On a beautiful, crisp Saturday morning on the first of the month I flew from Gstaad to the château de Dampierre, the duc de Luynes’s seat southwest of Paris. My old friend Jean-Claude Sauer was getting hitched for the fifth time, to a wonderful girl by the name of Brigitte — incidentally, the fifth Brigitte he has married in his long and colourful life. (He obviously loves the name although he insists it’s a coincidence.) Jean-Claude lives in a charming house on the estate, now that he has left Paris Match after 40 years of covering wars and women for the French weekly. He and I go back to the Fifties, so that’s one wedding I wouldn’t have missed even if Eva Green had rung up and suggested an assignation. (Well, perhaps I might have missed it.)
If the lunch was not exactly a déjeuner sur l’herbe, it was definitely a déjeuner champêtre, as I painfully found out while doing the tango with the bride afterwards. I fell rather hard and dragged her down with me having caught my shoe on the cobbled stones of the courtyard. Mind you, it was a memorable outdoor lunch for 16 close friends, starting with Jean de Luynes, Michel de Bourbon, John Sutin, Jean-Pierre de Lucovich and our various wives and live-ins. A trio played some wonderful old tunes and in no time everyone was totally gone — the men, that is — and we continued late into the afternoon until the mother of my children dragged me back to my Swiss hole using the excuse that the small airport in Saanen would shut down for the night. I could think of worse things to do than spend a night in Dampierre, and in view of his multiple trips to the altar, I am certain the bridegroom would not have minded.
Be that as it may, the trouble with nostalgic occasions such as this one is that I’m constantly reminded of what we’ve lost. Last week, at a Yehudi Menuhin Festival concert in Gstaad, I watched as the burgers gathered for après dinner drinks in the square. Civic pride demands that everyone is dressed to the nines. No trainers, no tattoos, no sweats. No swearing and no people puking on the ancient cobbled streets. Table after table of diners and drinkers and not a broken glass or drunken oik in sight. This is Europe at its best, a civilised and uplifting Europe, a world of yesterday. The lowering of standards is the bane of our time. We are allowing our society to be shaped by the nastiest people promoting the cult of yoof, and the tabloids and television lead the way.
When I read about people fleeing Britain, my only thought is what took them so long. A couple of months ago I lunched in New York with Andrew Neil, our chief executive. He asked me if something had happened to me to turn, as I have, against living in England. The yob mentality is what happened. It has nothing to do with the violence in the streets. I fancy myself a tough guy and can take it. When three young hoods attacked me in Cale Street 12 years or so ago, one of them cut my pocket out while the fight was in full flow trying to get to my wad. If this had taken place now he would have surely plunged it into my chest. I never even bothered to talk to the cops after they contacted me. What would have been the point? Human-rights busybodies would not have become too excited about a rich man being attacked by three underprivileged youths. Now communities live in fear of yobs, vandals and teenage killers, the fuzz is hamstrung by regulation and paperwork, and the government is preparing to give the killer of a headmaster a new identity, 24-hour police protection and lotsa moolah, to boot.
Well, my dear Andrew, I hope you have your answer. Add to this the weather, overcrowding and a London mayor who would most likely have rooted for the three attackers rather than the poor little Greek boy, and I’m better off in Gstaad or the Big Bagel. As Philip Norman wrote, Britishness is now equated with brutishness, yet the government is just spinning it. How can anyone in their right mind say that crime is falling, as this government insists. This is a Nasser-like lie, as when the Egyptian leader told King Hussein of Jordan that they were winning the Six-Day War and that the King should join him in sharing the spoils.
I suppose this is what Cool Britannia is all about. That bum Blair really did us in. Bringing pop stars to No. 10 might have looked cool at the time, but breaking down a strong culture of civic self-control took its toll. Cultural liberalism promotes social irresponsibility, and ethnic diversity makes people less trusting of each other. Punto basta, as they say in the land of pasta. The coarsening of the culture has driven me away from the many close friends I have in England. By the time they turn it around, if they ever do, I will be using a Zimmer frame. But for the moment I’m off to Greece, to see if there’s anything left of my maternal lands in the Peloponnese, and do some sailing off that tragic peninsula.