An ordinary tale of a conman who went too far

Mr Hammond's mistake was in enjoying the fantasy too much and not exploiting the delusion

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Mostly harmless, Michael Hammond's story is not really all that unlike that of several people of our acquaintance. He just went a little far. To recapitulate: Mr Hammond was a man from an ordinary Sussex background, who decided one day that to be Michael Hammond was not quite good enough.

Mostly harmless, Michael Hammond's story is not really all that unlike that of several people of our acquaintance. He just went a little far. To recapitulate: Mr Hammond was a man from an ordinary Sussex background, who decided one day that to be Michael Hammond was not quite good enough.

At some point, he took to hanging out in terrible London nightclubs, where celebrities gather. With a slightly tweaked name - Michael Edwards-Hammond - he started turning up in gossip columns. What was he? Described at various points as a "film consultant", a "theatre producer" and, more desperately, a "Brit smoothie", he was obviously some sort of celebrity.

Well, the standards demanded by gossip columns for proof of achievement are not necessarily very rigorous, and a nice-looking man like Michael proved an irregular adornment to the society pages. His stories of having had affairs with Jordan and Dannii Minogue didn't even seem that unlikely.

Soon he was having his photograph taken with Elton John, his plausibility massively enhanced by a £105,000 Mercedes on the never-never and a rented penthouse. Setting his sights higher, he started going to polo matches, managing to have photographs taken next to the Wales princes. Sky Sports fell for it, and let him front a programme about polo from Windsor.

It must have sunk in about this time that he was no longer masquerading as a celebrity and a TV presenter: he had become one. In search of bigger thrills, last February he phoned the City of London police. I just want to imagine the telephone conversation here. "Hello, my name is Dr Eli Silva." "Yes, hello, who's this?" "I'm a top surgeon." "Oh, yes?" "I'm on my way to carry out a life-saving operation on a child." "On a child?" "Yes, and I need a police escort to get me through the traffic because the traffic's bleeding terrible." "Where is this operation taking place, sir?" "Chinawhite." "No problem, Dr Silva."

Luckily for sick children everywhere, Mr Hammond didn't use his surgeon persona for anything more important than getting through the rush hour. But the trouble really started when he started phoning up the police, pretending to be a police officer. Under his instructions, innocent members of the public were searched, whole Asian families taken into custody, and he was allowed to wander at will through the grounds of Windsor Castle, pretending to be a police officer searching for a notorious sex offender.

At this point, inevitably, the whole marvellous fantasy fell to the ground. What I love about daft Mr Hammond's silly story is its quality of the utmost randomness. Most such people who turn up in court from time to time, having claimed to be the Duke of Hensher and having tried to pass off photographs of Blenheim Palace as their country home, are after money.

Not Mr Hammond. Apart from obtaining stuff, like the Mercedes, which he couldn't afford, it is very difficult to see what he got out of his adventures except exactly that, an adventure. He doesn't seem to have stuck around long enough to have slept with anyone famous, preferring to claim that he'd slept with people he hadn't; he wasted a lot of people's time, and made himself look more important than he really was. If there's a better definition of a real Met Bar "celebrity", I can't think of it.

Actually, though Mr Hammond took his way of life to extremes, there is something very ordinary about his story. I went to Oxford University in 1983, two years after the television dramatization of Brideshead Revisited and at the height of the ludicrous "Sloane Ranger" obsession. It was quite common, at that time, for people to turn up with hastily-assembled double-barrelled names, to lie blatantly about their origins and schools, and say "orf" more often than seemed strictly necessary.

At the end of term, their perfectly nice parents, having driven up from Nottingham in the hatchback to pick up Sandra who had done so well, would quite often be astonished to find that their daughter was now called Alexandra. One boy I knew tried very hard to convince everyone that the lady with the rich Black Country vowels who turned up at the end of term was, in fact, his loyal old nanny.

The shocking thing is that, in some cases, these preposterous fantasies went unmodified into adult life. Having persuaded contemporaries that they were extremely posh, they sometimes persuaded employers and fiancés of entirely fictitious histories and names and, pretty soon after leaving university, were almost as posh as they had pretended.

Mr Hammond's mistake, really, was in enjoying the fantasy too much, and not exploiting the delusion as most fantasists do, never making it to court. If he had carried on at the Met Bar, who could say that he wouldn't, in time, have had a real affair with a starlet; been invited to produce a film in reality; paid off the Mercedes and the flat; become rich and famous and a polo- playing friend of Harry Wales?

Odder things have happened; and the fashionable end of London is full of people who have concealed fathers who are Sussex decorators, with complicated new names and an exotic new accent. And very few of them are unlucky, like Lord Archer, and go to prison.

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