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High life

Matters of fact

Broadsides from the pirate captain of the Jet Set

26 July 2003

12:00 AM

26 July 2003

12:00 AM

St Tropez

Like Rick, when asked why he would come to Casablanca for its non-existent waters, I presume the hack was misinformed. An item in the Evening Standard’s Londoner’s Diary had me announcing that I had gatecrashed Lynn Forester de Rothschild’s party for the Clintons. ‘Dearest Taki,’ writes Lynn. ‘You lied! Of course you were invited…’ A kind and sweet note from Lynn, except for the fact I never said it. At my age one simply doesn’t gatecrash, but hacks have been known to make things up. Oh well, it wasn’t very serious. What was serious and sad was the death of Philip Heslop, the Silk who brilliantly got me off the Fayed lawsuit. I had no idea he was ill. He told the Daily Telegraph that he relished representing me, and for that I am truly flattered. A very courteous and brilliant man gone. It’s going to be like this from now on. But on to happier thoughts.

Such as that the key to preventing prostate cancer, we are now told, lies in a man’s own hands. When young, that is. Frequent masturbation dramatically cuts the risk of the disease, according to scientists. All I can say is, hooray! I remember Mr Dallings, the wrestling coach at my American boarding school, who would give us a pep talk before important matches. ‘Tomorrow we wrestle the Hill school, our traditional rivals; they have a very good team and you will need all your strength,’ he would say, looking directly at me. This would infuriate me. ‘Why are you looking at me, coach?’ ‘You know very well why,’ he would answer. Life is unfair. Just because I had been to the Riviera and had tasted forbidden fruit did not make me a wanker, which of course I was.


And speaking of wankers, what about these Russian billionaires. Khodorkovsky, Berezovsky, Gusinsky, Abramovich, Sonofabitch… all Russia’s wealth seems to be here in St Tropez and in London. Humongous superyachts, colossal houses, gargantuan egos, prodigious amount of hookers, all surrounded by mountainous bodyguards. By comparison, even the kleptocrats of Arabia look conservative. A friend of mine was given six weeks to fit out Chips Channon’s great house in Belgrave Square. Starting from scratch. He managed it, but it cost the Cossack 25 million big ones. Pounds, not greenbacks. That’s just for furnishing and decorating the pad. I have nothing against new wealth, but its provenance is important. The oligarchs are shipping their ill-gotten billions out of Russia quicker than you can say Ali Baba. In the meantime, very old ladies in St Petersburg are begging in order to eat, and old soldiers are vainly trying to sell their medals for an apple or two. Shades of pre-Hitler Germany. (Remember the wonderful Hemingway story ‘Medals for Sale’?) We Greeks made big money but poured it back into our birthplace. These carpetbaggers need to be reined in. Fast. The Russian people have been suffering since time immemorial. You’d think the God of Das Capital would have given them a break. No such luck, as they used to say in the gulag. (Incidentally, the most unforgettable book ever is Anne Applebaum’s Gulag – a must-read, especially as the torture and slow murder of tens of millions remains relatively obscure both in Russia and in the West.)

Mind you, from Sebastian Taylor’s bergerie – camouflaged by olive trees, umbrella pine, cork-oak, vine, eucalyptus, wysteria and oleander – surrounded on three sides by vineyards and by a wood that leads to the sea, it is hard to envisage coming into contact with the vulgarians below. This is a hell of a hideout. Run impeccably by Sebastian’s live-in mistress Elizabeth, the house itself is part of a romantic history. Emile Ollivier was the most brilliant, controversial and disastrous of Napoleon III’s ministers. A prominent opponent of the emperor, Ollivier nevertheless deserted the republican party to become the leader of the emperor’s liberal empire in 1870.

Needless to say, his timing was unfortunate. Ollivier declared war on Prussia, which brought on the Third Republic and his retirement to St Tropez. There he looked upon the magnificent views of the Mediterranean coast, worked hard on the land planting trees and now, 200 years later, Sebastian Taylor is reaping the benefits. And he wrote. Three million words, to be exact. Arnold Toynbee classified Ollivier as one of the Pleiad of historians whose expulsion from active life revealed his true talents. Toynbee compared him to Thucydides. Ollivier was an even greater orator. No one could sing with accents more melodious said L’Académie Fran’aise. Rich, rolling Lamartinian periods, said another immortal.

I visited his chateau (the Taylor house is within the property), where his granddaughter still lives, met the old lady, and the shuttered rooms with cool, tiled floors and high ceilings reminded me of my grandfather’s house in Greece. I’m off to my birthplace having got into historical shape in St Tropez of all places.


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