OPINION - My wild nine-hour lunch at Britain's most Right-wing journalism awards

 (Natasha Pszenicki)
(Natasha Pszenicki)

When the heart attack comes, and it will, pin the blame on lunches like this one. Mind you, I’d had fair warning, having seen Tom Parker Bowles the night before at a charity bash. “Leave at four, or you’re dead,” he said. “But it only kicks off at noon,” I protested. He shook his head solemnly.

This was the Boisdale editors’ lunch and awards do. It’s an annual thing, going for a decade. “I’ve taken the next three days off,” grinned the man opposite me, as the first wine went around. Boisdale, 35 this year, is a bit of a London institution, known for tartan carpets, live music, Scotch and cigars. Known for Nigel Farage calling it his favourite hang-out; known for its owner Ranald Macdonald, “Britain’s most politically incorrect restaurant owner”, if you go by Tatler. “London’s greatest restaurateur,” if you go by William Sitwell, the restaurant critic, who co-hosted the awards, alongside — perhaps improbably — Atomic Kitten Natasha Hamilton.

Cigars in a goody bag, plus a trio of whisky miniatures — pudding was two glasses of Scotch

Like Sitwell, Macdonald is aristocratic, of the Scottish sort. “Please drink irresponsibly,” he said to a cheering crowd. “And speak your mind.”

So what do people at Nigel Farage’s favourite restaurant do at an awards bash? Get stuck in. “It’s the hottest day of the year,” warned Sitwell, beginning a riff on NHS advice. “Stay indoors? Tick. Consume fluids? Tick. Make frequent trips to the bathroom? I’ve noticed some of those.”

As per Sitwell and Hamilton as hosts, the crowd was and wasn’t what might be expected. On the one hand, conservative radio pundit Nick Ferrari. On the other, grime MC Big Narstie. Lots of hacks. A few telly presenters. Mary from Gogglebox. Harry Herbert, seemingly there on the grounds he makes Highclere Gin, though it probably helps that his godmother was the late Queen, and his ancestral home is Highclere Castle (Downton Abbey). If you thought received pronunciation had died, there were plenty of chances to be proved wrong.

Some of it, you couldn’t make up: the professional Winston Churchill impersonator, Sitwell pronouncing one winner “a tremendously polite… c***”. A speech about insurance; quite a lot of stuff about the TaxPayers’ Alliance. Xerjoff, a perfumer and the sponsor, received countless praises, only about half of which came across as mafia-ish, kiss-the-ring moments. Big Narstie talking about his favourite type of rifle, not long after a former chief of the general staff — or what we might call the head of the army — jokily squared up to him (“you’re not that big”). Simon Bartholomew, guitarist in the Brand New Heavies, collecting his award for music writer of the year and breaking into Black Sabbath’s War Pigs. Simon Thomas, the Hippodrome’s executive chair, handing out the prize for gin producer of the year: “I hate gin!” Every winner given a bottle of Boisdale-branded champagne and a plaque, only to find their name misspelt. A prize for bon viveur of the year. Another for “life legend of the year”. And another for the top “state of the nation writer”, going to Sebastian Payne, a former journo who now heads up a Right-wing think tank. Boisdale likes to play to type.

No Farage, though. But cigars in the goody bag, and a trio of whisky miniatures. Everyone ate — bread and butter, smoked salmon and langoustine, lamb, very good Stilton. Pudding was two glasses of Scotch. Afterwards, the crowd headed to the terrace and got hammered. What did I learn at journalism’s most Right-wing awards? Bugger all. Reader, I got in at 9pm. And Parker Bowles was right.


Make boxing a fair fight

Good news this week for Anthony Joshua, who’s suddenly in with a good shot of becoming a three-time boxing world champion in September. Joshua is expected to take on Daniel Dubois; the winner will take the title. Steady on, you may be thinking, isn’t Oleksandr Usyk the world champ, having this year beaten Tyson Fury into 2025 (at its end, Fury wished the crowd a happy new year. The fight was in May). And yes, Usyk is, in that fight becoming the first undisputed heavyweight champ in 24 years. But now, owing to boxing’s endless trickery, corruption and general malaise, the Ukrainian must vacate one of his four belts, which Joshua can fight for. The news, which came yesterday, was not unexpected — it had been raised as a possibility before he took on Fury —, but it is still disappointing. Fans want to see the best fight the best, to know who’s top dog. Come September, then, either Joshua or Dubois as well as Usyk will be able to say they are the heavyweight champion of the world, despite the fact Usyk has beaten them both (Joshua twice). It is faintly absurd. Boxing needs a shake-down, a clear out, clarity. There should only be one title to fight for. It’s been said before, but it bears repeating: the fans deserve better.

David Ellis is the Evening Standard’s Going Out Editor