Press Conference With... ROBERT HARRIS

Robert Harris is living every hack's dream. He's a bestselling author, respected as a former heavyweight political journalist, a happily married father of four and comfortably wealthy with a glorious West Berkshire mansion and an Aston Martin DB7 convertible on the gravel drive. Sweeping generalisations are seriously poor form so, naturally, I apologise to any journo out there who doesn't consider all that a dream.

Harris was a reporter on Panorama and Newsnight before becoming political editor of The Observer in 1987, despite no formal newspaper training. He shone.

From there, he became a columnist on The Sunday Times and evolved into its star political voice and the man plugged into Tony Blair's inner loop. He famously fell out with Blair over the treatment of his pal Peter Mandelson during the Hinduja passport affair in 2001.

They have since made up and he has dined at Downing Street and Chequers in recent times.

Harris wrote his first novel, Fatherland, to help pay the bills. It was quietly published in 1992 with a hardback run of 6,000 and has gone on to sell four million. This was followed by Enigma (1995), Archangel (1998) and Pompeii (2003) which successfully took him away from the wartime thriller genre. His new novel is Imperium, which focuses on Cicero, ancient Rome's powerful orator and politician.

The parallels with Blair and New Labour are plain to see.

I meet Harris for tea at the newly renovated Browns hotel in Mayfair before he heads to the Commons to meet some old friends. He's affable, modest and eloquent on all subjects.

He has an academic air and it's almost as if the intensity of his cerebral undertakings have aged him beyond his 49 years. But he is jolly, laughs easily — particularly at himself — and has an engaging sincerity.


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