Dan Topolski died. It was a odd way to hear about it, in a text from my ex-husband, but oddly right, and rightly strange.
The last time I saw Dan, I was 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 acclaimed 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 poo, 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 had 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 beyond proud.
We became friends after 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, a tidal wave of a flirt. He could kill with his smile, insult you and make it sound like a compliment. He will forever be missed.
Suzy,Teresa, Emma, Tamsin and Luke: don't look down.