The Times, 25 August 2007


I hope you won’t be disappointed to discover that I rarely look as nice as I do in this picture. Don’t get me wrong – I like the whole hair and make-up thing, but I am both too lazy and too clumsy to pull it off. I can’t remember the last time I wore mascara, but I think it was July, and I may have got some on one ear. In January, when I was touring my last stand-up show, I gave an interview to a regional newspaper, and the interviewer asked if it was difficult to be taken seriously when you’re pretty. I promised to ask a more attractive friend, and get back to her. She said no, she meant me, I always look lovely on Newsnight. I pointed out that this has much more to do with the skill of the Newsnight make-up artists than anything else. In real life, I added, I never wore make-up, didn’t own an iron and looked a lot like a clean baglady. She expressed disbelief, as politeness dictates, and I clarified that the only time my hair was ever even blow-dried was when I had to be on breakfast telly, where they frown on you pitching up in your pyjamas. That’s why breakfast radio is so great. If you think Jim Naughtie isn’t lounging around Today in a Noel-Coward style dressing gown, you’re a fool to yourself. When I arrived at the theatre the following week, they’d saved a copy of the interview for me, the headline of which read – Natalie Haynes: Last Year I Only Had To Blow-dry My Own Hair Twice. Like I have a retinue of people doing it for me. I may have briefly choked. I do remember thinking that I was me and even I thought I sounded like a c***.

So I think that when you read a quote from somebody in a paper, it may be appropriate to check with another source before you dial a lynch mob. At least, that’s what Jonathan Denby, head of corporate affairs for One Railways, must be hoping. This week, he was forced to defend a train manager who had refused to allow a standard-class customer to leave the train through first class doors. I know, first class doors. I haven’t tried them either, but I’m pretty sure they’re surrounded by gilded vines and grapes that taste of honey. When you walk through them, you arrive in Narnia (or Liverpool Street, it depends on the route), and Aslan appears and bats at you playfully with one paw.

Mr Denby said, “The conductors know the situation and know the first-class customers they have in. The conductor had taken the view that with the people on board and the other passengers in the carriage it would have caused more of a disruption to let him through.” Can that be true? The people in first class that day would have been so affronted by a man on his way to a meeting that they would have started swatting him with their free newspapers, as though he were an unusually tall fly? What is it about travelling first class that makes people behave this way? You start off all excited about the complimentary coffee and the big headrests, and the fact that toddlers are squealing elsewhere, then you gradually morph into some kind of fractious Victorian invalid, for whom the very presence of the non-U traveller would almost certainly provoke the vapours.

This particular One train was twenty minutes late, and the customer who couldn’t wait to get off was Michael Cole. Not Michael Cole, the American wrestling announcer, obviously. Nor Michael Cole the co-creator of the children’s classic, Bod. Not even Michael Cole, special guest star in the Diagnosis Murder episode, A Candidate For Murder. It was Michael Cole, the former BBC royal reporter. I bet they wouldn’t have tried it with Jennie Bond.

And it’s not just One that have this attitude, although admittedly they are the ones taking forever to get you to Stansted, a place so vile that I like to use it as a rebuttal when someone proposes the idea of Intelligent Design. A spokesman for Silverlink said, “First class is first class, even in the vestibules.” How true. The very word ‘vestibule’ screams of polo and dowagers. At least Virgin trains are more laissez faire about the whole thing, though this may be because the Pendolino trains they now use smell pungently of a swamp in the vestibule area, provoking almost every passenger, irrespective of class, to ask what died, and in which year.

As Michael Palin once pointed out, we seem to be born with an inbuilt love for trains, and in a way, it’s impressive that train companies have managed to grind that out of us almost entirely. When you’ve already made someone late, why would you also make them grumpy?