The Agreeable World of Wallace Arnold: Madonna: fresh Fields

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The Independent Online
THIS, she was to say later, was one of the most difficult interviews she had ever given that week: in fact, the fifth most difficult that day. Madonna is, my research told me, an attractive young lady who has enjoyed a hugely successful singing career, very much the new Gracie Fields. I thought this might be a suitable 'lead-in' to our discussion.

Wallace Arnold: If I might 'kick off', as it were, on the subject of your early career. Speaking personally, my own career got off to a flying start when, just down from Oxford, I was invited by my very dear friend Godfrey Talbot at the BBC to take a modest role in the commentary for the coronation of the young Queen Elizabeth II - an event that few of us are ever likely to forget] Was it the same sort of story for you?

Madonna: I - er. You what?

WA: Am I right in detecting the influence of the late, great Gracie Fields? She was very much 'the thing' when I was a young lad, and it seems to me that you have quite a bit in common with her]

M: (Silence.)

WA: Would you agree that you have taken a few leaves from what one might call the Gracie Fields songbook?

M: Huh?

WA: If I may suggest a few remarkable parallels between your two careers - for instance, you, er, you both, er - yes, you both hail from Lancashire, am I right?

M: Lancashire?

WA: As I thought] Splendid county, certainly nothing to be ashamed of, and I'm intrigued to discover your admiration for dear old Gracie, 'the pride of our alley', eh?] I suppose you still hanker after the old 'chip butty'?

M: Hey, where's this guy coming from?

WA: You may well ask: I'm very much a Somerset man myself. I'm proud to say that the Arnolds can boast no fewer than five High Sheriffs of Somerset o'er the past three centuries, plus a High Court judge on my mother's side. All in all, I think you could say the Arnolds of Somerset have 'done their bit' for the old country] Now, where were we? (At this point, I looked down at the lengthy list of questions I had prepared. Having covered her early life, I was anxious to move the interview forward to more contemporary topics.)

Ah, yes. The ERM. A vexed subject, but I was anxious to give you a chance to throw your twopenn'orth into the Great Debate] Do you, like me, believe that we should never have got involved in the first place?

M: I'm sorry?

WA: Snap] I too am tremendously sorry about the whole incident. Fascinating that you're also a fully-paid up member of the Euro-sceptic lobby] Glad to have you with us] (I now moved our chat on to a more personal 'soul-searching' plateau:)

Incidentally, I believe you have a new book out?

M: Right.

WA: Good for you] (I took this opportunity to consult my notes for the next topic.) Ah, yes. And I imagine you'll have a new long-player out before long?

M: Yeah.

WA: And what would be on that? Songs, mainly?

M: Yeah.

WA: Excellent. I'll tell you a song one doesn't hear much of these days: 'The Biggest Aspidistra in the World'. Very catchy. Any plans for a re-recording?

MA (looking at her watch): I don't have much time.

W: Yes, it is quite a long song, I suppose] Marvellous words, though] It certainly made Our Gracie into a star, and - who knows? - maybe it could do the same for you one day.

(At this point I thought it judicious to inject a note of humour into the proceedings.) I must just tell you something that Perry Worsthorne told me about Bill Deedes and Willie Whitelaw the other day] You know how Perry and Max never quite 'hit it off'? Well, just last Tuesday, Andrew Knight told Norman Lamont -

M: I gotta go.

WA: Anyway, to cut a long story short, it turned out that Andrew told Norman who told Willie who told Max who told Bill who of course told Perry, who was simply livid]]] (I looked up to find that Madonna had already left, so I judged it an excellent time to conclude our interview.)