Because the internet knows no reason when it comes to rumours, lies, and insinuation, the true story of the ongoing animosity between Vanessa Feltz and myself needs to be told. Though only six or so months old, the hostilities feel like they’ve rumbled on for a decade or more. Think Vietnam, Korea, and the Second Franco-Moroccan War in order to get a sense of the scale of this conflict. It’s only by the grace of God that the whole thing hasn’t gone nuclear.
It was February when the producers of Celebrity Wife Swap got in contact with the people at Cactus TV and asked if Judy and I would like to ‘swing it’ for the cameras. Judy had said yes before I had chance to object. I’ve never been into the swinging scene. The whole idea appalls me in the same way that I don’t buy things from flea markets. Having somebody’s cast-offs is not the Madeley way. Jeremy Clarkson once told me an anecdote about a Top Gear producer who bought an ‘unused’ second-hand electronic toothbrush from a car boot sale, only to find a pubic hair in the bristles.
So, before I could object, the producers had twinned me with Vanessa Feltz and, one Friday night in March, earlier this year, Judy moved out and in came the woman who was to be Mrs. Madeley for the next seven days. Only, the way things worked out, I think I became the new Mr. Feltz.
Things went well until the camera crew disappeared for the evening, leaving the two of us alone.
‘I hope you don’t mind,’ I said to Vanessa as I cleared away the plates from the dinner table, ‘but Stephen Fry is popping over a bit later. We always get together every Friday night to play Scrabble. I have a pretty good two letter word involving a “J” that I can’t wait to try out on him.’
‘Scrabble!’ cried Vanessa. ‘I’m not allowing any husband of mine to play Scrabble.’
The outburst stunned me, as I believe it also stunned a squadron of migratory geese as they flew overhead. They came down in a neighbouring village and Defra immediately formed a twenty mile quarantine zone until they’d worked out the cause of their deaths. Only now can the truth be told and the people of Snipschurch, Surrey, released from their private hell.
‘Look,’ I said, ‘you’re not actually my wife so I’ll do as a damn well please in my own house.’ I went to pick up Vanessa’s napkin but she grabbed my arm. If they made my life into a film, this part should be made my James Cameron and Vanessa would be an animatronic.
‘Listen, squirt,’ she hissed. ‘I came on this show to demonstrate to the world that I can be a caring wife. I’m not going to let you ruin this by bringing Stephen Fry into the house. Got it, buster?’
For the sake of my wrist, I had to agree. ‘I’ll ring him at once,’ I whispered.
‘’Tis I, Fry, speaking on my newly imported iPhone,’ said Fry when I rang him later.
‘What’s an iPhone,’ I asked, that being the first time I’d ever heard the item that was to behome his own new spouse.
‘It is a technologically marvellous thing from the Americas,’ he said. ‘It has a touchy screen on which I can now see your face as I speak to you.’
I looked at my own handset to see if I could see Fry peering through.
‘Listen,’ I said, realising the stupidity of my actions, ‘tonight’s Scrabble is cancelled.’
‘My vim is nil,’ sighed Fry, showing off the supply of three letter words that serves him so well around the board.
‘It’s not your vim I’m worried about,’ I said. ‘It’s this Vanessa woman who has taken over the house. I think she expects to sleep in the same bed as me.’
I heard Fry give a shudder. ‘Shudder,’ he said.
‘Indeed. What should I do?’
‘Alas, Richard, I have not a yen for knowing and it would make me wan to even eke out an answer. Now, ’tis I, Fry, on my iPhone, signing off.’
Michael Palin and Bill Oddie were no better when I rang them and I didn’t expect much in the way of helpful suggestions when I rang Paxman. He just spent five minutes chuckling into the phone.
Vanessa finally found me in the airing cupboard, still clutching the phone thirty minutes later, as I tried to get through to Ronnie Corbett.
‘What you doing in there?’ she asked, as she grabbed me by my collar and dragged me across the hall. ‘You don’t think Channel 4 have installed all those cameras in the bedroom for you to go sleeping in the cupboard? Come on, Dicky. Be a man! Come get in bed with your cuddly Vanessa.’
My own sweet T-101 had spoken. I got changed in the bathroom, that night, sliding the lock on the door for the first time in the ten years I’ve been living in the house. I also dressed myself in fleecy pyjamas for the first time in my life. Beneath them I still wore my outdoor clothes. I feared that might need to make an escape during the night.
‘Okay?’ asked Vanessa as I walked into the bathroom.
‘Fine,’ I said, moving quickly to my side of the bed so she might not notice the extra bulk beneath my PJs.
Vanessa smiled and walked to the bedroom door. I didn’t realise what she was doing until I heard something go click.
‘See,’ she said, ‘holding up a key. Judy said that you might try to escape during the night so I brought my own padlock.’ With that she slid the key into the deep canyon of her cleavage. ‘You’re not getting out of here until dawn.’
Dawn. Has ever a single word so utterly misrepresented an eternity?
I climbed into bed and turned off my bedside lamp before I felt the springs give as Vanessa climbed in beside me.
‘Goodnight dear,’ she said as she threw her arm over me.
‘Goodnight Vanessa,’ I replied. I didn’t know if I’d be able to sleep. It wasn’t so much the arm as the fact that Judy normally plays the trombone for half an hour before she puts her head down. Slumber wouldn’t be the same without the sweet melody of a Strauss waltz played on brass.
I was still awake around three o’clock when Vanessa released me from her grip. She rolled over and began to snore in the other direction. Slowly, hearing began to return to my right ear and as feeling returned to my body, I slipped out of the bed and into my shoes.
The bedroom window opened without a sound and I had soon edged myself out onto the trellis.
‘Richard?’ said a voice behind me.
I made an instinctive choice and jumped. Twenty feet later, I was limping to the car. I thought I’d be a mile or two away before Vanessa found the key to the padlock in her cleavage.
Two days later, I rang Judy from a small bed and breakfast on the Fylde Coast. Apparently, Vanessa had taken great offence at my deserting her in the middle of the night. She had also lost the key to the padlock and because there was no telephone in the bedroom (Judy fears them more than she fears anything), Vanessa had been trapped in the bedroom until the camera crew discovered her on Monday morning. Apparently, the video footage of her captivity is now a cult classic. Arab businessmen have distributed it around the Middle East where it now fetches a high price.
The outcome of all this is that the show’s producers sacked me and replaced me with Paul Daniels. Vanessa lived with him for a while the following April and the whole thing made for, as we say in the business, ‘good TV’.
Since then, Vanessa has been quite outspoken about me in private, though she remains the consummate professional publicly. However, there has been a long simmering Cold War between us, with much of the British entertainment industry secretly siding with either Vanessa or me. I may have the slightly smaller army of supporters but I can count all the big animals: Fry, Oddie, Clarkson, and even Paxman, in his fashion. Now I’ve made the feud public, I hope you’ll also choose a side. If I can get enough troops, we might be able to end this futile war once and forever. We might be able to liberate my reputation forever.
I can smell a storm coming in.
Or it might be Judy making beef and onions for her tea... I’ll leave it for you to decide.