Rachel Johnson’s diary
PUBLISHED: 11:09 24 January 2019 | UPDATED: 13:43 26 January 2019
In this diary entry RACHEL JOHNSON discusses Brexit between the Sri Lankan prime minister, social media and working at Lady magazine.
Geoffrey Dobbs, the founder of the Galle Literary Festival in Sri Lanka, hosted a dinner this week for the country’s PM Ranil Wickremesinghe, who survived a coup attempt late last year. (He refused to resign and holed up in his residence, Temple Trees, until he was reinstated.) I sat next to him with Lady McCullin, Sir Don’s wife (aka “Lady Muck”) on the other side. All he wanted to do was talk about Brexit, though I tried to argue with him about homosexuality (banned) and the rise in the wearing of the black burqa on the streets (not banned, obviously).
“Theresa May has to give parliament three weeks to come up with a majority way forward,” he said. “If MPs can’t she has to dissolve parliament, and call Jeremy Corbyn’s bluff, flush him out, and call a general election.”
“That’s a bit high risk for our PM,” I pointed out. “She lost her party’s majority in one snap general election already, while the majority for the government’s main, in fact only, policy, Brexit, has died.”
“Now is the time for her to take a big risk,” he said. “Politics is all about risk. Without it, you cannot have change.”
Naturally I invited my new best friend Ranil to London to come to slice through the Gordian knot.
In his parliament, MPs throw chairs at each other when they disagree, so Sri Lanka’s PM, who has just survived a brutal constitutional crisis himself, may be just the battle-hardened deus ex machina we need.
As I may have mentioned before, I am anxious about my Instagram account. I mean, would you say to perfect strangers, “Who would like to see a picture of my lunch?” Pre-social media, one would hesitate to show someone on a bus even a photo of an exciting new addition to the family such as a puppy, or a grandchild.
This January alone, however, my ‘feed’ has showcased pictures from the following locations: Castle Howard, the French and Italian Alps, Galle, and I am en route to Colombo, Mumbai, and Jaipur. Even my nearest and dearest are fed up. When I put up a picture of a helicopter dropping me on virgin powder on a pristine peak in the Aosta valley under blazing blue sky and captioned it “Notting Hel-iski” an artist friend staged an intervention in the comments (“Please, enough”). As I write, I am sitting on the terrace of the Amangalla hotel in Galle and doing many literary festival events to sing for my supper, among them a panel with Anne Enright and a duet with David Hare. No, I won’t post – but only because I can’t actually take pictures of myself while on stage, but am sure there are real narcissists of Instagram that do.
One of the events I did was about my editorship of the Lady magazine and my accompanying diary.
I was droning on when a woman three rows in threw her hands in the air and collapsed. A commotion followed and she lay on the ground, groaning loudly and ambulances were summoned. I felt anxious lest her collapse had been triggered by me talking about Tracey Emin, and her theory that needlework was a substitute for female masturbation. At my event with David Hare I told him about my casualty. He trumped me by saying someone died on his flight to Doha. “On landing we were asked to stay in our seats until the paramedics came in and retrieved the body,” he said. “And once when the poet Ruth Padel was giving a reading,” the handsome, lefty, lush-locked knight of the stage continued with a smile, “someone actually died and nobody noticed until everyone had filed out of the room and she was still sitting in the front row.” Afterwards, a woman who’d been at the Lady event came up to me to tell me she’d fainted during a literary session. “When I woke up I was surrounded by nuns.”
I thought the Lady was terribly old hat but later that night my son sent me a screenshot of a huge piece covering the entire page three of the Evening Standard. As I was talking about the Lady magazine in Sri Lanka, news had broken that the Bedford Street HQ of the mag since 1885 was up for sale. “For sale: Dickensian property with one Lady owner (price £13m)” the headline read. This made me sad. When I first penetrated the building, I described it as a cross between a lunatic asylum and a funeral parlour. I wish it had been listed and preserved in aspic. It’s a relic of a kinder and gentler age, but how could it survive when its lunch (the classified ads) has been eaten online by Gumtree?