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Friday, June 08, 2007

I was on the Ticketmaster website this morning ordering tickets (obviously) for Maroon 5 who are coming to Brighton in December, and looking down the list of events taking place at the Brighton Centre this year I discovered that on September 1st we're playing host to The World Beard & Moustache Championships 2007. If that's not something to get excited about, I don't know what is. I've never been a fan of shaving.

But that aside, Lisa had to work late last night (I think it was some kind of detention), and if there's one thing I like to do when I can't see my girlfriend, it's to spend the evening with a disgraced former Tory cabinet minister.

Obviously I'm going to have to narrow that down a bit. It could be anyone. I actually spent the evening getting up close and personal with Jonathan Aitken.

A Former DisgraceHaving failed to make a return to parliament in 2004, thanks to the narrow-minded Michael Howard, who for some reason didn't want a lying jailbird representing his party, Jonathan's turned instead to religion and writing, and has now produced a biography of slave-trader turned songwriter, John Newton. He was giving a talk about it at the CityCoast Church in Portslade last night, in an event imaginatively entitled 'An Evening With Jonathan Aitken'. And it was free. Which is why I went.

According to Speakers UK, he charges over two grand for an after-dinner speech, so the chance to hear him for free overrode any reluctance I had to attend church, and I went along. I have to say, the CityCoast Church is very impressive. If I was going to go to church, I'd go there. They're better equipped than most theatres I've been to, with a huge stage, lighting rigs, sound system, audio-visual equipment, and even a drum kit in a soundproof box. Frankly you could have stocked an entire music shop just with the stuff they had lying about at the back of the stage.

It's just a shame that the entertainment didn't quite match the surroundings. I don't know what it is about Jonathan Aitken. This is a bloke who's shagged Germaine Greer, Carol Thatcher and Miss Whiplash, had a glass of wine thrown over him by Anna Ford, and came darn close to leading the Conservative Party. I just expected him to be more, well, charismatic. The way he stood there, slightly awkward and self-conscious for an hour and a half, you'd think he'd never really done any public speaking before. I wanted him to have the kind of powerful magnetism potential prime ministers ought to have, but he came across more like a first-year history teacher with nerves.

Not that the evening wasn't interesting, it's just that having begun by saying that the life of John Newton was a swashbuckling adventure story, he then proceeded to tell it with all the animation of a sloth. He did mention though that when he first told his friends he was planning a biography of Newton, they expressed concern that he wouldn't be able to grasp the maths and physics. That produced the biggest belly-laugh of the evening. It wasn't a strong night for comedy.

We did, however, get the chance to ask questions, so having failed last month to ask Patsy Palmer if she dyes her hair, and with the rest of the audience apparently dumbstruck, I put up my hand and asked Jonathan an insightful and intellectual question. Obviously I didn't ask the question I wanted to ask, which would have involved prison, perjury, and getting his daughter to lie for him in court, so instead I asked if John Newton had made a mint from his songwriting.

Jonathan answered me with the simple sword of truth and the trusty shield of British fair play, and said no.

Personally I preferred the answer he gave to the man who asked what had drawn him to John Newton in the first place. I think we all expected a speech on his lifelong admiration for the man, and desire to tell the life-story of one of the key figures of Christianity, but Mr Aitken was surprisingly blunt. He said he'd heard they were making a film about William Wilberforce, and thought a book about John Newton would sell well on the back of that. You've got to say he's more honest than he used to be.