The nominees for Spectator Cigar Smoker of the Year 2014 were: Ricky Gervais, Ralph Fiennes, Laurence Fishburne, Boris Becker, Jeremy Irons, Michael Caine, Boris Johnson and Arnold Schwarzenegger. And the winner was… Arnie! The band struck up with California Dreaming. A tanned, rectangular Governator graciously accepted the award from Boisdales’ cigar-loving founder Ranald MacDonald and stepped up to the podium.
‘First, I want to thank that extraordinary magazine The Spectator,’ he said. ‘With its extraordinary writing and its extraordinary articles. And what an extraordinary evening it has been so far. Unbelievable!’ He was not wrong. Everyone in the packed restaurant had been piling into the Baron Philippe de Rothschild Reserve Mouton Cadet Graves Blanc 2012; his Mouton Cadet Ryder Cup Special Cuvée 2012 and his NV Champagne like there was no tomorrow. Now we were on to the 15-year-old Balvenie, the Hennessy XO cognac, and the Chivas Regal. We were all completely hammered. Arnie stood spryly under the lights, peppered by flash bulbs, and immaculate in a dove grey suit and polka-dot tie. His beaming face was as tight as a drum. ‘I’ve had hundreds of awards over the years,’ he said. ‘Lots of body-building awards and political awards and so forth. But I can honestly say that this Spectator Cigar Smoker of the Year is the most… recent.’ (Thunderous laughter, riotous applause, cheering, foot stamping, feminine screams, and the continued hubbub of conversation of those too drunk or too far away to notice or give two hoots about what was going on on the stage.)
Runner-up, or it might have been joint winner — who knows? Who cares? — was Kelsey Grammer, a.k.a. Frasier. What a nice guy. Benign cool. He stepped smilingly up to the podium to speak. He had a story for us. One time he was invited to a function at the White House. Also present on that occasion was our Camilla Parker Bowles. When they lined up to meet the President, he found himself next to her. He felt a hand on his buttock and a firm pinch. Then Camilla whispered in his ear. ‘I have always wanted to meet the star of Frasier… in the flesh.’ (Rumbustious laughter, exultant cheering, breaking glass etc.)
Compering the awards was her son, Tom Parker Bowles. ‘Mothers, eh?’ he said, pulling a theatrically rueful face.
The lifetime achievement award went to the Baroness Trumpington (92). She mounted the stage to the jaunty tune of Chattanooga Choo Choo. Those that still could rose as one and cheered her to the rafters. Baroness Trumpington was a wartime code-breaker at Bletchley Park. ‘This marvellous place,’ she said, looking around her, ‘reminds me of the wonderful Embassy Club during the war where we used to dance all night. They were such happy times and I can remember it all so clearly. We used to always sing a song there. It was called Don Marino’s Balls They Hang So Low. Don Marino was the leader of the band, you know.’ Her offer to sing it for us was blotted out by roared laughter, cheering and then a lung-busting rendition of For She’s a Jolly Good Fellow.
But that was only the beginning. After that we all staggered on to the Boisdale Canary Wharf terrace to puff away on our complimentary cigars. We had been given a pack of five award-winning la-di-das in exchange for our coats as we went in. The terrace overlooked the fairy-lit ice skating rink in Cabot Square. There was a band. Four 20-year-olds called Hidden Charms playing their own stuff in a Fifties and Sixties pop style. They were out of this world. You couldn’t help but dance. Harry Cole and I danced like the dancing brooms in Fantasia. For hours. Goodness know what time it was when the band finally stopped playing. If they let me in again next year, I’m going — even if I have to pay the £250 myself.