Christmas joys and sorrows

There is uproar in our house. Mr M and I have made a radical change to a Christmas tradition, leaving the Cost Centres unimpressed. Even friends are telling us that what we have done is not very Christmassy. Our crime? We have purchased an artificial tree.

Each year we buy, at some expense, a real tree that has always seemed too big and/or too tall for our 16th-century sitting room. It sheds needles and then we have to dispose of it when its time is up. But the Christmas special of my TV show has just been broadcast, and I feel I should follow my own advice after exhorting viewers to work out cost-per-wear for their most expensive clothes purchases. Down at the garden centre, choosing a tree, I calculated that over, say, a decade, an artificial tree would be a highly cost-effective purchase. By then CC#3 will be 24 and, hopefully, his and the other two’s views on trees will have softened.

Christmas for me is a time when, among all the joy, there is also sadness. I never fail to weep when I hear the Bidding Prayer: “Lastly let us remember before God all those who rejoice with us, but upon another shore and in a greater light…”

Twenty years ago yesterday, Martinair flight 495 went down in bad weather in Faro, killing 56 people. Among them were my two best childhood friends and their mother, who in turn was my mother’s best friend.

Since then Christmas has been a very reflective time of the year. Last month, too, I lost another friend, my former colleague Peter Meinertzhagen. At 66, he was older than my friends were 20 years ago, but it still seems young to go and the world is a poorer place without him.

Peter’s career would seem unusual to many now. Joining what became Hoare Govett at the age of 19, straight from Eton into the mail room, he was still there when I arrived in 1992 and, indeed, spent most of his career with them, although more recently he became a non-executive director at Oriel Securities.

Many obituaries have been written, but I have my own special memories. I was so fond of Peter that I even forgave him for an observation that he made to the editor of a trade paper, after I left Hoare Govett to buy my own company. Peter said that in all the years we were colleagues – during which time I gave birth to two of the three Cost Centres – he never knew whether I was pregnant or not because I was always the same size, ie large.

He never held back from giving honest advice: when Peter found out a few years ago that I was trying to buy another company, he insisted that I be interrupted in the middle of a shoot to take his call – in which he informed me that I was making a terrible mistake.

He was uncannily good at predictions, telling anyone who would listen that the merger of investment banking and stockbroking under Big Bang would end the way it did, with massive conflicts of interest bringing down the house of cards. A memorial service will be held on February 8; my prediction is that it will be amazingly well attended.

Peter loved his shooting and when he had to give it up for a while, after an earlier illness, he told me how much he longed to get back to it. I would feel the same if I had to give it up, so it was perhaps appropriate that the weekend he died I was shooting in the Lake District, at Lord Cavendish’s Holker Estate. I had flown into Blackpool the night before (the closest place with lights) and then asked my co-pilot, Wonderful Wayne, to reposition the aircraft to Cark airfield, in Cumbria, for a daylight departure the next day.

When we returned to the plane it was surrounded by sheep, which made for an interesting departure. But sheep on a frosty runway in the countryside? Now that is Christmassy.

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