Another excellent article by David Hockney (see HERE). Hockney first came to our attention as a protagonist in the smoking debate when the New York Times published a letter of his attacking the NY ban. That was in 2004. A short while later I wrote to him in California, inviting him to attend a private dinner hosted by Forest - and heard nothing. In fact, I forgot about it.
Cometh the day, cometh the man. Halfway through the evening, an elderly man with a distinctive white cap and two companions wandered in, sat down, and lit up. It was Hockney, arguably Britain's most famous living artist. Apparently, he had just flown in from Sicily where he had been on holiday. His manager met him at Heathrow, showed him my letter, which had been faxed to London, whereupon he ordered the cab to drive straight to the restaurant.
He didn't say much (he's partially deaf, which is why he's not a huge fan of large public events) but he later declared the evening to be a "life-enhancing experience". The following day he was sufficiently inspired to fire off a letter to the Guardian. This in turn led to a feature on Newsnight and, subsequently, a series of high profile interviews on radio and television.
Together, our greatest 'success' took place in Brighton, at the 2005 Labour party conference. Forest had planned, months in advance, a fringe meeting at the Metropole Hotel where many of the Cabinet were staying. The event was to be chaired by Claire Fox of the Institute of Ideas, and confirmed speakers included Joe Jackson, Sue Carroll of the Daily Mirror, and Sue Brearley, co-author of The Joy of Smoking. David was interested but couldn't commit. We took a chance and printed 3,000 flyers featuring his name. Less than 48 hours before the event, his manager confirmed he would be coming. Cue pandemonium.
A team of students was enlisted to distribute the flyers to every corner of the conference. We issued a press release. The BBC were the first to respond. The following morning, before he set off for Brighton, Hockney could be heard, on the Today programme, berating a junior health minister for being "boring" and "dreary". (The London Evening Standard declared it to be the most uplifting moment on radio that year.) Moments later, on BBC Television, he was featured - live from his London studio - with a homemade poster either side of him declaring 'Death comes to us all'.
Down in Brighton we were besieged by journalists wanting to interview the great man. In rapid order, we arranged one-on-one interviews with The Times, Independent, Guardian, Telegraph and Press Association. We also got him on Andrew Neil's The Daily Politics, which was broadcasting live from the conference. But first, there was the little matter of a photo call at the Hilton that got completely out of hand when a lone anti-smoking campaigner decided to butt in, prompting security staff to wrestle him out of the building via a fire exit while 30 or more cameras clicked and flashed in unison. Throughout it all, David Hockney smiled benignly and exuded an air of amused detachment.
That evening, after an event full of laughter (it was described as "one of the best fringe meetings for years"), we went for dinner at Brighton's Havana restaurant. The Sunday Times came too, columnist Jasper Gerard arriving hot foot from London with the specific task of interviewing Hockney for the paper's Review section.
Later that night, as we walked along the promenade to our hotel (without David who had returned to London after dinner), we got caught in the most torrential downpour. It was two o'clock in the morning and the rain was bouncing off the pavement. We were exhausted, and we were soaking wet. But we were also exhilarated. I shall never forget it.
The Independent on Sunday today reports that:
Smokers will make a last stand at a Forest 'Revolt in Style' dinner at the Savoy Hotel in London a week before the ban. Guests will include David Hockney, who has condemned the ban as a "grotesque piece of social engineering ... imposed easily by a political and media elite".
Tickets available from Tuesday (29th May). Full details HERE.