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My love affair with Will; WHY WIT AND FORMER MP BRANDRETH IS JUST WILDE ABOUT SHAKESPEARE AND FRIENDS...

Byline: LORNE JACKSON

I'M a darned slick journalist, all right.

You wanna know how slick? Well, I've only been on the blower to Gyles Brandreth for five minutes, and already I've suckered a scoop out of the silly fellow.

And it's the kind of salaciously succulent story adored by every testosterone-twitchy newspaper editor on the planet.

So brace yourselves, folks, here's the jaw-dropping juice on the TV star: Cosy-Jumper Bloke Caught Getting Cosy-Wosy With Curvy Cutie In Car! "Yes, it's true. I'm with a young woman at this very moment," he burbles from his mobile, confidentially.

"You've caught me in a secret tryst!" Infuriatingly, a moment later, Brandreth ruins everything - including my galloping hopes of promotion - by revealing the turgid truth.

The mystery female is Carol, a researcher for The One Show, the popular early-evening programme that he frequently appears on.

He's not having an affair, at all..

Just keeping busy, doing outside reporting for the BBC.

However, when pushed, he does admit to having an unruly passion outside of his marriage... and it's a passion for a man.

A dead man, at that.

"I've always adored Shakespeare," he says.

"My respect and absolute love for the chap is so all-consuming that I even lived in Stratford-upon-Avon for a time..

"I wanted to have a house near his grave, and that's exactly what I did get.

"When I woke up in the morning, I would open my window and look out upon Holy Trinity Church, where Shakespeare's grave is.

"Not once did it fail to move me." Being in such thrall to both William Shakespeare and Stratford, Brandreth is glad to be one of the guest speakers appearing at this year's Stratford-upon-Avon Literary

Festival, which begins tomorrow.

But he won't be talking about Will The Fertile Quill.

Instead, he'll be focusing on the two other authors he adores the most - Oscar Wilde and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

For the past few years, he has been working on a series of fictional detective novels starring Wilde, with Conan Doyle as his sidekick.

The latest thrilling yarn is called

Oscar Wilde And The Dead Man's Smile, and it includes guest appearances by Bram Stoker, the man behind Dracula, and Robert Louis Stevenson, the Scot who dreamed up Dr Jekyll And Mr Hyde.

JM Barrie, the creator of Peter Pan, is also added to the heady literary mix.

Although Brandreth offers up an invented story, it's a recorded fact that all these esteemed artists knew each other.

Wilde and Conan Doyle met at a publisher's lunch, where Conan Doyle hoped to sell the first Sherlock Holmes story, A Study In Scarlet, while Wilde pitched his prospective spine-tingler, The Picture Of Dorian Gray.

Gyles also has a link to both men.

As a child he lived in Baker Street, opposite the fictional home of Sherlock and Dr Watson.

He later went to Bedales School in Hampshire where he befriended the elderly founder of the establishment, John Haden Badley, who, in his youth, was a close chum of Wilde.

"Badley told me that he once asked Oscar for advice," says Bran- dreth. "Wilde said to him, 'Always avoid murder. A gentleman should never do anything he can't talk about at dinner.' "Having known Badley is one of the reasons I feel such a strong connection to Wilde.

''In fact, when I shake hands with all those wonderful people at the Stratford Literary Festival, they will be shaking hands with the hand that shook the hand of Oscar Wilde.

"Which is why I plan on standing up and announcing to everyone in the room, 'At one remove, I give you... Oscar Wilde!" Grumping

Like Wilde, Brandreth prefers good humour and glib remarks to grumping or gravitas.

The 61 year-old's voice is a precarious balancing act between charm and smarm, while each silken thread of his conversation is woven into a luminous tapestry of intricate anecdote and plush wit.

But Brandreth is no mere bubble of bonhomie. Don't be fooled into concluding that he's best summedup as a bright and silly grin inside a bright and silly jumper; or that frivolous cove manning Dictionary Corner on endless episodes of Countdown.

Like all successful men, he keeps a horseshoe hidden beneath the squishiness of the boxing glove.

In a varied and bustling career, he boasts Conservative politician in his resume.

During the ignominious years of the Major Government, Brandreth was a Whip, one of the small band of MPs tasked with policing the party.

So what is his opinion of the scattershot of scandals now peppering Labour, and Members of Parliament in general? Was he shocked to discover that so many Parliamentary piggies have their snouts snuggled deep within the trough? For once, the smooth ooze of his voice ripples with a sigh.

"This is not unfamiliar territory for me," he says. "All this sleaze stuff, it's like the last days of the John Major administration, all over again.

"I really do have this great feeling of deja vu.

"And I know how it all ends, too.

With a bucket-load of tears for Mr Gordon Brown."

If Brown and his party are to be ousted, there will be plenty of tough decisions to be made by a Conservative Government under David Cameron.

Would Brandreth like to traipse back through the doors of Westminster and help to heal our credit-crunched economy? "I have been asked by various Conservatives to run for Parliament at the next election," he reveals.

"I've even been offered safe seats. But the truth is my wife found that Parliament was the enemy of family life.

"Now I'm just loving the world of Oscar Wilde and Arthur Conan Doyle so much.

"I really wouldn't want to go back into the world of Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling - where would the fun and adventure be in that?" For more information about the Stratford-upon-Avon Literary Festival, tel: 01789 207 100, or visit the website www.

stratfordliteraryfestival.co.uk

CAPTION(S):

HEROES: Gyles Brandreth adores Oscar Wilde, William Shakespeare and Arthur Conan Doyle.
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Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:Apr 26, 2009
Words:1004
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