Photo Drew Beamer

I do not remember who said – perhaps Jimmy Wales somewhere – that of all the— But no, that’s another story….

Ever since that review of mine, of The Darlings of Downing Street (2007, biography, New York Times), a producer on the news nexus, a pest frankly, steeped in Corporation protocol, has had my name on his list. This roughly is how it always goes.

I first met him by accident socially, when Borak Yesenin, a League One London chef, had stumped up cash to run for election, though the Tory seat he said he’d fight wasn’t open to the son a Russian émigré – not yet. Yesenin had closed up for the day, and cleared his restaurant of all but a single dining table, from which an army of brocaded waiting staff served canapés, cocktails and lastly champagne. Guests were by invitation, including me, including him – that’s to say Person Hugh, the name I always use in a guard against lawsuits. They’re so touchy, these highfliers.

I noticed him noticing me, at first glance looking every inch one of those landowners you meet in Gogol, Dead Souls, the jacket over-ample, the tie not straight, the look sullen in those brief moments between conversations. He sidled up, in self-conscious, studied absence, swishing the stir stick afloat in the pale-looking cocktail he had got, whose slender glass I never saw him put to his lips.

The smile was crooked and disingenuous. He thought he had the advantage of knowing who I was, his assumption being I would greet with mild astonishment his identity, when it was known. But that was wrong. I knew who all the predators were.

There was a place on his team for me, he said, with his nightly broadcasts having lost that indefinable something, and going out for far too many months without that edge, that verve. ‘Going out’ was the term he used habitually, but I had to disappoint – it was impossible. I was fully employed, and wasn’t looking for anything else. He gave me his card anyway – Person Hugh, Gogolian, Dead Souls, as its dancing italic did not say (as yes, I don’t forget the lawsuits).

The whole thing might have ended there, but for a rising doyen of prime-time TV, who’d agreed to snip the ribbon on Yesenin’s second restaurant, the start, as Yesenin hoped, of an ever-expanding empire. I as well as Person was invited to that grand opening, where that Corporation stooge cornered me again. ‘Won’t you reconsider?’ he asked, this time the smile insistent. I told him I was busy with a house move, and had a pile-up of deadlines, and already sniffed danger in not meeting any – exchange of contracts foremost. I looked him in the eye as I said it, having surveyed generally this tiny cog in the vast machine of Establishment UK. The tie was a specimen of shrewd deliberation (I did not know the school, institution or alma mater), and the shoes suffered by an over-application of black lacquer – a spray-on.

Worse followed when he found out my neighbourhood was adjacent to his own. One night he tracked me down to the bar I holed up in – my quiet hour with the laptop, or return to normality after exhausting, enervating hours under the news circus big top. And so that question again, wouldn’t I reconsider – and let me get you another drink?

No to both. His news scheduling filled me with the horror of awful anticipation, as whenever I watched his forty-minute programme I failed to follow what his interviewers interviewed about. There’s always a switch of cameras with every idiotic interrupt, and finally time’s up, and said inquisitor has to cut it short, just as whatever expert willing to be skewered – in the studio or down the line – is on the brink of telling us something useful.

‘You’re sure about that drink?’

‘Absolutely. I’m off home for a cocoa, and bed.’

And now we’re in lockdown, hopefully that’s another Person off my tail.

Sophie Gilfillan is a freelance journalist and sometime reviewer for CentreHouse Press [sophiegilfillan at centrehousepress dot com].