The day of the reading in Hampstead arrives.
I receive a flurry of e-mails from friends who are Arsenal fans, making their excuses. It’s the local derby, they’re sure that I understand. I have long learned that one can’t fight football. My 40th birthday was the day that England played Portugal in the quarter final of the 2006 World Cup. Love me as they do, I knew there was no chance of getting more than a smattering of anti-football friends to attend any party that night.
Tonight though, I have no choice. I agreed to talk about my book a long time ago.
I enjoy talking about my book; it’s certainly easier than writing it. My only fear is that no one will turn up. I dread speaking to rows of empty seats. It used to happen sometimes when, in my TV days, I used to fly to conferences obscure parts of Eastern Europe to talk about my TV channel.
I once travelled for seven hours to attend a film festival in Czech Republic. When I arrived, the organiser, a corpulent man with a thick moustache and permed hair, said that he wanted me to host a press conference.
No one had said anything about a press conference. I couldn’t think who would be interested in listening to me give a press briefing when I had nothing to announce, but he insisted that local press would be fascinated to hear from me.
He led me into a lecture theatre, where there were three people sat at the back. One of them, I discovered later, was the organiser’s wife, another, was lost and walked out as soon as I began to talk. The other woman was, she insisted, a journalist.
I talked about my TV channel for about ten minutes, until I could think of nothing more to say, then I asked if anyone had any questions.
The one journalist put up her hand, and asked if I could help her. I said I would try. “My TV hasn’t worked for months,” she said. “Do you know where I can get it fixed?”
I arrive at Waterstones in Hampstead, where I see three people and about 35 empty seats. My heart sinks. I am led upstairs to the staff room, a spacious room with a sofa and large coffee table, on which are two bottles of kosher wine. The charming girl who is charged with looking after me offers me a glass, and tells me tales of previous speakers – some of whom are household names – and how much they had to drink before, during and after their talk.
She leads me back downstairs. I have a feeling of dread and prepare to tell rows of empty seats all about my journey in the footsteps of my great grandfather.
There are three empty seats at the front. All the rest are taken. As I begin my talk, more people arrive, then more. Two extra rows are added as I speak. Having spent five years writing this book, it is pleasing in the extreme that people are interested to hear what I have to say about the experience. The questions are plentiful and intelligent.
Then we all go to the pub.