The polymath and the princess

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The Independent Online

There is much excitement among palace-watchers and literary critics at the news that Clive James is about to go public on his relationship with Diana, Princess of Wales. Beyond a 5,000-word essay in The New Yorker in which he discussed their lunches and conversations, what they had in common and how he fell in love with her, James has remained resolutely discreet about the whole thing.

There is much excitement among palace-watchers and literary critics at the news that Clive James is about to go public on his relationship with Diana, Princess of Wales. Beyond a 5,000-word essay in The New Yorker in which he discussed their lunches and conversations, what they had in common and how he fell in love with her, James has remained resolutely discreet about the whole thing.

So now seems a good moment to reveal that this column has had exclusive, if unofficial, access to correspondence said to be between these two legendary figures of modern times.

Dear Princess

It was truly a privilege and a pleasure to meet your gracious highness at last night's premiere. Some of my closest friends, among them Sir David Frost, Bruce Forsyth and the Earl of Bradford, told me I would be astonished by your beauty. They lied. I was not merely astonished but intoxicated, transported, totally blown away. The cockles of my heart were not just warmed but toasted to an emphractical crisp! I was reminded of those lines of the 19th-century poet Winthrop Mackworth Praed: "Our meeting was all about mirth and laughter/ Our parting was all sob and sigh." Enclosed, as requested, is a video of my latest TV offering A Nip in the Air: Funny Foreigners 3. I have taken the liberty of enclosing two "slim volumes" of my own verse, sincerely inscribed by your humble admirer, Clive James.

Dear Clive

I don't believe you actually know Bruce Forsyth! Nice to see you, to see you... nice!! I scream when he says that. I'm so envious of you working on telly and getting paid to look at silly little men making fools of themselves. When a discussion programme is on BBC2 (booooring!), I'm just so pleased I can switch over and have a good laugh at your stuff on ITV. It's the best medicine, isn't it?

Yours, Diana.

Dear Diana

I sense that we are what someone - Auden, was it, or Isherwood? - termed "twin souls". Like you, I am sensitive, uneasy with the bitch goddess fame who straddles us so mercilessly. I too suffer from self-esteem problems: my trumpet, to coin a phrase, remains resolutely unblown. But, as my old friend Isaiah Berlin used to say, "Let's set the record straight." The true Clive James is a poet, novelist, critic, belle lettrist, thinker and arguably the most famous Australian on the planet. Between you and me, the TV stuff is strictly left-hand work.

Yours, Clive.

Dear Clive

Now listen, do not beat yourself up about being left-handed. That often means you're really artistic and sensitive. Phil Collins, Paul McCartney and Glen ("Wichita Lineman") Campbell are all what I prefer to call "differently handed". I'm so excited you turn out to be a writer - you're such a dark horse, Clive! You know what I like about those books you sent me? They're really short. Sometimes even with my favourite authors, like Jilly Cooper (D'you know her? Such a hoot!), I want to say, alright, Jilly, point taken, joke made, can we just move on now! How interesting that you turn out to be antediluvian but I must pick you up on being the most famous Australian on the planet. Er, Kylie???!

Yours, Diana.

Dearest Diana

I've been reading Boccaccio in the original Italian on the subject of courtly love. He points out that sometimes a young principessa can develop a passione for an erudito antico or older scholar. Inspired by this thought, I have written a poem dedicated to you and provisionally entitled "Can I bludge a lift on the carousel of dreams?" I would like you to grant me the privilege of sending you a copy.

Your erudito Clive.

Mr James -

Easy, granddad! If I was after a balding middle-aged man with big words, I could look quite a lot closer to home if you don't mind. Now are you going to introduce me to Bruce Forsyth or not?

And with that, sadly, the correspondence seems to come to an end.

Miles Kington is away

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