Cheltenham week. And that reminds me of the only time I ever completely fabricated a story for a newspaper.
I had been sent to the Cheltenham races to write a diary for the Evening Herald.
I have no interest in horse racing and I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed a race meeting in my life.
Too many people rushing about, banging into each other, trying for better odds or looking for (what they think are) tips and so on.
Cheltenham for a week was, for me, hell.
Anyway, I had managed not to see a horse and it was day three. I was going well.
But, frankly, I was running out of stuff to write. I had already, with the help of colleagues, identified and written about everyone there who was famous or vaguely so.
And now, the page was blank.
“The Queen Mother is arriving,” someone said behind me.
Great, I thought. One line.
And then I thought, hold on.
You see, Ireland’s pre-eminent racing commentator Micheal O’Hehir had suffered a stroke the previous year. He was missing Cheltenham. And, for years, he and Cheltenham week had been synonymous.
A light bulb went on over my head.
First, though, I did check one thing. That the Queen Mum had actually arrived.
I went out, saw her walk into the posh part of the grandstand. I waved, she waved back – well, that’s my story, and I retreated to the press tent.
And I wrote: “The Queen Mother breezed into Cheltenham yesterday, and the first question she asked was – ‘How is Micheal O’Hehir?’”
Cracking story which would have been even better if it had been true.
Anyway, the Herald ran with it.
My colleagues asked me how I had got the story. I told them the truth. I made it up.
“But…” they began.
“Do you think the Palace will deny it? Do you think they’re going to come out and say she DIDN’T ask for Micheal O’Hehir?” I asked.
Of course “No” was the answer. It was an undeniable lie!
And to cap it all, next day THREE English newspapers ran the story having lifted it from the Herald.