Cook for me nicely, dear, and I'll make you a star
Published 21 February 2010 News Review 866th article
Michael at the Ritz with, from left, Joan Hills, his make-up lady, and Dinah May, his assistant and hairdresser (John Rogers)
In five days' time comes the event the world has been waiting for. The unveiling of my ITV1 series Michael Winner's Dining Stars next Friday, 9-10pm. All right, the world hasn't been waiting breathlessly. Just the United Kingdom. Well, perhaps not all the United Kingdom. Let's just say there are three people in South Kensington who can't contain their excitement.
In the first programme of four ("Why only four?" you ask) I travel to Wilmslow, world of footballers and Wags, for a trip around the locals, followed by curried goat from a man of Jamaican origin who demolishes houses.
Then on to Longridge, where a Lancashire housewife served rather elaborate dishes. During both these meals I retired, delicately, to another room, where I dictated into my tape recorder what I really thought of what was going on.
To end each show, the two contestants, their families and guests come to the beautifully restored Coronet cinema in Notting Hill Gate. There they see me on screen dictating my secret notes. Then I ask for their comments. This produces conflict, confrontation, robust ripostes and some very moving results. Finally I reveal if they get one, two, three or no Michael Winner dining stars. I hope you'll watch and let me know what you think. Your usual wit and sarcasm, however clever, is not essential. I seek guidance in case ITV is reckless enough to offer another series.
We now fast-forward to the last of the shows, which we shot in Kingsand, Cornwall. I stayed nearby at the Whitsand Bay hotel, Portwrinkle, a once grand, now faded place by a golf course (handy for landing my helicopter) owned by two brothers, John and Paul Phillips.
For dinner I ordered plaice. John told me: "It was on the day boat."
"What day?" I asked.
"I imagine yesterday's, because we had it in this morning," replied John.
If the plaice was fresh, the chef managed to disguise it brilliantly. It was terrible. It had no succulence, no moisture, rolled up in a silly little display. A miserable course. The rest of the meal matched the standard of the dried-up plaice.
The Whitsand Bay hotel can claim fame for one thing. In it, for the first time, I made a cup of tea in my room. There was a plastic kettle, two beakers and some Tetley tea bags. I put a bit of brown packed sugar in first, but stopped that on realising my mistake. The string on the tea bag wasn't long enough. So I pulled at the label and discovered when you tear off the label the string becomes longer. "This is fascinating - I'm learning," I said to myself. The kettle wouldn't go under the tap because the sink was too small, so I poured water from the plastic beakers into the kettle. "It's now boiled," I muttered to me. "I'm pouring the water into the beaker with the tea bag in it." It wasn't a bad colour. I'd first put in milk from a tiny plastic container with "Semi-skimmed" written on it. Who said I wanted semi-skimmed? I might not have wanted semi-skimmed. Well, that's what I got.
The tea with its one tea bag looked pretty good. I removed the digestive biscuit from the other beaker and put the tea bag in the second beaker, which I didn't need as Geraldine wasn't with me. I achieved all this without getting a drop of water on the little table. I stirred the sugar in with a spoon, looked out at a rather grey sea, drank a bit. Added a little more white sugar. I placed a small plastic tray on top to keep the heat in and went to pour lager beer over my head (very good for the hair), added some conditioner, combed it out and came back to finish my tea. It was very nice. In future I'll leave tea-making to the staff. But I thought I did pretty well.
Part of the fun of MW Dinestars (other than seeing The Sunday Times being printed, as shown in the opening titles) is that I'm accompanied by my assistant/ hairdresser Dinah May and an . . . er, rather overweight make-up lady, Joan Hills. I scream, "Dinah!" rather a lot. If that doesn't become a national catchphrase I'll eat my "Calm down dear" T-shirt. Dinah, who's worked for me for 27 years, is no stranger to TV. She's a former Miss Great Britain, starred on It's a Knockout, had a regular role in Brookside, acted in movies. On film sets she hairdressed Joanna Lumley, Diana Rigg, Jeremy Irons and Anthony Hopkins. Joan, a marvellous old-timer, goes back to Chariots of Fire. As you can see from our photo, taken at the Ritz hotel, Piccadilly, I'm unbelievably smart. They're lovely.
So far the reviews have been great. Matthew Norman in The Independent called it "cracking television, a riot of both mirth and poignancy". He said Andrew Neil spoke for everyone at the screening in expressing his pleasant surprise at the quality. Surprised at my qualities, Andrew? Gosh.
The Sun said it was "a hilarious series". The Daily Mail: "It's funny, confrontational and even touching."
This could go to my head. If it's a hit I look forward to graduating from being difficult to utterly impossible.
Generous of you to omit yourself from last week's pic. Was it Mr Meredith's idea to be photographed with one of his ghosts?
Dennis Harrison, Birmingham
You claim that citizens of Shrewsbury turned out in droves to welcome you and this shows their intelligence. However, the photo of you and the restaurateur who served you a microwaved lunch, standing in a deserted street, tells a different story. Perhaps the people of Shrewsbury are intelligent after all.
Peter Grundy, Newcastle-upon-Tyne
You noted that your hairdresser, Dinah May, was in Shrewsbury with you. What was she doing? It certainly wasn't your hair!
John and Judith Booth, Merseyside
After reading of your escapades over the past couple of weeks during the filming of your new "prime-time" series, I'm trying to determine which was more adequately fed - your ego or your appetite.
Peter Mackarel, Cheshire
Did you know there's a Winner Street in Paignton, Devon? I noticed it last Sunday when we went for lunch in Lily's, one of our favourite restaurants. You'd like it there because it caters for the older diner.
Jacky Joynson, Devon
After your crisp fried calf's brains at Quo Vadis, may we now expect an improvement in your articles?
Wyndham Northam, Norfolk
Send letters to Winner's Dinners, The Sunday Times, 1 Pennington Street, London E98 1ST or email email@example.com