When I was growing up, it was a constant source of regret to my mother that I wasn’t born in Canterbury. She was under the impression that, if I achieved nothing further in my life, at least I’d be able to tell people at parties that I was born in Canterbury, and they would be impressed. As it happens, I was born in Croydon, which didn’t have quite the same ring to it.

Thus, my childhood was filled with art galleries and theatre trips, to give me things to talk about when I grew up. As much as I don’t really remember, because I was very young at the time, I saw Rudolf Nureyev dance. Twice.


My mother was completely devoted to Rudolf Nureyev.

Once, when my cousins were visiting from Canada, she rhapsodised about him for fifteen solid minutes – including an anecdote about how she ran into him one day (having near as dammit camped outside the stage door for a fortnight) and asked for his autograph.

He was, I’m told, very polite and made his apologies before disappearing into the back of a chaffeur-driven car. As my mother turned to look behind her, an army of women came thundering down the pavement towards his car, flapping autograph books and mopping their brows with spent handkerchiefs, but soon, he was a dot on the horizon. My mother retained bragging rights for years because – he’d actually spoken to her.

On hearing this story of my mother’s encounter with a hero of classical dance, my cousin Susan said, “The lady next door used to teach tap.”