I first met Diana Athill in 1965 at the offices of Andre Deutsch at 105, Great Russell Street, and was to keep in touch with her for many years after that. However, on this occasion, I was one of a group of twenty-five Sixth Formers, who had been invited to an At Home by the directors of the publishing house to celebrate the launch of an anthology of verse to which we had all contributed: ‘Sprouts on Helicon’.
We were a very uneven group: twenty-two boys and three girls, and the only thing we had in common was that we had all been published in the journal Sixth Form Opinion.
Astonishingly, sixteen of the boys were from top-flight public schools: Bedales, Eton, Westminster and Winchester, among others; and the rest of us were from the ‘standard issue’ single-sex grammar schools of the day; with not one representative from a comprehensive.
We were asked to meet at the very grown-up time of 6-8pm ( I still have my invitation) on Wednesday, April 21st, and , as far as I can remember, no parents were present. Mine (divorced) certainly weren’t.
But Diana welcomed us all individually, with great warmth, treated us all as serious adult authors, worthy of respect, and completely ignored the fact that we were just a bunch of teenagers.
I thought she was terrific. She also looked marvellous with her corn-gold upswept hair, smart clothes and chic black horn-rimmed spectacles. She was super-organised, energetic and kind. I had never met anyone like her before.