Q. A dear friend of my husband, a shy bachelor, is an acquired taste. Once you acquire it you are addicted, but he can make a bad impression on first meeting. This is because he normally always has dried food or some other kind of detritus which seems to collect around the corners of his mouth.
None of his old friends notice this any more, nor do we tease him — as I said, he’s a tiny bit shy and rather ‘paranoid’. We adore him but do refer to him as ‘Sir Les’ (Patterson) among ourselves. The problem is that he and I are shortly both scheduled to meet someone who could be helpful with his career and it’s vital that he doesn’t alienate. How can I tactfully ensure, before we are wheeled into the VIP’s presence, that there is no problem in the mouth area?
— Name and address withheld
A. Coat your own lips with heavy layers of lipstick. On meeting your friend kiss him on both cheeks, as close to his mouth as possible, and then cry: ‘Oh I’m so sorry. I’ve put lipstick all over your face!’ Immediately whip out a cleansing wipe from your bag and do a cat-and-kitten-style cleansing of his whole face. Use the opportunity to dislodge the food detritus.
Q. I have recently moved house, which means that my belongings are not necessarily in the order they should be. Dressing for a black-tie dinner, I was only able to find my winged collar, white-tie shirt and studs. At the dinner several people, including someone much younger than me, whispered in my ear that it was a bit off to wear such a shirt. How, Mary, could I have let it be known that I was perfectly aware this was so, without coming across as haughty or snobbish?
— P.W., London
A. You could have stood up to propose a toast to someone or something and mention you were only sorry that (due to circumstances beyond your control) you had been forced to throw on the incorrect kit. However — you could have continued pompously — you’d like to make it clear that this in no way was any reflection of your respect for the august occasion which it was your honour to attend.
Q. I was recently granted the privilege of being placed at dinner next to a senior member of the royal family. I was on his left. I was discomfited however that, because of a domino effect further down the table, with someone failing to turn to his left after his first course, HRH was unable to turn to me until the third course. I wonder, Mary, what you would have done in my position to somehow signal to the person that he must turn?
— M.W., London W8
A. This was nothing to do with a domino effect. You can rest assured that royals always talk to the person on their right for two courses before turning to the person on their left.