Thank God. That probably means we’re not heading for silver domes. We’re going to some tiny tucked-away place that hardly anyone knows about. Some little private club where you have to knock on an anonymous-looking door in a back street, and you get inside and it’s packed with celebrities sitting on sofas, behaving like normal people. Yes! And maybe Tarquin knows them all!
But of course he knows them all. He’s a multimillionaire, isn’t he?
I look out of the window and see that we’re driving past Harrods. And for just a moment, my stomach tightens painfully as I remember the last time I was here. Bloody suitcases. Bloody Luke Brandon. Huh. In fact, I wish he was walking along the road right now, so I could give him a careless, I’m-with-the-fifteenth-richest-single-man-in-Britain wave.
“OK,” says Tarquin suddenly to the taxi driver. “You can drop us here.” He grins at me. “Practically on the doorstep.”
“Great,” I say, and reach for the door.
Practically on the doorstep of where? As I get out I look around, wondering where on earth we’re going. We’re at Hyde Park Corner. What’s at Hyde Park Corner? I turn round slowly, and glimpse a sign — and suddenly I realize what’s going on. We’re going to the Lanesborough!
Wow. How classy is that? Dinner at the Lanesborough. But naturally. Where else would one go on a first date?
“So,” says Tarquin, appearing at my side. “I just thought we could get a bite to eat and then. . see.”
“Sounds good,” I say, as we start walking.
Excellent! Dinner at the Lanesborough and then on to some glam nightclub. This is all shaping up wonderfully.
We walk straight past the entrance to the Lanesborough, but I’m not fazed by that. Everyone knows VIPs always go in through the back to avoid the paparazzi. Not that I can actually see any paparazzi, but it probably becomes a habit. We’ll duck into some back alley, and walk through the kitchens while the chefs pretend they can’t see us, and then emerge in the foyer. This is so cool.
“I’m sure you’ve been here before,” says Tarquin apologetically. “Not the most original choice.”
“Don’t be silly!” I say, as we stop and head toward a pair of glass doors. “I simply adore. .”
Hang on, where are we? This isn’t the back entrance to anywhere. This is. .
Pizza on the Park.
Tarquin’s taking me to Pizza Express. I don’t believe it. The fifteenth richest man in the country is taking me to bloody Pizza Express.
“. . pizza,” I finish weakly. “Love the stuff.”
“Oh good!” says Tarquin. “I thought we probably didn’t want anywhere too flashy.”
“Oh no.” I pull what I think is a very convincing face. “I hate flashy places. Much better to have a nice quiet pizza together.”
“That’s what I thought,” says Tarquin, turning to look at me. “But now I feel rather bad. You’ve dressed up so nicely. .” He pauses doubtfully, gazing at my outfit. (As well he might. I didn’t go and spend a fortune in Whistles for Pizza Express.) “I mean, if you wanted to, we could go somewhere a bit smarter. The Lanesborough’s just around the corner. .”
He raises his eyes questioningly, and I’m about to say “Oh, yes, please!” when suddenly, in a blinding flash, I realize what’s going on. This is a test, isn’t it? It’s like choosing out of three caskets in a fairy tale. Everyone knows the rules. You never choose the gold shiny one. Or even the quite impressive silver one. What you’re supposed to do is choose the dull little lead one, and then there’s a flash of light and it turns into a mountain of jewels. So this is it. Tarquin’s testing me, to see whether I like him for himself.
Which, frankly, I find rather insulting. I mean, who does he think I am?
“No, let’s stay here,” I say, and touch his arm briefly. “Much more relaxed. Much more. . fun.”
Which is actually quite true. And I do like pizza. And that yummy garlic bread. Mmm. You know, now I come to think about it, this is quite a good choice.
As the waiter hands us our menus, I give a cursory flash down the list, but I already know what I want. It’s what I always have when I go to Pizza Express — Fiorentina. The one with spinach and an egg. I know, it sounds weird, but honestly, it’s delicious.
“Would you like an aperitif?” says the waiter, and I’m about to say what I usually do, which is Oh, let’s just have a bottle of wine, when I think, Sod it, I’m having dinner with a multimillionaire here. I’m bloody well going to have a gin and tonic.