The day Private Eye invited me to lunch

by Stephen Tall on October 22, 2014

I wrote my one and only letter to Private Eye when I was 17. They published it, and so I retired as a correspondent with a 100% success rate. It was about their coverage of John Smith’s death. I’m pretty sure I was accusing them of tastelessness and am absolutely sure it’s the kind of priggish letter only a teenager who reads Private Eye would send.

Two decades letter I got an invitation to attend a Private Eye lunch. If I had a bucket list that would probably have been on it. So I went. I’m not really sure why I was invited. I guess because The Times reckoned I’m the 33rd most influential Lib Dem (yeah there are 33 of us still haha lol) and the other 32 weren’t available. After all, it’s not like there’s ever any gossip or scandal attached to the Lib Dems they might want to know about…

As I was fiddling on my phone outside what I thought was the restaurant I saw Ian Hislop approach. “I’ve absolutely no idea who any of these people are,” I heard him say to a colleague as he walked past me, so I knew I was in the right place.

It was fun. There were a dozen of us. I was entertainingly hosted by Andy Murray (© Not that one) and Adam Macqueen from the Eye. Frances Wheen – whose biography of Tom Driberg I loved – was there, along with luminaries like David Mitchell, Tim Harford, Sadiq Khan and Vicky Pryce. I wish I could tell you juicy tittle-tattle gushed forth, but it didn’t (either from my lips or in my hearing). Sorry.

In my corner, we talked of: why some dictators are comedy figures (Hitler, Kim Jong Un) but not others (Stalin, Mao); which year the Guardian will go bust unless it comes up with a business model that values its own content; stealing jokes (“What’s the collective noun for comedians?” “A Plagiarism” — I nicked that by the way); the Daily Mail’s vendetta-campaigns… and a lot about poker and Vegas (a conversation I wussed out of).

I suspect I got more out of being there than they did (but maybe me thinking that’s the trick?). I find it slightly odd in those situations wearing a LibDemVoice hat. It’s assumed it’s a full-time thing rather than a part-time hobby. I pointed out our annual turnover’s about £1.5k: the currency we trade in is goodwill. I was introduced at one point as, “Here’s Stephen, he once wanted to be a Lib Dem MP” which, though accurate, won’t make the final cut as my epitaph.