Peter James: Why I hate wearing a tie, drinks with the Archbishop of Canterbury and racing at Brands Hatch with Brian Johnson

PUBLISHED: 10:08 15 August 2017 | UPDATED: 10:08 15 August 2017

Peter James with Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby

Peter James with Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby


Bestselling crime writer Peter James talks us through his gastronomic adventures and keeps us abreast of everything relating to his fictional detective, Roy Grace

I hate wearing a tie. This was always a problem when I was younger, as in addition to being glovemakers my family also manufactured ties. Maybe it was having to wear one in my pram that put me off! When my first successful novel, Possession, was launched in 1988 my publishers took me shopping for a poster photo shoot, wanting to dress me in a black suit with a black shirt. The posters made me look decidedly sinister – exactly the effect they were after – and it was turned into a huge London tube campaign. Excitedly, I phoned my mother, who hurried up to London the next morning. Around 11am I got a call from her expecting her to wax lyrical about the ads. Instead she said, tartly: “You’re not wearing a tie.”

How times have changed. The uber cool Soho House created a storm a few years back by trying to ban ties. If you wear a tie in Los Angeles, people presume you are either an agent or a lawyer. And yet insistence on gentlemen wearing a tie is still irritatingly rife in London’s traditional clubland and, absurdly, in some restaurants. I was recently invited to lunch at the RAC club in Pall Mall to celebrate my becoming patron of the Association of British Investigators, taking over from the late Colin Dexter. It was a scorcher of a day and we dined on their glorious terrace, ties mandatorily clamped around our perspiring necks. Two years ago Lara and I stayed at the breathtaking Villa D’Este on Lake Como. As we arrived for dinner at their lakeside terrace the maitre d’ apologetically said I must wear a tie. I didn’t have one, so he offered me a selection of quite hideous ones to choose from. I was wearing a dark suit with a white shirt which in my view looked very elegant open-necked, and quite horrible when garroted by a strip of vomit-coloured polyester.

London’s clubland seems quite erratic in both its dress codes and rules and regulations. I recently dined as a guest at the venerable Carlton Club, a Tory party bastion. We were enjoying magnificent pre-dinner Bloody Marys in the lounge when my host, who was helping me on some research for my next book, pulled out a sheet of notes and laid it on the table. Within seconds an elderly retainer rushed towards us, looking totally mortified. “I’m sorry gentlemen, it is not permitted to work in this room,” he told us. We were ushered along a series of corridors for several minutes, like a pair of naughty schoolboys, into a windowless hole of a room, littered with detritus from a conference and told that if we wished to work, we must do it in there!

So, a few weeks ago when a very formal invitation plopped onto our doormat, inviting Lara and I to summer drinks with the Archbishop of Canterbury and Mrs Welby, I phoned in some trepidation to ask what the dress code was and was pleasantly surprised to be told there wasn’t one! Both the Archbishop and his wife are utterly delightful, and the grounds of Lambeth Palace are astonishing – a nine acre garden in central London. Naturally, being the Archbishop, he had pulled a few strings and the weather was glorious.

It has been a hectic month, with wall-to-wall book signings and talks since the publication of my 13th Roy Grace novel, Need You Dead. We had a fabulous launch party for 550 people at the i360 – and no one got stuck! It was actually a very appropriate place as the climax of the book takes place there, but if I say any more I’ll be giving away spoilers. It’s a tradition for my publishers to host a dinner for 20 at the Hotel Du Vin after my launches and the venue always does us proud. I like the culture of this chain a lot, and it is our hotel of choice wherever we travel in the UK – but my one strong criticism is that the individual chefs should be given more of a free hand.

From the sanctuary of the Archbishop’s rolling acres to the noisy tarmac of my favourite pursuit, motor racing. I was back at Brands Hatch, where in 2013 I rolled my 1965 BMW three times at 95mph. This time I kept all four wheels on the black stuff, but not without incident. One of my fellow racers, in a Mini Cooper S, was very charming Brian Johnson, lead singer of AC/DC. We banged doors going into Surtees corner and he exited into the gravel. I suppose you could say he got a bit tied up... | @peterjamesuk

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