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Flying into a rage for the right reason

Published 24 September 2006
News Review
688th article

Michael by DC Oake's memorial (Julian Brown)

I am, as you're aware, placid by nature. Demure. Becalmed. But on Tuesday, September 12 I went ballistic. Then a quiet, venomous fury emanates.

The object of my ire was Howard Mersey, operations director of Aeromega, a helicopter company. For 22 years I've run a charity I formed to honour policemen slain on duty by placing memorials where they fell.

Our 33rd ceremony - to honour DC Stephen Oake - was to be in Manchester where he was stabbed by a terrorist.

I'd hired a helicopter to get me there well in time for the 10.30am start. Geraldine and I, with programmes for the ceremony and a card signed by Tony Blair to go on his flowers, appeared at Battersea heliport.

The previous day I'd agreed to pay an extra £1,000 to get a helicopter that could fly in cloud. At 7.30am, when we were due to take off, the pilot phoned to say he was stuck in Surrey and couldn't fly because of cloud! I don't know if he had the appropriate certification to fly in cloud, either way it was too late to get to Manchester.

Later I spoke to Mr Mersey, pointing out I was letting down a grieving family, the chief constable of Greater Manchester, the mayor, the leader of the council, the parents and friends of DC Oake and many others.

"Why didn't you call me at 6am if there was likely to be a problem?" I asked.

"We didn't have your number," explained Mr Mersey.

"You rang me three times yesterday and twice the day before?" I replied. trying to keep calm. "We forgot to give your number to operations," said Mr Mersey.

He later wrote to apologise. I'll hitch-hike rather than use his company again.

At the ceremony my speech was read by the deputy chief constable. Rather well, I was told.

I went up the following Saturday to pay my respects by laying flowers at DC Oake's memorial. I took a jet, cheaper than Aeromega's non-appearing helicopter, got there on time, gave interviews, laid my flowers and viewed the Stephen Lowry exhibition in Manchester.

  • Then to Nutters restaurant in Rochdale for lunch. My local driver, a splendid man called Steve Gallimore, recommended it. He sells Rolls-Royces and Bentleys.

    He picked us up in an immaculate burgundy 1996 Brooklands Bentley, which looked like new. It had done 49,000 miles, originally cost around £100.000 and had just been sold for £26,000. Old Rolls and Bentleys are the best buys. I have two!

    I invited Inspector Julian Snowball and his wife Zoe to lunch as he'd done such a great job helping organise my ceremony.

    Rochdale borders the north of Manchester. Nutters is set in grounds of considerable beauty. As we arrived Rodney Nutter, in evening dress at 12.15pm - well he's restaurant manager - got out of a personalised number-plated 4x4. But the restaurant was locked.

    His wife Jean appeared. "Don't worry if you can't get in," she said. ["Don't worry!" I thought, "I'll miss my lunch!"] We had a terrible morning at home. Workmen went through the drains and the gas." Sounds normal to me.

    Nutters is in a lovely 18th-century gothic mansion once owned by the grandfather of the late attorney-general Hartley Shawcross. Now Rodney's son Andrew, who's been on TV (who in catering hasn't?), is the chef.

    We sat down at 12.45 even though my efficient detective, Snowball, hadn't arrived. He came late explaining that just after I left, DC Oake's sisters came to lay flowers. He rightly stayed with them.

    Geraldine, Steve Gallimore and I had ordered black pudding with scallops and mashed potatoes done with white truffle oil. Zoe didn't want that. "I don't go out to lunch often," she said studying the menu carefully. She chose a fillet steak. Julian had lamb.

    The starters were little welsh rarebits, the best I've ever eaten, plus other bits and pieces including large smoked salmon canapes. I liked my scallops but the black pudding was in such thin slivers I couldn't taste it. And it was the black pudding which led me to place the order.

    Julian explained he'd come to the memorial early that morning to find bottles and rubbish there, as if there'd been a fight.

    "The press saw me sweeping up with a dustpan and brush," he said.

    "He never does that at home," chipped in Zoe.

    The dessert was new season plums with walnut crumble and port syrup. A very decent meal. Not many people take a private jet to Rochdale for lunch. It was worth it.

  • PS: The photo of our jolly group of diners and owners didn't come out - for reasons I decline to reveal! So I offer me at the memorial I instead!

    Winner's letters

    Last week Michael said he'd never tested what would happen if he went into a restaurant naked. For that we should be thankful. But as for his succession of good-looking girlfriends. . .
    Mike Simpson, Ponteland

    No contest. In last week's photo you morphed into the Queen Mother.
    Mary Boykin, Charleston, USA

    You're egocentric, boorish and far too fond of being Michael Winner. I bought a case of Hildon water for a dinner party solely because you don't like it. It pains me to say I have to agree. It leaves a nasty taste in the mouth. A bit like you. Regards anyway.
    Trevor Lansdown, Essex

    We went to La Chaumiere near Nice because you recommended it. We requested a certain table. The flustered staff said there was a diner coming who was very particular about his table. We were offered second best. As my host remonstrated who walked in and took "our" table? You! Hope you enjoyed the evening as much as we did.
    Stephanie Duncan, London

    Like Julie Hudson (Letters, September 3) we had concierge problems at the Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni. For five days he greeted me with, "Good morning, how are you?" and a weather forecast. He ignored my wife. After I brought this to his attention he was all over her - but ignored me!
    George Barnaby, Buckinghamshire

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