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A rose between two thorns can still have barbs

Published 23 May 2004
News Review
557th article

Three's company: from left, Tom Parker Bowles, Lynn Barber and Michael Winner at Carpaccio (Guido Campigotto)

The first profile of me in a national newspaper was in the Daily Sketch of February 1962. The headline was "All paths lead to Mike the magnet". It gave a jolly account of my robust directing of a pop musical, Play It Cool, at Pinewood studios.

In the 42 years that followed I remain amused - if not amazed - that such write-ups keep coming. Indeed, I turn down many more requests for interviews than I accept.

A recent one was by the superb, feared writer Lynn Barber. Ms Barber "did" me some years ago, and recently again, in The Observer.

Her latest piece started, "Lunch with Michael Winner is always fun but never relaxing - he gets upset so easily. One minute he's sitting there beaming, telling anecdotes and hooting his great ha-ha-ha laugh, next he's grieving and keening over some perceived catastrophe."

As we ate at the Wolseley, Lynn asked if I'd have lunch with her and Tom Parker Bowles, son of you-know-who. Tom, who writes about food, apparently wanted to meet me.

Lynn rang a few days before her interview was to appear. "If you're still talking to me after next Sunday," she said, "I'd like to fix a day for our lunch with Tom."

"Now I'm worried, Lynn," I said. "I'm sure there's no need to be," she responded. "You didn't mind my first interview." "Yes. but you're known as a second-time killer," I said jovially.

"I asked an actress friend [I named a famous star] when you wanted me to help get you an interview and told her, as you'd told me, you'd written flatteringly about her. The actress said, 'That was the first one. Next time she murdered me.' Let's wait till after Sunday, Lynn. I'll call you."

I was being unjustly fearful. Lynn's piece was not lacking in a barb or three, but it was well written, funny and fair.

Tom had chosen Carpaccio in Chelsea for our date. It was his neighbourhood restaurant. He liked it. I arrived first. Tom a few seconds later.

"Are you the one who's always drunk on staircases?" I asked. "No, that's . . ." and Tom mentioned a name. Later he requested I didn't print it, because it was a friend of his. I'm ever obliging.

Then Lynn arrived. I think she's really beautiful. She has a somewhat worn but lovely face. A great smile. And comes out, in a soft, posh voice, with frequent put-downs. "We should all have something different," said auntie Lynn, now running the show.

I started with maize and pulses soup with mushrooms. It was fine. I followed with spaghetti with tomato and basil. Also very pleasant.

Lynn explained that Tom researched everything "really hard". "I'd like my work to be in the Bodleian Library," said Tom. "Gosh!" said Lynn. We also had fried zucchini on the table. That was good. I enjoyed the wine I ordered. Tignanello 1999 - whatever that is.

Lynn said there was too much rocket on her plate. "It's tiring to eat. It doesn't please me." Then she added: "My 24-year-old daughter works at News International on the management side." Before ordering a lemon sorbet I asked: "Could she get me a raise?" [Ed: No.] The sorbet was really very superior.

Then they delivered some limoncello, a marvellous lemon liqueur, as a freebie. I like limoncello. I was particularly impressed that they brought a fresh bowl of ice, without being asked, when we were on our coffee. Most restaurants let the ice melt and don't bother to replenish it.

Tom asked me, "Where is the best chicken soup in London?" "Harry Morgan in St John's Wood High Street," I volunteered. "Tom doesn't look like a greedy person, does he?" said Lynn. Tom appeared nonplussed.

Lynn asked, "Shall we contribute some more about the food or don't you care?" "You told us your veal was very good, that's enough, thank you," I replied. I offered my Leica camera to Carpaccio's owner, Guido Campigotto. "If I'm in the photo I'll be sacked," said Lynn. "Quite right too, darling," I responded. "This is a risk you have to take."

  • PS: Tom is a particularly pleasant person. If there are any mothers around with spare daughters, he'd be perfect husband material. I also admire the good manners of most British upper-class types. If you buy lunch or dinner they invariably send a "Thank you" note. Tom did that. Exemplary.

  • PPS: I'm deluged with bacon and letters about bacon. I've just tried a delivery from Hammer Trout Farm and Smokery in Hampshire. That was too thick and crisped appallingly. Oscar Mayer is still my favourite. If only I could get the toast and the bacon ready at the same time!

    Winner's letters

    You give me a glimpse into another world where the people are smart and fashionable and eat in the best places Not like village life in the High Peak. I remember you once had a bottle of wine costing £2,000. My jaw dropped! Then, walking down one of the aisles in Tesco I saw a half bottle of Napoleon brandy for £4.34. I walked on, then turned back and bought it. I had a tot that evening. A lovely warm feeling first, then a sense of optimism, courage, a feeling that anything could happen. Now I take a spot every night and raise my glass to you. One hedonist to another!
    Joan Bates, Derbyshire

    At the Michelin-starred Petrus in London, I was staggered to find a fellow diner with a bolt through his eyebrow wearing an expensive black T-shirt with "London stinks of piss" emblazoned in gold thread upon it. Is this in appalling taste or am I perhaps a Diner-sore?
    Martin Ellis, London

    The Bajan Blue restaurant at Sandy Lane, Barbados continues to underperform. Poor food, slow service and high prices. Michael, try the restaurant at the Hotel and Catering college in Bridgetown. Friday is gourmet night - seven courses of quite good food along with the politest service comes at only Barbados $60 (£16.50) per head. Shortly after they qualify, these same chefs and waiters appear at Bajan Blue where similar catering-college food, but with slower service, costs Barbados $160 for two courses.
    Martin Harrison, Lancashire

    You've done it again, Michael. Please don't refer to food as "stuff" as you did on February 2
    Patricia Grey, Surrey

    Two years after we bought a place in Nice, we are of the opinion that the standard of cuisine on the Riviera, in particular, and France in general, is poor and expensive There are better, cheaper restaurants in our home town of Liverpool!
    Dr George Cook, Merseyside

    I'd like to nominate you for I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here! Just think of the benefits massive weight loss, palate cleansing ready for the foodie reviews when you do get out and exotic titbits to nibble between meals. Plus fantastic entertainment for hoi polloi!
    Mrs Ross Yousouf, Nottingham

    Send letters to Winners Dinners, The Sunday Times, 1 Pennington Street, London E98 1ST or e-mail michael.winner@sunday-times.co.uk