High life | 21 September 2017

The worship of money and celebrity is his legacy and art’s tragedy

High life | 21 September 2017
Text settings

As everyone who stands up when a lady enters the room knows, the once sacrosanct rules of civility throughout the West have all but disappeared. The deterioration in manners has been accelerated by the coming of the devil’s device, the dehumanising iPhone, as well as by phoney ‘art’ and artists such as Andy Warhol and Jeff Koons. I don’t know why, but Warhol is a bugbear of mine. He always treated me politely, featured me favourably in his magazine Interview, and referred to me in a good light in his diaries. Perhaps me being violent back then — he headlined a cover story with a reference to me being a terrorist among the rich — made him think twice before he stuck the knife in. Warhol ruined many lives by leading people astray with drugs and false promises, but most of all he ruined art by making it showy. The fact that today’s hustlers sell a picture of a Coke bottle or a shark suspended in formaldehyde for millions is obscene. The worship of money and celebrity is Warhol’s legacy and art’s tragedy.

I thought of Warhol and what I call ELCP — Extraordinarily Lower Class People — as I roamed around London this week. Being an ELCP has nothing to do with the old class system; it is all about vile manners while shopping in Bond Street. Most ELCPs are Chinese, with dyed blond hair, wires in their ears and an extremely vapid expression on their faces. The only thing that matters to an ELCP is wealth, and the ability to out-shop the next idiot. Comfort and fame are also prerequisites. They are forever posting pictures of their ugly selves via the devil’s instrument. The Tao, which was known as the Way of Heaven, and which embodied the sacred character of ancient China, has gone with the same wind that swept away the antebellum south in the US.

I may write as an oldie, but my children agree with me. They both have impeccable manners, although my daughter has inherited my violent side. Her raised voice sends shivers. My son, who is a great athlete and very strong, has a sweet nature and thinks only of girls all day, and definitely all night. Both children have expressed shock to me at how their peers see rules and traditions as something to resist or ridicule on the grounds that they interfere with self-expression. They also agree with me about mass tourism, the bane of modern life.

When the hippies first told us that if it feels good, do it, one never imagined that 40 years later their message would have become law. One can even change gender nowadays by declaring oneself a man or a woman, and make the news if anyone expresses shock. It’s all about being a victim. Now everything goes, including activities once considered shameful or criminal. Third-century Rome has nothing on the 21st-century West.

Thus, despite the sadness of the occasion, the hundreds of us who attended the memorial service of thanksgiving and celebration for the life of Nick Scott were a welcome sight. Nick was president of Pugs club, dandy, soldier, raconteur, humorist extraordinaire, gentleman, landscape artist, farceur, great friend and as sensitive a soul as it is possible to be without being too precious for words. They say that you can tell a man by his friends. Well, just check out the following: the Maharajah of Jodhpur did a round trip from India — 20 hours’ flying time — on his magic carpet. The crown prince of Greece, Pavlos, hopped on a plane in New York, flew all night, attended the service at St Luke’s Church, Chelsea, then drove back to Heathrow and caught a plane back to the Bagel. His brother, Prince Nikolaos, flew in from Greece, as did George Livanos, whose doctor has prescribed rest. Bob Geldof changed the dates of his singing tour in order to address us. I’ll get to that in a moment. A part of the church was reserved for Pugs club members and we were all advised by the president pro tem Count Bismarck to wear our club tie. Everyone, including Arki Busson and Rolf Sachs, who never wear neckties, did so.

Celebrations of a life are bittersweet occasions. Some are too corny, others downright false. This was as good as it gets. The Revd Emma Smith was perfect, the choir divine, and things began to rock with Sir James McGrigor’s childhood memories of Nick. Rolling in the aisles, as they say. He was followed by Commodore Tim Hoare, a lifelong friend and Eton schoolmate. Tim is a very serious man who shows only his funny side to people. He spoke briefly and movingly, and generously gave Bob the rostrum.

Well, Mark Antony would have blanched. Geldof spoke for 30 minutes and when he finished, everyone in the church wanted more. Both Tim and Bob spoke with such eloquence and heart-rending truthfulness that Nick was brought back to life. This is a hard thing to say but I have never in all my days heard a better eulogy. He described Nick in depth, but his flaws came across in a positive light, all due to Geldof’s words. He didn’t hide a thing. Nor did he skirt any issue. The rhythm was perfect, from sad to funny, from melancholy to burst-out-loud laughter.

My only hope is that this extraordinary eulogy has been preserved on tape. The mother of my children called it the best ever and I have to agree. Geldof is a poet of rare intelligence and talent and what a pity it was that he called me useless during the greatest eulogy ever.