The unsettling sensation of a full diary

17 July 2021

9:00 AM

17 July 2021

9:00 AM

The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee pageant was officially launched last week, with a splashy press call in the Raphael Court of the V&A. I happen to be co-chair of the pageant, to be held in June next year, alongside the eventmeister Sir Michael Lockett. The Raphael Gallery felt like an appropriate setting, since the seven glorious cartoons, considered the most important Renaissance paintings outside the Vatican, belong to the Queen on longstanding loan. Jubilees are a peculiarly British thing, applauding monarchs for their decades of service, full of ceremony and fiesta; a national celebratory parade through the streets of Westminster and down the Mall to Buckingham Palace. This one, marking 70 years of HMQ’s reign, will be enormous, with 6,000 participants from across the UK and Commonwealth. Before the launch, we subjected ourselves to media training in case of curveballs in the Q&A. What could be the most difficult, awkward questions the British press could throw at us? Just as well we rehearsed. Question 1: Will the Duchess of Sussex be attending?

Part of my brief is helping the fundraising efforts. Jubilees are paid for by contributions from philanthropic individuals and enterprising companies, and we rattle the tin from dawn to dusk. Last week, I called upon six billionaires in five days. Most live along the north side of Eaton Square or the west side of Holland Park. Several, I noticed, have roving security guards, dressed in civvies, who loiter across the pavement watching their front door. As anyone draws near, they mutter into headsets: ‘Lady in red coat walking poodle… gentleman in dark suit approaching with begging bowl.’ It is gratifying how generous potential donors are to the idea of supporting the Queen’s Jubilee. But the process of fundraising is perpetually anxious-making, a mix of elation, despair, disappointment and surprising strokes of luck, combined with endless graft. We are currently halfway. If any generous-minded Spectator reader would like to chip in, please do. We will embrace you.

I had been confidently asserting to all that Queen Elizabeth II is the longest-ever reigning monarch in Europe, until Sir John Ritblat suggested I double-check Louis XIV of France. He is correct: 1643-1715. Seventy-two years and 110 days. He became king aged four and a half. Our Queen will surely thrash this record.

For the second summer running we had to cancel the opening ceremony for our newly built garden folly. Everything was teed up — tents, cakes, cocktails, 150 neighbours and heritage nabobs — to toast Quinlan Terry’s remarkable Georgian tower. Our Worcestershire flowerbeds were weeded to perfection. But then extended Covid restrictions blew us out of the water. Dare we risk going ahead? Would anyone ever know? My wife assessed the guest list. ‘You have invited at least 40 of the least discreet, most Instagram-addicted people in the whole of Britain. You crazy? We can’t possibly.’ I accept folly-unveiling parties are not essential under government guidelines, but it was tragic nonetheless.

Having seen virtually nobody for a year, our impenetrable Covid wall is tumbling, the diary suddenly full of dinners, private views, lunches and lectures. It is an odd feeling encountering fellow humans again. How are we even supposed to greet one another? I always disliked that elbow-bumping business, but not everyone is ready for the vigorous British handshake, and the ‘Namaste’ with pressed palms seems a bit camp. A small bow of the head is an option. Others are going for the full man-hug, which I used to find an invasion of personal space, but now feels like a gesture of defiance: the Freedom Embrace.

Over the years I signed up for half a dozen pension schemes, and these are suddenly coming to fruition. What a disappointment they have proved to be. Ages spent hanging on the telephone (40 to 50 minutes is normal) listening to recorded messages informing you that the safety of their staff is their top priority, and all are working from home. Then an unbelievable amount of bureaucratic process and nonsense. If I didn’t know better, I would conclude they are doing everything in their power to prevent you accessing your pension. It is tempting to give up and gift them the pot. Standard Life, Aegon and Legal & General have been grim. My earnest advice to my children is never take out a pension. It is all fees and blather; far better to invest in brown furniture.

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