When Brian Aitken, editor of The Journal, took me to lunch and invited me to write a weekly column, he was very persuasive.
“What on earth would I write about?” I asked, flattered that anyone would ask me to contribute to such an important institution.
“Your glamorous life,” he said.
“It’s not remotely glamorous,” I said, thinking of our windswept farmhouse. I had moved back to the region a few months earlier with my girlfriend, after 5 years in Los Angeles. Joanna and I wanted to get away from the world of entertainment to what we were convinced would be a rural idyll. It was a very hot summer when we visited on holiday – 2006, if you remember it. Jo thought this was the most beautiful place in the world. So we moved here.
Having been brought up in Northumberland and schooled in Newcastle, I’d spent the previous four decades in London and America making television programmes. Finally I was home, with big skies, noisy sheep, and mud. Particularly mud. For it transpired that 2006 was a one-off. The cold reality of Northumbrian life was now ours; glamour was no longer on the agenda.
“Just drop a few names,” said Keith Hann, my ex-RGS schoolfriend who had suggested the column to Brian. “Write about all the famous people you’ve slept with.”
“I haven’t slept…” I protested, then, realising that Keith knew too much, murmured: “Well, they’re not that famous.”
“Besides, you’ll only stick it for 9 months,” said Brian. “Then you’ll run out of material and start to repeat yourself. All columnists recycle their stories – look at Banksy.”
Then he added without a hint of irony: “Not that anyone notices, of course.”
And so it began. Nearly 400 editions and a quarter of a million words later, enough for several bad novels, it’s finally time to sheath the pen. Or, rather, close the Word folder. For this is my last Monday column.
As far as I know I haven’t actually repeated a story, and I hope I haven’t breached too many confidences. From Chris Evans to Amy Winehouse, David Dimbleby to Emma Thompson, I know I’ve namedropped for England, but you’ve been terribly polite by not complaining.
I’ve written about Boris Johnson and Britain’s Got Talent, Russell Brand and Russell Harty, Simon Cowell and Syria. I’ve followed the recession and the weather, and I’ll always follow Newcastle United.
But I’ve also taken the opportunity to share some heartfelt thoughts about the North East and how shabbily it is treated by our politicians, our media, and the rest of the population. This is my home, and I am grateful to have been given a platform to voice my support where I’ve felt it might be useful.
Some characters have appeared more than others. Mum has made 29 appearances, Joanna has 78. But no-one has featured more than Izzy.
Our daughter’s first entry was on Fathers’ Day 2008 (admittedly as Ozzy, for we weren’t sure if the newly-discovered embryo was a boy or a girl). Today is her 93rd appearance. This chronicle of a little girl’s life through the eyes of an ageing father will one day inspire her to buy up every back issue of The Journal and destroy them.
Today Izzy turns six and, as part of her birthday present, I have decided to gift her my Sunday mornings. Every Sunday of her life I’ve risen early, imbibed three double espressos, and faced a blank computer screen. Last week, on Boxing Day, we were playing “Guess Who?” when Izzy started miming someone furiously typing.
“Who’s that?” I asked.
“It’s you, Daddy – always writing your article.” She’s right: 400 Sunday mornings is a lot of life to lose. Izzy: this is the last time I tell you I’m busy. Boots, Truffle and Mabel: Sunday mornings are now for dog-walking. Happy New Year!
I’ve hugely enjoyed the experience, and, if they let me, I’ll still be making occasional contributions to this newspaper. If you’re interested in reading my Monday columns from the beginning, or maybe discovering the odd new chapter, please do seek out my Blog From the North. For now, though, thanks so much for following, and farewell.