High life | 7 July 2012

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The Spectator lost one of its most loyal readers when Alistair Londonderry, Marquess of, died recently of that most dreaded pancreatic cancer, the very same that had killed his brother-in-law Jimmy Goldsmith 15 years before. Alistair would have been 75 in September, an age that Jimmy never even got close to. Sir James once told me that Alistair had the best brain of anyone he knew, with almost encyclopedic knowledge of politics and music. Jimmy would ring him and casually ask in those pre-Google times who the vice-president of, say, Upper Volta, was. Back would come an unpronounceable name. Goldsmith would have his secretary check it and, presto, Alistair would yet again have come up trumps. He was an expert on Liszt, himself played beautifully but mostly in private, and was the greatest pun artist of all time.

I met him 50 years ago with one of his closest friends, John Aspinall, and they immediately quizzed me — harangued me, rather — about Oscar Wilde, yours truly having made the mistake of saying I knew more than most men about the Irish playwright. Just as with Jimmy and Aspers, we never had a cross word, and he’d burst out cackling whenever I’d say something outrageous about the state of the world, especially when I was being politically very incorrect. His nephew Robin Birley, in whose fantastic new club I now spend my evenings, looks and acts just like him, but needs to work on his puns a bit more.

And speaking of Alistair and the Goldsmiths, Jemima Khan had a housewarming party in Oxfordshire that left me quite warm in places one does not mention in the elegant pages of the Speccie. (Unlike my Low life colleague Jeremy Clarke, who as usual had me in stitches writing about my mentor Porfirio Rubirosa’s big bamboo last week.) Many beautiful young women in one of the prettiest houses in England, the Bath stone alone distracting my eye from the female forms floating about. The place was full of old friends, with a spiffy Nicky Haslam flitting around dropping smouldering Noël Cowardisms and other verbal gems such as ‘veddy, veddy vulgar to be confrontationally erotic’, and so on. I sat next to the smartest man in the house by far, Sir Bob Geldof, downing vodkas non-stop and taking it all in when a dream walked up and ruined my evening. ‘You promised in Regensburg I was the only one,’ said the beauty. ‘What’s all this about Jessica Raine and Rebecca Hall and that deputy editor of yours?’ I tried to speak but in the state I was in no sound came out, just some stuttering and hard swallowing, then I kissed the dream’s hand and collapsed on Bob Geldof who said something like, ‘Get the f*** off me, you f****** fool.’

It was about three years ago, in the Thurn und Taxis palace in Regensburg for Maya Schoenburg’s birthday, where I cornered a beauty by the name of Sophie and chatted her up for one hour straight without respite. After exactly 60 minutes of the longest soliloquy ever, Sophie smiled ever so sweetly, gave me a light kiss on the cheek, and left on the arm of Lord Freddie Windsor, whom she married soon after. I got over it but not really. One never does when one fails, n’est-ce pas? Of all the country houses in the world, she had to come into this one, was my first and last thought as Geldof shook me off and I sat glazed looking at Jemima’s legs and making strange, animal-like noises. My buddy Charlie Glass assisted me to my car where a kind driver made sure I got home safe. 

And now for the good news. The Pugs weekend was a great success, although it took place over a Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday in Corsica. Just before the regatta’s gun went off, we voted on new members but no one passed muster. A club record was equalled, however, when Balotelli, the Italian striker, received as many black balls as Elton John and Larry Gagosian once did. As most of you know, Pugs is the mysterious virtual club considered by discerning souls to be the most exclusive in the world. Variously described as ‘the bane of half the English nobility’ and ‘that hotbed of dissent’, this virtually impenetrable club has been unprecedented in its rise to stardom. 

For the past 300 years White’s has reigned over SW1 as the last bastion of English dignity and discrimination, quietly upholding the traditions of a once-proud nation and vigorously staving off arrivistes and hoi polloi. Now Pugs has surpassed White’s — the nail in White’s coffin being the revelation that the late Osama bin Laden was a member in good standing even as the towers of the World Trade Center were tumbling down. Pugs regatta, needless to say, has now replaced Royal Ascot week, the Chelsea Flower Show, Lord’s and Henley as the premier social event of the year.

And as luck would have it, the winner for the year 2012 was Bushido, owner Taki, skippered by Commodore Tim Hoare, who masterfully outsmarted Sir Roger Taylor’s Tiger Lily, crewed by tens of hands including Sir Bob Geldof, to win a handsome victory with yours truly accepting the cup. Afterwards I was told by my captain that the fix was in and Roger had ordered his captain to take a dive in lieu of me having come in last in every race since the regatta began five years ago. It’s been that kind of week. First my opponents take a dive to make me feel better, then Sophie Windsor makes me take a dive of despair. Things can only get better.