High life | 4 May 2017

I haven’t felt such gloom since my father died but the tribute Nick would have wanted is laughter, parties and songs

High life | 4 May 2017
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I’m sitting in my office and the place is still. The rest of the house is dark. Everyone’s out and I’m here writing about the death of a friend. I haven’t felt such gloom since my father died 28 years ago. The question why did he have to die is implicitly followed by another: how did he live his life? The answer to that one is easy: recklessly. Learning how to die, according to Montaigne, is unlearning how to be a slave. Nick Scott, who died last week in India, was no slave.

Nick went to Eton. He was an army man and a very talented landscape artist and gardener, among the best-dressed men of his time, a clubman par excellence. He was a very good father to two boys and two girls, and probably the best unpublished writer of his generation. He was funny as only few people can be funny, with a straight face and via cartoonish exaggeration. I met him a very long time ago at a lunch in Simpson’s-in-the-Strand given by Charlie Glass. Nick was talking about his children and I evinced surprise. Nick asked me why. I thought you were gay, said I. What makes you think I’m gay? Well, not one but two palazzos in Venice, English and an old Etonian; surely you must be gay. He banged his head on the table with such force that plates fell off it. As his forehead began to balloon, he went on as if nothing had happened. Incidentally, Nick was as gay as I am.

As with Rick and Captain Renault, it was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Nick invented a grotesque, fun-house distortion of yours truly, pronouncing my name as Taaaki, and imitating my drunken slurring whenever my name came up. We began to cruise together, along with the Bismarcks, Tim Hoare and the rest of the Pugs Club boys. On board Bushido, long ago, we had an after-dinner vote on who among the guests was the most unpopular. There were eight guests, and six crew. The ballot box was stuffed and 34 votes went to Nick. Without saying a word, and fully dressed in an impeccable linen suit, he quietly threw himself over the side, his credit cards and pictures of his children floating away as he surfaced.

He was the president for life and main mover behind Pugs. He knew how to run a perfect non-club, and his Christmas cards alone were worthy of Beardsley and Mac, with Wildean wit accompanying his pictures and drawings. He was a member of White’s and the joke was that he had put up more members of that particular club than anyone in its history. He lived with Chantal, Princess of Hanover, and they had gone trekking in the Himalayas for ten days before going to the Maharajah of Jodhpur’s son’s wedding. There Nick had fallen off the wagon, ignoring the doctor’s warnings that any more drink would kill him. His pancreas was inflamed, his system shut down and he went into a coma. His closest friend, Tim Hoare, had an air ambulance fly in but it was all in vain. Nick was cremated in India.

Needless to say, all of his friends are devastated. We plan to honour him in the manner in which he would have approved. The annual Pugs lunch will take place in June and it will be a tribute to a unique friend. It is very hard to write about a man one loved as much as I did Nick without sounding mawkish and sentimental. But London now seems distant to me, as does Pugs. Talk about a ship without a captain, or a rudder for that matter. Nick was a very warm and loving person, and by that I don’t mean that he was a luvvie. Far from it. He was modest, graceful, generous, witty and very nuanced. Like all good men, he did not take care of himself — not that one would know it by looking at him. He was slender, tough and very elegant. He was also as mad as the proverbial hatter. He was a great friend, and the Bismarcks, the Hoares, the Geldofs and the Greek royals will miss him as much as I will. The last thing he would have wanted is Auden’s ‘Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone.’ He’d rather have Taki’s paraphrase: ‘Start all the laughter, begin with the songs, it’s time for a party, let’s go to the Hoares.’

Just as I finished these lines, the telephone rang with news of a party going on in London. At the Bismarcks. Remembering Nick. And celebrating his wonderful life. I am in a better mood than I was when I started.