Bonkers: My Life in Laughs - Jennifer Saunders (2013)

CHAPTER EIGHT

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June 2002. I am sitting in a beautiful hall in the Senate building in New York, dressed in a white Ralph Lauren trouser suit, Philip Treacy hat with a Stars and Stripes scarf tied round the brim, and badges announcing that ‘I Love NY’ on my lapels. Joanna is next to me, and she is looking as much like Patsy as she can. Hair up, plenty of red lipstick and proper high heels.

We are here to be honoured with the Freedom of the City. It is Gay Pride week, and we are here to receive an LGBT award. No, dear reader, not a lettuce, gherkin, bacon and tomato sandwich award. Have you no sense or sensibility? I mean a Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender award. Obviously.

The fact that our show had become a success in Britain and America was, to a large extent, thanks to the gay community. Edina and Patsy were gay-friendly. Edina longed for her daughter to be gay because that, at least, would make her more interesting. Edina’s catchphrase – I do realize it’s not an actual catchphrase like ‘Where’s me shirt?’ – was: ‘Darling, all my friends are gay. ALL my friends are gay.’

And yet I never anticipated Patsy and Edina becoming gay icons. I entirely missed the idea that these were divas, that they had the perfect mix of bravado and vulnerability – but then I never dreamed that the show would take off in the way that it did.

I have to point out, here and now, that I was not alone in the writing of Ab Fab. Ruby Wax played a huge part. In fact I credit Ruby with some of the show’s funniest-ever lines. We needed a script editor, and I chose Rubes because no one can turn the world on its head like she can.

I would write the scripts in fear of having to show them eventually to Ruby. She was so brilliant, and I was afraid that they would be substandard. I didn’t give Ruby long with any of the scripts, but it was always worthwhile. She would take them, read them, and then we would meet. I would see that the scripts were covered in her scribble. She would go through them, scene by scene, giving alternative lines and possibilities, and at some points just saying, ‘I don’t understand the next two pages but I guess you know what you’re doing.’ She gave me all her thoughts and I could take ’em or leave ’em. Ruby is never precious and I owe her much, not least for some brilliant lines:

‘Skirts so high, the world is her gynaecologist!’

‘These women shop for lunch! Labels are their only sustenance! Their skeleton legs in Manolos have worn trenches down the pavement of Sloane Street. There are just enough muscles left in their sinewy arms to lift up a credit card!’

Because of lines like these, Ab Fab took off.

The other person, apart from Ruby, whom I credit with teaching me how to write a script is Ben Elton. Ruby taught me how to build a gag, how to keep it going until the line was an extreme, to never be satisfied with ‘quite funny’. Ben taught me that there is never a situation where a joke cannot be had: if you’re in a restaurant, don’t just write the dialogue, write all the jokes about restaurants as well. Never miss an opportunity. If you’re in a shop, write all the shop jokes you can think of. Jokes, jokes, jokes. They can be subtle, but never miss the chance to shove ’em in.

Unwittingly, Ab Fab hit the zeitgeist head on, which was lucky really, on several counts. We were lucky that the fashion world seemed to be flattered to be insulted. We were lucky that audiences seemed to have as much fun watching it as we had had making it. And we were lucky that each and every one of the Js came with their own following: mine from French and Saunders, Julia’s from Press Gang, June’s from Terry and June, Jane’s from the theatre.

Then, of course, there was Joanna. Every man of a certain age – any age, in fact – is in love with Joanna. And in the show she managed to look stylish and elegant, but simultaneously insane and debauched, without ever appearing less than beautiful.

To this day, I have not been out for lunch or dinner with Joanna without several old boys in red trousers and/or panama hats sidling up to our table. Joanna is a magnet for a certain type of gentleman who is sure that they have met before.

‘Joanna.’ (He doffs his hat.)

‘Hello.’ (She smiles kindly.)

‘We’ve met before.’

‘Of course. How are you?’

‘Do you see very much of Ginny any more?’

‘No. No, I don’t.’

‘Well, how lovely to see you.’

‘And you. What a treat.’

‘Will we see you in October?’

‘I do hope so.’

‘Do give my love to Figgy.’

‘I will. How lovely.’

He moves away. This has made his day.

I say: ‘Who was that?’

‘Absolutely no idea …’

‘Who’s Ginny?’

‘I have no idea.’

‘And Figgy?’

‘I don’t know.’

Joanna has this ability to make everyone she ever meets feel special. And it’s not put on. She is genuinely a good and kind person.

So, Ab Fab was a success, and the great thing about success is it means you can do more of what you’re doing, make more of what you’ve been making. For that alone I couldn’t have been happier. We had all become a family. There is no better feeling than going into a rehearsal room knowing that people you love will be there. Apart from the fact that there sometimes wasn’t a script (small detail), it was incredible fun.

June Whitfield was a lesson in professionalism. She is meticulous, razor sharp and unpretentious. She knows how to do her job so well, but will never tell you that. She is always questioning – never knowing best and yet always knowing best. She has a firm grip on what she does, but with the lightest of touches. I was always aware that I should make sure that June had enough lines, only to find in rehearsals that she would slowly trim them back.

‘Does Mother need to say this?’

‘Whatever you like, June.’

A pencil line would be drawn neatly through the line. She always knew that she could do more with less, and was never wrong. (That was not something I ever learned, as I yabbered my way through series after series. There were occasions when someone should really have shut me up.)

Jane Horrocks would brilliantly do anything she was told. I think that’s the sign of a great actress. She never questioned the lines, just how I wanted her to do them. If it was still unclear, she would ask me to do them, and then do them the same way. For me this was perfect, because I don’t really know how to schmooze actors into giving a performance. With less than a week to rehearse and record a whole show, we would have to accept that there wasn’t time for motivation. We just had to say the line quickly and move around the furniture efficiently.

Some actors do find that hard. They can be thrown completely when they arrive in the studio sets, having before only had approximations in a rehearsal room. We had an actress in once who had to enter down the stairs and move around the kitchen table. On every rehearsal in the studio she would stop.

‘What’s the matter?’

‘Is the table going to be there?’

‘Yes, it is there.’

‘It’s just … well, in rehearsals it wasn’t quite in that position.’

‘It is going to be there.’

‘So I’m going to have to walk all the way round it.’

‘Yes.’

‘So when shall I say my line?’

‘When were you saying it before?’

‘When I got to the other side of the table.’

‘So say it then.’

‘You still want me to walk round the table? You can cope with that, can you?’

‘Yes. Just come in, walk round the table and say your line.’

It took five tries. She would come down the stairs and stop as if the table were blocking her path. I could hear Bob swearing through the headphones of the stage manager.

‘Just tell her to fucking walk round the fucking table!’

‘Bob’s asking if you would mind terribly just walking round the table.’

Five times. She eventually managed it, but with a small headshake of disbelief.

I like actors but prefer to have comediennes. Comic actors and comediennes know if they have been good. I once had an actor come up to me after a show looking really down.

‘What’s the matter?’

‘Was I really awful? I mean, I’m sorry.’

‘No, you were actually brilliant.’

He was shocked. ‘But you didn’t say anything!’

‘That’s because you were brilliant. Didn’t you hear the laughs? If you were shit, I would have told you.’

Julia was always quiet in rehearsal. While I would be flapping away, enjoying Edina, thinking up new lines and messing about (working), she would wait. And wait. She would quietly read a book, sitting cross-legged in a corner of the room, waiting until we had finished, and then join the scene with devastating efficiency and effect. She could judge a scene perfectly and always had the right tone and energy. She knew precisely how to counteract the Eddie/Patsy cruelty.

There was one scene we shot in which Patsy was being particularly vicious to Saffy. She should have been aborted, she said. When she was little, they had tied her to the central reservation of a motorway to try and get rid of her. Suddenly, as we were speaking, I was struck by the sense that this might not be acceptable, that it might actually be too cruel. But Julia was adamant. She pointed out that it would only be unacceptable if Saffy was affected by it, and she wasn’t. It didn’t hurt Saff. It was just words. And the more they tried to hurt her, the stronger she became. This observation gave us free rein, and we never held back the viciousness again.

Every series we were allowed one trip away.

Our first trip in the first series was to the south of France, where Patsy and Eddie had a disastrous holiday in a gîte. Patsy’s misery was compounded by the discovery that what she thought was cocaine was in fact talcum powder and that, while she imagined she was having a good time playing ping-pong only because she had sniffed ‘the coke’, that was actually a lie. She must have actually enjoyed the ping-pong. Which was a horrific idea to her.

By the time the second series came along, we had Morocco in our sights. It was the perfect place for old sixties birds to hang out. They would have spent some time there in their youth, taking drugs and sleeping with anyone who crossed their paths and still had a pulse. Joanna said she remembered parties where people would get so out of it they would end up just humping the furniture. It was for this trip that we came up with the idea that Patsy might once have been a man. She might have had a dodgy sex change op in Morocco that lasted only a couple of months before it fell off. Patsy could be any sex and any age.

In the next series, we went to America.

The Comedy Channel had bought Absolutely Fabulous. The deal had almost floundered when they proposed subtitles, just in case the Americans didn’t understand what we were saying. This never happened, thank God. We signed the contract and, from that moment on, the Comedy Channel put the show out pretty much on a loop. At first, it was only the East and West Coasters who ‘got it’, but then we started getting fan letters from Ohio and Omaha. We were the crazy broads!

When it came to our attention that Eddie and Patsy had had their own float at the Sydney Mardi Gras, we realized that the show was becoming bigger than us. The characters became more famous than we were. And with every series I wrote, I felt less and less in charge of the characters’ destinies. It was less an exercise in which I decided what happened, more a case of pleasing those who loved the characters and satisfying their expectations. It was very weird.

Once the show became a hit in America, we naturally decided to go and film there. ‘Door Handle’ was the first episode in Series Three, in which Patsy and Eddie fly to America on Concorde in pursuit of the perfect door handle. During filming, we had to have bodyguards. Bodyguards! We didn’t actually need them, but they were lovely.

For ‘The End’, the last episode in Series Three, we found ourselves back there again. At this point, Patsy has gone to work for a magazine in New York, and a lonely Eddie has gone to find herself on a retreat. Soon they realize that life without each other is pointless, and Eddie hires a helicopter to track her best mate down.

This was one of the most terrifying moments of my life. I am not great when it comes to flying and was put off ever going in a helicopter by Robbie Coltrane, who once informed me that there are seventy-two moving parts within the rotor blade system alone. That’s seventy-two moving things that could go wrong.

So, as I got into the small chopper that was taking me to the building close to Central Park that Patsy was standing on the roof of, I was not filled with confidence. In fact, I was shitting it. It was a small, lightweight thing – a two-man copter – and at my feet there were clear panels, so I could clearly see the ground below.

WHY?

Added to the drama was the fact that the News of the World had sent out a journalist and a photographer to follow us. They wanted to follow us in a helicopter. Thankfully this was deemed dangerous and Jon Plowman reached a deal with them: if he gave them some exclusive photos, they wouldn’t follow us. We wanted to avoid a mid-air chase at all costs.

We flew over Manhattan to the building where the film crew and Joanna were stationed on the roof. We were so close to the building that I could see the panicked faces of office workers inside. In order to get the shot, we had to hover close to the building – but just below the top – until the pilot heard ‘Action!’ over his radio, at which point he would rise up level with the rooftop, where I had to wave and mouth lines to Joanna.

It took so many takes.

Each time we dipped down again, out of shot, we would see people in the offices close to the windows, screaming and gesturing to us to ‘Move back!’

‘We are making a TV show!’ I would mouth back to them, as if that would actually make any difference. Surely they wouldn’t mind dying if it was on TV?

It was dangerous, and the thermals can be strong close to buildings. They had every reason to be screaming at the windows.

With just a whoof of hot air from below, we could all have died at any moment. Luckily, there was no such whoof. Even Trump Tower refrained from trumping, and we were safe. It almost certainly wouldn’t be allowed to happen today. Oh no. Health and Safety, the ripples from 9/11 and just common sense would rule it out entirely.

Back then, near death was one of the perks of the job. And it has to be said that, when it came to the perks of Ab Fabbin, the slot machine kept paying out.

During those years, Joanna and I came to an agreement: if we were asked to do anything – anything at all – which involved a free flight and a guaranteed laugh, we would automatically say yes. Parties, promotional trips, flights on Concorde, chat shows, you name it. We’d meet at the airport, and from that moment on the fun would commence. An all-expenses-paid trip to the US was the best of perks. I mean, a business-class flight and five days in New York or LA? Only an idiot would turn these down.

‘Not paid by the licence payers, I hope!’ I hear you cry.

No, dear reader. No. Paid for by Americans!

We were never happier than when on a lovely flight to America. When you have a partner in crime, even work is fun. In Joanna I had found another double-act partner and, like Dawn, she was the best I could have hoped for. They might not look the slightest bit like each other, but, in reality, Dawn and Joanna are not at all dissimilar. They are both extremely nice to people and are endlessly making up for my grumpy sullenness.

When Dawn and I started out, appearing on chat shows was far from my forte. I had no idea what to do at all. They were basically my idea of hell. Didn’t know what to wear, how to sit, how to be. Looked fat. Always wore a dress that was made of wool and far too hot. Couldn’t think of a single interesting word to say. Wanted the ground to swallow me up. Stared at interviewer with beady, seemingly disapproving eyes. Inwardly panicked. Wanted to be liked. Ended up being immensely weird-looking and leaving comedy partner to compensate.

Knowing that I wouldn’t – or actually physically couldn’t – Dawn set an early precedent of doing all the talking. And she has been talking ever since. Actually, as I’ve got a bit older and a bit more confident, I’ve got a bit better at talking and being a real functioning person and things. I can even smile occasionally, so the pressure has been taken off her a little bit. We now do the radio occasionally, and I have to talk. And do you know what? I find it easier and easier. Sometimes I can honestly say I’m on a roll.

But during promotional trips to America, Joanna – like Dawn – often had to protect me from myself. She became a master in the art of taking over in interviews and not letting me say the one thing I shouldn’t say.

‘Jennifer Saunders, what do you feel about the success of Ab Fab in America?’

‘Um. I really don’t care.’

Here, Joanna would intercept, hand on my knee.

‘She doesn’t really mean that. What she actually means is …’

All the time looking me hard in the eyes and silently saying, Speak no more, you idiot fool.

Like Dawn, Joanna is also acutely aware of people’s feelings. When we filmed ‘Door Handle’, the Four Seasons hotel gave us a green room – a base, as it were – in a two-bedroomed penthouse apartment. As the filming day progressed, it became clear that this room was up for grabs for the night, and Joanna and I were offered it.

It was spectacular and, much as we had affection for the Algonquin, where the Beeb had put us up, it was nothing, I mean nothing, compared to this. We took the offer. What happened next is an example of how similar Dawn and Joanna actually are. We had to check out of the Algonquin. We had to move hotel. Slightly embarrassing, but not really. Not really, if you don’t engage personally with the transaction.

Not possible for Joanna, who, like Dawn, will compensate with presents and money, if all else fails. She tipped the guy on the desk so much money that he could have bought the hotel the next day. And probably did.

Dawn is incapable of leaving a room without saying goodbye to every single person in it. On the first rehearsal day of every series, she would make me sit down with her and compile a list of everybody we would have to buy presents for on the last day. It became a joke between us that, by the last series, Dawn would not be happy unless she had bought everyone a car.

DAWN: Jen, what shall we get the cameraman?

ME: A car?

DAWN: Yes. The producer?

ME: A house?

DAWN: Yes. The make-up department?

ME: Holiday to the Seychelles?

DAWN: Yes. And everybody else in the whole of the BBC?

ME: A nice bottle of Champagne?

DAWN: Marvellous.

We are incredibly similar in many ways, but different in even more.

Dawn is happy when her diary is full. She carries a big diary in her handbag and it is well used. She refers to it all the time. She remembers birthdays and anniversaries and notes down all her appointments for the year ahead.

I am happy when my diary is empty. I don’t carry a diary, but put things into my laptop calendar if they are important and hope they transfer via the iCloud. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t, usually depending on how much money I have paid to Apple to update my nearly-new-but-obviously-out-of-date software.

I am bad at remembering dates of birthdays, even those of my own children. But then I don’t expect them to remember mine.

I begin to feel slightly claustrophobic if I have more than two or three things noted down per week. I like it clear. I don’t ever really want to know what I’m doing next year. Or even next month.

Unless, of course, it’s a ceremony honouring me at the New York Senate. That I quite like.

So, Joanna had rung me before we left and said, ‘Darling. By the sounds of things, this is going to be quite a flamboyant affair.’

‘Yes. I agree.’

‘So let’s not let them down this time.’

The time to which she was referring was a party we had attended in New York a while earlier to launch a new season of Ab Fab. We had arrived at the party looking like our normal selves, only to be greeted by huge, drag-queen versions of our characters. The party was spectacular, with a Champagne fountain. Camp and kitsch. It was everything Patsy and Eddie would have adored. We arrived as ourselves and made no impact at all as we came through the door. No impact. We were not noticed.

Eventually, when we made our presence known and were reluctantly allowed into the roped-off area, there were gasps of disappointment.

‘Oh my God, it’s them!’

We were too ordinary to live up to expectations. We had normal hair and normal clothes. We were the real mice that arrive in Disneyland to be greeted by Mickey and Minnie. We weren’t like Minnie. We were small and brown and barely recognizable.

So, for the Senate trip, we decided to Go For It. To dress for it. To not let anyone down. It was Gay Pride, and we wanted them to feel appreciated. We would dress as close to the characters as we could. We felt this would do the trick. We could act up and be camp.

On the plane over, while sippin’ the odd beverage, I casually mentioned to Jack Lum (calling everyone ‘Jack’ if their name begins with ‘J’ is something I picked up from Ben E. I really only use it for Joanna, who is Jack to me) that perhaps a speech of thanks might be in order.

‘Do you think so, darling?’

‘Well, something perhaps … something in the way of a thank-you.’

‘Darling, I think we know how this will be, and I think we shouldn’t linger. We will be Patsy and Eddie. I will do a few “Cheers, thanks a lot” and you will do “Thank you, sweetie darlings”, then there will be some nice photos and that will be it. No speech. No bloody speech.’

More Champagne was drunk and more tiny meals eaten and then, as we were about to land, actual bottles of Champagne were thrust at us by hostesses and stewards. We are Eddie and Patsy and we NEED more Champers.

Back at the hotel, over a few bottles of vintage BA, we discussed our plan again and I agreed.

The next morning, Joanna and I arrived at the Senate in all our finery, with Jon Plowman, only to be greeted by men in dark suits. Politicians. Senators. Dark-suited and very serious. These were not frivolous awards at all; these were serious and political. My heart began to sink.

We had a small drinks reception with the Senate’s Democratic Leader, before being taken in to the formal, austere hall where an audience awaited us. We hadn’t really been able to speak about it, but we both felt that we had misjudged this. This was a serious do.

I was regretting the hat and the suit and the sheer amount of Stars and Stripes very much indeed. Everyone else was soberly dressed. The audience facing us were not gay people as we knew them. These were all dressed in shades of brown. Very lovely, but really quite serious.

The event kicked off with stories of brave gay people facing adversity.

We clapped.

Then a moving song by the sister of a gay man who had been murdered because of his sexuality.

We cried.

Then the life story of a transgender man – now woman – who had fought prejudice and actually become a senator. Speeches remembering those who had died of AIDS, or had survived and gone on to inspire others.

We were frightened.

‘Darling?’

‘What?’

‘I think you may need a speech.’

‘I haven’t got a speech. You said I didn’t need to make a speech.’

‘Think of something.’

I was looking out at a sea of sweet but serious faces and, before I knew it, our time had come. The House Leader came to the microphone and began his Proclamation honouring me:

‘Whereas, a great state is only as great as those individuals who perform exemplary service on behalf of their community, whether through unique achievement in professional or other endeavours, or simply through a lifelong commitment to entertaining and enlightening others …’

(Oh dear.)

‘Whereas, Jennifer Saunders plays the self-promoting, twice-divorced working mother Edina in Absolutely Fabulous, a show that brings joy, laughter and warmth to New Yorkers because of the vision of her writing and the producers, performers and broadcasters involved …’

(Ah.)

‘Whereas, Jennifer Saunders is also the creator of the critically acclaimed hit series Absolutely Fabulous; which has earned two International Emmy awards; five BAFTA awards; a Writers’ Guild award; two Royal Television Society awards; and four British Comedy awards …’

(Right.)

‘Whereas, Jennifer Saunders’ generosity and humanity in her writing and performance have created characters that have great appeal to the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender communities, through their portrayal on Ab Fabin a positive and affirming way and demonstrating how they add to the texture of life …’

(Should have had a speech.)

‘Whereas, it is hoped that Jennifer Saunders will continue to produce and write brilliant episodes of Absolutely Fabulous as well as act in the role of Edina for many years to come …’

(Will do.)

‘Therefore, be it resolved that I, State Senate Democratic Leader Martin Connor, and the New York State Senate Democratic Conference, recognize that in Jennifer Saunders, we have an individual worthy of our highest respect and esteem; and be it further resolved that on this day, June 27, 2002, at New York’s City Hall on the occasion of the LGBT Pride Award Ceremony, we proclaim Jennifer Saunders an Honorary New Yorker for today and for ever.’

(Oh, Christ.)

Joanna had her own declaration. And that wasn’t all. He introduced Whoopi Goldberg, who was making a speech, yes, a SPEECH, about us, before we collected our awards. Whoopi made a wonderful, generous and very funny SPEECH, none of which I really took in, because I was now in full panic mode.

Stupid hat! Stupid suit! Stupid Stars and Stripes scarf! Stupid, silly us!

All we had was a ‘Thank you, sweetie darlings’ and a ‘Cheers, thanks a lot’.

I stumbled to the podium and accepted the award with a mixture of ‘Sweetie darlings, Bolly, sweetie. Darlings. Buggery bollocks’ and trying to be serious. A tragic mixture. Joanna had more success with a bit of Patsy.

We walked away, feeling slightly ashamed, but also a little bit pleased with our Proclamations. We were Honorary New Yorkers. We had the pieces of paper and were proud.

We left the Senate building and were whisked by car to much more familiar territory: an Ab Fab lookalike competition in a gay club.

Thank God.

The music was loud, the men were very gay, and most of them were in costume.

We could relax. Drinks were necked.

We judged the lookalike competition, which was fierce.

The winner was a man whom had made himself into Saffy’s best friend, Titikaka, a girl whom Edina had tortured throughout the series and whose plaits she had once set on fire. He won because he had serious detail, down to the scarring on the back of his neck. It wasn’t a popular winner, obviously, but he was original.

The rest of the trip was a whirlwind: driving around the city in a limo with Debbie Harry, looking for a place to have fun; a night in Bungalow 8 with Graham Norton; a party thrown for us by Glenda Bailey, the editor of Harper’s Bazaar. Joanna and I would always end up back at our hotel, spinning with drink and jet lag but nevertheless staying up late, just laughing.

At the Four Seasons suite, we lay staring out at the skyline, amazed by our good fortune. We watched the lights change colour on the Chrysler Building and played with the electric curtains.

New York was special.

We occasionally swung trips to Los Angeles, one of which I should run past you briefly, dear reader.

In 1996 we were invited to present an award at the Comedy Awards in LA. We were, of course, thrilled at the prospect of a free trip without the pressure of having to do publicity, and accepted immediately.

The Awards were organized by a chap called George Schlatter and his wife, Jolene. George had been the producer of Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In and was a big cheese, a big prodoooosa.

Where would we like to stay?

We said the Hotel Bel-Air, as we had never been there. They liked the idea, and agreed, and we couldn’t believe it! The Bel-Air is an old-fashioned hotel in a rich, lush suburb of LA. Set in its own gardens, it has a whiff of Old Hollywood about it. We were put up in one of the bungalows: our own two-bedroom space with a garden and pool just outside.

Oh yes. Result!

George and Jolene – she is small and blonde with the perfect country-singer beehive – were attentive. We were sent baskets of flowers and fruit and some muffins. The whole time we were there, George and his wife organized things for us to do. Jolene adored us. She adored and loved us so much that she once declared that she wanted to adopt us.

All we had to do was dress up once and sit through an award ceremony before going up to present one (to Kelsey Grammer, as it happened).

The table we sat on was filled with hopefuls and has-beens, none of whom ate or drank. This was a professional engagement for them, and alcohol did not pass their lips. Joanna made a comment about just having had breast surgery that seemed to go down quite well, but was reported in the British press as having been a disaster. JOANNA’S BIG BOOB! But actually all was fine.

Once we had completed the task of award presenting, we were to give a party. Not a big party, but a party at which Joanna and I could choose any guests we wished to have at our tables.

Anybody?

Yes, anybody.

I chose Carrie Fisher, Laurie Metcalf, Lily Tomlin, Mo Gaffney and Roseanne Barr. Roseanne had bought the rights to Ab Fab in America (which sadly nothing ever came of; American studios just don’t go for smoking, drinking and swearing) and was a friend. Roseanne had once introduced me to Dolly Parton, and would always be one of my favourite people for that fact alone.*

Carrie brought Ed Begley Jr. I hardly knew Carrie – just a little through Ruby – and the evening seemed stilted. Apart from Mo, I felt that all were there by order, rather than by choice, and I had no idea how to get the conversation flowin’.

Joanna, on the other hand, had selected a table of friends and had a lovely evening, chattin’ and laughin’, while, back on my table, I had become mute. I wanted to tell Lily Tomlin how much she meant to me and how influential her work had been, but instead just stared at my food. By the time I had stopped staring at my dessert, I realized that Carrie had actually gone, leaving only a small green pill on the chair on which she had sat. Essence of Carrie.

After the party, Roseanne took me and Joanna to the Comedy Store. This was where she and many of the greats had started out. We met Richard Pryor, who was quite wobbly and not at all well at this point. I didn’t know what to say. He had been such a hero. Thank God for Joanna, who can always cope perfectly and made everything very easy. We stayed and drank and had fun, and the awkwardness of my dinner soon didn’t matter.

Later that evening, on a bit of a high, we found ourselves being driven back to the Bel-Air. It had been our last night. We stopped at a traffic light and an open-topped car pulled up beside us. George and Jolene were sitting in the front! George was driving.

We couldn’t believe it! What a coincidence! How marvellous. Here were lovely George and the woman who wanted to adopt us. We wound down the window.

We waved.

We shouted.

We screamed.

We waved.

The lights turned green, and George and Jolene drove on.

Their heads never turned.

They had already forgotten us.

We were past. Old news. Has-beens in their world.

We headed back to the hotel under no illusions.

You are loved as long as you are useful.

Good lesson.