It was after the tabloids published the location of my unit in Afghanistan (my military unit, that is, not the marital, though I was attached to that too) that I decided I had to leave the army. It had been good fun, I'd enjoyed mucking in with the regiment, but being decapitated live on al-Jazeera seemed too high a price for the guys to have to pay, for hanging with the H-Meister. I mean, I know some great clubs, and I always get my round in, but nobody's that good a bloke. Plus, we're a bit sensitive about the whole beheading thing, us royals.
So, what to do next? Well, falling out of Boujis every night had a certain appeal, but I'd boffed, or at least tried to boff most of the fillies in there already, and besides, a chap needs an occupation. Charity was out, because after Mum had been taken out the game in that tunnel in Paris, I'd had a few issues with the British public. All right, the bloke was mullered, but we've all been there, and would he, I ask you, have been driving at ninety miles an hour if the paps hadn't been after him? Generally, you at least try to stay under the radar, if you've tied a few on.
Anyway, I digress. The point was that I could never have been the People's Prince. Shit on the People, is basically what I thought, and if that sounds unreasonable, seeing as they're likely to be picking up my bar tab for the rest of my life, well, somebody buys the tabloids. So how would you feel about the UK public, if they'd effectively put the kibosh on your old dear? And if, at the age of eleven, you'd pretty much forced to schlep halfway across London behind her coffin, in front of the same TV audience that had basically put her in there? I'm guessing 'pissed off' wouldn't totally cover it. So to then be denied the outlet for black thoughts and violent urges that a career in the military seems to afford … just seemed a bit much. I could have shot pheasants, I suppose. Well, I did actually, quite a lot. But I didn't want to shoot pheasants. They weren't what I wanted to shoot, at all.
So a job in Charity was a non-starter. And I couldn't have carried on like Dad, as an organic, environmental spokes-bloke, because I'd never have heard the end of it down at the club. Plus, was he really my father? I'd read the tabloid speculation in my early teens. You can probably imagine what that was like. It's always struck me as odd that the same sort of press types who routinely big up the Sex Pistols had a problem, at the time, with the H-Meister's SS uniform. As far as I could see, we'd been coming from the same place, me and the Pistols. Okay, I'd had a few drinks, and I didn't really think about it, but, honestly, did Johnny, or Sid? They said some terrible things about QE2, after all, having never met her. Having never met her over tea, for example, just after a hash bust. I shudder to think what God Save The Queen might have sounded like, if they had. She can dish out a hell of a bollocking, can Her Majesty.
Anyway, I don't want to go on. Chin up, bluff Prince Hal, all that. The point was that after Afghanistan, it looked like the press weren't going to be happy until they knew where I was, all the time. And I'd always had a flair for drama. I knew what it was like to be on telly in a desperate hour, and I liked dressing up, so, career-wise, it looked as if the theatre beckoned. That way, whoever it is that reads The Sun would have as much of the H-Meister as they could possibly handle. And the papers, in general, would know where to find me, the Hull Truck or wherever, six nights a week. Just because of the weirdness factor, I wasn't likely to be short of work, at least not to begin with. And if I did get bad reviews, as seemed equally likely, well, dying on stage had to be better than having my head, my old chap, or something else dear to me lopped off, with prejudice, on the North West frontier. Or being car-crashed to death in a tunnel in Paris. So that was the plan.
A few years of training later then (I won't list the places that turned me down; suffice it to say that getting into drama school's a bit harder than making the grade for Eton, or Sandhurst) and I was on stage in Arthur Miller's 'A View From The Bridge', playing Rodolfo. If you're unfamiliar, it's a play about Eddie Carbone, a tough-talking Italian-American docker, who's fatally conflicted about his incestuous desire for his niece, Catherine, who my character shags. Catherine, in this production, was played by quite a fine filly, I don't mind saying. Which was the other reason I'd got into acting. As I said earlier, I'd had a well-refreshed go at pretty much all of the totty in Boujis by then, six whole seasons of debutantes. Not always successfully, it's true, but any self-respecting swordsman, royal or otherwise, has to scatter his seed a bit further than that
So, first night, a packed house, heavy security, even heavier press, anticipation thick in the air, and Catherine and I were about to consummate our forbidden love. When there was a gunshot from the wings.
'Christ, guys,' I remember thinking 'this isn't the bloody Sopranos …'
Lights out at this point, and the next thing I knew, I came to my senses bound and gagged, not in a good way, in what looked like a student flat in Acton, or somewhere.
'Bloody hell,' I thought 'I haven't been kidnapped by Al Qaeda, have I?'
But of course, I had.
God knows how they got me out of there. I mean, nice job guys, in a way, what with all the security. Tear gas, I think, was involved, plus a motorbike ride with an unconscious H-Meister strapped to the back, but I don't know. When I did see the papers, much later on, I was really just looking for reviews of my Rodolfo. Which, necessarily perhaps, were a bit inconclusive.
In the meantime, there was the question of not so much whether, as when the guys were going to fill me in. The guys being Abdul, who was a dentist, Karim, who was a law student, and some other bloke who looked like a guard from the Bluewater shopping centre, though we never bonded. He just used to hit me in the face, when the others weren't looking.
I'll spare you the details of my early incarceration, but basically, I didn't know what to make of these characters. They could have offed me on stage at the Royal Court, but hadn't, so what were they waiting for? The opportune moment to saw the H-Meister's head off, live on the internet? Or were they perhaps having second thoughts? Well, I was no psychologist.
Still, after my gag came off, around day two, and the ongoing diet of prayer and daytime telly began, I think, to get on everyone's nerves (for a while back there, I really did feel like a resting actor) we got onto the subject of religion.
'But don't you think, guys,' I said, once the issue seemed safe to bring up, 'that this is going to end badly?'
'The Western world will end badly,' replied Abdul, waving his gun at the bomb in the corner, which, in spite of my military training, I had failed to notice, 'but Allah will prevail.'
'Right.' I said.
'The pure-hearted warrior of Islam,' said Karim 'will go directly to paradise.'
'Yeah, I've read the Koran. I had to do it for General Studies A level. You get totty on tap and a river of wine for the rest of eternity if you die in action, right? But guys, that sounds like a night out in Boujis. I mean, I do it all the time, and it gets a bit much after a couple of years …'
I took a hard punch, actually a series of punches for that, but, for whatever reason, it seemed to register. At least, they stopped hitting me, after a while.
'That is the situation in heaven, right?' I coughed.
'You misunderstand the writings of the prophet,' said Abdul.
'Yeah, I did get an F. But since you're going to heaven anyway, if … sorry, when you set that bomb off, what say I make a phone call? I could give you some pointers on what to expect?'
'What?' said Karim.
'But who would you call?' said Abdul
'A friend of mine … Look, if I sound a bit off, you can always shoot me.'
'Yes. But why would you do this thing?'
'Well,' I said, as the Bluewater bloke loomed over me again, cracking his knuckles, 'you don't seem like bad guys ... I just worry the prophet might have seen you coming.'
When, later on, I regained consciousness, I rang my pal Rafe, on Abdul's mobile. I said;
'Hi mate … yeah, I'm in a situation … In Acton, I think ... I know, I know … Anyway, usual finder's fee ... What I need is an ounce of the Bonnie Prince ... actually, better make that two, and a bag of pills, a crate of Bolly, and Debbi, Candi and Bambi from Babes of Mayfair … Well, it is fairly urgent… Good man.'
'My friend,' I explained 'doesn't follow the news.'
'That is good,' said Abdul, with an ominous click of his revolver.
I don't mind saying I nearly wet myself a few times, in the hours that followed. I had to get
the guys to hide their weapons, and then to produce them, so to speak, all the while hoping Rafe and the ladies wouldn't blow the whole scene. As it turned out, Debbi, Candi and Bambi were quite used to blowing bonkers Arab blokes, (did I just say that? I fear I did ... ) but it was a bit nerve-wracking. So it was with a sense of … real victory, then, that I sat there next morning, in the West London dawn, my erstwhile captors asleep in the arms of the most fanciable, and expensive, escorts in town, no doubt dreaming of mountains of coke, and rivers of finest, vintage champagne. They must have felt like they were in paradise, innocents, in their way, so I almost didn't have the heart to phone up Special Branch, and have the guys tortured, half to death. Being outwitted by a British royal can't be easy, after all.
On the other hand though, they had started shooting during my Rodolfo. You expect the odd bad crit, but being tear-gassed, hit round the head and then kidnapped was exactly the kind of
thing I'd got into acting to try and avoid. So I made the call.
It was ten minutes later, as the West London cops came steaming round the corner, and on up the stairs, when it struck me that coke, pills and vice girls weren't especially interests Al Qaeda members were known to pursue. And yet the place was littered ...
My strides, in a real sense, seemed around my ankles.
As a prince about town, as a bit of player, I'd been in scrapes before, but what were the chances of this being hushed up? Between the guys, the police and Debbi, Candi and Bambi, they didn't look good. What with the Wapping wad, that is, the wad from Wapping, that was bound to be on the table, after what must have felt like a hunt for a national treasure.
And I was far, as you know, from being a national treasure ... So how the hell was the H-Meister going to explain ?
My worst reviews seemed ahead of me, suddenly.
Bugger, I thought.
The Worst Review of My Career, So Far by Quintin Forrest was read by Alex Woodhall at the Liars' League Gentlemen & Players event at the Wheatsheaf on 12 May 2009