I hadn’t a clue what I was in for last month when I made my first trip back to London in seven years.

My Toronto manicurist felt apprehensive and suggested microblade eyebrows to increase my confidence. ‘Eyebrows are the picture frame,’ she said encouragingly, looking at my forehead where no hairs grow. I refused.

The packing was something I thought about. I contemplated packing. After writing Friends and Enemies for three years, then 18 months of Covid lockdowns that were intermittent, my everyday wardrobe consisted of Zara clothes of cargo pants with mismatched sweaters in Zara outfits.

I was British by birth (Watford), childhood and middle age. I had bridled at this because I bridle at anything that disturbs routine, even one I dislike. And I was scared: all roots of my British life had been pulled up and shrivelled in the absence of watering

Born in England (Watford), I was British through childhood, and into my middle years. This was the first time I’d bridled because I love routine and don’t mind if it gets disrupted. Fear set in: All the roots of my British existence had been removed, and they were all shrivelled due to lack of watering

I didn’t know how to dress or speak except for my husband.

The impetus for the trip had been an invitation to take part in the Cliveden Literary Festival along with genuine luminaries such as historian Antonia Fraser, political hatchet Sasha Swire (author of ‘Diary Of An MP’s Wife’ with its tell-all look at life in the Tory clique around David Cameron) and smart, promising young women like Emerald Fennell (the Oscar-winning director, actress — Camilla in The Crown — and writer). This all got me very excited when I talked about it — six months ahead of it. Less exciting when you’re facing it.

My husband, Conrad Black, decided to bookend the trip by scheduling our arrival for the launch party for the brilliant and priapic historian Andrew Roberts’ new book George III — a party which, given the range and number of Andrew’s former girlfriends plus present and future close acquaintances, was bound to include a good chunk of London’s smart (and good looking) literati.

The parallel reason was Conrad’s determination to convince me that London was the natural place for us to live AGAIN. I’m British from birth (Watford), childhood, and adulthood. Because I am averse to routines, I was a bit irritated by this. It was scary: my British roots were rotten and dried up in absence of watering.

Before marriage to Conrad in 1992, I had worked successfully at making a few real London friends, not rich, not especially social, but like me keen on music, books — and shoes.

Later, as the wife of a media titan — my husband’s firm published newspapers in America, Canada, Israel and the UK, including the Daily Telegraph — I embarked on a dizzying social life, giving parties for royalty, diplomats, great intellectuals and entertainment figures.

But I hung on like blazes to those first few friends, while trying to bring a couple of New York’s social set into my intimate circle. I was greeted by smiles from the New York women who told me they loved me. When my husband was convicted of crimes in 2003, all seemed lost. They retreated and were never heard from again.

Barbara Amiel endured humiliation after her media tycoon husband Conrad Black (right) was jailed

Barbara Amiel endured humiliation after her media tycoon husband Conrad Black (right) was jailed

In 2005, I had gone back to Canada, my husband’s birthplace, to be with him through his court battles, leaving friends real and imagined behind.

What if the London people I care about had any spare time?

As I packed, trying to look optimistically on the upcoming venture, I rifled through my La Perla underwear and prized pairs of silk Olivia von Halle and Bernadette PJs, with visions of room service and me prancing delectably about in lace, (I’m delusionary, too) followed by lazy walks with my husband under freshly wet chestnut trees.

‘Let’s be sure and make time for us,’ I said to Conrad in my best advice-to-the-lovelorn voice. (I nearly said ‘quality time’, but even I would choke on that.)

Conrad is not as enthusiastic about chestnut trees and walks. Conrad had already organized dinners for every night, and the luncheons were well-organized within one day of me agreeing to this 19-day journey.

My packing nightmare was to be solved, I thought, by the ‘capsule wardrobe’. This can be carried in your only carry-on luggage. I recommend a Louis Vuitton Keepall casual duffle.

The clothes list will be familiar to avid readers of fashion magazines: a ‘classic coat, transitional blazer, a few well cut basics’ all spiffed up by the ‘timeless accessory’.

My ‘capsule’ filled two large suitcases while my carry-on was at bursting point with necessities including prescription medicines, masses of marginally illegal painkillers, the only foundation I can wear and what jewellery I had left after my husband’s lawyers had been paid. I wheeled it off the plane into Heathrow’s Terminal 5, where lines of chauffeurs were waiting holding up names. Unfortunately, it was not our name.

Our driver had gone AWOL. The driver was seen sitting outside the terminal. He looked glum and he drove us up to Covent Garden. There he left our suitcases, then vanished. When I returned to my room, I realized that my wheelie was also gone. (It turned up in Heathrow’s lost luggage terminal a week later having been to Berlin. Amazingly, not a single pill nor earring was lost.

London shocked everyone after Canada. The defining difference is Covid. Canada’s population is now a mass of Covid-respecting freaks.

Culture has been reduced to the same bland Muzak you used to listen on lifts. Covid bylaws regulate the decibel count of music in beauty salons (don’t ask what that has to do with Covid), everyone masks up everywhere and contact tracing at restaurants before entry is mandatory. In my opinion, this is absurd.

‘Name?’ asked a woman at the door of a Toronto restaurant. ‘Myra Hindley,’ I replied. ‘Telephone number?’ The week before I was Margot Fonteyn.

If the name is not on a receptionist’s Instagram feed, they don’t know it. London, however, is still alive.

At A party for Joan Collins’s new book of revelations (‘uncensored and unapologetic’), she sat looking super, post-Dynasty with serious shoulders in a short cape swirling with gold embroidery. She casually mentioned she had had Covid and it was ‘very tiring’.

In a splendid display of one-upmanship, Piers Morgan, standing next to her, cheerfully mentioned how he had been ‘double vaccinated and then got it twice. I still can’t taste or smell’.

It was disappointing, as I was wearing Santa Maria Novella Pot Pourri perfume.

At every event, I was greeted by covid complicity as people discussed the length of their illness and symptoms. It was almost like they were discussing different methods to make risotto.

Still, top prize went to Iceland’s former first lady and British businesswoman Dorrit Moussaieff who, in January 2020, sensing the plague about to come, went to India to deliberately catch Covid.

‘I just wanted to get it over with and get on with life,’ she said. That’s a shame. These different approaches to the same phenomena bring out my cultural anthropologist side.

Was this Covid casualness a case of British drollery or the stiff upper lip of a people who historically have been through so much that they dislike ‘fusses’? Canadians live in a world of peace and harmony where there has never been any strife. They seem cowardly when it comes to getting Covid. If your mask falls below the nostrils, whistleblowers are plentiful.

The enervating effect of living under PM Justin Trudeau may have been the uniformity and shuffling of Covid-panicked Canadians.

Handsome Justin is blessed with his mother Margaret’s youthful good looks — but, unfortunately, her flower-child brains as well. Trudeau’s Canada has been a boring place to live under the guise of words.

He disappears on holidays only to pop up to spout some woke doomsday scenario: the apocalypse of climate change and the ‘cultural genocide’ Canadians inflicted on their indigenous population. We all don new masks and flags are lowered to half mast. It didn’t take me long back in London to realise how much I have missed sly and often rude British humour.

After hip surgery, Elton John and his spouse David Furnish gave a small dinner for us with ‘sweats’ as the dress code. Conrad was not dressed in a tie because he wasn’t able to wear a suit.

Theo Fennell was a jeweller and asked Conrad questions about the book he was working on. Conrad modestly replied to A Political History Of The World. (A hell of a project: 900 pages in the first volume and we’re only at 15AD.) ‘At what point in world political history do you begin?’ asked Theo innocently. ‘Biblical times. Noah’s sons Shem and Ham,’ replied Conrad thoughtfully. ‘Not pre-Genesis then?’ said Theo in a flash.

Cliveden Literary Festival was the big event. I needed to bring out my cocktail dresses, which I had just packed into my bag. Fear of overdressing. Canada has great writers — Margaret Atwood, Nobel Prize winner Alice Munro — but they are not compelling in their garments. The Saturday evening dinner was attended by Natalie Livingstone who, as festival chair, caused a little shock.

They had never met and became close friends when she noticed my carefully hidden Solpadeine Plus tablet in my bag. She also recognized the Christian Dior skirt that I was wearing and said it reminded her of one.

There were other shared interests that followed, however they weren’t appropriate for a family newspaper. Stella McCartney’s Stella Natalie dress defied gravity, unless your body could do the same.

Hers did. I was surprised to learn that she had an extraordinarily attractive woman, a Cambridge first-class historian degree, and had published two books in less than half her age. She also came along with three children and a Tolstoy dog.

This was just too much. It was too much. I swallowed Solpadeine Plus, and I moved to an alternate universe where I wasn’t 80 years old but was a young frisky 30 year-old. I watched Natalie and her ‘politburo’ team which included author Catherine Ostler: hawk-eyed, overseeing the dinner.

I didn’t envy them the familiar problems — what to do with the nightmarish guest no one wants to talk to or the tipsy person boring everyone to death. As they solved their problems, I watched in delight.

Never again. If I were to write a book on hostessing, it would not be handy tips but nightmarish situations to avoid, like the time I was so insecure about the guest mix at one party that I kept inviting more ‘names’, all of whom accepted.

It was impossible for guests to raise their elbows to get up when they were ready to eat. It was always difficult to find staff. Starting with Buckingham Palace under-butlers was a horrible experience. Big Mistake!

Because the Queen employs so many people, each one does only one task. We would also have to worry about who was going to be serving Princess Diana when she was here.

Miss the UK? It’s true. I haven’t lived here for 16 years. Friends have passed away from illness or age over the years and I wasn’t there to say farewell, much less have them come for quiet meals.

The very few I would love to invite again to dinner, like my hero Tom Stoppard, have had all the dinner parties they’d want. Last time he came to our house, a New York Fifth Avenue socialite of much money and few brains confused Tom with fellow playwright David Hare, and lectured him on his plays’ faults. ‘I was unable to convince her,’ Tom wrote in a thank-you letter.

Friends with common interests are what I miss. I miss the tidiness of minds and even some especially tidy appearances, like the Commons leader Jacob Rees-Mogg, who took us to dine in Claridge’s and introduced me to what has now become a cliché, ‘the supply chain problem’. I didn’t understand a word.

I miss London, which isn’t stuffed with bien pensants, as is Canada. It was full of opera, music and theatre.

I miss black cab drivers who know where they are going and who one after another gave me tutorials on why there weren’t enough cabs to go around any more. We were then left in the rain after another dinner.

Barry Humphries was a tireless man, much like Harry Potter’s flying car. We were driven home by Lizzie Spender and his wife Lizzie.

Humphries is a comedian and hilarious performer, as well as a book collector. He gave my husband a copy of his self-published book Poems I Like, dedicated ‘To myself without whom this beautiful book might not have been printed’. It is poetry that makes me weep. He has a wonderful selection.

British people sometimes forget how blessed they feel to be able to enjoy such beauty, life and architecture.

Moan about Brexit, about Boris, but any country that has 90,000 volunteer ‘Hedgehog Helpers’ and can run the gamut of characters from Rees-Mogg and Natalie Livingstone to Barry Humphries is doing something right. I can’t wait to come back.