As soon as lockdown easing permitted, my wife Katrina was the first customer back at Mill Hill’s Kink Hair Salon. Style director Jemma Harris, who has done Katrina’s hair for over 12 years, was at the ready, shampoo in hand, to give a colour, cut, wash and blow dry for £160.
We delayed our long-awaited return to restaurant dining until lunch the next day, at one of our favourite restaurants in the world, Ruth Rogers’s legendary Italian canteen, the River Café. As ever it was filled with a who’s who of London’s most interesting people. Kelly Hoppen was there, and we reminisced about the time we attended The Great Festival of Creativity in Shanghai along with Prince William. His opening words to her were: “My wife will be so jealous I met you without her”. We had called ahead to reserve three wood-roasted Dover soles with capers and marjoram, with Tuscan roast potatoes and Roman zucchini.
Eating at the River Café always triggers such great memories. One magical night at Carl Michaelson’s 60th birthday party, seven years ago, there was a grand piano on a specially built stage. As our generous host got up to speak, we all thought he was about to sing, when instead he said the simple words: “Please welcome Sir Elton John”.
I first met Elton over 25 years ago. He and David came to my apartment for a celebration dinner for the late Sir George “Beatles” Martin and Larry Adler along with Sting and Cher, who sang Gershwin after we had finished dinner. A few years ago, Elton kindly called me about a global star looking for new management.
A dinner followed in New York, where Elton sang. It was at the Upper West Side apartment of Sting and his incredible wife Trudie Styler, following his then-annual Rainforest Fund benefit at Carnegie Hall. Fellow dinner guests included Whitney Houston, Luciano Pavarotti, James Taylor, Nina Simone and James Taylor. As I stood stage right, I noticed that one of the Maestro’s assistants was there holding an apple. As Pavarotti came off stage, he was handed the apple took one bite and passed it straight back to his assistant. I still do not know why, to this day.
After months of isolation dinners à deux every night, Katrina and I were like athletes on the start line as invitations came flooding back in. First was the St John’s Wood garden of Radio 2 star, Vanessa Feltz and her partner, singer songwriter Ben Ofoedu. Advance instruction by text was: “Takeaway from Harry Morgan’s. Let me know what to order.” We did just that. Beef viennas with french fries and coleslaw. Regular salt beef. Potato latke. Smoked salmon and cream cheese bagel. Key lime pie.
A few nights later we were guests of business mogul, interior and fashion designer, Apprentice star Linda Plant in her stunning Regents Park home. Our mutual friend Baroness Karren Brady describes Linda as terrifying. To me, she is a pussy cat, but when it comes to an ability to party, I know no one with more energy. Once I flew back on the same BA flight from LA as Linda. As I drifted off to sleep, tucked up in the first-class bed, Linda was drinking and partying. When I awoke eight hours later, Linda was still partying away. This lady never sleeps.
I watched with pride the BBC documentary Sitting in Limbo which told the story of Windrush immigrant, grandfather of seven Anthony Bryan who arrived legally in the UK in 1968, and paid UK taxes for more than 40 years. Then, after being denied a British passport in 2015, he was arrested and detained twice by immigration officials.
I entered the story after seeing Anthony on Good Morning Britain and hearing he still didn’t know when he would get a passport to allow him to visit his sick mother in Jamaica. Piers Morgan connected us. After conversations with Sajid Javid, then home secretary, in May 2018 I put confirmation of a passport in Anthony ’s hand, live on Good Morning Britain.
I love Sarah, Duchess of York who radiates energy and love wherever she goes. On my birthday last year, when David Walliams and I hosted a gala for the inclusive Chickenshed theatre on ITV, Sarah not only came, but gave the children so much love, staying to the very end. She has given children a little bit of magic during lockdown.
She will be the first to admit she made mistakes in the past. But don’t we all? During lockdown her new charitable foundation Sarah’s Trust has delivered more than 150,000 items including food and PPE to NHS, care home and hospice staff.
I want to end my second column by remembering those so tragically affected by Covid-19. My chosen charities are the Jewish Homes Emergency Appeal and the National Emergencies Trust Coronavirus Appeal. Their work is truly exceptional.
Professor Jonathan Shalit OBE is chairman of The InterTalent Rights Group