An old friend appeared on my Twitter feed last week and he was the last person I ever thought would engage in social networking.
His name is Michael Dillon and he is the owner of Gerry’s, a private members’ club in London’s Soho set up in 1955 by actor Gerry Campion, who played Billy Bunter.
Michael has been at the helm since 1991 and I adore him. He is one of my favourite people - ever. He is also the most discreet. Many famous people have passed through the dimly lit basement and yet no gossip ever emerges from there. It’s an unspoken rule. What happens in Gerry’s stays in Gerry’s.
I’m not about to spill the beans, not least because I have more to lose than most (he’ll know what I mean), but I have many happy memories that I know Michael will not mind me sharing.
I once held the record of being the last person to leave the club at 10.10am, 14 hours after I had entered. I was in the company of a famous actor (nothing untoward, I hasten to add) and we just pretended that the clock was in PM, not AM mode as the hours rolled by. I was living in Soho at the time and was usually the last person to leave everywhere; I am the same today. As a baby, I never slept because, I suspect, I always had a fear I was missing out. Its the thing I dread most about being dead.
My happiest times in Gerry’s were spent standing on the bar - well, singing and dancing on the bar, performing songs from musicals. My speciality was Mack and Mabel, and how I didn’t break my neck is one of life’s great mysteries.
The writer Keith Waterhouse was less fortunate. Keith was a very good friend, and he and Michael were great friends, too. We all still miss Keith. He was not only a brilliant writer but a truly great human being. I spent many a joyous time with him enjoying “Just the one”.
Keith’s fortunes almost took a disastrous turn when, during one of my song and dance routines, I knocked him out. Goodness knows why I was jiving by myself, nor why I though that Keith would be able to catch me; he was no John Travolta. Suffice it to say that when I threw my right leg in his direction, it served only as a baseball bat to knock him out cold.
I can still see and hear that slow slide to the floor down the pillar. There is only one thing worse, I realised, than seeing your life flash before you: and that’s seeing someone else’s life flash before you. I had killed Britain’s greatest living writing legend.
Thankfully, Keith recovered enough to join me on the bar in an encore of Mack and Mabel, with Michael close by, ready to play paramedic (again).
I have life membership of Gerry’s, but Michael would never allow any man I took there to join. He was absolutely right. He knew that if relationships ended badly (and he really knew me well enough to know that they would), he would be stuck with the sidekick. To his credit, he always knew I was the more valuable half.
You never knew who was going to appear around the corner on the stairway in the club, and, yegods, so many well known faces did. There was always great conversation, wonderful music, some organised, but often spontaneous, and laughter - yes, non-stop laughter.
I haven’t been there for ages but always drop in every time I am in London. Michael is one of the coolest people I know. He has seen me through many good times and many bad times. He listens, without judgment, and he is a genuinely funny Irishman (as opposed to the millions who just think they are).
I was so thrilled to see him on Twitter and he has already made me laugh more in Tweets of 140 characters than most people could manage in a lifetime.
I have even learnt that bulls are vegans. Who would have thought it?
There is something about a person knowing you well - really, really well - that makes for an honesty and ease of communication that is like no other. The best of it is, we are both still alive! So many people I met through Gerry’s aren’t, and while that saddens me, I am still grateful for the good times we shared and the incredible people I met.
So, dear Michael, I just wanted to say how much I treasure you, our friendship and the club that got me through some of the toughest times of my life.
In the words of Mack and Mabel, I Won’t Send Roses - but you know you will always have a place in my heart.