WRITING

Spectator Diary

March 1998

It has been a week of two continents and three hats; author's headache, ballet dancer's tiara and Rolls Royce wing. This multiple personality makes the packing process a nightmare, so I stuck to my usual formula; keep adding outfits until the case won't close, and never, ever take one black suit when you can squeeze in three. After two weeks on the road with the Royal Ballet's Dance Bites tour, I was heading off to the US to publicise The Vitality Plan, making its debut there as Totally Fit. I'm not quite sure why the title change came about, but I think it may have been necessitated by the way Americans mispronounce their 't's'. The Vidalidy Plan wouldn't have worked in the US, and Todally Fit wouldn't have cut the mustard over here.

Never mind totally fit. I think my life is totally mad. I began to suspect this sometime during the process of applying full TV make up at 5am, and it was confirmed by the run of events that followed.

It all started when my publicist picked me up from The Carlyle in a white stretch limo. I had been reading an article on the plane by one of the two fat ladies, and like me, they had been amused to be collected (out of necessity?) in one of these vast driving gin palaces. I find them irredeemably seedy, with their cheap decanters, disco lights and myriad tissue boxes. We set off for Connecticut, and the panel separating us from the driver slid silently across. I guess he's seen it all, but I'm not sure what he expected Lucy and I to be getting up to on a Monday morning.

The next morning, in Boston, a local escort picked me up from the hotel at 6am and we set off for the World Gym. Being up before 8.30am is such an achievement for me that I was momentarily disappointed to see from the parking lot that several other people were sharing this moment of triumph. Inside the gym they were hard at work, cycling, climbing and running themselves awake before heading (presumably) to the office. I have nothing but admiration for their determination. I say in the book that it doesn't matter what time of the day you exercise, but personally I can think of nothing worse than working out before the sun is up.

Once the camera crew and the big haired presenter arrived, I was given three minutes to distil the essence of 'Totally Fit' and convince the Brahmins of Boston that they really couldn't do without it. I have quickly learnt that on these occasions, intellectual debate is best left in the hotel room, and compromise embraced with open arms. Knowing as I do that the book is well worth the cover price, I can with a clear conscience use fair method or foul to persuade the public to go and buy it.

After a brief pause we headed off to 'Doctors on Call'. Being greeted by a man wearing more make-up than me before ten in the morning might have been the final straw if I hadn't had Smoki Bacon still to come. At one o'clock I was due at Cafe Rouge for lunch with Smoki and Dick Concannon. They have a weekend show, one slice of which is lunch with a celebratory. Me, in case you were wondering. Smoki and Dick are the archetypal American TV hosts, everything their names lead you to expect. The interview itself lasts about ten minutes - Dick asks the questions and Smoki (aged 70) operates the camera. It reminded me of those 'public television' channels in New York, where you make your own programme and buy a slot to show it. Everyone can be a star in America. There used to be one which was so outrageously pornographic (for free) that I guess either Mayor Guiliani or the pay- as-you-yearn porn kings closed it down. It was still on the air when the company was here in 1994 and groups of dancers would turn up for work red-eyed from the joint effects of very late nights and crying with laughter.

On Tuesday my new best friends at Rolls Royce arrived in New York for the US launch of the Silver Seraph. As it was taking place in the Seagrams Building on Park Avenue, the riggers building the stage weren't allowed in until the public had left. Consequently I was called in for a 1am rehearsal, with a promise that by then the stage would be finished. In the great tradition of live theatre, we were still waiting at 4am, at which point we decided to call it a very long day and go to bed.

The event was a glitzy affair for the invited guests and a slightly squalid one for me. My changing room was an office in the kitchen, and despite a 'Do Not Disturb' sign on the door, I was regularly disturbed by waiters wanting to eat their supper while I changed. But the show sparkled, and the Duke of Edinburgh did sterling work in attempting to persuade the Americans to buy British. I gather he was fairly perplexed by the extraordinary number of guests who tried to claimed ownership of the building we were in. Immediately afterwards we all flew back to London and headed straight from the airport to the launch at the Dorchester.

I came home to a sheath of cuttings which brought me up to date on the South Bank development, but I've searched in vain for news on what I gather has been a fairly momentous week in The Arts. Rumour has it that the Arts Council is to be disbanded, and I can't believe there have been no implications for us in the budget statement. But even The Stage was silent on the subject, and The Arts Council scenario merited a single column inch in both The Telegraph and The Times. The problem with the Arts is that its supporters are on the whole very nice people, people who keep their views to themselves and try not to give offence. Aside from a few of us who won't shut up on the subject, the arts loving public suffer numerous blows with resigned shrugs and philosphical mumblings. But as we saw last month, 250,000 people managed, in a very nice way, to bring the capital to a standstill, focus the nation on their fate, and capture the front page of every newspaper for what seemed like the rest of the week. At the last count, 650,000 people worked in the arts in England. We are hardly a minority, but for the most part our interests don't even make the national press. We have to speak up. It's time for people who care about the arts to stop being so nice.