I mentioned in a recent blog that comedian Charmian Hughes was one of the first small intake of six girls at Westminster Boys’ School. The person who suggested she go there was her childhood chum Chris Huhne now (well, at the time of writing he still is) a Government Cabinet Minister. He is currently having a spot of bother over claims by his furious estranged-wife that he got her to accept penalty points for speeding when, in fact, it was (reportedly) he who was driving the car.
“I was driven in a car by him,” Charmian tells me. “He used to have a London taxi in his gap year before university. He must have been 18 and drove it to Turkey. But, alas, he didn’t take me to Turkey… Alas.”
He did give Charmian her first snog though and, back when Charmian first knew him, his preferred mode of transport was pedal-powered. She was about 10 when the two of them used to ride their bikes through a South Kensington mews. “It was such a genteel area,” she tells me. “The neighbours shouted at us because they found it a bit threatening and noisy.”
“His family were always extremely kind to me,” she says. “His mother – an actress – was the first person ever to take me to the theatre. It was The Mermaid Theatre. I think Marcel Marceau was miming something or other. Chris’ family were nice to me when I was persecuted by my own family. His mother said I was very artistic and special whereas my own family said I was twisted and strange because I wrote poems.
“When he was in the Sixth Form, he started a school paper called The Free Press for London-wide free distribution and didn’t have enough paid adverts for the first one, so the first edition was in danger of looking very bare and amateur. His friends were all making up ads he could stick in. I was about 14 or 15 and I wanted to impress him like mad and I remember we were sitting in a tube train on the Circle line when I suggested: How about an advert for Madame Hughes, Maison de Plaisir with my mother’s phone number? That would be good!…
“I didn’t really think he would do it, but he did. I forgot all about it until one day the phone rang. I picked it up and a husky male voice said: Is that Madame Hughes? My blood ran cold, my stomach sank. I was terrified my mother would hear me talking to the man on the phone and I whispered: It’s all a ghastly mistake. A joke. I’m a school girl. The man was very understanding and rang off. My mother was and is a terrifying person with a terrible raging temper.
“The next phone call was from a tabloid newspaper reporter investigating ‘the schoolgirl brothel’. My mother answered. I heard her Medusa-like voice shrieking and threatening and the reporter scampered away never to ring again. When I told her what we’d done, she summoned Chris round.
“Are you going to sue me? he asked in his most sophisticated timbre. Sue you? my mother sneered, A silly stupid little arrogant schoolboy like you? You must be joking, but I’m going to speak to your parents…”
Charmian’s first snog was with Chris Huhne when she was around 15 and he was around 17.
“I was at a convent boarding school,” Charmian tells me, “so it was hard to cop off.
“Later it was Chris who suggested I went to Westminster Boys’ School, but,” she adds dolefully, “by the time I’d got there, he’d left. Once he was at Oxford I hardly saw him. He was a very glamorous and sexy figure. We all adored him. He was brainy and cool and sophisticated. I think he only snogged me to put me out of my misery.”
Then she adds mysteriously:
“I also gave Frank Skinner his first avocado.”