Robert Webb, of Peep Show fame, told us being a Booker Prize judge this year was “really interesting and fun”, but not an endeavour to enter into lightly. At the prize’s shortlist party in the National Portrait Gallery last night, the TV writer and actor said reading became an “extreme kind of endurance” activity and he couldn’t finish all the books. Judges were tasked with reading 163 of them in seven months. “It works out as a novel a day, which is impossible,” Webb said. “You finish as many as you can and the other ones you put to one side after a respectable but undisclosed fraction has been read.”
Fellow judge, professor James Shapiro warned of the pressure such a prestigious award can bring. “Sometimes you win the Booker and it’s the last great book you write. It’s a terrible weight,” he told us. “I know of a former Booker winner who got crushed a bit by that pressure and it was a setback as much as it brought visibility.”
Art historian Katy Hessel was giving tours of authors’ portraits to guests while we met with the short-listed writers. “It’s a good day for Pauls,” author Paul Murray told us. He is one of three Pauls in the final six up for the prize: Paul Lynch, Paul Murray and Paul Harding. Lynch said he felt “marvellous” to be on the list. May the best Paul win.
Mitchell turns quiz host for book launch
David Mitchell, the other half of Peep Show, has made a scholarly turn. His first history book, Unruly, about England’s kings and queens, comes out this month and he decided to launch it last night with a pub quiz in the upstairs room of The Albert, Victoria. Off the bat Mitchell, pictured, made clear there would be “no f***ing pop culture”, though we did notice Madonna’s Like A Virgin in the music round (apparently Madge was inspired by Elizabeth I). Mitchell told us he liked writing about the bad monarchs more than the good ones. Being ruled by them is a different matter. “I would definitely rather be ruled by Liz Truss than by King John,” he joked. His next book might be on prime ministers, if he can keep up with them. TV historian Kate Williams’s table won the quiz, and they kindly promised to donate their winnings to charity.
Sturgeon caught between meetings
Pret baristas thought they had seen a ghost last week when Nicola Sturgeon marched through on her way to a London meeting. The former Scottish first minister was spotted skulking around a branch of the coffee chain carrying files in the capital’s legal district. Our spy sent this snap.
Actors turn up for the Amazon
Actors Andrew Garfield and Douglas Booth were among VIPs at Annabel’s in Mayfair to raise money for The Caring Family Foundation last night. Grammy award-winning musician Seal performed his soulful classic Kiss from a Rose to the packed members club. TV host and actor James Corden was also there, enjoying his return to the London nightlife scene after his time in the US. Money raised at the gala will fund reforestation projects in the Amazon in Brazil.