THERE is a message on my answer machine from Elvis Costello. He wants me to ring him. When you join the wonderful world of showbiz, you quickly find yourself meeting all sorts of famous people. I've had dinner with two Beatles and a Rolling Stone;I've said "hello" to Whitney Houston and shared a cab with Larry Adler. But Elvis Costello is different from all these because he was one of my heroes between the ages of 15 and 17. I call these "the critical years" because if I meet a hero from this period, there is nothing I can do to stop myself reverting to my teenage self. I grin, giggle hysterically at their jokes, go bright red and hyperventilate. When I was 15 my great Aunt Nancy gave me a book of Alan Bennett plays, and I thought he was the bees knees. He lives round the corner from me now, and I occasionally see him in the street and start to shake. I can't help staring at him until he eventually locks eyes, and after a couple of seconds of embarrassed silence he tends to say "'lo". " 'Lo," I reply too loudly, and shuffle past him as fast as my fat legs will carry me.
Nelson Mandela was another teenage hero, and I met him at the Dorchester a couple of years ago. I've tried to blank out the memory, but I can't. I remember my hand shaking his, my mouth saying, "Thanks very much for not being in prison any more and stuff, then", my brain trying to get my mouth to shut up, and Mr Mandela's eyes turning from warmth to sad concern. He then said rather sternly, "Thank you for your support," freed himself from my sweaty grasp and hurried away.
And then there's Elvis Costello. I've met him twice over the last few years and both times assumed the role of grinning moron, but fortunately he chatters faster than an Olivetti typewriter and I don't think he's noticed. But now he's on my answer machine. He's been there for a day and a half now. I wonder what he wants?