Published 08 August 2004 News Review 578th article
Michael Winner and the Duke of Devonshire at Ascot race track (Geraldine Lynton-Edwards)
I'm not a devotee of horse racing. The last time I went was in 2001 to Ascot to a box Michael Bloomberg, now mayor of New York, donated to Griff Rhys Jones for his Hackney Empire appeal. Clive Anderson and I were interviewed on BBC television.
Recently a diarist on a rival Sunday broadsheet wrote that Nigel Dempster had phoned me on my mobile during the live broadcast and I'd desperately tried to locate the ringing phone.
I was purportedly wearing a parka jacket with many pockets. This was funny, but untrue. I own no such jacket. I have seven mobiles. I know none of their numbers. I only use them for outgoing calls.
When challenged the reporter not only said he was present when Nigel made the call, but produced an ex-secretary who had also witnessed the event. She wrote backing up the tale.
I don't care how many people claim an untruth is true. It doesn't make it so.
I discovered the BBC had a recording of my interview. They sent it over. It showed no such phone call. When I met Clive Anderson recently he said, "Why didn't you ask me? I'd have verified your version." "You're far too important, Clive," I responded.
Two weeks ago the BBC again invited me to be interviewed at Ascot - on the occasion of the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes. Word got out I was coming and the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire - he's boss of the course - asked me to dine with them in the Ascot Authority Luncheon Room.
Investigation uncovered the necessity for a tie. I demurred, then gave in. Immaculately dressed, I duly turned up.
A most charming man, who works with my friend Henry Wyndham, the chairman of Sotheby's, showed me how they'd be knocking down the stands and moving the course. This turned out to be Stoker, the duke himself.
I was seated on the right of the duchess, known to her confidantes (and me) as Amanda. I'd been dreading the lunch. I'm not very good with strangers, even aristocrats. But Amanda was so delightful, when I review duchesses she'll get the highest possible mark - a strong 10.
The table was beautifully laid with many little jars of flowers. Rather like those endless candles they burn in eastern parts.
The food was pretty good. We started with poached Maine lobster, foie gras and pea shoot salad, warm Canadian lobster and morel cappuccino. My morel soup didn't arrive. "Can we have another of these?" requested the duchess, feeling my discomfort at missing any sustenance.
The people seated next to the duchess and me hadn't arrived. So the duchess said, "If you want to eat this, you can," as she passed me the absentee's plate. Being well mannered to a fault I scooped half of it onto her plate.
The main course - lamb with beans, baby fennel and other bits and pieces - was fine.
Then a nice American lady, Pam, arrived to sit next to me.
She ran the Breeders' cup in Kentucky. "Terrible traffic jams," she said, explaining her lateness. "Should've taken a helicopter like me," I suggested.
We looked at the price and thought it too expensive," Pam responded. "If you don't have to sell the house you may as well do it. Saves aggravation," I advised.
Pam tipped Taj India to win the first race. "I like its breeding. Mark Johnston's a wonderful trainer. It's got a good feeling about it," she said. It got nowhere.
Another £20 lost gambling to join the £35m, at today's money, my mother lost at the Cannes Casino. She sold all the antiques and paintings left to me to pay her debts.
The dessert included chocolate mousse in a tall long-stemmed glass. "How do we eat this?" asked the duchess. "Hold the base with your finger," I said, "or it'll fall all over the place."
There were raspberries from Pixley Berries in Herefordshire, which tasted great.
Like the raspberries I got during the war. Not like the organic ones my housekeeper gets from Marks & Spencer. They gave me a couple of punnets to take home.
I said to the duchess, "I'm going to do my TV now." "Should we all be glued to the television?" she asked.
"Yes. Stop anyone talking in this room," I suggested. "We'll turn the volume up," said the duchess. Unfortunately I got confused and told the interviewer I'd been lunching with the Duke and Duchess of Westminster. There's another place I won't be able to go back to.
PS: Geraldine picked our only winner - Mister Monet in the second race - chosen because she likes paintings. She wore a marvellous hat. Geraldine, not the horse.
I have to get something off my chest. In a former lifetime, nearly 30 years ago, I was a minicab driver who had to pick someone up in the depths of Surrey and drop them at your Kensington mansion. I got lost and he was late. It wasn't his fault. I feel better now.
Gerald Cohen, London
The Hacienda in Ibiza (Winner's Dinners, last week) is more bizarre than you recorded. One lunchtime there was no bread. So I drove down to the local shop and bought some for the guests. I blew my stack when my 15-year-old son found a nail in his wine glass. I speak good colloquial Spanish when up to speed. I think everyone, including the staff, were amused by my outburst. The whole place was a total shambles. It used to be good years ago when they had a superb manager. Until the owning family realises they are utterly incapable of running a hotel and install a good manager, we shall not return.
Roderick Bromley, Norfolk
I was interested in your being allocated an unsuitable room at the Hacienda hotel. I can never understand why, if I'm unhappy with my room, there's always a better alternative. I conclude hoteliers want their worst rooms occupied before they dispense better ones. Restaurateurs seem to apply the same rule. The worst tables must be offered first, thus leading to a frustrating gavotte before being seated at an acceptable table.
James Carne, London
I always find Winner's Dinners inspires me with appropriate indignation on a Sabbath morning. Now Winner has sunk to levels we can afford - the Hacienda, Ibiza. And to our amazement his assessment of the hotel concurred with our experience. Sadly Sundays will never be the same.
Jeremy Fowler, Hampshire
The fact that you stayed at the Hacienda more than 10 minutes makes you either an idiot or a hero devoted to his duty. I believe the latter.
David Miller, London
We travelled to Windsor and were enjoying a home-made sandwich in the vicinity of a riverbank restaurant. We heard a vulgar "Oi!" followed by a piercing whistle. Were you carrying out a quality control exercise on July 23 at about 1pm in that area, Michael?
James Cameron, Whitley Bay
Send letters to Winner's Dinners, The Sunday Times, 1 Pennington Street, London E98 1ST or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org