Saturday, March 4, 2017


It’s funny how things come back to you.

In my last blog, I mentioned a memory of having been a runner-up in a Cadbury essay writing competition when I was eight. The fact that I didn’t win still weighs heavily on my heart (yes, I am that competitive). A Facebook friend joined in, having remembered that she, too, won a prize.

Like her, I can’t quite recall if it was chocolates or biscuits, although I do remember boycotting Cadbury for some time, and my taste for chocolate never returned. To this day, I can make a Flake last six months (You see, Cadbury? I can be mean like that. Your loss).

I have never been a good loser and have no idea where that comes from. My parents were not over-pushy and did not punish me if I came home without the trophy for winning the egg and spoon race on school Sports Day (I, by the way, was in my bedroom, ready to commit hara-kiri at the humiliation of not coming first).

Most of my youth’s social activities centred on ballroom dancing, where competitiveness was all. I still have the photo of my first competition, in which, with my partner Kerry (girls could dance with each other until the age of 12), I am holding a medal. For sixth place. Sixth place! Are you serious? Kerry had to go. I then partnered Janette and we won everything. My smiles could have eclipsed planets.

When I was clearing out my Cardiff house last year, I came across a book called Girls’ Stories that my grandmother had given me around the same I lost the Cadbury writing competition (did I mention that?). The inscription is a reward for something (certainly not being a runner-up), though I can’t quite remember now, as it’s in storage.

But anyway, what’s interesting is that every single girl in the book is a winner. Bullied at school? Girl rises above it and moves on to friends in pastures new, having learned a valuable lesson. Would-be jockey? Against all odds, she wins the local gymkhana. The lesson in every story is that any girl can do anything, be anyone, achieve anything.

I must have believed it.

Was that where the seeds of my competitiveness were sown?

Or was I born with a gene that makes the ache of losing inevitable?

That’s why I was so impressed with Jordan Horowitz during last week’s Oscars (see previous blog). To be holding that trophy in his hand and be able to hand it over so graciously when he discovered there had been a mistake . . . would that I were able to acquire an atom of his magnanimity.

Personally, I would have been in jail very quickly, leaving Jessica Fletcher pondering an Oscar statuette embedded in someone’s skull.

I was brought up in education with the Henry Grantland Rice adage: "For when the One Great Scorer comes/ To mark against your name/He writes – not that you won or lost/ But how you played the Game.”

Well, stuff that for a bunch of soldiers.

Much as my mother tried to foist the spirit of the poem upon me, along with Rudyard Kipling’s If, I was going to reach for those stars if I had to break my back doing so.

That was never encouraged in my secondary school. I once scored three goals in hockey and I remember Mrs Davies sternly telling me: “It never pays to be too competitive in life.” Apparently, she was very upset when I told the story on the radio three decades later.

Back of the net, Mrs Davies!

I recall another teacher throwing my satchel (complete with flask of soup my mother had lovingly prepared) over a balcony because it was about three inches from where it should have been. “I strongly object,” I informed her, only to be ushered aside and told: “It never pays to strongly object to anything in life.”

Ah, so many “It never pays” lessons. It’s just a pity those teachers hadn’t applied the same ones to the many teachers involved with pupils in that school, because, let me tell you, it never pays to be the victim of a powerful man abusing his position and devastating the lives of vulnerable schoolgirls. But when that Great Scorer comes to write against their names . . .

Maybe it was the knowledge that I was a writer – I never doubted it – that instilled the confidence and surety; and yet, as everyone who knows me would attest, I have been wracked with personal insecurities all my life. Maybe it was those that sharpened the edge of competitiveness?

I was never part of the “in” crowd – maybe that, too, had something to do with it?

But as I sit now, on a sunny spring day in New York City, overlooking the Hudson, I count so many blessings: most of all, my family and friends - because, without them, I wouldn’t have made it this far.

And, because of them and their love and support, I will always feel like life’s luckiest and biggest winner.

Friday, March 3, 2017


Nobody died; nobody got pregnant. 

It’s the main tenet by which I try to live my life when things go wrong. Virgin Atlantic’s terrible new website, lukewarm restaurant food, chasing Air Miles that have not been accredited to my account (did I mention Virgin Atlantic’s terrible new website?) – so long as there is not a corpse or conception at the end of my day, I write it off as an accomplishment.

Which brings me to the Oscars. Nobody died; nobody got pregnant. But on the biggest night of the showbiz year, what happened was still very upsetting. The fabulous Martin Jarvis and Rosalind Ayres had very kindly invited me to their Oscars gathering at their beautiful home in the Hollywood Hills and, after wonderful food, copious amounts of champagne, fantastic company and what I thought had been the best Oscars ever, we awaited The Biggie: Best Picture.

What happened next is still a bit of a blur. “Something’s gone wrong,” a fellow guest said. Then, silence descended. The next thing I remember was my head on the floor and saying (possible screaming) “NO NO NO.” It wasn’t that I cared hugely about which film won Best Picture (Manchester by the Sea would have been my choice), but I felt, at just a very simple human, primal level, the emotions of those who were, by turns, elated and disappointed in the most public of places on the world stage that is television.

This was the opposite of schadenfreude (the German word meaning rejoicing in others’ misfortunes – although I suspect there was a fair bit of that going on, too). As host Jimmy Kimmel (who was brilliant throughout) said (I paraphrase): why can’t they all win?

If there was a defining moment in the Oscars’ history, it was La La Land producer Jordan Horowitz, statuette still in hand, stepping up to the microphone and giving Moonlight their moment in the sun. They had been denied their big announcement, but I suspect the end result overwhelmed initial disappointment. That hug between Horowitz and Moonlight producer Barry Jenkins will go down in history not as a moment of horror, but one of strength and unity.

I have no idea how Horowitz managed it. I would have screamed, cried, sulked for days (actually, years – I am still bitter about not winning the Cadbury’s essay competition when I was eight; their loss – I hardly ever ate chocolate again. Not joking). He is a producer, he said; it’s his job to take control. But all the same, to have had your heart surge at the moment of glory and then have it fall on the stake of disappointment must have been emotionally draining.

As a result, everyone came out a winner – apart from the poor Price Waterhouse Cooper sap who was so busy Tweeting a picture of Emma Stone backstage, he handed Warren Beatty the wrong envelope. I don’t think it’s just down to him, though. Who was looking at the screen monitor and failed to point out that Beatty was holding the envelope that clearly said “Best Actress”?

Why did Beatty not halt proceedings when it was clear he knew something was up? 

Where is Emma Stone’s envelope, because, for all her protestations of having it with her the entire night, there is not one picture of her holding it (I am not implying she was in any way to blame, by the way; it’s just another conspiracy theory observation).

Amid the chaos and confusion, I have nothing but admiration for the grace, dignity and kindness with which Horowitz handled it all. I’d like him to produce my funeral, I’ve decided. What could possibly go wrong? Other than that they discover they’re burying the wrong person, of course.

He’d deal with it. “No seriously, guys . . . she’s alive. This is NOT A JOKE.”

Thank you, Mr Horowtiz, for showing us, during these bizarre and often painful times in which we are living, what it really means to be a human being.

There may be trouble ahead, but while there’s moonlight and . . .

Sorry, bad example.