"So will he win?" That is the question I have been asked by the popular press every day for the past week about the most well known Tory in the land.
And I am not referring to Sir Malcolm Rifkind, Kenneth Clarke, David Davis, or the rest of the candidates standing for the leadership of the Conservative Party. No, this is about whether my former research assistant, Derek Laud, will triumph in the Channel 4 Big Brother reality show.
I got a bit mixed up the other day when tackling two phone calls simultaneously - I speculated that Derek would end up leading the Tory party but that Saskia and Sam would definitely nominate David Davis for early eviction. I think I meant it the other way round.
No one has prepared me for my new "instant fame" by association with Derek. The housemates might have psychologists available if required but former Tory MPs who are suddenly thrust into the Big Brother limelight are left to handle the media by themselves. I now know what it must feel like to be a parent of a housemate who has not been let into the secret that their offspring's every bad habit is to be shared with the nation.
The first I knew was when my phone rang during the screening of the initial programme. I switched on the telly - and there he was - Derek in all his posh black Tory glory. I called Christine Hamilton, who told me she had been in on the secret from the beginning. This was the former teenage kid who came to work for me in 1982 in Westminster, until 1990, and whom Tory MPs used to nickname "golly" behind my back.
But with his cut-glass accent, immaculate suits and red carnation he quickly cut a dash around the corridors of power. Soon he revelled in being the token black that the Tory party liked to have at its top dinner tables, and it was not long before he was punching above his weight socially at all the best society functions. Morning dress for Bernard and Anne Jenkin's wedding, John and Cilla Whittingdale's wedding, afternoon tea at Barbara Cartland's Hertfordshire estate, plus villa holidays in Italy with the great and the good of the Tory party all added to his social profile.
It was at my constituency surgeries in Brigg and Cleethorpes that Derek really stopped the show. For some reason I always seemed to attract the "green ink" brigade. Letting Derek loose on them quickly ensured they did not return unless they had serious business. Until asylum-seekers began to arrive in large numbers in Immingham and Grimsby most of my constituents had never - certainly not in the 1980s - seen anyone, face to face, who was not white. Delicately they would ask where Derek was from - expecting Africa or the West Indies to be the answer. "Chelsea" was not the answer they were expecting.
During the 1990 Tory leadership election Derek was involved with the John Major campaign. On the night of Major's victory Derek could be glimpsed holding the net curtains apart at a Number 10 window for Margaret Thatcher to watch the events outside in the street. Why so many Big Brother tabloid correspondents have missed this picture I cannot understand.
But it was at my local hunt - the Brocklesby - where Derek produced his best one-liners. He learned to ride to hounds at the local riding school opposite my home. Hunt saboteurs once surrounded him suggesting that his forebears from a hundred years back would be horrified. "If it was a hundred years ago," he replied to the protesting, weedy, Hull University student, "I would have eaten you."
In 1992 I rented a Big Tory House of my own for a fortnight on the Sandy Lane estate in Barbados. My guests included Derek, Mr and Mrs Whittingdale MP and the new Cabinet Chief Secretary, Michael Portillo, and his wife. The Whittingdales and the Portillos must be sitting on a tiny fortune if they choose to sell to the papers their holiday snaps of Derek sunbathing or dining in his white tuxedo. (Not ever owning a camera means I have diddled myself out of the substantial trade in embarrassing photos of the housemates' past that seems to be part and parcel of the Big Brother media sub-plots.)
It was on this Barbados holiday that Derek would have learnt his training for Big Brother. Although we had a butler and a cook, nothing was ever quite up to Derek's standards. And Mr Portillo's sending back the bottled water three times at one posh hotel, because it was not cold enough, would have prepared Derek for the current rows about nothing.
But, gruesome spectacle though this circus is to many, the Tories should cash in on the act. It looks as though Derek is quickly becoming one of the nation's favourites and should easily survive tomorrow night, when, in a twist, all 12 remaining contestants are up for eviction.
He will certainly get more votes than any of the Tory leadership contenders - and is already much better known among the public. If the Notting Hill modernisers want to be really hip they are going to have to do more than take off their ties. Cameron, Rifkind and the rest will have to give us daily updates on their opinions of Derek's progress in the house before the nation will accept that they are truly cool.
And, win or lose Big Brother, a safe seat for Derek when he comes out is the least that the Tories should do.Reuse content