From The Telegraph
By Jeffrey Archer
Everyone should have a hobby. It can be anything from collecting matchbooks to Manet, from bird watching to bee-keeping, from marathon running to horse riding – but whatever it is, make sure it’s fun.
My hobby for the past 30 years has been as a conductor, not of orchestras, or on buses, but of auctions. My passion for the auction hammer began in the most unlikely way.
Norma Major had invited my wife, Mary, and myself to an opera evening in aid of Mencap, when her husband John was the backbench MP for Huntingdon. We took a table, and were looking forward to a pleasant and not too demanding evening. It was when pudding was being served, that Norma came across to our table to tell me that her auctioneer, a local pro, had fallen out at the last minute, and she wondered if I’d be willing to take his place.
“But I’ve never done an auction in my life,” I protested. “Surely John can do it?”
“No,” said Norma firmly, “he’s giving the vote of thanks, and in any case, he thinks you’d be ideal for the job.”
I don’t remember how much was raised on that occasion, but I do remember how much I enjoyed the whole experience, and when, a few weeks later, another charity asked me to perform the same task, I happily accepted.
Having found, by mistake, an alternative career – it was Proust who reminded us we all end up doing the thing we are second best at – I set about the task with a vengeance.
I became a regular attendee at Christie’s, Sotheby’s, Bonhams and Phillips sales, in an effort to learn my new trade at the feet of the professionals. I have to admit that this also had a side benefit, because a major Impressionist sale at one of the great auction houses is as exciting and dramatic as any opening night in the West End.
Fast forward 30 years, with over a thousand charity auctions behind me, I have been invited to conduct an auction at Christie's King Street headquarters. And it’s an auction with a difference.
I asked 16 of my friends to donate an item, and even I was surprised by the enthusiastic response. Most wealthy or well-known individuals get overwhelmed by how many people approach them for money each week, even when it’s for a worthwhile cause. But the clincher for this particular charity event was that the money raised would go to the charity of their choice.
I have ended up with some strange and wonderful objects that will come under the hammer on June 27, to benefit 21 different causes.
Margaret Thatcher has presented me with a handbag (Lot 216), that has been in her possession for the past 35 years, and can be seen in the sale catalogue in a picture of her walking in the grounds of Camp David with the then-US President Ronald Reagan.
The legendary Tom Jones will host a dinner party for 10 in the Dorchester’s Krug Room with executive chef Henry Brosi, overseeing the evening (Lot 202), and Eric Clapton has given us a signed Fender Telecaster guitar that he played in concert at the Grosvenor House hotel only a few weeks ago (Lot 215).
Bernie Ecclestone has invited two people to join him as his personal guests for next year’s Monte Carlo Grand Prix (Lot 212), with paddock club tickets, starting grid access, pit passes, and four nights in a sea-view room in the Hotel de Paris. Lawrence Dallaglio has parted with the match ball from the 2003 Rugby World Cup final (Lot 210), signed by the referee, with personal, hand-written messages from Clive Woodward, Martin Johnson, Johnny Wilkinson and Lawrence himself. Michael Parkinson has given up his treasured Ashes cricket bat from the 2005 series, signed by every player from both the victorious English and defeated Australian sides (I couldn’t resist that), plus scorecards from all five Tests (Lot 201).
Ian Botham has invited three people to join him for lunch at Sunningdale before a round of golf on the famous course, followed by dinner at the Hotel du Vin in Henley-on-Thames (Lot 208). Freddie Flintoff offers two of you the chance to be caddie to Charl Schwartzel and Louis Oosthuizen at this year’s Scottish Open (Lot 213) and also to join Freddie for lunch in the club house, while my wife Mary has sacrificed her Warhol drawing of Diana, Princess of Wales together with a signed copy of the Christie’s catalogue from her famous Dresses Sale in New York (Lot 211).
I’m letting go of the Chief Timekeeper’s stopwatch that recorded the first sub-four minute mile by Roger Bannister at Iffley Road, Oxford on May 6, 1954, (Lot 214), which will benefit Oxford University Athletics Club, and my collection of Winston Churchill speeches, produced by the Decca Record Company, signed by Churchill with a personal message from President Johnson (Lot 203) will go to Oxfam.
The final item (Lot 218) will be the auctioneer’s hammer. But it’s no ordinary hammer, because Laurence Graff has adorned it with over 200 of the finest diamonds, with a carat weight of 5.66cts.
Now, you may well ask if I’m nervous about conducting an auction at Christie’s. You bet. Wouldn’t you be nervous if you were singing an opera at Covent Garden, opening the batting for England at Lord’s, or making your maiden speech to a packed House of Commons?
I may have conducted over a thousand auctions during the past 30 years (with, I must admit, two fallow years), but for an amateur like myself, this is my solo performance at La Scala, Lord’s or Wembley.
The British people are a generous lot, not only when it comes to parting with their hard-earned cash, but also giving up hours of their time for causes they believe in. Over the years, I have extracted from them, everything from the widow’s mite to the millionaire’s yacht, from a trip down a coalmine in Wales, to a week’s wine tasting in Cape Town, from a session in the nets with Shane Warne, to a walk-on part in the Morecombe and Wise Christmas show – the proceeds always going to worthwhile causes. But on June 27, I’m going one better, and hoping to raise £1 million in one evening for the first time. In my amateur auctioneering career, my previous record is £620,000. So if you want to join me at Christie’s on June 27, you’d be most welcome – but be prepared to be fleeced.
Jeffrey Archer’s Charity Sale begins at 7.30pm on Monday June 27 at Christie’s, St James’s, London SW1. www.christies.com