Here is my address from a memorable occasion.
Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, I have the privilege this evening of talking about someone I greatly admire.
Brian Sewell, the formidable art critic and man of many talents, stands before us to be scrutinised for his latest chef-d’œuvre which shows him in a different light and proves that beneath the veneer of a tough and dissentient man, lies a human being full of sentimental depth and pathos.
He can be, as we all know, uncompromising in his own sometimes singular vision of the arts, but nevertheless no one in his right mind can ignore or dismiss his critique or not learn a thing or two about the subject matter which he dissects with great skill and conviction.
Brian’s ability to entrance his readers – whether it be within the context of his memoirs, or his journalistic capacity to stir emotions and brace himself for a possible onslaught by those who find his honesty rather unsettling – is something he naturally takes in his stride. An Englishman to the core, endowed with a fearless intolerance of mediocrity.
His new book, which we are here to celebrate, is his first work of fiction – inspired by a dream one night following major surgery, which left him awake most of the time and in great pain.
However, his creative flair never left him despite his physical state and he produced a story which, when I first read it as a manuscript, left me in some sort of paradisiac nostalgia.
I rang him with tears of joy, expressing how moved I was by the eloquence of his story-telling, which I considered there and then as a touching chronicle of a man and his donkey, whom he named Pavlova as a tribute to the famous Russian ballerina.
They traversed from Peshawar through the whole stretch of Asia and Europe on foot, by train and by car, whenever they were able to hitch a lift.
It is a memorable adventure where Mr B, as he’s called in the book, and his adopted donkey forge a relationship the likes of which is hard to come by or imagine.
The book, The White Umbrella, beautifully illustrated by the celebrated cartoonist Sally Ann Lasson, gives the story a visual impact to complement an elegant prose magically weaved for the benefit of both adults and children of a certain age.
Author and illustrator have excelled themselves in their quest to make this remarkable book not only highly readable but a joyful occasion to cherish.
Given all the attributes I have mentioned regarding The White Umbrella, I urge everyone assembled in this hall to buy more than one copy of this delightful book, to give it to friends with young families who will no doubt share the pleasure of reading it together, and subsequently spread the good word to others to acquire this gem of a classic, which is timeless.
But before I conclude this short address, I would like to thank Fortnum and Mason and Mr Ewen Venters, the CEO of this august institution, for hosting the event with their usual aptitude for perfection and the immaculate service for which they reign supreme.