Sometimes, you sweat blood for a scoop. Sometimes, they drop into your lap. Today, a lucky break — out of the blue, a reader calls from the Isle of Man. He wishes to vent his spleen about a big, bad, and (oh, joy!) famous local landowner.
The celebrity in question owns a lighthouse holiday home at a Manx beauty spot. Not long ago, he erected a barbed wire fence to keep the great unwashed off his rolling acres.
This blocked a popular walking route, and locals are mighty upset. They are forming a lobby group to ensure (through the courts, if necessary) that the path gets reopened. The celeb's name: Jeremy Clarkson.
I'm a fan of Clarkson. He's colourful and funny, and always perfectly civil when we meet. But Top Gear's petrol-guzzling anchorman is, to environmentally concerned readers of The Independent, what a paedophile is to the News of the World. So Clarkson gets the full treatment.
I'm particularly tickled by a Manx campaigner, who uses the lobby group's internet site to claim the fence prevented him scattering his dead father's ashes. Another compares Clarkson's barbed wire to Stalag 19. I include both sob stories in a hastily prepared item, before scampering off to tonight's top bash — the opening of Gordon Ramsay's latest restaurant, La Noisette.
Start the day late and dishevelled. It's Gordon Ramsay's fault.
Following his characteristic hello: "It's that fucking diarist, don't they give you a fucking clothes allowance?" the Big Yin of British cuisine volunteered a half-decent story (he's been asked to front a chat show in the US) and lashings of champagne.
Fridays are spent writing a column for the coming Monday.
Strictly speaking, this is deeply unprofessional: purists would (rightly) argue that a "news" paper should be written the day before it hits the streets.
In practice, though, Sunday is a frustrating day to write gossip. Fresh material rarely arrives, and it's tricky to stand up new stories. So Monday's Pandora gets pulled together from leftovers of the previous week. Mostly, I get away with it.
Lunch a contact at Luciano's, Marco Pierre White's newish restaurant in Mayfair. Make mental note to obtain a review copy of White's forthcoming autobiography. The Telegraph bagged serialisation rights, but it'll be chock-full of diary stories, and with a bit of luck, some will remain unaired by the time I get my grubby hands on a hardback.
15.07.06 and 16.07.06
Happy day! It's the weekend, the sun is shining, and my latest toy (a shiny new Ducati motorbike) is about to arrive.
Then, as if things couldn't get any better, a flick through the weekend papers brings joyous news — the Jeremy Clarkson story was followed up by the Daily Mail. Spend the rest of Saturday in a glow of insufferable smugness. Manage not to kill myself on the bike.
Sunday brings a trip to Lord's, where the first test is drifting inevitably towards a draw. Cool lager in one hand, Sunday papers on my lap, sun beating on my pasty face. Bliss.
There's only one show in town — the premiere of Stormbreaker, a new British film starring (among others) Ewan McGregor, Mickey Rourke, Bill Nighy and Alicia Silverstone.
This eclectic collection will be arriving in Leicester Square from about 6pm. Except, that is, for Mickey Rourke.
According to the film's PR, he's got an "alternative commitment" overseas.
Rourke's absence provides a "hook" for a story I've been meaning to write for several weeks. During filming of Stormbreaker, when he was staying at the Dorchester, the film star's lapdog, Loki, urinated on two of the hotel's antique rugs. Rourke was presented with a bill of £5,000. Woof!
My excellent deputy, Henry Deedes, agrees to cover the Stormbreaker bash. For him, this means a late night, several hours elbow-jabbing on a red carpet, and the prospect of (at best) 10 minutes with a highly strung film star. And all so I can take credit for whatever stories he brings in. Who'd be a deputy?
I, however, have dinner at The Ivy. Coincidentally, the cast of Stormbreaker are dining at the next table. My host, a showbusiness PR man, provides a few ideas to help Pandora survive the coming dog days of August. I spend most of the meal trying not to stare at Alicia Silverstone.
A gossip column resembles a greedy infant — if you don't "feed" it full fat stories every day, there's a tantrum. Today we're short on material, but I'm saved by a couple of showbizzy titbits that Henry picked up at Stormbreaker.
Lead story, however, concerns Brunel University, which recently commissioned a statue of Isambard Kingdom Brunel.
It was unveiled last week, and (between prototype and final stage) the great engineer's cigar was removed, apparently for reasons of political correctness.
I've reservations about including dead people in a (supposed)
gossip column. But it's what you might call a good water cooler story, and we've nothing better.
Later, attend a fashion party at the Cuckoo Club in Piccadilly. Full of models, but the only "famous" quarry is Sadie Frost's sister and someone from Atomic Kitten. Duck out shortly before 10pm.
A friendly Tory MP (I bung him the occasional posh lunch) telephones with a dynamite yarn about a Labour colleague.
Three problems, though: it's as defamatory as they come, sounds apocryphal, and will be a bugger to stand up.
Put it down as a medium-term project, and concentrate on tomorrow's page. Again, the cupboard is half empty, but eventually settle on a yarn critical of the Tate Gallery's director, Sir Nicholas Serota. He's an "old friend" of the column.
Receive a telephone call from the Mail, who want to follow up the Brunel story and require a helping hand. It's down to make a page lead — my second "follow" in the week.
Resist urge to perform a high five with Henry. Instead, bash out another column and hit the town to celebrate.