We'd love you to write a weekly column for us, said Brian Aitken, the editor of The Journal. What on earth about?
Anything you like, he said. Yourself, your famous friends in Los Angeles, your new life in rural Northumberland. Then he added, rather unkindly: You’ll probably run out of material after a few months, maybe a year. That was in October 2007, exactly six years ago. 300 columns later, here I am, still prattling on about random things that I hope may amuse the odd reader.
In the process, I’ve penned well over 200,000 words, enough for three chunky novels.
During this time, my old friend and colleague Erika Leonard turned roughly the same number of words into a trilogy called 50 Shades of Grey.
She now has as many million dollars in the bank as I have friends on Facebook, but she’s still one of them and occasionally says she enjoys reading my blog, the repository for all these columns I’ve written over the years.
I’m sorry my writing hasn’t been as spicy as hers, but I don’t think that’s what Brian Aitken intended when he asked for something stimulating for the discerning Journal reader on Monday mornings.
Erika’s life has been transformed by her writing. Me? I’ve just enjoyed sharing some personal experiences during my time back in my home region.
I’ve had the odd rant: from the state of Northumberland’s potholed roads, to the disrespect with which London politicians and broadcasters treat the North East. The increasing north-south divide has been a recurring theme, but I’ve also written about Newcastle United, the Olympics, inefficient, ugly windfarms that are destroying our beautiful landscape, the lack of decent road links to Scotland and the stupid and dangerous No-Car lanes in Newcastle.
You’ve politely listened (or turned the page) while I’ve mused on solutions for Libya, Pakistan and Israel, immigration and education.
Together we’ve watched the recession arrive and its effects stay with us, despite what they’re saying in the London papers.
I’ve regularly namedropped people who have been significant milestones in my life, even if some of them have no idea how important they were to me.
Old colleagues, sparring partners and friends cross the showbusiness landscape, like Andrew Lloyd Webber and Chris Evans, David Dimbleby and Sir George Martin, David Hasselhoff and John Cleese, Wayne Sleep and Torvill & Dean.
I’ve recounted stories about people no longer with us, but who live on in my head, like Diana Dors, Russell Harty and Sir Georg Solti. And one or two who nearly died as a result of my actions, either professionally or in reality, like Jeremy Clarkson, whom I almost decapitated with a robot. My articles remain on www.blogfromthenorth.com , and in back issues of this newspaper, which has generously published all my words without redaction.
So this morning, permit me to say thank you, not only to Brian Aitken for giving me the space, but to all those readers who’ve stuck with me for some or all of these six years.
As a result, at parties I sometimes meet people who know me better than I do myself.
“How’s Izzy?” asked a complete stranger I met at a civic reception. “Do I know you,” I asked, and he introduced himself as the leader of the council.
“My wife and I know all about you. We loved the time you crashed your car into Lord Stevens’ garden and all those SAS gunman came out of the hedge.”
My stories have been delightfully enhanced with exaggeration through time.
My daughter’s life, from conception through birth and the first four years of life, has been catalogued in 76 separate columns. That’s even more space than I’ve devoted to my wife, Mum or the stories about my dogs, from the arrival of Truffle, Mabel and Boots, to the death of our beloved Muka.
Thanks to you all, and also to my friend and fellow columnist Keith Hann, who suggested the idea to Brian Aitken in the first place. Above all, I thank my beautiful and tolerant wife Jo, who has allowed me 300 free Sunday mornings to write these words.
Do enjoy the rest of your week.