It was a crisp autumn afternoon in 1989. I had just finished an excellent luncheon with William Rees-Mogg at Simpson's-in-the-Strand (I had the Roast Beef, he had the Potted Shrimps) and I was heading north towards The Garrick when who should I spy but Major Ronald Ferguson, the colourful father, as you will remember, of The Duchess of York. He had by then of course carved quite a reputation as something of a "character" (dread word!), regularly making a complete arse of himself guesting on television chat shows, opening supermarkets and playing the all-round nincompoop both on the Polo Field and in the Massage Parlour.
I had never met the man socially, so as he brushed past I saw no need to bid him a good afternoon. Instead, I found myself irresistibly drawn towards following him. At one point, I thought he was about to veer straight into The Garrick - but no! He carried straight on, with my own good self all the while shadowing his every footstep. What drew me on? I often ask myself this question, yet answer comes there none. Perhaps even then I felt some intimation of the truth that would soon be imparted.
After another ten minutes, he bore right, and then swiftly marched into a shop. I looked up at the lettering above the windows. It was Berman and Nathan, the theatrical costumiers!
Call me curious, call me downright nosy, but I found myself counting to 30 before following him in. For a split-second, I spotted him as he disappeared headlong into a fitting-room at the far end of the shop. Grabbing a Pirate's costume off the nearest rack and asking to try the thing on, I was escorted, as I had hoped, to the fitting room bang next to his.
I have never forgotten the advice my dear father gave me on his deathbed: carry a Swiss Army knife around with you at all times. I dipped into my pocket and fumbled for the appropriate instrument with which to saw a discreet hole 1/2in x 1/2in in the dividing wall. Having blown away the excess sawdust, I placed my right eye to the hole. What I then saw quite literally took my breath away.
The Major had clasped both hands to his shiny bald pate, and was now busily manoeuvring them this way and that. To my astonishment, he then removed his bald pate altogether, to reveal a luxuriant mop of rich black locks beneath. He then scrubbed away at his face with a Wefty-Wipe, removing a great deal of make-up in the process, before finally changing out of his country tweeds and into a pair of skin-tight blue-jeans and a dirty leather jacket. I stood there agog: the man who had come in as Major Ronald Ferguson stood revealed as a young man in his late 20s.
"Have you finished in there, Andre?" It was the voice of the assistant, who was now knocking on the door of the next-door cubicle.
"Too damn right I have, love!" came the reply in a voice I can only describe as effeminate. "That wig will be the death of me!
"Who are you doing tonight, then? Anyone interesting?"
"I'm booked in to be Michael Winner - for my sins! l'll need the grey wig, the filthy pants and the tummy-padding, if you'd be an angel."
It was at that moment that it came to me in an albeit proverbial flash - Major Ronald Ferguson was not real! Not only that, but he had never existed at all! Suddenly, it all fell into place: the desire of my old chums in M15 to discredit the Royal Family, the long, long nights in smoke- filled rooms dreaming up a thoroughly unsuitable father-in-law for the young Prince Andrew, the swearing of the media to secrecy, the purr of satisfaction as they witnessed their plan hitting home time and time again!
Over the course of the next few months, I made frequent visits to Berman and Nathan. There, I witnessed actors being togged up as many other leading figures of our day. Mohammed al Fayed, Andrew Lloyd-Webber, Cecil Parkinson, Esther Rantzen, Roy Strong, Raine Spencer - all of them entirely fictitious characters, their looks and manners made all the more preposterous so as to undermine the very fabric of our society!
I think I shall always find it hard to come to terms with the shock of that revelation. I now spend sleepless nights sifting through the newspapers determined to sniff out those in the public eye who do not exist beyond the actor's imagination. Derry Irvine, Bernie Ecclestone and Peter Mandelson, of course - but what of Frank Dobson? True or false?