I thought it odd when I turned on the computer this morning and discovered that my blog had been overwhelmed, not by people seeking Stephen Fry's encounter with shrivelled reindeer glands, but by new visitors looking for pictures of 'Natasha Kaplinsky without makeup'. It set me to thinking.
'Have you ever heard of such a thing?' I asked Judy who was kneeling before the fireplace, chiselling off dried mortar from the new hearth she'd fitted a day earlier. 'Judging from this interest in pale, un-rouged skin, I would think that we could make a fortune if we could get a picture of Natasha Kaplinsky with a little less colour in her cheeks.'
Judy dropped her lump hammer and turned to me. 'Richard, are you sure that this is the most profitable way of spending your Tuesday?' she asked. 'I thought you could help me come up with some questions to ask tonight's guest, Kerry Katona, who will be joining us in the studio to talk about her new reality show, “Kerry Katona: Crazy In Love”, in which Kerry and her husband, Mark Croft, offer an insight into their extraordinary lives.'
I gazed at my poor darling wife. It never ceases to amaze me how easily she drops into autocue mode.
'Sorry,' she blushed. 'I did it again, didn't I?'
'You certain did, Jude. Perhaps we should continue this conversation after the break?'
She touched a hand to brow and shook her head sadly. 'I don't know what happens. I suppose it's just instinct after all these years. I can't wait for the Channel 4 contract to end so I can get down to Cornwall and start writing my novels.' A sigh and she looked up at me. 'But what about you, Richard? You've still not answered my question. Are you going to help me write some questions for Kerry?'
'Not if she were the last guest on earth,' I replied and vengefully dug a paper knife into the day's mail. 'You know how I feel about her. I don't at all see what's so extraordinary about her life? Has she ever had a great thought or written a line of prose or poetry enough to make a nation weep? Does she have any skills other than those of self-promotion and overindulgence? I've said it before, Jude, but we should be promoting people who deserve our help. Not these examples of British trailer trash who hardly know what it's like to go out and earn money through the hard graft of their own labours. No, no, Judy. You'll have to write the questions yourself. I'm going to spend my day trying to earn an honest wage. I'm going to sneak into Channel Five and snap a covert picture of Natasha Kaplinsky before they've heat sealed her inside a mixture of pancake and wax.'
Judy waved her chisel in the air. 'If you think it's worthwhile, go for it, Richard. But don't expect me to help.'
'There's no need for you to help,' I said. 'I have plenty of friends who will be more than willing to track down Natasha Kaplinsky. There are men out there cast from the same mould as your husband. Men who consider hunting newsreaders as the noblest of the sports left to us since we've been banned from shooting elephants, white rhino, and tiger.'
'So it's a surveillance operation?' said Clarkson half an hour later when I rang him. 'If it is, then count me in. It'll give me chance to try out the new night vision goggles I bought off eBay.'
'No need for night vision,' I told him. 'This will be a daylight raid into the heart of the Five News operation. I'm going to see if Bill Oddie will let us borrow his camera with the lens specially designed for taking surveillance pictures of sparrows at close range.'
'Why not bring him along?' asked Jeremy. 'We might need a man whose beard has been specially trained by the SAS to sneak through undergrowth.'
I explained how Bill and his beard were still suffering from their wounding by an errant heron. 'He's back with his family but he still claims to feel discomfort whenever he gets near an estuary,' I said.
Jeremy rang off having agreed to meet me at twelve, and, sure enough, a few seconds before noon, I heard the distant bang as the sound barrier was breached by a land-based rocket car. Jeremy arrive a second later, the shrill whine of his jet engine fading as he climbed out. He was dressed in combat trousers and a safari jacket, a fact which caused me no end of amusement as we began to pile equipment into the back of the Range Rover and then set off into central London and the promise of big game.
Being two 'A' list celebrities, we can get access to places that are restricted to you normal untalented folk, no doubt stuck out there in your humdrum existence of commuting into Manchester or Glasgow, and working a long day full of office routine. You won't know the thrill of breeching a nerve centre of the nation's communications. One such place is the studio for Five News. It's run by the people at Sky News from their headquarters in Osterley, Central London. We parked out front and decided to try the direct approach by blagging our way past the guard at the front desk. He was the typical guard, proud of his job. His jacket was emblazoned with the insignia of News International and the the Bob Friend Memorial tie pin gleamed near his throat.
'We're here to do an interview about our new show,' I told him.
'Oh,' said the guard. 'And what's that all about?'
Jeremy, quick on his feet as ever, replied: 'the Welsh.' When pressed and nervous, he usually mentions the Welsh. I suppose that, psychologically, the Welsh are Jeremy's comfort blanket, though I don't know why...
'The Welsh?' replied the guard.
Jeremy just smiled. I could tell it would be left to a man of real imagination to fill in the detail.
'Jeremy and I have been travelling Britain together, filing a new series in which we wryly comment on the nation's musical tastes. We began with the Welsh and their unhealthy obsession with male choral groups.'
'Very good,' whispered Jeremy.
'Welsh choral groups?' repeated the guard.
That's when Jeremy piped up. 'The show is called, “Good Vibrations With Richard&Jeremy”,' he said.
I made a point of jotting this idea down. Jeremy might not see much potential in it but I certainly do.
The guard, however, was somewhat suspicious. I could tell this by the way he picked up the phone and began to mutter something to his superiors. However, a few minutes later, a call came through and he reluctantly gave us to visitor cards.
We'd reached the first floor when Jeremy dragged me to one side and behind a large cardboard cut out of Kirsty Young marked for recycling. He nodded towards a set of doors marked 'Staff Only' at the end of the corridor.
'We go through there,' he said. 'I've been here before to plug my Christmas DVD. That way leads to the dressing rooms.'
'But we don't even know if Natasha is in the building,' I said. 'We should make some casual enquiries first.'
Jeremy placed his big hand on my shoulder. 'What kind of man comes on a hunt and doesn't know the habits of his quarry? You don't think I didn't come prepared. Before I left the house I rang Jeremy Paxman who told me everything we need to know about Kaplinsky, such as the fact that she rarely leaves her dressing room. She'll be in there now, resting before tonight's show.' He nodded again at the doors. 'Come on, follow me.'
I trailed after him as he crept down long dark corridors. Finally, he stopped outside a door marked 'Talent'.
'This is it,' he said. 'This is where they keep her.'
'Keep her?' I was very cynical, as would you should you know that your actions are being governed by information gleaned from a man called Paxman. 'You make her sound like she's an exhibit...'
Before I could finish, Jeremy threw open the door and I began to realise how little I know about the world of TV beyond Channel 4.
The oxygen tent filling the room was glowing a vibrant pink. Soft furnishings filled it like a sack of cotton candy and giant marshmallows. The fur from creatures whose natural camouflage was pink was spread across the mattress while lying amid the flowers, feathers, and throw cushions, was a figure of sublime beauty, her thin features cleansed of artificial colour.
'Is that her?' I whispered.
'If it's not,' replied Jeremy, 'we should watch out for seven malicious dwarves coming back from diamond mining duties.'
'But won't she wake up?'
'Not during daylight hours,' said Jeremy, who for some reason was opening his satchel. I was a little surprised when he pulled out a foot long stick sharpened at one end and a wooden mallet.
'What's that for?'
'It's just something that Paxman asked me to do,' he smiled the nation's favourite Jeremy.
I was in no mood to question the agreements made between BBC men. I pushed the lens through an opening in the oxygen tent and fired off a few snaps.
'We should get out of here,' I said.
Jeremy lingered, weighing the stake and mallet in his hands.
'Come on,' I said, grabbing him by a curl, 'we need to get out of here before we're discovered and they force us to make them a show. You don't want to be on Fifth Gear do you?'
That seemed to do the trick. His shoulders sagged and he followed me as we retraced our steps out of the building. Five minutes later, we were sitting in the Range Rover. I was checking the pictures on the digital camera while Jeremy kicked the gears into four wheel drive and ploughed us through a hedge and out onto the open road.
'These photographs will make us a small fortune,' I promised him.
Jeremy just looked vaguely out at the road ahead. 'I though I could do it,' he muttered. 'I thought I could do it... And I've missed my chance.'
'Don't worry,' I said, looking at the stake and mallet sitting on the back seat. 'If you're still in the mood for adventure, come along to the show this afternoon. I could do with a man who knows how to wield a mallet.' I looked again at the wood steak. 'I do think we should stop off and find you a bigger big of wood. It's one thing hunting a woman like Natasha Kaplinsky but I'm now talking about an evil that roams the Earth by day...'