Belfast Telegraph

Monday 21 April 2014

Be still, my beating heart

When I heard that novelist and critic Sebastian Faulks was to present a BBC2 four-part series on fiction, it took me back - almost Proustianly, you could say - to the time I once danced with Mr Faulks to a Whitney Houston number.

As you can probably tell, this was the Eighties, when Ms Houston could really belt them out, and the occasion was a reasonably glitzy dinner-dance at the Park Lane Hotel. I was working for SHE magazine and a friend knew Sebastian Faulks, then at The Independent, so he joined us and her barrister brother.

If this all sounds like a novel by, say, Shirley Conran or one of the Collins sisters or even Barbara Taylor Bradford (and I'd interviewed them all), that's because it was. A bit.

The funny thing was I nearly didn't make it to the ball, as this was also the day after the Big Storm when trains weren't running from my home in Kent to London and most taxi drivers said it really wasn't worth their while, mate.

However, one buccaneer from Whitstable took me all the way for £40, less than I'd spent on my Monsoon silk dress and less than the tickets. And it was all worth it when, after Champagne and a decent meal, the music began.

Mr Faulks and I had had an interesting conversation about Kingsley Amis' work, and how Ending Up had been a much better, and bleaker, work than the Booker-prizewinning Old Devils.

Then we danced, to I Wanna Dance (With Somebody Who Loves Me ...).

And shameful to say, after enjoying the boogie, I actually think I may have run my fingers through that curly, then blonde, hair.

Since then, Sebastian Faulks has written a number of significant novels - Birdsong is my favourite, Human Traces the most interesting. Weirdly, he hasn't joined the Booker-winning club.

Nothing more serious than encountering, very briefly, a man with that fatal combination of looks and intelligence. I'm not alone in my opinion as the Times previewer gushed she couldn't believe this was his debut presenting gig.

I share that gush - clearly Sebastian Faulks will be joining Andrew Graham-Dixon in the pantheon of male presenting beefcake. And I danced with him to Whitney Houston, an emotional moment only exorcised this Christmas when my mid-Ulster husband and I embarrassed our table by dancing to the same tune at our local wine bar.

Very happy days.

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