Why would I get John Prescott drunk? He's bad enough sober, says Petronella

Petronella Wyatt

Annoyed: Petronella defends herself against John Prescott who alleges she got him drunk at an awards lunch in the 1990s

In his language-mangling memoirs, John Prescott accuses her of plying him with drink. What rot, says 'Petrofino' Wyatt. After all he's bad enough sober.

 When a friend called me to say that I had been mentioned in John Prescott's memoirs, Prezza: My Story, I was mildly surprised.

I've met the man just twice, but I still was somewhat gratified because it is always flattering to be mentioned in the memoirs of a public figure  -  even if Prezza was not exactly as dashing as the parliamentary diarist Alan Clark, and has a tendency to murder the English language.

Nonetheless, I rushed out to buy the newspaper that was carrying extracts from his book.

After all, Mr Prescott might have remembered some apercu of mine, or at the very least admired my ankles.

On the contrary. Prezza accused me of making him drunk! He claimed that, at an awards lunch in the 1990s, I plied him with whisky until he was barely able to stand, causing him to 'stumble' into a Shadow Cabinet meeting, declaring: 'I'm p****d!'

I continued to read, my jaw dropping. Mr Prescott claimed that he was 'not used to alcohol'!

John Prescott

Former Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott had to be 'helped' to his car after an afternoon of drinking and could not even remember Petronella's name

Sounding like a member of a Victorian temperance society, he continued: 'I never touch beer and I don't have wine.'

Yet at the awards ceremony, sponsored by The Spectator and Highland Park whisky, I apparently succeeded in forcing this model of abstinence to drink glass after glass of the hard stuff.

Perhaps I should have felt flattered that a man of Prezza's iron will finally crumbled on encountering me. I was irritated, however, by his implication that this single incident had pushed him down the slippery slope of drunkenness and near disaster.

After all, in his book he cites a later occasion, when in the presence of Gordon Brown's friend, the Labour MP Geoffrey Robinson, he could not resist getting 'sozzled'.

Two Jags, in fact, had to be 'helped' into his car, by Brown's press secretary Charlie Whelan.

'I remember thinking, through the haze... someone will leak this. But, surprisingly, there wasn't a word. It showed that we . . . were not stabbing each other in the back.'

To be honest, I was further annoyed by Prezza's apparent inability to remember my name.

If a man believes someone is responsible for his ruination, the man really ought to recall that person's Christian name.

I, however, was referred to as 'this young woman from The Spectator  -  Petrofino, Peregrino, something like that', making me sound like a cheap form of petroleum or a brand of Italian mineral water.

(Prescott was gracious enough to admit that, 'I gather now it was Petronella.')

At any rate, Prezza, this is war. Let the truth be told. First, why would I wish to make Mr Prescott drunk? He is bad enough sober.

Did he think I was hoping for an amorous declaration from him?

Prescott graphic

Second, I had observed his drinking habits before. In his memoirs, he says of his teetotal existence: 'No one ever believes this.' You're too right.

The first time I met Mr Prescott was in the mid-1990s at a bash given by the All-Party Parliamentary Jazz Group on top of the Post Office Tower.

Prescott was Blair's deputy leader.

With a glass of wine in hand, he was curling his fleshy lip at the Tory MP Bill Cash, who was playing the saxophone.

Ten minutes later, after his third drink, he started banging on some drums. (I later learned he fancied himself as a jazz musician; has ever a man fancied himself so much?)

When Cash asked me to join in and sing, Prescott asked ungallantly: 'What, 'er?' After I had looked him squarely in his rheumy eyes and belted out a chorus of It Had To Be You, he became more friendly.

In the lift, after the party, he clumsily patted me on the back, obviously three sheets to the wind.

If only I had realised that the poor man was simply 'not used to alcohol'.

A few years later, at The Spectator Parliamentarian of the Year awards lunch, to which he refers, he appeared to have developed a more than passing acquaintance with drink.

At the reception beforehand, he grabbed at the glasses of whisky as if they were the last in the world. I had been delegated to sit next to him, and by the time lunch commenced he was already drinking the free bottle of whisky in front of each name card.

Moreover, he knew my name perfectly well as he picked up my card and read it aloud. It was evident that he had a lack of self-esteem, which may have shown itself in his need for alcohol.

He told me he did not feel 'accepted' by New Labour, and was convinced he was being laughed at by MPs. (For once, his judgment was unerring.)

In some ways he reminded me of George Brown, Harold Wilson's deputy leader, who drank to boost his confidence and 'to tell stuffy people where to get off'. Drink seemed to make Prescott feel anyone's equal.

During that lunch, I encountered a man that the public has never seen  -  or rather heard.

Once he had polished off a considerable quantity of whisky, his language almost soared with eloquence, tinged with bile and self-pity.

He complained to me that his colleagues mocked him, and spat out his hatred for Peter Mandelson. He called Blair's close adviser and friend 'a pretend toff who makes fun of my speech'.

Time and again he told me how hard he worked and insisted angrily that no one appreciated his statesmanlike ability to 'keep things together in my office'.

Prezza, by this time, was barely able to keep himself together. His eloquence had left him and his speech was becoming decidedly peculiar  -  a sort of parody of Prezzatalk. He began punctuating his discourse with snorts, leaving mispronunciations, omissions and spoonerisms uncorrected.

When the pudding arrived, he informed me he was feeling too 'tired' to attend the Shadow Cabinet meeting to which he refers in his book.

He would, he said, spend the afternoon sitting by the Thames.

To my regret, I managed to talk him out of this disastrous course of action. What if he were spotted slumped on the river bank by a paparazzo?

What would his colleagues say? I gave him some more black coffee. (I now wish I had poured it over his head.)

The grievances continued to spill forth. If the public admire John Prescott at all, it is for his alleged ability to have 'bridged the gap' between Old Labour and his friend Tony Blair.

Yet, to my astonishment, he turned to me and said quite baldly: 'Blair is a s**t. He despises me like the rest, and I made him.'

I was amazed not only by the sentiment but by the indiscretion. Was he so far gone that he had no realisation of what he had said? But then he repeated the comment.

In essence, it all came down to his conviction that no former public schoolboy such as Blair would respect a former ship's steward such as himself.

Sorry, John, to have blown your cover, but my encounters with you led me to conclude that, like many drinkers, you are a pitiful mixture of arrogance and insecurity.

Such people usually blame their failings on 'stress'  -  as Mr Prescott did in explaining away his startling revelation that he suffered from bulimia  -  or other people.

Now, in Prezza: My Story, he blames his drinking on me.

Well, if that's your story, old boy, stick to it. I feel, however, for the sake of what little reputation I have, that I have a right to defend myself against this charge  -  which is akin to being accused of immorality by the Emperor Caligula.

So, I have put the record straight and now I will raise a glass of whisky to Two Jags' health and the memory of our meetings.

No comments have so far been submitted. Why not be the first to send us your thoughts, or debate this issue live on our message boards.

We are no longer accepting comments on this article.

Who is this week's top commenter? Find out now