June 24, 2023

Portrait of Francisco D'Andrade in the title role by Max Slevogt, 1912

Portrait of Francisco D'Andrade in the title role by Max Slevogt, 1912

“I was 12 when I first got laid.” “Where was that?” “In Middlesbrough.” “How the hell did you get lucky at 12 in Middlesbrough, when I only managed it at 15 and on my father’s boat off Cannes in 1952?” “It was a dark and stormy night.”

This was no tortured confession by some doomed poet or a gender-confused feminist, just party banter between the great Rod Liddle—who went Bulwer-Lytton on me—and the poor little Greek boy. The setting: the Old Queen Street garden where The Spectator is located and where we celebrated the sainted editor’s 50th anniversary. Before I get to that, what about Middlesbrough? Is it the water, the climate, or the girls that helped Rod lose his virginity so early? “I know who she is,” was all he said when I pumped him for more details. Never mind, his wife soon joined us and Rod changed the conversation to economics: Who will be the next lucky winner to own us?

Now, that’s the million-dollar question, if only it cost just a million to own the oldest and best magazine the world has ever known. When I first joined The Speccie, it was passed around from one owner to the next for nothing, as it cost a lot to own because it didn’t make a profit. Now that it does, it’s a whole different ballgame, as they say down in Louisiana.

“Who will be the next lucky winner to own us?”

Needless to say, the party was wonderful. Both Fraser and our executive editor Andrew Neil gave reassuring speeches and ordered the troops to stop speculating and start celebrating. Fraser Nelson has a very beautiful family, which as an ancient Greek I take to be a very good sign. Zeus and the rest of the gods created heroes with great looks, whereas they made the baddies look like crap. I spent most of the evening talking with Will Moore and his wonderful wife, Hannah, as well as Rod and Alicia, and drinking white wine nonstop until the end. Andrew Neil took one look at me and decided to cancel our planned post-party drink at Robin’s.

Here’s a tiny detail about what drink does to one: I wore a blazer with a Pugs Club insignia but ended up holding a leather jacket with some punk signs on it. I’ve never worn a leather jacket in my life but ended up holding it as if it were the Holy Grail. Go figure, as they never say in Middlesbrough.

Rod Liddle consistently hits the jackpot with his punchy prose and ironic truths, and so we sat in the dark talking about writers we knew and some who are still with us. I just loved the matter-of-fact manner with which he recounted what happened when he was 12, like the guy at the stadium gate repeating, “Tickets, please.” The other thing I noticed while still sober was that no one I spoke with had anything to say about the defenestration of our ex-editor Boris, the very same Boris of tax hikes and net-zero shame, yet still the working man’s Brexit hero. The great Maggie had Heseltine’s dagger firmly stuck between her shoulders, just as Boris has Harriet and Sunak’s scimitar between his. So what else is new about the Conservative Party? But as I said, the on-dit on that particular night was about The Telegraph and The Spectator, c’est tout.

I don’t know why, but Boris reminds me a bit of Don Giovanni, not that he even comes anywhere close to what Mozart’s hero managed where the fair sex is concerned; only the fact that the original title of the great opera was Il Dissoluto Punito (the dissolute punished). Da Ponte, the librettist, insisted on changing it, perhaps because Wolfie and he saw the opera as a yearning for forgiveness. The seducer, of course, cannot help himself and assaults Donna Anna and seduces Donna Elvira, and we know that he ends up in hell, but still, the Don is Mozart and vice versa, and the composer never assaulted anyone in his short life. Maybe Wolfie secretly wished he had had 1,003 conquests in Spain alone, as Don Giovanni’s faithful servant Leporello’s catalog lands twice on that refrain.

Nah, Boris doesn’t even reach 1 percent of those numbers, yet he still reminds me a bit of the Don, by far my favorite operatic character of them all. Another ne’er-do-well, Count Almaviva, pulls aristocratic entitlement on Susanna, this one in The Marriage of Figaro, yet Susie-baby manages to escape, and true love wins out, as it always does with Wolfie and Lorenzo. Does it with Boris? I am only a poor little Greek boy and don’t know much about such matters, but me no think so.

The one thing I know is that back in the early 2000s, when the then proprietor Conrad Black, a good friend, decided that what I had written about the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands was anti-Semitic to the extreme, Boris stuck by me and coolly pointed out that it was fair comment. Boris played fair and showed courage. Unlike these lousy parliamentarians who brought him down, I do not forget good deeds done to me, nor bad ones. Certain people spreading malice will hear from me once the matter of a Big Lie is settled in court. In the meantime, I’m off to Middlesbrough. I cannot write like Rod, but I’ve got more experience than a 12-year-old. Good things are sure to happen.


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