Fear is a roomful of the well-groomed

When I was asked not so long ago what scares me, I rather flippantly replied “my mother-in-law”. Truth be told, not much scares me anymore, but as I get older I have been giving more thought to the few things in life that do.

Most recently, one of those things was a speaking engagement at London’s Connaught Hotel, where I was to interview a celebrity in front of a live audience. It was not the venue, grand though it is, or the celebrity, who is a friend, that intimidated me. Nor was it even having to perform in front of a live audience – in fact I prefer that, because it is helpful to be told if you are talking complete tosh. No, it was the nature of the audience, which was composed of fashion and beauty journalists.

I am not someone who feels at ease with such people. They are all beautiful, stylish and well groomed, three adjectives that have never been used to describe me. Come to think of it, they probably feel quite ill at ease around me. But I was determined to make an effort: I got up super early, washed my hair (which I don’t do every day) and even applied a special smoothing base beneath my foundation, something I never usually make time for. And as a mark of exactly how seriously I was taking this engagement, I got out the tweezers to tackle my brows. Regular readers will know how much I hate having to squint through my reading glasses in order to accomplish that particular mission.

I was interviewing the New York-based French hairdresser, Frédéric Fekkai, to help him with a launch. Because he is a friend I was not scared of him, at least. But what could I, of all people, talk about that would hold the attention of the health and beauty crowd? I tried opening on the subject of his, rather than my, mother-in-law, whom I have met. I remember asking her to recall the first time that her daughter had brought Frédéric home. As I’ve surmised before, I imagine that she was mentally calculating the net present value of 20 years of free hairdressing. I know I certainly would have done so, shortly before locking him in the house and booking the church. (I doubt if the Cost Centres will bear this sort of thing in mind when the time comes, but one can hope.)

Was Frédéric enjoying his visit to the UK? Yes, indeed, he said, only the night before he had been to the football, and saw Chelsea qualify for the quarterfinals of the European Championship. I smiled, because Superscrimpers, my television show, was on at the same time, and we achieved our highest viewing figures yet: 7.7 per cent of the TV audience was watching me. I am not saying this tells you that I present brilliantly on TV. No. It tells you that I am not the only person in Britain who doesn’t like football.

I thought I had better move off football pretty sharpish and on to hair which, in fairness, was what the journalists probably wanted to hear about. Were there many differences, I asked, between US and UK hair? Yes, Frédéric said, looking straight at me, in the US they wash their hair every day. Frédéric, I promise you, it is nothing personal. I just don’t have time.

I will have more time in South Africa, where I will mark my 50th birthday. I set off ahead of my family, on the eve of Mothering Sunday (celebrated in Britain in March). As I unpacked I was very impressed to find that Mr M had bought three Mother’s Day cards, corralled the CCs into signing them and tucked them in my bag. Last year we were in Thailand for Mother’s Day and he forgot to bring the cards with him, so I got some scrappy local ones.

I praised his thoughtfulness and efficiency this time. “Yes,” he said, “I did buy them in advance. A year in advance. These are the ones I left behind last year.” Superscrimping on my Mother’s Day cards? Now, that really scares me.


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