Retirement is the busiest time of my life. I’m putting the finishing touches to my weekly column for The Journal in Newcastle, having had my week rearranged by judging the North-East Press Awards and bent completely out of shape by the three days I’ve spent testing a Secret New Project: internet broadcasting.
Each day I spend two hours in my spare bedroom talking to ‘listeners’on my website (www.banksy.fm), feeling more like a customer-service rep in a call centre than an ex-editor out to pasture in beautiful Northumbria. On the first day we had more than 150 listeners, thanks largely to a mention in last week’s Journal column and a generous plug on that day’s Cambridge Evening News website. Day two I co-presented with my daughter, she in London and me at the cottage. The system requires no studio, just broadband and a headset.
Today my old broadcasting mate Nick Ferrari, the ex-Sun, ex-Mirror, ex-Fox and now Sony Award winning (and really rather good) LBC and TV presenter, joins me for a bruising knockabout during which he abuses two of my only half-dozen callers and declares himself ‘mystified by how this bloody thing works’before accidentally cutting himself off.
Column appears in The Journal: it’s never quite as good as I remember writing it. Today I hail myself as the internet’s new Oprah, retell a sheep farmer’s homely yarn and complain about country bus stations without working toilets (did I mention that I once edited the Mirror?).
My new life permits me no pause, however: at noon I give a 40-minute talk (‘The Rogues of Fleet Street”) to the ladies of Wooler Luncheon Club and in the evening I am busy bestriding Crookham Village Hall’s rickety stage, interviewing some of the rickety older residents at a well-attended history evening.
Back among the real ‘rogues of Fleet Street”: my wife and I drive to Glasgow for the media occasion of the millennium, Telegraph chief exec Murdoch MacLennan’s marriage to former magazine editor Elsa McAlonan.
Both are dear old friends: Elsa is beautiful and happy, Murdoch his amusingly dry self; I air-kiss Rebekah, pose for pictures with Piers, bear-hug Les Hinton and keep Monty in my (distant) sights at all times. For all the extravagance of the reception, the animated clash of Fleet Street egos and the whizzing blades of VIP helicopters departing the lawns of the magnificent Turnberry Hotel, it’s the bride’s father whose short, understated and wry remarks carry the day.
All too soon the day is ended: Mrs Banks and I wave away the bride and groom along with three coachloads of Fleet Street’s finest (and now tipsiest) who are accompanying the happy couple back to London on the chartered jet that brought them. We are staying the night.
I awake to the thump of Sunday papers outside our hotel-room door. I am truly gobsmacked: ‘Prescott – My Secret Battle with Bulimia”, trumpets The Sunday Times, an hors d’oeuvre to the coming serialisation of the former Deputy Prime Minister’s autobiography.
It’s not the facts that astound me – I’ve known about and kept Prezza’s bulimia secret for 16 years. But it’s the cheeky old devil’s parting punch at Fleet Street that galls me. Telling how he eventually consulted a doctor about his eating disorder, Big John recalled to the ST: ‘I turned up and found his waiting room full of young women. I was the only man there. I felt a right twerp. Luckily none of them shopped me to the press.”
Now it can be revealed: Prezza shopped himself to me and to Alastair Campbell (then my political editor) over dinner in Westminster in 1992, just after I became Mirror editor.
I waste no time telling whoever will listen. Within hours I am contacted by a Daily Telegraph reporter. Cuckolded, I pen a letter to The Times saying that tabloid editors don’t always kiss and tell, and that I never considered the publication of his health problem – as it didn’t affect his ability to work – to be in the public interest.
My revelation makes pages one and five of The Telegraph.
No prizes for guessing what will fill my column and my internet broadcast this week…