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High life

The right woman

Broadsides from the pirate captain of the Jet Set

5 November 2005

12:00 AM

5 November 2005

12:00 AM

Unlike Peregrine Worsthorne, I thought the Duff Cooper diaries were interesting and terrific, and also made me envious as hell. Oh, to have lived back then. People sure had fun. I particularly liked the part where Duff puts down a certain party as boring because of the presence of spivs. Well, lucky old Duff. If he were around nowadays, he’d be writing about some sponsored event where among the spivs he might run into a gent of sorts.

Of course, one could have fun back then, because the barbarians were still outside the gates. No journalists, no people in trade, no cheap celebrities, no It girls, no New Labour. One thing I have not understood is the complaint from some reviewers about Duff Cooper’s infidelities. He stayed married until the end, didn’t he? And his wife adored him to the end, didn’t she? And some men have stronger sex drives than others, don’t they? We can’t all be expected to be Harold Macmillans, get cuckolded and go to the Beefsteak and talk with the chaps. Plus another thing. Women, real women, that is, adore womanisers, and Don Giovanni wasn’t written by Beaumarchais because he was a cad and a seducer, but because he was adored by women. Punto basta.

I think it was Sir Peregrine who wrote that Duff’s infidelities caused Diana to take drugs. What bullshit. She was taking morphia, as she called it, long before she married, with her girlfriends in order to have fun. I’ve only been administered morphine after being under the knife. But I get no thrill from morphine. Cocaine is another matter, and I think — perhaps my memory is playing tricks on me — that I took some coke with Lady Diana Cooper back in the early Eighties. It was at 86 Eaton Square and Nicky Haslam had introduced me to her. She was not all there. In fact, I think she mistook me for Talleyrand and offered me a snort. And I believe I took it. But I could be mistaken. Only the great Nicky Haslam knows for sure.

But back to womanising. I find it extraordinary that people nowadays condemn men for it. Some asshole attacked General Patton for chasing women non-stop — he did take time to wage war, too. Having just read the biography of the wonderful Diana Mosley, I see that Sir Oswald is attacked time and again by Anne de Courcy for the success he had with the fairer sex. But, unlike the rest of them, Oswald Mosley never had to wear the horns of shame. Both his wives stayed totally faithful to him, and, in the case of his first wife, so did her sister while the going was good. Ditto Diana Cooper. Great swordsmen like Mosley fascinate women and are adored by them. Let poor old George Melly have an open marriage. That’s his choice. He’s bohemian. Some of us are not. Neither Cooper nor Sir Oswald would have put up with it, and what pisses people off is that they never had to. Show me a faithful woman and I’ll show you a great man. Plus one has lotsa fun doing it to others while it’s not being done to him. All one has to do to belong to that special club is to choose the right woman. She has to be upper class, beautiful, and she has to love you madly. The rest comes naturally. As Diana Cooper told her son John Julius when he asked her if his father’s infidelities bothered her, ‘Oh, they were the flowers, I knew I was the tree.’

Princess Alexandra Schoenburg couldn’t put it better. The other reason I loved the diaries was that towards the end I read about people I met once I got to Paris in 1957. Gaston Palewski needs no introduction. As randy as Duff and Oswald, he invited me to the Elysée in June of 1967 because he had his eye on my first wife, Cristina de Caraman, who had a vague idea who he might be. The lunch was grand, he tried to play footsie, she told him to lay off, and I commiserated with him afterwards. ‘These young people are unaware of the old customs, monsieur…’ type of thing. The other person I read about in the Cooper diaries was Marie-Laure de Noailles, the grand hostess and keeper of the most important intellectual salon of Paris. According to Duff, Marie-Laure had had a bad war and was laying low. By bad war he meant Marie-Laure had given her charms away to some very good-looking Wehrmacht officers and the Frogs were pissed off. Again, I beg to differ. How could it possibly be wrong to have bedded good-looking Wehrmacht officers? It sure beats bedding some slob American soldier who might even go off with the Fabergés. France and le maréchal Pétain had signed a peace treaty with Germany. Prussian officers were known for their looks and culture. Marie-Laure was hot-blooded. Good for Marie-Laure. Anyway, she got away with it, and by the time I was taken to her salon, she was long over the hill. But she did make a pass, which flattered me greatly. Read the diaries and see how we used to live, and weep.

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