A glittering party at a grand London flat, a banquet of oysters, foie gras and filet mignon, and a glamorous actress who took a shine to a good-looking male guest. But it was all rather disconcerting for the man in question.
Step forward Matthew Parris, the proudly gay, one-time Conservative MP and now the brilliant Times columnist, who is as much revered for his political insights as the elegance of his mind.
Yesterday, Mr Parris was taking part in a Radio 4 Today programme debate about the sexual harassment of women and lamenting the ‘relentless’ coverage of women’s issues.
Too much airtime, he declared, was being given to women complaining about predatory males under the ‘Me Too’ banner. All this had left men feeling ‘a bit under attack. We almost feel assailed as a sex,’ he moaned.
Matthew Parris (pictured) lamented ‘relentless’ coverage of women’s issues on Radio 4 but this week, he revealed he had been sexually harassed himself by a woman
Mr Parris, who has a long-term civil partner, first waded into the gender equality debate with an article in this week’s Spectator magazine, bemoaning excessive coverage around the centenary of women’s suffrage.
‘How can I put this?’ he wrote. ‘I’ve never even propositioned a woman. I’m pretty sure I’d have been in favour of women’s suffrage. But, as a man, I couldn’t help feeling a bit got at.’
And, then, this most cultivated of men dropped a bombshell. He had, he revealed, been sexually harassed himself by a woman wearing a leopard print leotard.
Oh the exquisite irony — a man complaining about women complaining about sexual harassment revealed he had been a victim himself!
‘I haven’t ever assaulted a woman sexually,’ Parris added. ‘[But] I had two years of being stalked mercilessly by a woman. She dragged me on to a sofa wearing a leopard skin leotard at Harvey Proctor’s flat. It’s sounding like one of those fantasy stories, but it’s true.’
Mr Parris’ stalker, flamboyant actress Judith Stott with her first husband Jeremy Burnham
Mr Parris, 68, told the remarkable story of how the woman, whom he didn’t identify, threw him on a sofa at a party hosted by the former politician Harvey Proctor — himself gay — then proceeded to harass him in a campaign that lasted two years.
Today, we can reveal the full details of that curious evening.
The bizarre incident took place in the late Nineties when Mr Parris, formerly MP for West Derbyshire, attended a party hosted by Mr Proctor. A fellow MP and friend, Proctor’s political career came to an abrupt end in 1987 when he was tried for gross indecency after admitting having sex with under-age men (the age of consent was then 21).
The party, which took place in Mr Proctor’s mansion block in Putney, south-west London, was held in honour of David, Marquis of Granby, the oldest son of the Duke of Rutland, who had just got engaged. It was themed around the sinking of the Titanic, a story with which the young aristocrat was obsessed.
To mark the occasion, the host laid on a meal which was an exact replica of the first-class banquet enjoyed by passengers aboard the ship on April 14, 1912, the night it sank.
Ms Stott (above, with her second husband Dave Allen) threw him on a sofa at a party hosted by the former politician Harvey Proctor, Mr Parris claimed
During dinner, Mr Parris was monopolised by the woman, whom the Mail can identify as Judith Stott, a flamboyant actress. ‘She was sitting on the sofa by the door, in a mock leopard skin trouser suit,’ he said in his 2002 autobiography, Chance Witness.
‘She was slightly drunk and a lot of fun. I like blousy women. She pulled me on to the sofa, threw an arm around my neck and started a stream of hilarious banter.’
Ms Stott, by then well into her 60s, had been a child actress who starred in several TV mini-series in the Fifties and Sixties. A glamorous blonde, she was married twice — first to actor Jeremy Burnham, who appeared in The Avengers, later to dry-as-dust comedian Dave Allen — but had been divorced for several years and lived alone in a flat at the top of Richmond Hill.
‘She was extraordinarily theatrical, dropped names with every breath,’ wrote Mr Proctor in his 2016 memoir, Credible and True. ‘Judith won me over with her amusing tales culled from the theatre. We became good friends, though our relationship was anything but smooth.
‘I had met Matthew in the House of Commons and he seemed perfect to balance up the company. He got on famously with Judith, or so I thought; too famously in fact. Unfortunately, she developed a crush on him.’
Mr Parris’s sexuality was well known to his friends and colleagues, but this seemed of little importance to Ms Stott, who —having taken his telephone number at the end of the evening — began subjecting him to a stream of strange and increasingly desperate calls which would continue almost relentlessly for the next two years.
‘Some days later, some friends were round for a takeaway pizza in my flat in East London when the telephone rang,’ Mr Parris explained. ‘ ‘It’s —,’ said a theatrical voice at the other end of the line [he does not refer to her by name]. ‘Come to dinner.’
‘ ‘I can’t,’ I said, unable to put a face to the name. ‘I have friends round.’
Mr Parris was monopolised by the actress, who he didn’t name. Pictured, Ms Stott with actor Sir John Gielgud
‘ ‘Your gay-boy lovers, no doubt. Bring them. I don’t care. I’m at —‘
‘When she barked out her address, it came to me who she was. ‘Or come tomorrow,’ she said.
‘A warning bell was ringing. I pleaded another engagement. She suggested another date. I told her there was just too much work on at present and could we leave it for a few months? She rang off.
‘Five minutes later she rang again, insisting. Still polite, I said no. She waited only moments before redialling. I took half a dozen calls within 20 minutes.’
And so began what Mr Parris describes as a ‘long, strange time’, during which Ms Stott — who had acted with Sir John Gielgud and Peggy Ashcroft and counted Godfather star Al Pacino among her friends — bombarded him with telephone calls and letters, alternating between declaring her love and obsessively begging him to meet her. It was, he says, like ‘a siege’.
Whenever he failed to pick up the phone, she would leave rambling messages on his answering machine. If a female friend answered, she would hang up immediately.
‘She was an actress — a rather talented actress,’ he recalls in his book. ‘Sometimes she would leave soliloquies, occasionally obscene, fantasising about what she and I might do together. Her ramblings became increasingly bizarre and, he soon realised, were fuelled by alcohol.
The strangest calls were in the form of ‘dialogues’, in which she would act out imagined rendez-vous between herself and Mr Parris down the telephone.
‘She would play herself, and me,’ he said. ‘Sometimes I would be angry, sometimes seductive. ‘Our’ dialogues were of a courtly kind and she called me sir.
‘Usually I would consent to make love to her. It is odd to come home late at night, let yourself into a dark flat to see, with sinking heart, the red light flashing on the answering machine and to sit there alone after midnight as these creepy dialogues between ‘me’ and a crazy woman echoed round the flat.
‘I was never really scared. Spooked, yes, but not scared. I simply hated it. Often I became quite angry, and sometimes unsettled.’ Ms Stott’s story was, to all appearances, a sad one. Born in Oxford in 1929, her British screen career was all but over by the time she was 30 and she relocated to Australia, where she acted and danced, once in the starring role in Giselle for the South Australian National Ballet.
She was married to Burnham —with whom she had a son, Jonathan — for nine years from 1954, and a year after their divorce in 1963 married droll Dave Allen, the late Irish comedian, whom she met in Australia. They had two children, Jane and Edward, but divorced in 1983.
By the time of that Titanic party, she had been alone for more than a decade — and apparently developed a fondness for drinking, which seemed only to fuel her obsessive tendencies. She was impulsive when it came to romance, having married Allen within weeks of meeting him (coincidentally also at a mutual friend’s party).
Matthew Parris later found out that he wasn’t the only object of her affections. On contacting her brother, the journalist Richard Stott, he learned that she had ‘plagued’ Sir John Gielgud in a similar way years previously.
Yet despite her unsettling behaviour, and the disruptive effect it was having on his life, he refused to call the police.
‘The tragedy seemed more hers than mine, and not a matter for the police,’ he explains. ‘Nor — again despite advice — would I change my telephone number.
‘If she were half as well connected as she claimed [I thought], she would quickly discover the new number and hours of work alerting all my friends to the change would be wasted.
‘Besides, why let her win? This had become a battle of wills. Yet when she became drunker and drunker, and the calls less frequent, I began to worry about her.’
He became concerned that his stalker might drink herself to death — or worse, despairing at his cold response to her displays of emotion, — hang herself from a lamp post outside his house.
‘I checked the lamp post — I really did — for easy hitching points,’ he admits. ‘To my relief there were none.’ After such bizarre beginnings – and a rather alarming denouement — Ms Stott’s fixation on Mr Parris eventually fizzled out.
Two years after their first meeting, he says, ‘the calls subsided. When they stopped altogether I began to worry whether she was all right. If they ever resume — he wrote in 2002 — I shall deal with them as I dealt with the last, and I certainly never want to speak to her again.
‘But, oddly enough, I wish her happiness and no longer feel aggrieved.’
When the Mail contacted Mr Parris last night, he did not wish to comment.
Judith Stott never resumed her pursuit. She died in 2010, aged 81, in Oxford. She and Mr Proctor remained friends, though he was said to be ‘mortified’ by the whole sorry affair.
Whether she was aware of her honourable mention in Mr Parris’s autobiography, or his subsequent willingness to forgive, is unclear.
But it is with exquisite irony that in bemoaning the extensive coverage given to women who cry sexual harassment, he has raised his own voice — and declared: ‘Me Too’.