The woman from Marie Claire who was interviewing me leant forward over the table and nodded earnestly.
"Now that’s interesting."
"Unless of course you’re Zsa Zsa Gabor," I quipped.
My interviewer and the photographer both laughed gratifyingly.
"Seriously, though," I pulled the interview back on track, "what I cannot over-emphasise is that one of the primary duties of a legal team is to make sure cases are worked out in a friendly, conciliatory atmosphere – especially when there are children involved."
The Marie Claire lady nodded again in enthusiastic agreement.
"I’m sure our readers out there will be pleased to know that someone as influential as you holds that view."
I smiled modestly.
"And what about your views on relationships? I mean, given the job you do it must be easy to become a bit cynical."
"Well," I began carefully, "I think the thing to remember is that people change, relationships do go wrong; but that doesn’t mean we should shy away from love altogether. People need to forgive themselves and move on."
Actually, that wasn’t strictly true, but I wasn’t going to get into a discussion with the Marie Claire lady about it. I’ve always been a bit sceptical about love, commitment and that sort of thing – and with good reason. Not only did my divorced parents still fight like cat and dog, but on the one occasion that I thought I’d found the real deal I ended up getting my fingers very badly burned. The fact that I now sorted out other people’s marital differences for a living (in itself an unbelievably bad cosmic joke) had done little to help matters.
"OK," said the photographer, "let’s get a few pics for the feature."
A make-up girl leaped forward, brandishing a brush so huge that the Scottish curling team were probably out looking for it, and swiftly covered my face in some sort of expensive powder. I rearranged my features for the camera to make sure I had a serious, yet caring, expression on my face.
"Right – to me – that’s it." CLICK! "And again – super!" CLICK! "Now – looking out the window – sort of dreamy – wonderful!" CLICK! "How about one with the briefcase? – Yup! – Excellent." CLICK! "And let’s have a close up so we can make those blue eyes really stand out against that dark hair. Lovely." CLICK!
How fabulous was this?
I turned back to the Marie Claire lady.
"You see," I continued, "very often people have this idea that lawyers are just out to rack up the fees as high as they can – but when you’re dealing with people’s happiness, you can’t afford to do that."
There was a smattering of applause from the people at the next table who had been listening in on our conversation.
"Hear! Hear!" said my interviewer smiling broadly. "Exactly the sort of thing our readership will feel strongly about. Now, I think that’s just about all I wanted to cover. I’ll put in something about your Lawyer of the Year Award, of course – and the fact you’ve currently got a six month waiting list for new clients," she paused before continuing thoughtfully, "you know, that’s longer than for the new Chanel handbag."
"Got some cracking shots here," cut in the photographer. "We’ll probably put you on the cover – you won’t mind, will you?"
Mind?! Of course I won’t mind!
My interviewer switched off her tape recorder, then leant in towards me and whispered:
"Lucy, is it true you are currently advising three big-name film stars, four Premiership footballers and a member of the Royal Family?"
I met her eyes without a flicker of expression.
"I couldn’t possibly comment."
God, I was so professional!
Still, all in a day’s work for me: Head of my own chambers, big-name cases, masses of respect and recognition for my overwhelming achievements…what’s not to like? Just then, however, a phone rang.
My daydream crashed to smithereens on the perennially untidy floor of my office. I brought myself back to the real world with a shake of my head – and found myself groaning involuntarily as I picked up and a thin, weaselly voice came on the line.
It was Hugo. Yuk.
"I need the latest Family Law Notes for court on Monday, Looby-Lou, and I think you’re hiding them in that pit you call an office." His voice became even oilier. "Oh, and I could hear you talking to yourself again. You need to be careful about that – or Guy will start thinking you’re a couple of papers short of a brief!" And he rang off, sniggering.
Damn. That was what not to like.
The fact was that, in real life, rather than schmoozing my way through a glittering existence, I spent my days in a cramped, dingy basement with the cretinous Hugo Spade on the other side of a thin partition wall. Don’t get me wrong – I loved my job. I was – am – a barrister, good with my clients and hard working. But my fantasy of legal fame and fortune was light-years away from reality.
Unenthusiastically, I fished the journal he had requested off the floor (where I tended to keep most of my important documents in little piles) and sloped off next door to deliver it. I paused for a few seconds before turning the handle in order to prepare myself for the challenge that was Dealing with Hugo: he was unbelievably hard work. A couple of weeks ago, after he had spent a full two hours telling me how much money he had and how he didn’t actually need to work at all, Henrietta (‘Hez’), my best friend and flat-mate, offered to hire someone to put him out of my misery. I’d told her that being sent down as an accomplice in a contract killing might not be the best way to enhance my legal career. Although, when I came to think about it now, bumping off Hugo might just get me into Marie Claire, so perhaps I shouldn’t have dismissed it out of hand...
"Well then, Looby-Lou," Hugo slimed as I handed over Family Law Notes, "got any big plans for the weekend?"
"Don’t call me that," I muttered, "and, yes, actually, I do. I’m going to a party tomorrow night."
"Gosh, that’ll be exciting for you," said Hugo as patronisingly as possible. "And which one of your legion of admirers will be chosen to accompany you?"
"The one who reminds me least of you," I smiled sweetly whilst suppressing the urge to deck him. He’d guessed correctly that I was dateless.
"Well, I’d have to decline anyway. You know how it is – dinner at The Ivy, a couple of drinks with the boys before winding the evening up at Annabel’s. Unless of course that Henrietta friend of yours is free. I could always manage to squeeze her in. Or even just squeeze her." He snorted unpleasantly through his nose.
I chose not to tell him that Hez would rather munch her way through a kitten kebab at an animal rights meeting than spend time alone with him, and went to leave the room.
"No, seriously, Lou, I hope you have a really good time."
I almost tugged my ears to make sure they were still in place. Surely Hugo hadn’t managed to utter an entire sentence that was not rude or condescending in any way? Surely he wasn’t being nice?
I needn’t have worried.
"The last thing I would want is for you to spend any time fretting over this e-mail from Guy" he drawled.
I froze. Guy Horatio Jennings QC was our Head of Chambers. To describe him as ‘well known and well liked’ would have been the understatement of the century as he engendered the sort of acclaim that a minor deity would have been pleased to receive. He could barely move for the hordes of grateful clients swooning at his feet and his spare time was spent parading his stunning wife and two apple-cheeked children at public events and charming the pants off the media. The one thing he didn’t do, though, was waste time on anybody who wasn’t important.
I was right at the bottom of the chambers’ food-chain and, on the one occasion he had deigned to speak to me, he’d mistaken me for the cleaner and told me to give the loos another going–over.
So, basically, an e-mail from Guy wasn’t going to be good news…unless it was all a hoax and Hugo was just trying to frighten me.
"This isn’t some kind of wind-up, is it Spade?" I asked, putting on my scariest courtroom voice. Sadly, Hugo was not intimidated.
"See for yourself," he said and, with a ‘ping,’ the e-mail in question sprang onto the screen of his lap-top.
To: email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org
Just a quickie to let you know that I have arranged for a meeting to be held on the 3rd of next month to settle which one of you should be given a permanent place in chambers. I’m afraid that the provisional view of Tenancy Committee is that only one of you can be taken on, although who that will be is undecided at present. I wish you both good luck – and may the best man win.
P.S. If either of you happened to record my performance on ‘Question Time’ last Thursday, I’d be interested in a copy. Cheers.
"Is this for real?" I asked.
"Go and look on your own machine if you don’t believe me," replied Spade, "Or ask the clerks."
Now, here’s the thing: even though Hugo and I had both qualified eons ago, neither of us had been formally taken on by chambers. We were what is known, in elegant legal parlance, as ‘squatters’. But in five weeks’ time, that was all going to change. One of us would get the glittering prize of a tenancy at 3 Temple Buildings – name on the board outside, the works – whilst the other was going to be booted out. It felt like being a contestant on Big Brother but without the hot tub or the trendy furniture.
Or the on-screen snogging, thank goodness.
I shot a look at Hugo. He had pressed a couple of keys on his computer and pulled up some sort of game that seemed to consist entirely of drive-by shootings. This was vintage Spade. He was actually quite bright, but his idea of work revolved around playing on his lap-top, reading Loaded, and chatting to his mates on the phone. It niggled me that there had to be any sort of competition for the stupid tenancy – under all normal rules of the universe, I should have walked it. However, in addition to a trust fund the size of Jupiter, Hugo’s father was a judge in the Court of Appeal, and no doubt every conceivable string was being pulled vigorously on his behalf.
Still, there was a month to go before eviction day and anything could happen in a month. Maybe I’d get some amazing case and become the toast of legal London; maybe I’d win the lottery and never need to work again; or maybe Spade would trip over his own ego and fall under a tube train.
Hope, as they say, springs eternal.
"Thanks for letting me know, Hugo," I called over my shoulder as I left. "And whatever you get up to this weekend, make sure you have a horrible time."
"And you," he replied cheerfully.
I stomped back into my own room, filed the brief I’d spent the afternoon reading on the floor, and shoved my lap-top in its bag prior to heading off home for the weekend. Then I noticed a memo-sheet on my desk. One of the clerks must have dropped it in whilst I was closeted with Hugo.
Was it good news? Was it a big-name case with a wealthy client? My ticket to gainful employment at the Family Law Bar? I snatched it up and pulled a face. Sadly neither of the above: my Dad had rung. Tell your Mother, the note said, that if she doesn’t agree to a reduction in her maintenance payments I’ll take the whole thing back to court. I dropped it in the bin and made a mental note not to mention anything of the sort to my mother. I was sick of this. Whenever they fell out (which was pretty much all the time) they would try to rope me in to take sides and it drove me nuts. Why couldn’t they just keep their disagreements to themselves?
As I put my coat on, I did a quick inventory of Things Not Going My Way and it was quite impressive: my Mum and Dad were gearing it up for another bout of fisticuffs; I was facing a fight to the death over my job; and, to cap it all, it sounded as if Hugo, a.k.a. the Weasel in Armani, had a better social life than me.
But life, as always, had a few little surprises up its sleeve…like the fact that Mark was about to turn up.
Or, to be accurate, Mark was about to turn up and Jonathan was about to reappear.
Or, to be even more accurate, Mark was about to turn up, Jonathan about to reappear and the Prime Minister was going to get divorced.
And it all started at the party I’d mentioned to Hugo.