‘That bloody Michael Parkinson is going to spoil this for all of us,’ I declared to Judy soon after I’d powered up my old laptop this morning. I tapped the screen where that ungrateful Yorkshire prig was staring out at me as though I’d just asked to hear, yet again, about the time he met Muhammad Ali. ‘Look here. It says that he’s going to be knighted in the New Year honours! I bet his publicist leaked that to the Press. No doubt about it, the damn heel… And after all we’ve done for him.’
A wan hand appeared from under the duvet. It recoiled from the light before whispering. ‘Richard, could you please be a little quieter when you curse Parky? It sounds too much like blasphemy.’
‘Don’t tell me you’re going to defend him!’ I snapped.
‘He is the nation’s favourite talk show host.’
That was low, illegal blow, especially on Boxing Day. ‘The last time Parky asked a penetrating question it was 1973.’ I said. ‘And even then he questioned Lee Marvin about his sexuality.’
‘Oh Richard, give it a rest,’ said the hand. ‘Or at least lower your voice.’
‘I can’t give it a rest,’ I answered. ‘And you know I don’t have any sympathy with hangovers. If you can’t hold your liquor, you shouldn’t drink so much.’ I turned my attention back to the news. ‘If Parky spoils this for us, I’ll never forgive him.’
The instructions from The Palace had been quite explicit: don’t respond when asked about Her Majesty’s New Year honours. It wasn’t my own knighthood that concerned me as much as knowing that Judy has become really attached to the idea of becoming a dame. The weeks of excitement had pretty much been centred on Judy’s outfit for the day. I think my own elevation to the knighthood had passed without even a single mention.
I closed the laptop and slipped from the bed. The hand retreated under the sheets, no doubt rejoining the rest of Dame Judy who had over-exerted her liver at the previous night’s party. Things had been going well until Stephen Fry began supping champagne from Selena Dreamy’s shoe. Judy shouted that had to try it herself and kicked off a slipper. The poor woman was now suffering, not because she’d miscalculated the potency of the drink but the size of her own feet. It stands to sense that it one can get a touch tipsy by supping from Selena’s small pumps then you can get totally bashed by drinking from Judy’s size elevens.
I pulled on my dressing gown and quietly headed for my office, having decided make my phone calls from there and allow Judy chance to sleep off her bad head.
One soon learns about one’s friends when the Press are sniffing about and it’s important to remind some about their loyalty. The man I was about to call is well known for being unable to keep a secret and it was important that I got to him before the newspapers.
I dialled, I sat, I waited as his phone rang, all the time staring at my unfinished Airfix model of Crown Prince Willem Hendrik and wondered if I’d ever find time to finish making the complete Great Dutch Potentates Collection. Eventually, somebody picked up the phone.
‘Jeremy?’ I said, loud and cheerful. ‘It’s Dick. How you feeling?’
The phone groaned. I knew it wouldn’t be the last time I’d hear that this week but Clarkson had more reason than many to be tender between the ears. He’d got himself in a drinking game with Sue Lawley and lost consciousness on the eleventh round. The last I saw of him was when A.A. Gill dragged him by his ankles, out to their waiting taxi.
‘Listen,’ I said, ‘I don’t like bothering you on Boxing Day but I just wanted to give you a warning. Looks like the Press are out to discover the contents of the Queen’s Birthday Honours. If they contact you, please don’t mention our names. It’s meant to be a secret.’
‘Yes, yes, sure,’ muttered Clarkson. ‘What time is it?’
‘Nine thirty,’ I said with a crisp alertness.
I heard a head impact on a pillow. ‘Oh! You bast…’ began Clarkson before the phone went dead.
Need you any more proof that the man’s a wit and wag from morning till night? I think not.
I dialled the next number on my shot list of those ‘in the know’.
‘’Tis I, Fry, whispering on my iPhone,’ said The Great Man.
‘Morning Stephen. Feeling a bit peaky, are we?’
‘To paraphrase the Bard, my revels now are ended and I have foresworn all spirits that have melted my brain into air, into thin, thin air…’
‘Yes, well,’ I replied, ‘if you insist on drinking like that with The Merry Wives and Windsor, then your hangover is “As You Like It”.’
‘Very droll,’ muttered Stephen. ‘But how was I to know that Mrs. Madeley and Mrs. Titchmarsh could handle their liquor as well as Barbara Windsor?’
‘I’m sure it’s a hard lesson learned, Stephen,’ I answered, ‘but I’m sure you’ll recover your elan in no time. However, that’s not why I’m ringing. I just wanted to warn you against mentioning our names if anybody asks you about the New Year Honours. It’s supposed to be a secret.’
‘You should know that I’m the model of discretion,’ said Fry. ‘Fortunately, I’m currently also a model of forgetfulness. That was quite a party, or at least what little I can remember of it. Perhaps you can you shed some light on why I can taste shoe leather and anti-fungal cream?’
I did just that. He seemed less than amused. I then asked him if it was true about him buying Weasel Vomit coffee for Prince Charles.
For some reason, the question brought out conversation to a premature end. He had to dash off to the bathroom, leaving me with no other alternative than to ring the final person who knows about my impending knighthood.
‘Morning Bill,’ I said to Oddie. ‘Hope I didn’t wake you?’
‘Wake me?’ laughed Bill. ‘I’ve not been to bed. Nature doesn’t rest for Christmas. I’ve been out watching hibernating moles.’
‘That doesn’t sound exciting,’ I replied.
‘To be honest, Dick, it’s not the most fun you can do at four AM on a freezing cold December morning. However, you learn a lot about yourself watching a mole sleep.’
‘I’m sure you do,’ I replied, though not at all sure that I believe a word of it. ‘I’m just surprised you’re not feeling a bit bloated in the gills this morning. You were putting the drink away as well as anybody.’
‘Oh, I feel fine,’ said Bill. ‘But that’s probably because I’m immune to whisky. Ever since I was bitten by a raccoon, alcohol doesn’t affect me. I might as well have been drinking tea.’
‘Well it would have been a bit cheaper if you had,’ I replied, sourly. ‘Listen, I’m ringing to make sure you’ve retained your ability to keep a secret. The Press are nosing around for hints to the Queen’s New Year honours. I want you to remember that nobody is meant to know about Judy and me.’
‘I’m keeping it under my hat with my pet dormouse,’ said Bill.
I believed that he would.
I listened to Bill go on about moles for five more minutes before I hung up the phone and came out of the office to find Judy creeping slowly down the stairs. It looked like she was heading for the kitchen so I moved ahead of her to get the door open.
‘Did I hear you on the phone?’ she asked as she shuffled past me.
‘I was ringing Bill to remind his to keep the New Year honours a secret. He’s a wonderful man but prone to blurting things out that he shouldn’t. Wouldn’t want to jeopardise our honours because of a slip of his wayward tongue.’
‘Our honours?’ asked Judy, stopping by the sink and looking a bit puzzled.
‘Yes,’ I said. ‘You know… The letter from Buckingham Palace…’
‘Oh, I remember the letter,’ said Judy. ‘I just didn’t remember your name being on it.’
‘Well, it was addressed to me,’ I said, amazed at how the drink was affecting my poor wife’s faculties.
‘It was addressed to Mrs. Richard Madeley,’ said Judy. ‘And it was about my DBE. There was no mention of a KBE.’
I sank down onto the wicker stool as Judy stumbled to the cupboard and took out the jar of salts. After she’d downed a pint of the stuff in a single go, she turned to me and belched gently. ‘You didn’t think they’d knight you after all the things you’ve said and done? I’ve warned you before, Richard. You should do more charity work.’
‘And what about all my work writing my blog if it’s not charity?’ I asked. ‘If it weren’t for me, there would be thousands of people going through life without the hope I give them. My regular readers would soon go off the rails if they didn’t have me.’
She waved down my complaint as shuffled away on her way back to bed.
‘Sir Richard Madeley,’ I heard her laugh before the bedroom door closed. I sat in the kitchen, listening to the echo of her laughter dance around the house, beating its merry step on all my hopes for the New Year.