In order to promote the Dylan Thomas in Fitzrovia festival, I am trying to persuade Jason Morell, the director, that he must help me come up with stunts. ‘It’s stunts that will get us into the meeja,’ I tell him. So we launch the ‘Dylan Thomas Fitzrovia Breakfast Challenge’. Gary Kemp, Tom Hollander, Owen Teale and myself swallow a glass of beer with a raw egg in it — the great Celtic bard’s preferred nutritional morning kick-off. We are supposed to film it and challenge three others to do the same in aid of inner-city charities, and thus news of our festival will spread like a west African disease. Nobody else wants to do it. My other ideas have been a parade (‘Bermondsey Poets Say Do Not Go Gentle into the Good Night’ etc.) and a ‘Great Welsh Cake Off’. Sounds good? Nikki, our organiser, rings me late on Sunday night and tells me that my parade has been banned. We will have to stick to ticketed events, lard and flour.
So I have a party for the festival in order to be companionable and make people fiddle about with social media. Parties always start with me on a ladder replacing light bulbs. If it wasn’t for these infrequent social occasions I would never maintain my house at all.
I was first drawn to Fitzrovia because it was a neglected part of London, and I liked it that way. I have worked here for 40 years. Now the developers are coming in, so we need to preserve the bohemian mix. The square mile from the BBC to the British Museum has been the creative hub of Britain for a 150 years. Arthur Ransome wrote a book about it. Dylan lodged in 12 Fitzroy Street, not far from where Constable lived, where the Camden Town group exhibited, where T.S. Eliot edited and where everybody drank themselves insensible. Now I have 5,000 tickets to flog.
Down to Simpson’s in the Strand for an Oldie literary luncheon and an animated rant from my taxi driver about the iniquity of the mansion tax. I’m so engrossed that I fail to grasp that we have been stuck in Gower Street for 20 minutes, clocking up a huge fare. Arriving late and flustered, I try to remember what it was exactly that I used to say so wittily about a book that I wrote almost a year ago. So I plug the Dylan Fitzrovia festival instead. The oldies stare at me bemusedly. Nobody buys my book. They buy Charles Spencer’s. When I saw the name-card on a table I assumed it was the former Daily Telegraph theatre critic. Marvellous. He would tell us how he got his job: the previous incumbent had been foolish enough to denigrate a production in which I, myself, starred and which his editor adored and so he was peremptorily fired. This is the stuff of actor fantasies and only happens in P.G. Wodehouse. I would tell the story if he didn’t. But it was another Charles Spencer altogether: the ninth Earl Spencer, with a book about regicides: he was an engaging luncheon companion, and a funny speaker. He almost made me forget the hell of having to do my own speech after coffee.
I was only there because nobody would review my book, Insufficiently Welsh. Even The Spectator ignored it. ‘Great speech.’ Several of the oldies pressed their withered hands into mine. ‘Very funny.’ None of them bought the thing.
My daughter’s miniature dog — a dachshund called Lil Wayne, after the rap singer — has nearly a thousand followers on Instagram. I have 182. Yes, I am rueful. I am reduced, at moments of tension, to saying, ‘Don’t you know who I was?’ (To a not insignificant audience of prime-time viewers, believe me.) The dachshund gets more attention on the street than me. Dress designers and idle young people gather and coo at it.
I have, however, been nominated for a Welsh Bafta — a Wafta or perhaps a Tafta? I can’t go this year. I was nominated last year as well. (It’s a reflection of the number of programmes I make which extol the Land of my Aunties.) But I sound English. This is considered ‘off’ by the new tribalists who want more devolution. Alas I am not ‘proper’. Hence the book.
I am supposed to be in Africa, anyway. I am making a programme for ITV travelling the length of Africa by train. We went easily enough from Marrakech to Tunis and got stuck there. Apparently there are no trains across Libya: Gaddafi pulled them all up to spite the Italian colonialists. I suppose this is the sort of thing that ITV sent me to Africa to find out. We are now held up on the middle leg through Egypt. They are having difficulty getting a local permit to travel through Sudan to make a holiday programme. I see the point. I have told ITV I will only go if they put the ransom money up first.
The Dylan Thomas in Fitzrovia festival is this weekend: dylanthomasfitzrovia.com.
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