The ’season’ is upon us, that extraordinary six weeks in which sport, opera and horticulture collide with social climbing, arcane dress codes, royalty and snobbery.
The ‘season’ is upon us, that extraordinary six weeks in which sport, opera and horticulture collide with social climbing, arcane dress codes, royalty and snobbery.
A friend whose Goldman Sachs husband takes clients to the full calendar of events, which includes the Chelsea Flower Show, Royal Ascot, Glyndebourne, Henley and polo at Smith’s Lawn, says outstanding stamina is required.
Many have written off this uniquely British institution and yet even after eleven years of New Labour and its efforts to dismantle so many traditions, the season is flourishing. The election of an Old Etonian as Mayor of London shows that after a decade or more of left-leaning elitism, toffs are cool again.
Zac Goldsmith, ecologist and gambling-mad son of the late Sir Jimmy, who hopes to be in the vanguard of new Conservative MPs, has placed a bet on Gordon Brown not leading Labour into the next election, still two years away. He got odds of eight to one with Mayfair’s gentlemen bookies Fitzdares. But when I last checked, the odds had tumbled to five to two.
To George for dinner with Margarita Hernandez, a brilliant self-taught and feisty Columbian-born sculptor who made her name with a remarkable likeness of Winston Churchill. The late club owner Mark Birley adored it and commissioned Margarita to make a bust of his political heroine Margaret Thatcher for Mark’s Club. He died before it was completed and Margarita, a woman of means, offered it to Michael Spencer, moneybags boss of ICAP and Tory treasurer.
Instead of Mayfair it was now destined for the lobby of Conservative HQ at Millbank. An unveiling and a photocall were planned with Lady Thatcher. Suddenly Margarita found herself being edged out of the picture by a smooth young man. The culprit? The Tory party leader David Cameron. As Margarita ruefully acknowledged, it just goes to prove that no good deed goes unpunished.
What is the etiquette for dealing with hate mail? I like to reply to every communication I receive but sadly the most offensive correspondents always decline to include their address. The latest, in giant red capitals, warns simply that my day will come. I have received more than my usual quota recently after writing about Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall. Because I was a friend of the prince’s first wife, Diana, I am often a target for the green-ink brigade if I say anything that is short of absolutely foul about the former Mrs Camilla Parker Bowles.
Diana and I spoke a few hours before she made that last fatal car journey in Paris and as a consequence I found myself among the 268 witnesses giving evidence at the High Court to the inquest into her death. Few emerged from the sorry saga well but Diana herself was unquestionably the biggest loser, or at least her image was. It was soiled not by some grubby red-top exposé but by the relentless and prurient examination by lawyers who cared little for reputation.
Mohamed Al Fayed was certainly diminished, his conspiracy theories shot to pieces during that six-month investigation, but he was on characteristic form when I was invited to lunch at Harrods. I had been warned that dining with Al Fayed could be a perilous affair and I knew something was up when the dish I’d ordered failed to materialise. Instead the chef arrived with a silver-domed plate and the words, ‘With the compliments of the chairman’.
Arranged before me were two pinkish blobs of meat. I chewed carefully, the taste was sweet and slightly sickly. Sweetbreads, I wondered, or tripe. ‘Neither’, announced my fellow diners, who were all in on the gag, ‘they’re stag’s balls from Mohamed’s Highlands home’. Thinking I had passed this manly test without disgracing myself Al Fayed presented me with a pill box. It was engraved with the word Viagra and contained a solitary capsule.
It is nearly five years since I was asked to take over Nigel Dempster’s legendary Daily Mail gossip column. Nigel had been vigorous, fit and with a razor-sharp memory for detail, but illness had robbed him of it all and it was to prematurely take his life. Progressive Supranuclear Palsy (PSP) is a relentlessly cruel disease that steadily shuts down the body’s central physical control functions like a janitor switching off banks of light switches.
Until a year or so before his death last summer he could, with the assistance of his carers, still eat out, but meals were consumed at speed because of what he called PSP’s ‘discombobulating’ effect. The occasion he dined with his old friend Lord Snowdon, an invalid himself, lingers. Dempster had arrived at the restaurant and because the intolerant nature of an illness made him extremely restless, had ordered immediately and begun to eat.
By the time Snowdon had propelled himself step by step on his sticks to their table, Nigel had finished, consumed a cup of coffee and was heading for the exit. Both men laughed.
The sun is out, it’s party time in London and the wedding season is here. One fashionable gathering in Porchester Hall drew an impressive guest-list from around the world. But in his speech the groom reserved his praise not for those who had journeyed from Hong Kong, New York and South America, but for those who had travelled a few miles across the traffic-choked streets of London. Can a new
mayor change all that?