If the best thing about a dinner party is the food something has gone seriously wrong. This was the truism missed by the BBC Four flop, Dinner with Portillo:
I was recently asked who my dream dinner party guests would be, and unsurprisingly neither Michael Portillo nor George Galloway feature in my list, as they do in the above video.
All of history, four guests... It's Come Dine With Me All Time Favourite From History Edition!
Melvin Bragg – The broadcaster, author and Labour Peer Melvyn Bragg would be my first dinner party guest. Since beginning to host The South Bank Show in 1978, Bragg has been a staple of British cultural life. He also presents In Our Time on BBC Radio 4, in which he and three experts discuss a topic in science, history, philosophy or culture. The polymathic scope of the radio and television shows Bragg makes would almost be enough to satisfy my intellectual curiosity on its own, and having him as a dinner party guest would provide enough variety of conversation to keep everybody entertained. Moreover, his experience of chairing the discussions in In Our Time makes him the ideal person to bring order to the conversation around the dinner table.
David Cameron – Prime Ministers do not get to the top of politics by being boring dinner guests. Moreover, dinner with a sitting Prime Minister offers a unique insight into the major political issues and public policy challenges of our age. There is also the attractive proposition of being able to give David Cameron my two cents on what his government is doing. The idea that one can influence government policy over a few courses and a glass of sherry is sometimes thought to be an outmoded and mistaken model of how policy making is done; yet many people have donated substantial amounts of money to the Conservative Party for the privilege of dining with David Cameron, and there is an entire industry of lobbyists and advocates. Surely, they are not entirely wasting their time and money?
Hillary Clinton – From present Prime Minister of the United Kingdom to future President of the United States? Perhaps. But however one rates Hillary Clinton’s chances in 2016, she can justifiably claim to be one of the most powerful women in the world, and would still be an excellent dinner guest. Hilary has spent the last twenty years at the forefront of world politics, initially as First Lady to Bill Clinton, then as an impressive politician in her own right. During her four-year stint as US Secretary of State she visited more countries than any other Secretary of State, and more than most people on the planet. If eight years in the White House, a close-run Presidential nomination campaign, and visits to 112 different countries does not make for an excellent raconteuse, then surely nothing does.
Wittgenstein – The Austrian Philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein would be my final choice of dinner guest. As well as being widely recognised as one of the most incisive philosophers in history, Wittgenstein was renowned for an extraordinary and intense charisma that deeply impacted those he came into contact with, often eminent men and women in their own right. Wittgenstein was also idiosyncratic in his own habits and way of life. Shortly after inheriting a great fortune upon the death of his father, he gave it all away to his (already exceptionally wealthy) siblings and henceforth led a life of extreme frugality; during a meeting of the Cambridge Moral Sciences Club he attacked the guest lecturer, Sir Karl Popper, with a fire poker, giving rise to the best-selling book, Wittgenstein’s Poker; and despite being largely apolitical, he considered moving from Cambridge, where he was undertaking philosophical research, to Stalin’s Russia to become a manual labourer, even making an expedition to the Soviet Union to explore the possibility. Every dinner party should have an eccentric oddball – Wittgenstein would be mine.