Dan Topolski has died. It was a odd way to hear about it, in a text from my ex-husband. Oddly right, if strange.
The last time I saw Dan, we were still married. We'd all gone together to Warsaw: Dan and his wife Suzy (once famous as an actress on 'Howards' Way'), Dan's sister Teresa, and us. We had been invited to the official unveiling of some paintings by Dan's father, the Polish expressionist Feliks Topolski, creator of the 'Topolski Century' visual memoir under the arches at Waterloo. Those paintings had lain forgotten in a vault under a palace since the end of World War II.Though it was an important occasion, I remember little of it.The hilarious image that lingers is one of my former spouse and Teresa Topolski doing a bizarre sort of Morris dance in the middle of a cobbled street, with sticks. My beloved had skidded in an outsized deposit of dog do, and Teresa was doing her darnedest to get it off. I laughed so hard that I couldn't eat dinner. For the marriage, then, the painting was on the wall.
Dan's name may not mean much to those indifferent to rowing or born too late.The boy who learned to row on the lake in Regent's Park grew up to be a fearless oarsman, to coach our women's team for the Moscow Olympics, and to become the inspiration behind Oxford's legendary ten-win run - the longest in their history.The late Eighties saw the scandal which led to Dan's bestseller 'True Blue: The Oxford Boat Race Mutiny', later a feature film of which he was so proud.
We became friends when I joined the Mail on Sunday's YOU magazine. A shared obsession with the Dark Continent had brought him to the attention of editor Nick Gordon. Intrepid expeditions ensued. Dan also worked for the BBC, becoming a commentator in 1990, and wrote for the Observer for twenty years. He was multi-award-winning, a professional party animal, an incorrigible flirt. He could kill with his smile. he could insult you and make it sound like a compliment. He will always be missed.