It’s dangerous meeting your heroes, especially literary ones. At a party, I once spied one of my favourite writers; someone whose writing had inspired me to do it myself, whose work I could quote paragraphs from, like an embarrassing student. “Go and say hello,” my agent urged, when I told her what this woman meant to me.
I said hello.
Reader, she could not have brushed me off more effectively if she had been holding a dustpan and brush and been called Basil. Twenty seconds later, I walked back to my agent, mortified. “She’s probably shy,” my agent said, firmly. I have never been able to read this woman since without the faint metallic taste of mortification in my mouth.
So it was with some trepidation that I agreed to interview Jilly Cooper and her husband for the Daily Telegraph. I have loved Cooper since I was twelve (even though her description of Rupert Campbell Black “batting a bread roll with his cock” destined me for years of disappointment). Unusually for someone of her fame, I have never met a single person with a bad word to say about her.
It was only driving to their house that I really thought about the fact that I there not just to interview my hero, but to dissect her marriage. In one day. Yup – that’s always a good way to endear yourself. I started to imagine some hack turning up on my doorstep and analysing my marriage based on one day’s experience, and it made me go cold.
Anyway, having said all that (and at the risk of drawing down the wrath of the blog-reading gods) I don’t want to talk too much about the day itself. There’s a sort of account of it here. They tolerated my intrusive questions with astonishing grace. But I will say that it started with an embrace of the kind that you don’t normally get from a global literary superstar and only ended when I realised, lolling outside in the unseasonal Cotswold sun, that I should have been on the road hours ago and that as Jilly would plainly never be impolite enough to suggest one should leave, it was going to be up to me to extricate myself from the Cooper household.
I left like a limpet being prised from a rock. I’m guessing it’s a fairly common response among their guests.
I wrote the piece, then spent another week in a state of mild anxiety. She would hate it. My shorthand would be inaccurate. The subs would change my words. Either way, she would hate it.
Today the postman delivered an envelope addressed in looping handwriting to DARLING JOJO. Cooper is, of course, the kind of person who would greet a familiar roadsweeper with that regardless. But it is going with my prized things, my love letters and finger paint pictures and unidentified children’s teeth.
Sometimes meeting your heroes exceeds every expectation.