Jeffrey nods appreciatively. He has sold more than 400 million books and been called “the greatest storyteller of our age”, but could also be looked at as one of the greatest stories of our age, being an extraordinary, true-life tale of triumph, disaster, power, scandal, good works and ignominy. Now, at the age of 80, he is newly embarked on a seven-part series of novels, which, he says, with a slight wince, “Obliges me to stay around for a bit longer.”
“I’m sure you will manage it, darling,” says Mary, reassuringly.
Their penthouse above the Thames is renowned both for its sensational views over London, and the high-powered parties staged here. One guest remembers being told, “The loo’s past the Picassos, down the corridor and right at the Monet.” The table tops are sprinkled with photographs of Margaret Thatcher, Jeffrey’s former boss and political heroine, Diana, Princess of Wales, assorted dignitaries and celebrities and the Archers’ children and grandchildren.
It is a home that speaks not just to the wealth and taste of the occupants, but of their rather refreshing inability to live any other way. Eighteen years ago, Jeffrey was jailed for committing perjury during a notorious libel trial. His reputation was destroyed, his political career brought to an end overnight, his place in the privileged circles of society lost. No one expected Mary – humiliated by the salacious evidence that had emerged – to stay with him.
Yet the Archers toughed it out, stuck together, and today their joint ‘brand’ shines more brightly than ever. Jeffrey’s books sell by the truckload, while Mary, 74, a former Oxford chemistry lecturer who was made a Dame in 2012 for her services to healthcare, chairs the board of London’s Science Museum, and both Archers are prodigious fundraisers for charity.
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