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Last Updated: Thursday, 1 June 2006, 20:46 GMT 21:46 UK
Novelist's penchant for Prescott
Jilly Cooper signs copies of her book at Hay
The author was at Hay talking about her latest book Wicked!
John Prescott may have his troubles, but he has a fan in novelist Jilly Cooper, who has confessed an obsession with the deputy prime minister.

The "queen of the bonkbuster" told the Hay Festival that she used to "quite fancy" him when she was younger.

"I come from Yorkshire and we like chunky men up there," she said.

As Mr Prescott gave up Dorneywood, the grace-and-favour mansion where he was photographed playing croquet, she joked about basing her next book on the game.

Asked by a member of the audience why her books were so heavy to read in bed, Cooper apologised, saying it was really "like a wardrobe or John Prescott falling on you".

Cooper, a former journalist and confidante of the royal family, takes on a campaigning role in her latest 860-page epic Wicked!.

She has turned her pen - famous for its sex and jodhpurs stories such as Polo - to education, interweaving both state and public education systems.

My experience of schools is that children do occasionally get off with each other
Jilly Cooper

Wicked! is already number one on the original fiction bestsellers' list.

The book took four years to write and involved heavy research including teaching a lesson herself in a girl's comprehensive.

The writer said she was appalled by some of the things she discovered, such as children forced to be a family's main wage-earner or other children who would go home "to find their mother lying in a drunken stupor in the corner".

The writer said school for some was their only reality and sanctuary.

"Sanctuary"

"When they get home they are probably knocked about."

She also criticised the government and education authorities for writing off failing schools too quickly.

The novelist recalled her own school days at boarding school with some horror, remembering how she had returned from a spell in the school sanatorium and dropped her knickers on the playing field.

The headmistress said in front of the whole school that she had found Jilly's knickers on the goalpost.

Positive influence

Wicked! breaks new ground for her, including under-age sex, but the writer did not apologise for this.

"My experience of schools is that children do occasionally get off with each other," she said.

She also talked about the positive influence of the Olympics going to London in 2012.

"It's win win win because of the Olympic Games. I've got this image of Ruth Kelly (the former education secretary) tugging a playing field out from under John Prescott's home."


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