High life | 6 July 2017

I was there the first time they met. It was the summer of 2000 and the firewater was flowing...

High life | 6 July 2017
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A funny thing happened on my way to lunch last week. I opened the Daily Mail and read a few snippets about the Camilla–Charles saga by Penny Junor, stuff to make strong men weep with boredom. But then a certain item caught my eye: ‘Camilla and the Queen finally met in the summer of 2000, when Charles threw a 60th birthday party at Highgrove for his cousin King Constantine of Greece… They shook hands, smiled at one another, Camilla curtseyed, and they had a moment or two of small talk before going to different tables for lunch.’

Hey, wait a minute, I told myself. You were there, for God’s sake, and had much too much firewater. It had obviously slipped my mind, 17 years and 5,000 booze-ups later. Thinking back, I remember it well. I had my driver pick me up nice and early from Cadogan Square, but we nevertheless had to speed like hell as the chauffeur was more familiar with the back streets of Delhi than the gentle rolling hills of the Cotswolds. The reason for my presence at Prince Charles’s country residence was obvious: King Constantine had included my name on his list. I had met Charles and Camilla before, but I wouldn’t exactly say I was an intimate.

If memory serves, and it does, it was a brilliant summer day and the guests were given a tour by Prince Charles — one I missed as I stayed behind chatting with Conrad Black. I said hi to Camilla, exchanged a few jokes with my king, and then proceeded to get drunk seated next to a certain royal I was stepping out with at the time. In fact, the certain royal’s mother warned me not to drive, nor to attempt cricket. Which was my next destination. During the boozy luncheon in the sunshine I remembered that I was supposed to be in Badminton early that afternoon for a cricket match — Badminton v. the village, or something like that. By the time I arrived at the Duke of Beaufort’s seat, I was late, inebriated and Harry Worcester was rather angry. ‘Can’t you ever be on time, Greek boy?’ ‘Well, I was having lunch with the Queen, and she took her time…’ or words to that effect.

The reason I say a funny thing happened to me last week is that right after reading the Daily Mail item I quoted above, I went to lunch with Leopold Bismarck and Kevin Burke. The former is a very close friend, but I hadn’t seen Kevin for years — until we sat down at Ziani’s, off the King’s Road, a wonderful Italian restaurant. A very distinguished gentleman was reading The Spectator at the next table.

Kevin looked a bit out of sorts, so Bolle and I began to pull his leg a bit. The trouble was the Camilla story by Penny Junor. His name had not appeared on the list of her boyfriends, and he was the very first one. I must say he had a bit of a point. Credit should be given where credit is due. ‘You can Google it, for Christ’s sake,’ said Kevin in jest, but it’s in there. Kevin Burke, the first to score with the Duchess of Cornwall. We toasted the unsung hero and talked with the distinguished gent lunching while reading the Speccie. We did not mention the fact that Kevin Burke was the first.

Then things got even better. I went back to those Cotswold hunting grounds of old — do any of you remember Bruern Abbey and the wild weekends? — for Prince Pavlos’s 50th birthday and his daughter Olympia’s 21st. The Crown Prince of Greece is as nice a man as you’ll ever meet, and he and his wife Marie-Chantal had close to 500 friends down for the weekend ball, attended by King Felipe of Spain, Queen Maxima of the Netherlands and the two prettiest girls around, Lady Sophie Windsor and her sister-in-law, Ella. Looking down from the house on to a sea of colours on the wide and sloping lawn was a truly memorable sight. The mostly young people turned the scene into a festive dream-like fantasy, and then the music began to throb and the drinking got out of hand. While sober, I bowed to King Constantine who asked me if the white dinner jacket I was wearing was brand-new. I denied it but it was.

Princes Pavlos, Nikolaos and Filippos of Greece are the best of the best, as far as I’m concerned, and Bob Miller, Pavlos’s father-in-law, among the most generous men around. One of the hardest things, I find, is to write about people in glowing terms without sounding gushing. At the request of Tim Hoare, I was invited to stay with Lord and Lady Bamford at Daylesford, the most perfect house of England, as far as I’m concerned, and I’ve seen a few. It is built in beautiful Bath stone, the great orangerie next to the main house, and impeccably run by a large staff. I used to visit when the previous owner, a German-Hungarian baron, lived there. Now it’s a perfect English country house once more, its interior the way it should be.

The Bamfords are the most generous and natural of hosts, Anthony Bamford proving that no good deed goes unpunished by listening to my ravings about the Wehrmacht early on Sunday morning. (Queen Maxima was staying and he had to get up early to see her off. Then he got hit by Taki.) And they do wonderful things, like organic farming. More Bamfords, less James Stunts, is the answer to this country’s problems.