The embattled Prime Minister is not the only one being dogged by Blairite woes. I ran into his namesake Lionel, my friend of 50 years, in Sloane Square. He is still deeply upset about the theft of his beloved pooch, nabbed while his wife was walking in the park. Misty-eyed, he tells me that Debbie Forsyth (Bruce’s nipper to you) has just called with the awful news that her two Yorkies have been stolen. I say I’ve heard there’s a terrific trade in pet theft. Lionel’s eyes brighten. ‘Ooh. I haven’t had terrific trade for ages.’
In the late 1950s David Bailey and I used to frequent a very straight pub in darkest Dalston called the Deuragon, where the mums would proudly watch as their sons transformed into Marlene Dietrichs or Mae Wests. A Sunday or so ago, Roland Mouret, Dr Andrew Merron and I were the judges of the ‘Vogue’ Ball, held at the Horse Meat Disco in violet-hued Vauxhall. The ‘girls’ have rather more homegrown role models now. A Naomi chucked her mobile at a brawny, tattooed maid, and a Kate snorted her way up the catwalk. Talk about a line of beauty.
After a 20-year break I’ve rejoined the Colony Room. The last genuinely bohemian Soho drinking club left is still redolent of its legendary proprietress Muriel Belcher, and her immortal greeting ‘F*** off, c***’ is still habitually hurled at every arrival. The unchanged premises, a maze of Melly memorabilia, Bacon bits and Lucian ends, are refreshingly filthy and fire-hazardy, as indeed are its friendly, funny members. And behind the bar Richard Bradsell ices up the coolest Mules this side of Moscow.
It was interesting to read about the recently unveiled restorations at Kew Palace, in many ways the most touching of all the royal residences, tiny, and redolent of Georgian madness and that inscribed dog-collar — ‘I am His Highness’ dog at Kew; Pray, tell me sir, whose dog are you?’ Last autumn one of our leading actresses asked me to decorate a gala dinner at another palace to raise funds for Kew’s restoration. I and several members of my staff gave our time, research, design and — the budget being written on a pin-head — money to the event. Were any of us asked to the opening of Kew Palace? Dream on.
In Rome to discuss a project, I meet up with Mario d’Urso, former senator in the Italian parliament and one of the world’s funniest and most charming men, who takes charge of my day. Instant entry passes, and parking actually in the Quirinale courtyard, for the sell-out Antonello da Messina exhibition; iced Pinot Grigio on an Agnelli terrace floating sky-high above the — and on that day particularly — celestial city. Lunch at an ultra fashionable restaurant, vvvvip, at Fiumicino. In every building, on the Corso, in each piazza, guards touch their caps, carabinieri salute, policemen incline their heads. People shout ‘Ciao, Mario’, and wave. ‘Va bene, Senatore?’ It’s like being in the triumphal chariot of some modern Caesar, Mario extolled like a hero from Wagner. With the jokes, as Noël Coward might say.
As we flew back over France, the setting sun was fleetingly reflected in every watery surface far below. For split sudden seconds, gilded rivers writhed away to molten seas, and lakes, fountains, pièces d’eaux, puddles, every smidgen of water flared momentarily in a golden explosion as we passed overhead. These Danaesque faraway fireworks are ravishing, rare and thrilling to watch. Around me, however, kids’ eyes remained glued to their PlayStations.
United Airlines upgraded me to first, and to 1A no less, when going to New York for the Metropolitan Museum’s Costume Institute benefit — Vogue’s Manhattan-ruling Anna Wintour’s quintessentially chic gala. I stayed, as always, at the Carlyle for this weekend. I know there are sleeker, not to say Bleecker, places, but the Mercer is unbearably, self-consciously hip, Soho House a glamorous zoo, and the Four Seasons strangely intimidating. Anyway, at heart I’m an uptown girl. When I worked in the city in the 1960s, my apartment was round the corner of Madison, on 77th, and a near-unknown comic named Woody Allen lived below. So the old Carlyle holds many memories: being introduced to Harry Truman in the lobby and spotting my idol, the great 1940s cabaret ‘chantoose’ Lee Wiley, in the hotel’s Liberty Music shop, not to mention the presidential suite on the 35th floor, with its winding staircase to the penthouse, where the Camelot Court shared state secrets, husbands and lovers.
While there were hundreds of ravishing young things got up to the nines, the Met Mus ball made me realise that really it’s older women who look best wearing couture and serious rocks. This was exemplified recently by Anne Wyndham, more beautiful than ever at 80, in white and diamonds, at a birthday party given at Sotheby’s by her son Henry and his sisters. Anne, being the niece of the revered decorator Nancy Lancaster, is a link with all those turn-of-the-last-century anglophile American women — Vanderbilts, Astors and Trees — who brought New World zip, money and freshness to a gâté, hidebound Edwardian society.
This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated May 20, 2006