What has been the biggest surprise in your life that you could never have predicted?
There is never a point in your career when you have “made it.” That was a shock to discover. I was stunned to learn that things don’t always get better! I did not expect to have setbacks and disappointments and reversals of fortune in my career. I thought that success was like a mountain and you just keep climbing upwards. But it’s not like that at all. Success is more like an ocean – it ebbs and flows, it comes and goes, you have to fight and scrap and work for every new success. You have to keep proving yourself endlessly.
Who was your first pin-up and why?
My first pin-up – and my last pin-up, really – is Cyd Charisse, who dances with Gene Kelly in ”Singing In The Rain”. Cyd is the woman in the green dress in the film’s fantasy sequence. I saw the movie on TV when I was very, very little and, really, Cyd had me for life after that. She looks so great, and of course she dances better than anyone alive, and there is a real sass and spirit about her. Everything about her knocked me out – and still does. When I learned more about her later – how she had polio as a child and only took up dance to build her muscles – I naturally loved her even more.
What kind of driver are you?
I am a reluctant driver. I have a couple of old cars – an elderly Mini and a senile BMW X5 – but I prefer to walk everywhere if I can. I live in Hampstead in London and it is very much like living in a village. I don’t need to drive for most of the stuff in my life – going to the gym, walking the dog, coffee with friends. I get forced to drive – to take my daughter to school or to see my relatives out in wildest Essex – but I would be quite happy to never drive again. And it is funny because I grew up in Essex where everyone took their driving test as soon as they could – including me – because you could not get anywhere near meeting members of the opposite sex without a motor. I was a drive-everywhere suburban boy who became a walk-everywhere city man.
When was the last time you cried and why?
I was recently watching Fatal Attraction while listening to the commentary from the film’s director, Adrian Lyne – it was one of those added features where the director just talks about his film for two hours, which can be really fascinating if you love the movie. And at one point Adrian Lyne was talking about how actors find emotions inside them to make their performance seem truthful and real And the example he used was when the Michael Douglas character – the unfaithful husband in Fatal Attraction – is at the hospital bed of the wife he has betrayed – played by the spectacular Anne Archer – and Michael Douglas starts fiddling with the little plastic hospital strap around her wrist, and as he plays with the little hospital wrist strap he just falls to pieces with regret at all he has done to hurt this woman. And it just seemed so real – and so heartfelt, and full of regret – that Michael Douglas had me blubbing along too!
What kind of sleeper are you?
I am a pretty good sleeper because I have learned what works for me. I turn off my phone before dinner and don’t turn it on again until morning. I have a big glass of red wine. I read and listen to music. I wear a short-sleeve white Sunspel T-shirt and brushed-cotton pyjama bottoms from Hush – very comfortable, high-quality sleeping kit. Whatever the season, I keep the bedroom window slightly open – even if it is snowing. And most of all, I don’t worry about not sleeping. Because nobody ever fell asleep while they were laying there worrying about not sleeping. To sleep well you need to have great sleep hygiene – which is really just figuring out what works for you – and then you need to not care very much about not sleeping. Then you will!
What do you spend the most money on?
I spend most money on travel. I did not travel outside the UK when I was growing up apart from a trip to Norway every other year – where one of my mum’s six brothers settled and had a family. So travelling has always been very romantic and exciting to me. And it still is, even now. When I was a young journalist, and I started flying around the world, I wasn’t even aware that there were different class cabins on a plane. They stuffed me in economy for years and I was perfectly happy crammed at the back of the aircraft. That changes as you get older, of course, and now I like to travel well. As someone once said, First Class is the heroin of travel. Once you have a taste, it is hard to go back to the cheap seats.
In your opinion where is heaven on earth?
Geographically, I am happiest in the cities and the mountains of Japan – I love the combination of the futuristic cities and, out in the countryside and up in the mountains, the respect for tradition. I like the way everything works well, the food, and the politeness. The best thing of all in Japan is Onsen – bathing in hot volcanic springs and my favourite is outside under the summer stars with a couple of Asahi Super Dry under your belt. I think true heaven on earth is knowing – and appreciating – those moments in life when you are happy. Too often we let the happy moments just pass us by.
What was your last hand-written note or letter and who received it?
I recently wrote a card to three of my cousins who have just lost their dad – my Uncle Jim, my late mum’s youngest brother. My Uncle Jim was an important figure in my life – a real optimistic, fun-loving, encouraging, inspirational man. When I was growing up, my dad – who was a greengrocer – worked every Saturday and could never do things with me so it fell to my Uncle Jim and my Uncle Rich – another one of my mum’s many brothers – to take little Tony to the football. And my Uncle Jim and Uncle Rich took me to West Ham for ten years solid when I was growing up. And later my Uncle Jim became my friend, and I wanted to let his children – my cousins – know how much I loved him and will miss him.
When did you last laugh until you cried?
Stan – my 7-year-old Cavalier King Charles Spaniel – was waiting for me when I came out of the bathroom this morning and because Stan was very wet, when he got up to follow me he left a perfect silhouette on the floor – like one of those shadows that you see at Pompeii. That was pretty funny.
Who was your first love?
Kim! I started going out with my first girlfriend when I was 17 and she was 16 – Kim! She was my first relationship and we were together for three years. It was one of those relationships where you grow up together. We got to the point where we were going to stick together for the next 50 years or go our separate ways and find out what else was in the world. And that is what we did but I will always remember Kim with love in my heart. She was a fantastic girl to have as your first love.
Have you ever experienced unrequited love?
When I was 11 there was a great beauty in my classroom called Linda Denny and as she made me swoon I thought it would be highly appropriate to give her a Valentine’s Day card on 14th February – and sign my name. When I entered our first-year classroom on Valentine’s day, there was Linda Denny reading my card surrounded by the rest of the class – every single one of them – and they all turned around and laughed at me. Laughed and laughed and laughed. I gave up on unrequited love after that. It felt awful.
Are you a night owl or up with the larks?
Before I became a father, I would frequently stay up all night – sometimes for three nights in a row. I was a wild kid. But after I became a dad – at the young age of 25 – it all changed, and never changed back. Now I love the early mornings and can often be found walking my dog on Hampstead Heath as the sun is coming up. Dawn is the best time of day.
What is the weirdest question you have been asked by a stranger?
I had a mad old lady came to one of my events in Chicago on an American book tour. “Do you know the Queen?” she asked, assuming every English person must know Her Majesty. I told her I didn’t know the Queen and then she worked her way through the rest of the royal family. “Do you know Prince Philip? Prince Charles? How about the Duchess of Kent?” That was weird.
#taken: Wrong time. Wrong place. Wrong girl.
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