened "the new Solipsists" – youngish and somewhat self-absorbed journalists who filed sparkling accounts of the Thai takeaway they had enjoyed on the previous weekend and what their boyfriend had said to them in cinema queues, and Felicity gamely followed where they led. To put the matter starkly, she wrote about herself: the neat little house in SW4 to which the Excess's bounty had enabled her to relocate; her cat; her Fiat Uno; her conflicted childhood; and, above all, Tim, Jonny, Martin and the various other young men by whom her leisure hours were beguiled.
It was with investment banker Martin's hand clamped sweatily to her own that Felicity stood at the altar sometime in 1996 ("Why a girl prefers a church wedding" ran that week's headline), whereupon the subject matter of the column began to change. Gone were the Fiat Uno, cat and morning-after pill, and in came children – their conception, their birth, their nurture ("Why this mum wants to breastfeed"), their illnesses, and their effect on their parents' libido ("Here's to caring Martin – a husband who understands").
Just now, with the elder two hurtling towards their late teens, the column has a new interest. Finding a packet of condoms on the floor of 17-year-old Josh's bedroom, Felicity was in seventh heaven. It was the same with Henrietta's manifestly unsuitable boyfriend ("Every mum's fear – the day my daughter stopped talking to me"). For their own part, the children are tolerant of their mother's ransacking almost every drawer of their private lives for professional use, if not above a little mischief. In fact, as Josh, a chaste and blameless boy, will cheerfully admit, he left the condom packet merely to give his mother something to write about.