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SUNDAY 19  MAY 2024

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Let’s have a memorial service while the subject is still alive, Callan would have loved it











MAJOR TOAD AHEAD: Paul Callan


At this time of life we tend to go to more funerals and memorials than weddings. It’s simply a numbers thing. And being cynical, the consequences of funerals are longer lasting than even the best marriages these days.


We have just returned from St Martin-in-the-Fields where a service celebrated the less than normal 66 years of existence of the Speccie’s Low Life columnist Jeremy Clarke. As Spectator editor Fraser Nelson explained: ‘It had to be St Martin’s because once we had opened it up to readers of the column St Bride’s would have been too small. What’s more, there’s a greater choice of pubs around Trafalgar Square.’ 


We can argue that last point but what was clear about this very moving but uplifting service was that the vast majority of the congregation had never met Clarke. In his own words, ‘they were all friends I was yet to meet.’ Many of those unmet friends (including my Beloved) turned straight to Low Life before anything else this fine magazine has to offer simply because of its power to surprise, shock and sometimes horrify.


For Clarke’s was a dissolute life like few others; drink, drugs, fights, even football hooliganism, but held together throughout by a love of books, especially poetry, a heaven-sent ability to write and finally the love of his widow, the painter and writer Catriona Olding. They met at a Spectator party; she had been invited having won the magazine’s tasteless joke competition!


Both she and Clarke had undergone unhappy marriages but despite his mad excesses, theirs was the one that lasted, broken only by his death in May. Catriona had nursed him through the worst times at their cramped home in Provence (cramped because of 2,000 books and a myriad of medical devices which kept him alive when all hope seemed lost.) 


When he first knew he had prostate cancer and that it had spread, he met his pal Con Coughlin for a couple of sharpeners before heading off to the Spectator summer party. ‘I’ve got something to tell you but you mustn’t say a word. Promise. I’ve got cancer.’ As the drink flowed at the party the more he told guests, many of them strangers. And by the end of the evening he was using it as a chat-up line!


As Catriona said: ‘He was a star and I’m lucky to have shared my life with him for so long. We thought we’d have two years. We had almost nine. His last words to me, the afternoon before he died: ‘We can all live happily ever after now.’ As she said today: ‘Jeremy would have loved today’s celebration.’


Which brings me yet again to this thought, long advocated by the aforementioned Beloved: Let’s have the memorial service while the subject is still alive and able to bask in the celebration. I ended my eulogy for Paul Callan at St Bride’s with this and it seems to have met with general approval. 


Obviously it would have to be called a Service of Celebration but surely we could still have the music and choirs that makes these events so special. Callan would have loved it and I can’t think of any of my late friends who wouldn’t. Another Drone Campaign!


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I had intended to write about the extraordinary story of the senior BBC presenter, the kid and the dirty pix. But because this apparently famous face has yet to be named I can’t. What I will say, hopefully without the wrath of Cocklecarrot, is that everyone in our ancient trade seems to know the identity and if true, I am shocked and saddened. Simply because he would be at the bottom of any list of suspects.


But now things seem to be getting complicated to say the least. A lawyer for the family who made the complaint to the BBC now says The Sun’s story is rubbish. We will see…more later when, hopefully, I cannot be silenced!