My famous friends lead obsessively private lives

The Agreeable World of Wallace Arnold
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The Independent Online
I note with interest that my old friend and quaffing partner Sir V S Naipaul is busy celebrating his recent marriage. Hats off to the pair of 'em! No great fan of his work - there are precious few chuckles in An Area of Darkness, and how one longs for a description of a pleasant Thameside restaurant as one wades through A Bend in the River - I nevertheless applaud his luck, wish him every happiness, rather him than me, there but for the grace of God, etc, etc.

Speaking on the deepest personal level, it is to my great regret that I have never found the right lady to entrust with the position of the first Mrs Arnold. This is not for want of choice - far from it! Many a woman has indicated, by a flicker of an eyelash, a good firm handshake, or the coquettish fanning of her face as I puff on my pipe, that I should extend a formal proposal. But somehow the right lady - sensible, bookish, Tory, a member of The Garrick and the National Trust, keen on Amis pere, banging pheasants, congenial conversation and tweed caps, and perhaps above all else a fellow pipe-smoker - has never come along. This is a shame, as I feel I have missed out, in a very real way, on the benefits of a halfway-decent housekeeper and general factotum. Still, my loss is others' gain: I would never have been able to make myself available at so many agreeable house-parties were I to have been shackled to a demanding spouse, with all the unnecessary "companionship" (dread word!) that it would have involved.

But I digress. Enough of me! I am an intensely private individual, who clings to a life away from the press and assorted "meedja" (!). And it was this aspect of Sir Vidia Naipaul's wedding celebrations that most struck a bell. "Sir Vidia has a home in South Kensington" wrote the scrivener in last week's Daily Telegraph, "but prefers to lead an obsessively private life in Wiltshire."

Of course, I had already read about Sir Vidia's obsessively private life in Wiltshire in numerous newspaper and television profiles, and it seemed to me appropriate that he should write in such detail about this obsessively private life in Wiltshire in his autobiographical work, The Enigma of Arrival, for only then would the general reader know all the gossipy bits of his life - the time his milkman calls, the characters of his next-door neighbours, the length of time it takes to get to the railway station - that make it so obsessively private.

I am now thinking of forming a club for those of us forced to exist in the full glare of the public spotlight yet who prefer to live obsessively private lives. My old friend Graham Greene was one such fellow. I felt awfully sorry for him. He would spend many a long hour cosseted with journalists and photographers over agreeable three-course luncheons at his local restaurant in Antibes. There he would explain in sometimes painful detail how very assiduous he was in avoiding the attentions of the Press. "Let's have another bottle," he would say at the arrival of the coffee, "D'you think you can get it off expenses, eh?" He would then proceed to outline, in only the third exclusive interview of that day, how he was exiled in Antibes because a novelist needs the shroud of total anonymity. Following luncheon, he would be photographed in full colour looking obsessively private in a sun-hat against a variety of backdrops along that sun-drenched coast.

Another of my most obsessively private chums - so private that many members of the general public still remain totally unaware what she will be doing at mid-morning on Tuesday week, if anything - is HRH The Princess of Wales. I first met that delicious young lady when she was good enough to invite me to a private luncheon on a strictly one-to-one basis in her private apartment at Kensington Palace.

There I met Messrs Paul Johnson, Ron Waugh, Clive James, Phil Collins, Glenn Hoddle, Mr Motivator, Michael Barrymore, Chris de Burgh, Dr Christian Barnard, Noel Edmonds, Sacha Distel, Paddy Ashdown, Chris Evans, Alan "Fluff" Freeman, former President Jimmy Carter, "Lofty" from EastEnders, Michael Meacher, Professor Stephen Hawking, Sylvester Stallone, Sir David English and the combined members of Take That, The Gladiators, Oasis and the Fleet Air Arm. Halfway through, she took my own good self and fewer than two dozen others to one side in order to pour out her heart. "All I want is privacy," she said, shyly turning her face to the ITN cameras that were discreetly filming the event. "Privacy is all I want."