Last week Queen D lost her very best friend who added the ultimate ingredients to her crazy life. What kind of friend are you – and what is the recipe for the perfect friendship?

Friendship has been on Queen D’s mind of late, prompting a self-indulgent session of sentimentality during one of those rare blissful evenings of aloneness. Flicking through dozens of old photos and rummaging through a whimsical memory box of letters, cards and snippets induced a cascade of memories and waves of nostalgia which, at times, threatened to drown me.

I was pretty relaxed about the “where the hell?” and “what the hell?” moments, but most troubling were the “WHO the hell?”

I traced faces in school photos, and in pictures of parties and picnics. Snapshots showed Queen D sharing good times and it was obvious from the expressions on the faces peering back at me through the years that, at the time we caught the moment on film, we were all friends. The fleeting memories the photos sparked turn to wispy mist. I could barely remember their names.

I picked up an old photograph of a bunch of glamorous young women, posing, painted mouths pouting. It was my hen, a gathering of my closest friends. In the years since the photo, Kate’s emigrated and doesn’t communicate. Mo’s married to an unbearable twat and is picking up his bad habits. (Queen D is deliberating how to divorce friends who don’t cut the mustard. Answers on a postcard please.) Gilly bores for Britain about babies and breast feeding. Camilla went into rehab and disappeared with a Portuguese fisherman. Queen D is wearing a tartan tutu and is clearly drunk. Next to her is Berry, who came to dinner last week and after everyone went, we washed up and talked rubbish until dawn. She’s still my friend.

Friendship is essential to life, as vital as light, water and handbags. Friends are different from chums and pals and buddies. Mates sail up and sail away through life’s changes and end up on fading photos and Christmas card lists. A friend rides the waves with you, surfing the crests and weathering the storms. You might only have one friend willing to share the shit and the sunshine, but one might be all you need.

There are as many different kinds of friends as there are varieties of gin, from Gordon’s with ice, a slice and Schweppes to the individual brand made in a Devon shed to the exotic botanical served in a football-sized glass with tonic made from millipede glands.

Good old Gordon’s makes a great friend. Reliable, uncomplicated, been around for decades and delivers exactly what’s required.

It’s great to get out and about with the independent brand too. A Devon shed friend will get you tramping about on the moor collecting spring water for the gin still and bog mud for the inside of your wellies, and it’ll be a laugh and a half.
And sure, order a dashing botanical friend now and again for a bit of zing. You know the one. The lunatic with chutzpah, impudence and an embarrassment factor of zero. It’ll be a night out of magic and mania. But you won’t might not want another one for a month or six.

It’s a good line-up but wait a minute. What kind of gin is Queen D? What kind of friend am I? We have to learn to be a good friend if we want to have good friends. Being a good friend is a learned skill which requires self-awareness, energy and effort. We aren’t born to be good friends. We learn to be one (or not) by example, from our parents and peers.

Queen D is, hopefully, a good friend. She had the best teacher. With all the reliability of Gordon’s but with the uniqueness of a spirit made from unicorn horn, Tess was wise beyond words and funny beyond compare. She died recently, and in tribute to Tess, Queen D shares with Shinies the recipe Tess would have created, her unique version of the How to Be a Good Friend cocktail.

  • Start with a huge empty glass and add a large measure of time. Be generous.
  • Sprinkle on invitations to do something new and different. Say yes to everything.
  • Drop in a double dollop of listening skills and a dash of open mind, then listen intently, as though every word you hear is a gift.
  • Mix in fun. For example, arrive at a party with a pink bag full of champagne and chocolates, wearing a straw hat decorated with flowers from the garden. Hang a cuckoo clock on the kitchen wall. Train a pet parrot to shout abuse at visitors.
  • Insert laughter. Big rolling laughter and some enveloping hugs. Spice it up with confusing but enchanting expressions like “I’ve just pumped up my phone,” meaning charged. Add ridiculous. Add lots of silly and stir wildly.
  • Pour in adventures. “Are you at home, Tess?” “I’m stuck in a canoe in Borneo. I wanted to see the orange apes.” She was 79.
  • Sprinkle on surprises. When a horse judge, give rosettes to everyone, confuse officials, delight spectators and competitors.
  • Add generous amounts of kindness, and not just to people you know. Surprise fellow train passengers on a train with free chocolate bars. Leave books on benches. Visit lonely old people.
  • Blend with communication. Send cards, write letters, leave messages. All of them happy.
  • Add a generous measure of forgiveness. Nothing much matters, and if it does, bin it.
  • Blend in hobbies. Not activities, like Zumba or the gym. Hobbies, like pottery, book binding, painting. Something absorbing and individual.
  • Shake it all up with something interesting to say by reading, listening, watching and thinking.

Rest in peace, Tess, the best friend Queen D ever had. Mentor, critic, admirer and friend, she loved me when I was unlovable, filled me up when my world seemed empty, made me laugh when nothing was funny and was at my side whenever things went tits up.

She was right there when there was something to celebrate, or sadness and anger to manage. Quite simply, we loved hanging out. She wanted to know what I thought and how I felt, and vice versa. She knew me before I knew myself, way back to my young years. She ran on super fuel. She knew how to live, work, create and have fun but still care deeply for the rejected and unloved. She coped with tragedy and helped mend others broken by grief. She knew how to live and she knew how to die, in her own way and with great style. She was an old lady at 85, but her mind was fresh and young and free.

Great friends leave gaping holes, but also lasting legacies. Be a great friend, Shiny One!