Book Review: Mr Wonderful Takes a Cruise

There comes a time in every man’s life when he wonders what it will be like to be 70, and whether there is an incentive to get there. Former Tory defence secretary Sir John Nott has just given us the answer.

Cast aside by his own hand from politics and business, Nott sets about discovering ‘normal’ Britain. He takes in ‘Mr Wonderful’s’ ballroom dancing classes in Bromley and lap-dancing in Soho; the latter gives him a new understanding of a ‘VIP lounge’.

His goal is to dance (ballroom not lap) and play bridge on a Nordic cruise liner to discover some Danish ancestor. Although she appears only rarely, his wife, Miloska, makes this a travel double-act in the comic tradition of the travel writers Eric and Wanda Newby.

At tax free, the old duty free at the airport, stocking up on wine (Nott is not a drinker), he writes: ‘I also obtain a half bottle of brandy ? the tipple much favoured by my glamorous wife.’ Nott’s life rotates between his beloved Cornish farm, his beloved yacht in the south of France, Forget Me Nott III, and his beloved self. But he is redeemed as he reserves the most put-downs and pathos for himself.

He lightly excuses visits to sex shops and the reason for twice using the same tea bag because he was once chairman of Etam and Typhoo. What made the greatest impression on him, however, was the evangelical Christianity of Holy Trinity Brompton in London ? ‘pure religious karaoke’.

‘I could see hundreds of young people in the congregation seeking something more permanent than money and celebrity status,’ he writes. This may be naive. HTB is pretty well known as an up-market dating agency.

He is quite wrong to rail against Countryside Stewardship, a Tory scheme that has been continued by Labour, which encourages land management. It has helped enable me to keep a man in place, after 40 years, on my farm and led to a wondrous increase in butterflies. John Nott says it just encourages bureaucracy and rabbits.

Nott’s erratic opposition to the Greeks should be immediately overcome by a walk with Sir Patrick Leigh-Fermor in the Peloponnese. Or would he prefer a night of plate-throwing at a taverna in Soho with Taki Theodoracopulos?

His children staying up all night before a shooting weekend and then being late is hilarious. ‘I get them out of bed to save my embarrassment with the beaters,’ he bemoans.

Nott has found a voice that is part Alan Clark, part Alan Titchmarsh. But at least, at 70, it is the voice of an old lion which is still roaring.