Fate led Michael to return to Inverlochy Castle on the west coast of Scotland and he finds it is still lavish, beautiful and well run
Published 3 July 2011 News Review 937th article
Michael, minus jacket and tie, at Inverlochy Castle with Jane Watson and the chef Philip Carnegie (Geraldine Lynton-Edwards)
Years ago I was greatly impressed by Inverlochy Castle, a hotel outside Fort William on the west coast of Scotland. Fate recently led me to return. I'd been told it was sold to a Malaysian and had gone downhill. In fact it was a Malaysian businessman living in Glasgow and it was still lavish, beautiful and well run.
Jane Watson, the general manager, was a waitress when I came before. The chef is now Philip Carnegie, who has a Michelin star. Not always a good sign.
A castle was first built there in 1270; the current pile was finished in 1866. Luminaries who have stayed there include Queen Victoria, the former president of the American Confederacy Jefferson Davis and, surprisingly not mentioned in the literature, Hymie Pockle, Abe Schwanz and Moishe Pippick. There are only 17 rooms.
For dinner the hotel's restaurant offered three menus: gluten-free, vegetarian and normal. You have to wear a tie and jacket. I know of only two places in London that require such formality. Jane explained that when the hotel relaxed the dress code people came wearing trainers and no socks. I wasn't wearing socks but she didn't notice. I was also wearing my pyjama bottoms. I did sport a tie, long-sleeved shirt and proper jacket.
Geraldine said, "You look gorgeous. I'd so like you to dress like this."
"When?" I asked. "Every day," said Geraldine. "You seduced me because you were so well dressed."
"Just shows how things can go wrong in a relationship," I observed.
Geraldine, as always, looked totally beautiful, elegant, good-natured, charming, witty and gluten-free.
I suppose I'd better deal with the food.
Other than a woman at the next table who ignored her friend/husband/plumber and attended relentlessly to her mobile phone, nothing much was going on. Although I could hear the piano from the grand hall, where a pianist in white evening dress was playing the Vangelis theme from Chariots of Fire.
We ordered my new favourite drink, a virgin mojito. It seemed we'd get it until Jane came to announce that the bar had no mint. Posh restaurant like that should have mint.
My Loch Linnhe prawns with pearl barley risotto and ham hock beignet were superb. Then I had sweetbreads "with something", I dictated (please don't ask what), and truffle. Also terrific. The dessert of mango panna cotta with orange and passion fruit was a letdown - too solid, seemed to have far too much gelatin in it. Good meal, though; pleasant staff.
Ps On the coffee tray brought up to the bedroom was a sign: "To have your tray uplifted please dial 204". I suppose if I'd done that, to see the tray was properly uplifted, a crane would have arrived, accompanied by a JCB digger, six burly Scotsmen and a passing seagull.
I put two pieces of jade into a Sotheby's auction recently. They were in my TV lounge at home. I never looked at them. To my surprise one was estimated to sell for £50,000 to £70,000; the other, £70,000 to £90,000. The first one went for £360,000; the second for £70,000. So I received well over £400,000 from Sotheby's.
The jades had been left in London by my father when he went to live in France, taking with him about 50 immensely superior jade carvings. Many were so important they were illustrated in the Encyclopaedia Britannica under "jade".
My mother sold them, even though they were only left to her for life and then to me, to pay her gambling debts at the Cannes Casino, along with highly valuable paintings, furniture and finally the penthouse she lived in. All left to me.
I used to say at today's prices she nicked £50m. In view of the jade prices I now raise this, conservatively, to £100m. Doesn't matter. Mumsy was a gambling addict and a marvellously mercurial person. God bless her. But boy, could I use the dosh.
I'm an avid tweeter. My tweets are hilarious. My followers grow in number each day. Many of them have phoned 0871 620 4027 to book (only five seats left) for my Times+ one-man show on November 8 at 7.30pm in Wilton's Music Hall, London E1. A second show is planned for November 17.
A lovely lady tweet-follower, Julie, brought me an original US poster for my movie The Jokers, then posters for Death Wish and Death Wish II. Another tweeter, claiming to be a memorabilia seller, offered me £15,000 for the two Death Wish posters if I signed them. They're not for sale. Nor can I get Julie to accept anything: money, goods, whatever. She's rare.
Hymie rents a remote Highland cottage to go and consider life. After a couple of days there's a knock on the door. Hymie opens it and sees a tall, athletic Highlander, who says, "We saw you were alone - we'd like to ask you to a ceilidh."
Hymie asks, "What's a ceilidh?" The Highlander explains, "It's a Scottish party. We start with drinks, and then dinner, followed by dancing. After that we have some sex."
Hymie says, "Sounds nice to me. What should I wear?" "Doesn't matter," replies the Highlander. "It's only you and me."
Last week you were well dressed and Geraldine looked fantastic. Your host, the "intelligent and witty" peer of the realm, certainly had a sense of humour with his comedy outfit - his dad's jacket, trousers that sat down when he stood up and Cornish pasty shoes.
Michael Freeman, London
Your smart tie and jacket that nearly fitted was a significant improvement on your usual attire. What next? Trousers that match your jacket?
Geoff Greensmith, Surrey
Several weeks ago I read Michael's column with much sympathy as he complained about some hoorays making such a noise at a nearby table that it spoilt his meal. Last week I was tucking into lunch on the Cipriani hotel terrace in Venice and there came this awful, loud braying from the table behind me - some posh British man was giving the waiter a grumpy, over-the-top ear-bashing - so loud as to annoy all the other customers. I turned round to see who the culprit was, and to my astonishment realised it was Michael Winner! Over the next few days I witnessed more of his boorish behaviour, to the annoyance of many around him. Worst was him barking into his mobile phone by the pool - on one occasion so loudly that even long-suffering Geraldine told him to shut up. Two members of staff told me he'd been coming to the hotel for 30 years and always behaved like this.
Paul Hamann, London NW5
Send letters to Winner's Dinners, The Sunday Times, 3 Thomas More Square, London E98 1ST or email firstname.lastname@example.org