As the Government prepares to ease lockdown restrictions, one idea is to allow us to choose ten friends with whom we could socialise. Details are being finalised — but it does raise a difficult social conundrum. Who would you choose and who would you leave out? Seven writers explain how they would pick their lockdown Top 10.
As the Government prepares to ease lockdown restrictions, one idea is to allow us to choose ten friends with whom we could socialise
First on the list would be my husband, David, whom I haven’t seen since March 15
My snipper is a shoo-in
Jenni Murray, broadcaster
How I long for the Government to allow us to nominate ten people with whom we’re allowed to socialise. I’m so alone stuck in London with only three dogs and a cat to keep me company.
It’s a conversation-free zone. But deciding who to choose is a dilemma. Do you go for sentimentality or practicality? Give in to family obligation? And what about the people you don’t choose. How much do considerations of offending someone who might never forgive you play a part?
Stripping your social circle down to ten is hard, but I’ve tried to combine head and heart.
First on the list would be my husband, David, whom I haven’t seen since March 15. I’m in London for work and he’s in our home on the South Coast, also alone. The temptation to drive to the sea has been overwhelming but I’ve been a good girl and resisted it.
My two boys and their respective partners would both have to be included. Ed and Liz are in the New Forest and Charlie and Minal are not far from me in North London. I’ve seen Charlie twice as we’ve chatted at a safe distance in my front garden, but there’s no way I could exclude him from the list. He and his brother never fail to play the ‘She loves me best’ game if one feels excluded.
Sally, my best friend and her husband, Lawrie, would be invited. He is the most amusing conversationalist I know and she has been loyally keeping in touch by phone.
Norma is the family’s longest-standing friend, and used to be our dentist. Everyone would be keen to see her. And that leaves two, who would be Lisa B and Annie. Annie colours my hair and Lisa cuts it, and I haven’t seen them since February 11. I’m desperate.
I know my second best friend, Griselda, will be miffed that I have chosen somebody’s else’s husband and my hairdressing team over her. She might never speak to me again. But, hey, in such straitened times, needs must!
If I have learned anything during these past few weeks, it’s not that people matter, it’s that the right people matter
No to my moody mother-in-law
Jane Green, novelist
With six adult children, there are eight of us living in our suddenly-not-so-big cottage, whose plumbing was clearly not designed for this many people.
I would gladly swap the seven other people for ten new people, because we’re all a bit sick of one another at this point, although the children are very good at cooking.
But if I am allowed a shortlist of ten people with whom to socialise, how do I pick and, more important, who do I pick? Who would I want to see on a regular basis who wouldn’t drive me mad?
My husband will almost certainly want his mother added to the list — but I shall have to protest. When in a good mood, there’s no one more fun, but her mood these days is dark, and the last thing I need is someone else to take care of.
If I have learned anything during these past few weeks, it’s not that people matter, it’s that the right people matter. Life is shorter than we think and, even housebound, there is never enough time.
When I do have time to see people, when I am allowed, I want them to be the people I truly love, the friends who have become family. If you aren’t now prepared to make tough decisions and gently let go of the outer circle, when can you?
Two of my very best girlfriends, Emily and Lisa, are unequivocally at the top of the list. I adore Emily’s husband and baby son but I’m afraid I can’t add them. The list is short and I must be ruthless. Also, they don’t make me laugh. Emily and Lisa, however, are filled with laughter, wisdom and support.
Jennifer is on the list because she’s the perfect drinking buddy, and given that I have taken up serious drinking as my quarantine hobby, I need tips from an expert.
My brother Charlie makes the cut because I miss him terribly, and his presence makes everything better. I’m afraid I’m not having my parents. Not because I don’t love them, but because my father never stops eating and we can barely feed everyone as it is.
My friends Fiona and Andy are on the list because not only are they great conversationalists but also Fiona would make me feel guilty about my new-found slothfulness.
Nancy will expect to be on the list — but she is not. She is wildly competitive, constantly talking about the brilliance of her children, and, frankly, the break I’ve had from this friendship has been something of a welcome relief.
My friend Steve is definitely included because he’s always up for a party. My God, I miss dancing. I’m throwing in Sophie and Stefan because they’re neighbours, so it’s easy to release them if I need to. And for my tenth person, it would have to be my cleaner, Lucy.
I am drowning in cooking, cleaning, laundry and ironing, with little time for much else.
And when Lucy’s back, she is getting a very big pay rise.
My wife is insisting we have Gok Wan over for a complete style makeover
I want Gok Wan for a makeover
Gyles Brandreth, author and broadcaster
I could do with some stardust to brighten up the place. So I am starting with my friend Barry Cryer. No one knows more jokes or tells them more brilliantly. Next up, it will be Sheila Hancock. We went on a canal-boat holiday together just before lockdown and she’s the best company and a vegan, too. I am a vegetarian, but my diet has gone to pieces these past few weeks. Sheila will put me right.
I need some exercise so I’m going to include national treasure Dame Judi Dench and her grandson, Sammy, who has been teaching her how to throw some shapes on TikTok. Drag queen Baga Chipz from RuPaul’s Drag Race is definitely invited. We met doing Pointless Celebrities. He has discovered that I have appeared in drag in my time, so he wants to come and have a good look through my wardrobe.
During lockdown I’ve been dressed in my notorious 1980s jumpers, so my wife is insisting we have Gok Wan over for a complete style makeover. I think all I need is a haircut — which is where Joanna Lumley comes in. Years ago, she did cut my hair in my kitchen simply to prove that she could.
I’d love to have two poets-in- residence. I’m opting for two friends: Pam Ayres and Roger McGough. Roger stood outside my window recently to show me his latest poem Work In Progress. In full it read: ‘So far, so good.’
Oh yes — and since I know him a little, I’m including Boris Johnson. I need him to come over if he will. I would like to find out what’s going on.
Being forced to select just ten comrades reminds me of a party a friend threw to impress a chap at college
I need great mates to motivate me
Hannah Betts, writer
Being forced to select just ten comrades reminds me of a party a friend threw to impress a chap at college, at which everyone had been chosen to bring something to the party.
There was the cool guest, the funny one, the beautiful one. Each had to cater to a different practical or emotional need. When choosing would-be lockdown companions, it’s similarly important to choose people who bring different aspects to our lives.
The first pick for my dream team is my friend Harry, whom I have holidayed with repeatedly while never being anything less than enchanted. He races about doing things while I sleep in, then we are united over books and bitching.
Our friend Ned once negotiated us to the front of a three-mile long Turkish ferry queue while knowing only the word ‘kebab’, so would be required for his diplomatic skills.
My friend Fitz is so joyous she would bring cheer even if the world were ending, which it may yet be. I would also call upon Jules, a real-life psychologist and beyond wise. Eleri would be another obvious choice, a dazzling cook and seamstress. Clem can read tarot cards and administer reiki.
My foodie neighbour, Geoff, is included because he is a man who understands my need for asparagus, decent bread and stinky French fromage. Eliza’s jewellery shop is my happy place, and I see no reason why isolation shouldn’t mean gazing at diamonds.
My family is as belligerent as it is enormous: put more than two of us in a room and warfare ensues. So I would airlift my niece, 15-year-old Issy, into my gang of ten to take care of grooming, social media and pizza-ordering. My boyfriend, Terence, has been the best and worst of lockdown allies: early-rising, over-achieving, living his best life, while I slob about in a state of terminal torpor. He does the garden so I’ll keep him in my iso-bubble, provided he lays off the motivational speeches.
Mine is a very practical list. Those who live beyond London will be excluded
My ABBA heroine — and Dame Joan!
Andrew Pierce, Mail columnist
They say absence makes the heart grow fonder. I hope they’re right. I’ve been apart from my partner Russell for five weeks as he’s working on the South Coast. If he’s not top of the list, there will be divorce papers in the post.
Next has to be the Mail’s Amanda Platell, one of my best friends. A near neighbour, she performed a modern-day version of Florence Nightingale delivering daily fresh food when I was recovering from the virus. She also never runs out of vodka!
Mine is a very practical list. Those who live beyond London will be excluded, especially my friend Debbie, as that will spare us having to endure her homemade carrot soup, which has the same consistency as lumpy porridge. If I’m allowed to cheat, I would draft in a personal trainer as I can already feel the pressure of the lockdown on my waistband.
My chum Judy Craymer, the genius behind the musical Mamma Mia!, is included as she has every track of Abba music ever written. I want tickets for her show when the West End reopens.
Dame Joan Collins and her husband Percy will have a long list of people who want to be in their top ten. I might just make it. They’re great company, incredibly generous, and they have the best Hollywood gossip. It goes without saying I’ll include my sisters Sue and Shirley. They’d never let me forget if I didn’t. But not my brother Chris, as we argue too much.
Finally, Jane Moore, star of ITV’s Loose Women, who is unflappable, funny and just great to be around. As for her husband Gary, he will be included — but only if there is a suitable barn for him to sleep in if we all stay together.
If you’re going to be limited to a social circle of ten then you don’t want it to be hard work
My manicurist Nicky is a must
Aggie MacKenzie, TV personality and writer
Obviously my gorgeous, funny sons Rory, 28, and Ewan, 24, would be right at the top of my list. They are both chefs, so we would enjoy the best fun and food imaginable. Mind you, they do like a drink, so our livers — and my bank balance — would take a pounding.
I would need to include their girlfriends (happily so), otherwise the boys would get very grumpy.
Next up would be Nicky, who does my Shellac manicures and pedicures. Much as I love the longevity of Shellac, it is impossible to get off without picking, and is better when removed by a professional.
The ends of my fingers and toes currently look abysmal. Nicky is also great company.
Out of my two best friends Elaine and Alison, I would choose Alison, because I don’t want to be ‘piggy in the middle’ between two people I am very close to but who barely know each other.
I understand the pressure to be diplomatic, but if you’re going to be limited to a social circle of ten then you don’t want it to be hard work. Second, Alison’s partner is far away in Yorkshire and Elaine is happily married to Jeff. (Phew, think I managed to slither out of that one unscathed.)
There’s someone who would probably expect to be on my list but I’m afraid would have to be excluded. Martin is an old, dear (ex-boy)friend who is divorced and lives alone.
Unfortunately, he’s also highly opinionated, competitive, vocal and palatable only in small doses. He gets very touchy if anyone levels any criticism towards him — or his small, similarly yappy dog. Much as I love you, Martin, you will have to find a different bubble to burst.
Finally, my relatively new boyfriend Fin. He and I have been in lockdown together at my house since March 23. It took us a full two seconds to decide that was what we both wanted; each time there’s an announcement that lockdown will continue a while longer, big grins break out across our faces.
I don’t really feel the need for any more people in my cluster, but to make full use of my ten, I would keep it in the family and add Fin’s sister Roz, who introduced us and also conveniently knows my friend Alison.
And I would add Fin’s two sons, Lucas and Hugh, who are the same age as my sons and another couple of cheeky, companionable North London boys.
I have the advantage of having been conditioned by boarding school and being in the Big Brother House
A house of fun — but no smokers!
Rachel Johnson, journalist and author
I have the advantage of having been conditioned by boarding school and being in the Big Brother House. I know that what you want from a ‘housemate’ in order of importance are 1. Cheerfulness. 2. Conversational ability 3. Cooking skills and 4. Cleanliness.
I was tempted to have an all-female household. But I’ve decided that would be too sterile. I want to have a red-blooded House of Fun.
So I would have a few fellow frustrated super-socials: The ‘tastemaker’ Nicky Haslam, without whom no social occasion is complete, as every night would be a party. I’d have the fun-magnet Nicholas Coleridge, who is a jukebox of jokes, accents, and anecdotes, plus Jemima Goldsmith, who sings like Maria Callas for her supper, as well as being incredibly clever and easy on the eye.
I would have P.J. O’Rourke but I fear he’s a smoker and I’d start puffing away like a locomotive. In fact, I’d exclude all smokers (and vegans — the catering!)
My family is too numerous but I insist on having my three adult children whether they liked it or not.
You want a film and TV buff to ‘curate’ evening viewing, so I would nominate as proxy Peter Morgan, the screenwriter of The Crown, as he is both omniscient as well as immaculate.
I’d throw in the TV critic and blonde bombshell Camilla Long, although I’m not sure she can boil an egg, and the celebrity crimper Josh Wood, as most crucially, he could do all our hair.
For romance, I’d choose Joanne Salley, the drop-dead-gorgeous artist and former art teacher who had to leave Harrow as she was too distracting.