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a performer I have appeared in pantomime, Wilde and Shakespeare. As people who have written about the theatre, we have been privileged to know some wonderful theatre folk, from the effortlessly charming Vincent Price to the trio of great dames of our day: Eileen Atkins, Judi Dench and Maggie Smith. On his ninetieth birthday, we invited the great Sir John Gielgud to join us both for lunch. The actress Glenda Jackson made up the fourth. When Sir John arrived, I told him how honoured we all felt that he should choose to celebrate his ninetieth birthday with us. ‘Oh, my dears,’ he replied in that beautiful fluting voice of his, ‘I’m delighted. You see, all my real friends are dead.’

In the 1990s, I took a break from writing and the theatre to become a member of parliament. I was appearing with Bonnie Langford and Barbara Windsor in another production of Cinderella at the time I was selected to stand as an MP. One newspaper columnist suggested I was about to move from pantomime to farce. He wasn’t that wide of the mark. After five lively years at Westminster, another election came along and the people spoke – in my case, in no uncertain terms. The curtain came down on my Whitehall farce. I had to find something else to do. I rather fancied the idea of being in a musical. I saw myself as Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady. And as Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. And possibly even in the title role of The Phantom of the Opera.

Michèle suggested I get the whole lot out of my system in just one evening and so a show called Zipp! 100 musicals in 100 Minutes, Or Your Money Back was born. We opened on the Edinburgh Fringe in August 2002 and, having won the Most Popular Show at the Fringe Award, played to capacity x

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