Is body odour the last taboo?

The Dorchester hotel has reportedly emailed a list of grooming rules for female staff, instructing them to avoid, among other things, oily skin, bad breath and body odour. It seems that customers had complained. What sneaks, going and whingeing to the management.

Bad enough that it’s just females getting the drubbing, as usual, but does anyone think these women can choose their skin types, or that they go to work stinking on purpose? They may have tried their hardest to smell pleasant, washing daily, cleaning their teeth meticulously, avoiding garlic and onions, but after a day’s strenuous, non-stop slaving about for these customers, who wouldn’t get a bit sweaty? Or perhaps the smelly person is so used to their own smell that they don’t notice it any more, and no one has dared to tell them.

I know it’s difficult to tell someone they smell offensive, but surely there are better methods – an in-house counsellor or health adviser? A sympathetic chat? Or is this the last taboo, after sex, death and piles? Even my mother – who was forthright, verging on rude, and could chatter freely about bowel problems – found it impossible to confront one particular smelly employee.

In the end, she tucked an Odorono roll-on into her employee’s pocket, and that seemed to work. Perhaps this woman was thrilled. Perhaps she had wondered all her life why people backed away. It is such a worry to think you might be exuding gales of stench at someone.

I am always on the lookout for people recoiling an inch or so when I speak. Is it my voice? My conversation? Or, worst of all, my breath? I can’t stand the fear, so I sometimes ask them. But will they answer honestly?

What a minefield this body odour business is. It’s not as though smelling bad is uncommon. One quarter of the British population is thought to have bad breath on a regular basis.

Fielding is lucky – his wife tells him when he stinks. “I’m OK apart from the gnashers, when they rot,” says he, “or after I’ve been running.” Perhaps only someone who loves you can tell you. If only everyone had that someone.