Sunday, February 3, 2008

Lunch with The Tap Dancing Millionaire

It’s just a month since my New Year’s resolution, and things aren’t going at all well. Keith Hann, my adversary in the battle of the diets, has gloatingly emailed me that he’s down to 14 stone 9 pounds. This puts me five pounds behind, and that’s not counting a wonderful dinner at Seaham Hall on Saturday night. As it was my suggestion that we undertake this ludicrous challenge, it’s particularly galling, particularly as Hann’s email arrived in the middle of a rather hearty lunch with my old friend Richard Stilgoe.

Stilgoe, he of the witty songs, has done incredibly well since I was his producer on Nationwide. He and I collaborated on all those musical sketches, like the barber shop quartet, where he played all four characters simultaneously and one Stilgoe shaved another’s beard off. We also made a little DIY series called Oddjob, with helpful hints for the hopelessly inept. I still have a couple of copies of the book of the series with my name on the cover, which Joanna thinks is a huge joke because she knows just how unhandy I really am, whereas Richard built his own house. Later we made a couple of comedy series together, including A Kick Up The Eighties, the programme that discovered Tracey Ullman and Rik Mayall.

Despite having a name that is an anagram of Giscard O’Hitler, Richard is one of the world’s really nice chaps, and he finally struck gold when Andrew Lloyd Webber hired him to write lyrics for Cats. He went on to pen the whole of Starlight Express, and nearly half of Phantom of the Opera. Yet, despite the massive royalty cheques which flow in to this day, and which could have seen him with more Ferraris and bling than the whole of Darras Hall, he has chosen to keep his feet on the ground and gives most of his wealth to various worthy charities. Well, I say his feet are on the ground: they haven’t been since January 1st, and this is where I got really depressed.

Apparently Richard’s new year’s resolution was to take up tap dancing. In contrast to my own utter lack of resolve, Richard has really gone for it, and now he’s paddling and rolling and shim-sham-shimmying like a true pro.

The thought of Richard, who’s 65 this year, queuing up for tap classes with all the lissom young dancers at the Pineapple Dance Studios really makes me smile. I can’t imagine him in a leotard (I’ve only ever seen him in a sports jacket and tie). He told me that even though he’s three times the age of most people there he’s very comfortable in his tap shoes, and only slightly disconcerted by the overtures of some of the men.

I’ve been to Pineapple Dance Studios many times, holding auditions for the various dance shows I produced in the 80’s, like The Hot Shoe Show with Wayne Sleep and Bonnie Langford. Surrounded by the slender and bendy, at first I used to hold my tummy in: then I decided looking like Orson Welles made me more glamorous, so I let it all hang out. Dance auditions are the cruelest sport. The bright young things arrive full of hope, having spent an hour or more travelling in from the suburbs. As a producer, it takes you on average 12 seconds to make a decision. “Thank you so much, next please”. Twenty at a time.

Meanwhile, I’ve managed to uncover Hann’s secret diet. Forget the fitness regime and slimming aids, he’s using the new “No-D” diet. He’s given up dinner. No wonder he’s winning the contest, the poor chap must be starving. No chance I’m going to follow his lead, living with Joanna, who is an excellent cook. Besides, I’m dutifully doing what The Journal commands, and Eating Local. In fact, I’m eating for the whole of Tynedale. So if I lose the diet challenge on Easter Day, I can now blame the Journal's Editor. Anyway, I’m fighting back. Inspired by Stilgoe’s hoofing, I’ve hit the Matfen Hall gym big time. No photos please, and I’m certainly not releasing a slimming video.

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