Ready for my close-up… with everyone I have ever met

By Maureen Lipman, April 5, 2013
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I have a duty. It comes with the job. My duty is to remember the face, name and exact place, time and point of encounter of every person I have ever met at every charitable knees-up for the past 45 years. While I'm at it, I should be able to retrieve from my crumbling amygdala, the names and immediate families of every person, not only I, but my late mother, have ever met on holiday.

Why should that be a hardship? After all, they remember me perfectly. Would it be a hardship for Derren Brown? No. So stop whingeing.

At a funeral, a handsome woman said: "I'm Roger's wife?" I knew one Roger but he died long ago and this wasn't his wife. Furthermore, he would never have known the grieving family today so… Also there was the woman with whom I chatted, walking my dog on the Heath, who told me that she was the niece of the deceased, not to mention the nice relative by marriage of a marvellous singing teacher I had in 1987,who came up to say "hello, remember me?" - at which point I saw Roger and remembered he was my lawyer.

It's not just the ailing brain cells, it's my life flashing in front of my glasses. "We last met at a lecture on fertility," said a lady at a baby blessing. "Oh gosh," said I, "and here's me thinking you used to work on the BT adverts." She laughed: "I did". It would have taken more energy than my 11-month-old granddaughter pulling the skin off my lobe, via an earring, to find the connection between fertility and BT, beyond the last syllable.

It's not like I mind. It's just that I do seriously worry about whether I'll be able to recognise the next version of me - Stacey Solomon, say - when she visits me in Lady Sarah Cohen house and I'm wandering up and down the corridors saying "ready for my close up, Mr de Mille."

Lord Heseltine said that, until you are 70, you are always asked: "How are you?" After 70, he pointed out, they say: "Aren't you looking well." Because all these friendly strangers have one thing in common. They are all going to make a personal comment about my appearance.

To most, I look better "in real life". There is no arguing with this one. It is practically rhetorical. But looking better to one person on a bleak day at a funeral, is not better than looking fabulous to three million in their homes, and therefore, not quite the compliment they think it is.

The other week I was on The One Show. After, I received a text from a relative I haven't seen for years - and now almost certainly won't see for more (not in this lifetime anyway). "Hi," he texted, "just saw you on the show. You were great. And you looked Amazing. You haven't altered a bit…" Then the kicker: "…apart from the scraggy neck, of course."

(My face is thin and my neck is long so I can't hide anything. As Nora Ephron famously said, "I feel Bad about my Neck". Me, too. Darling, brilliant, much missed woman, me too). I know it was supposed to amuse me, but frankly, not a day has gone by that his postscript hasn't shot into my mind as I prepare to go out, stay in or go to bed. My hands flutter around my jawline and the contents of my scarf drawer are out there jockeying for position. Why don't I forget it, in the way that I do everything else like my registration number, best friend's birthday and where I was this morning? Same reason, I suppose that I remember every bad review I've ever had and every broiges I've ever imagined I've had.

To compound things, a young man came to my door recently, to deliver a replacement car from a Friern Barnet garage. He was young, black and personable and I offered him a cuppa. He handed me a form, smiled beatifically and said;

"It is really nice meet you, Maureen, really nice. You've got a very Jewish face haven't you?" I begged his pardon, and he gesticulated and drew two vertical lines in the air. "Your face… it's got a Jewish - like a long…" He could tell by my look that this wasn't going well. "… long nose like."

'"Young man," I sighed, "you can't say things like that. It is politically incorrect and inappr…"

"No, Maureen, thass alright, I just meant…"

"You wouldn't like it if I commented on the colour of your skin or the size of your… er… lips?"

He didn't bother looking abashed, leaving me with an over-sensitised dilemma. Do I make a complaint that could lose him his job, or just put it down to the same clumsiness that makes everyone feel the need to make personal remarks the minute they clap eyes on me?

At this time of year my thoughts ever drift to Zelma my late, adored Mother. She is watching the TV, where Moira Stuart is announcing the death of 800 in a bomb blast. The horrific scenes of carnage end and we cut back to Moira. "Oooh," says the voice of Zelma in my mind's eye, "doesn't that blouse look nice on her. I bet it's Tricosa."

    Last updated: 11:45am, April 5 2013