Never in this lifetime did I imagine our paths would cross. Rather than our eyes meeting across a greasy pole, they met across a crowded chamber, the debating chamber of the Cambridge Union. The motion: “This House believes that gentlemen prefer blondes.” I was proposing, and my opposition was: Peter Stringfellow.
The panto started inauspiciously at a Turkish restaurant, where I was introduced to my team-mates. I asked one charming old gentleman (who wasn’t Stringfellow) about his occupation. He replied, without irony: “I am Britain’s number one playboy.” Not being au fait with ageing Lotharios, I took his word for it. He was clearly observant, as he then remarked that I had beautiful wrists. I wasn’t sure whether this was shorthand for “great wrists – shame about the face”. But he was already on his fourth bottle of wine, so I didn’t take it personally.
All this was mere foreplay to the main event – my meeting with the great Stringfellow himself. He flashed his million-dollar smile, then shook my hand confidently. This made me nervous, as I was unsure about where those hands had been (or hadn’t yet been). Still, he was friendly and reassuring, and as the debate was about to begin, he whispered in my ear: “Debating is like sex: it really depends on your position on the table.” I said: “I’ll bear that in mind when I’m next lying on a table at Wimpy.”
I started the debate by saying: “Gentlemen prefer blondes, but they marry brunettes. This has been the case throughout history, starting with Jeffrey Archer.” He began: “All women can look beautiful – that’s why I have dimmer switches in my bedroom.” I was liking this man more and more.
After the debate, hordes of young, intelligent, sassy girls fought to have their photo taken with him. I was one of them. He then offered me a lift back to London, an offer I couldn’t refuse. After a couple of hours in his chauffeur-driven Bentley, I found him to be extremely intelligent, charismatic – and rich.
I thought I wouldn’t get on with him, but we had a hoot. I can’t understand why people from different backgrounds find it difficult to coexist. We’re all the same really – he just has a lot more sex than most. For a woman like me, who has in many ways lived a sheltered life, a trip down the M11 with Peter Stringfellow turned out to be a life-changing experience.
When we arrived back, he said: “It’s been a pleasure, Shiraz.” I wanted to thank him for enlightening me, but didn’t want him to get the wrong idea. Indeed, his chivalrous behaviour proved that gentlemen really do prefer blondes, because I spent an entire evening with Peter Stringfellow and he didn’t make a pass at me once. I was offended. I can’t even say I turned him down.
If it’s Thursday, it must be Norwich, and I performed this particular show in a church. It was not an ideal atmosphere for comedy, and the anal sex gags went down particularly badly.
The good people of Norfolk arrived in dribs and drabs for the duration of the show, and, once there, appeared reserved. At the start of the second half, I heard howling at the back. An elderly lady was being carried out on a stretcher. I carried on.
Afterwards, a man approached me in the bar and explained that he had brought his mother to cheer her up after her husband’s death. She had never seen stand-up comedy, and when I mentioned death, she had become hysterical. Suddenly, the lady walked up to me and howled in my face: “My husband has just died. He’s dead.”
I stood there, shocked, as the woman staggered off and fell flat on her face on the pavement outside the theatre. The son dragged her to her feet and hissed: “Get up, Mum. The bus will be here in a minute.” Comedy ain’t what it used to be.