Flights of fancy

Sometimes it makes sense to take the long way round, which is why the other week I flew an extra 26 miles, deliberately. Oxford to Dublin is 210 miles in a straight line, but the weather was looking decidedly sporty so I didn’t fancy going over Snowdon. And especially not in a non-pressurised plane with no de-icing equipment. So Oxford to Dublin via Liverpool was the answer.

I was visiting Dublin to address the annual “Look the Business” event, an almost exclusively female gathering where women get the chance to strengthen their business networks under cover of dinner and a fashion show. I spoke after they had sat down and before they ate. Before they ate! I hastened to reassure all 600 guests that I was well aware that I was standing between them and their food. What concerned me more though, as I explained, was that I was standing between me and my food.

The food, when I finally shut up and sat down, had clearly been selected by women, for women. Two courses only: chicken followed by something that resembled panna cotta. I could not help but observe that this last could either be eaten or rubbed on our thighs, since that was where it was headed. (Thank you, Bette Midler.) I was hosted by Anne O’Leary, who is so elegant that I assumed initially that she was one of the models for the fashion show. In fact she is the most senior woman at Vodafone Ireland. For the record, it was reported in the Irish press the following day that she was sporting a Victoria Beckham dress, Charlotte Olympia shoes, a Hermès bangle and a YSL handbag.

I get over to Ireland about once a year and I must say that in recent times it has been a somewhat gloomy place to visit. The welcome is always warm, but the people have been rather despondent, with some justification. But on this trip I noticed that spirits seemed to be lifting. And I was glad to see, as I flew in down the Liffey to Weston airport, that the motorway was so busy. As for Dublin airport, the air traffic sounded as though it was fighting for space.

I had been looking forward to landing at Weston, and not just because I had never done so before. The airport is owned by the National Asset Management Agency (Nama), the Irish state’s portfolio of properties acquired in the meltdown of the banks. These include Battersea Power Station and Bow Street Magistrates Court, not to mention a chunk of Canary Wharf. But Weston airport is up for sale with a guide price of €3m. You’d struggle to buy a flat in central London for that, but you could get an awful lot of airport instead, plus a house and stables. (I do find the notion of stables at an airport perplexing. Perhaps the economy really has gone into reverse and passengers have to saddle up to get into town.)

But I am trying to work out how I can afford to buy an aeroplane at the moment, let alone an airport. Of course that did not stop me calling Savills, the agent, to ask if they had had much interest. They said that not only did they have bids above the asking price, an offer has been accepted subject to contract. So even were I to win the Euromillions lottery, it seems someone has got there before me.

When I’d landed at Weston, I was slightly horrified to find a photographer on the tarmac. My hair was a bit of a mess but at least I was wearing false eyelashes – well, would you expect me to turn up without them to an event staged by The Gloss magazine and bound to be crammed with smart women?

The evening was a very jolly one and I confess I struggled to get out of bed at 6.30am the next day, having foolishly agreed to talk live on an early radio show. And then I found a picture of me splashed right across the front page of the business section of The Irish Times. But no regrets. After all, how often does a woman with a Body Mass Index of 37 get to appear on a catwalk? The whole trip was worth every one of those extra 26 miles.

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