Santa Monica is a soothing place to be locked down. I moved here from New York for four months in November with my two adult kids after I lost my beloved husband, Harry Evans. I couldn’t face the task of finishing a book in our empty country house where for years we’d shown each other our pages at the end of the day and laughed over chicken pot pie. Meanwhile in Manhattan, I was tired of pretending that freezing outdoor dining, with buses barrelling past, was like sitting on the sidewalk at Les Deux Magots in Paris. With the California sun on my back at breakfast, and the orange trees in my garden, I have the calm I need to reflect on happy times with Harry.
The theft of Lady Gaga’s French bulldogs sent a chill through the serenely ensconced household. Just before Christmas, my daughter Izzy took possession of a three-month-old English bulldog, acquired from Linda’s Klassy Kennel in Oklahoma. I was dubious. Izzy is a documentary producer who travels a lot, I’ve always been a cat person, and a red-state bulldog would surely bark for Trump. But as a flow of snaps arrived of a splotchy pink-snouted puppy — a runty number four in the litter — I started to feel the excited stirrings of cross-species motherhood. Three days before Christmas we got the call. An RV van driven from Oklahoma would meet us in the car park outside an Anaheim 7-Eleven at 8 p.m. There, a bearded dude emerged and handed Izzy a small bundle.
What else could it have been but love at first sight? Gimli, as Izzy has called her (after the wise dwarf in Lord of the Rings) is a ‘bulldoglet’ from heaven. Her soft corrugated nose immediately burrowed into Izzy’s shoulder. Every day starts with what we call Storming the Capitol. Gimli’s crate door opens and she bursts out, furiously wagging her stump of a tail and hurling herself at my bed. We have decided that she was sent to us by my husband. She has so many of his characteristics: dogged (literally) tenacity; fearless when wrestling with dogs three times her size; and never more content than when chomping through a manuscript.
It’s amazing how differently the Duke and Duchess of Sussex are perceived in America. In Hollywood there’s been much consternation about how the timing of (ex-Prince) Harry’s larky bus trip stunt with James Corden once again dissed the Queen — not his grandma (for a change), but America’s Queen, Oprah Winfrey. ‘Who does that?’ went the text messages. Who gives an exclusive heart-to-heart to Oprah, then goes off before it’s aired and does a knockabout with Corden, when Her Media Majesty’s much-touted scoop is still in the can? No doubt it was supposed to be ‘just fun’, but Corden was sly enough to slip in news-making questions that rained on Oprah’s parade. Harry and Meghan, it’s very clear, want to be all-conquering celebrities. But there are rules of the game in Hollywood — just as there are at Buckingham Palace. The Oprah solecism apart, Harry aced the Corden show. He was self-deprecating, funny and hot. British hand-wringing about letting down the immutable dignity of the royal family is greeted here with snorts. Americans see the much-touted Windsor version of ‘public service’ as posh people being made to do boring things they hate every day, usually in bad weather. Harry’s version of it sounds way more fun. Netflix deals, podcasts, lolling barefoot in the garden of an 11-bedroom mansion, a Zoom here and there… What’s not to like? In Harry and Meghan’s real estate circles, Frogmore Cottage would be marketed as a tear-down.
The larger question they have to answer is whether Harry is a celebrity royal or a royal celebrity. He seems to have picked the latter. There’s less job security that way, but more money. But I suspect he still believes he’s the former — a royal prince somehow disaggregated from the duties of the Crown. And this makes things awkward. How can he then talk with a straight face to Oprah about ‘public service’, even as his grandmother, the real Queen, faces the loss of her husband, who for 70 years upheld his coronation oath to be her ‘liege man of life and limb’? Perhaps Harry is simply ahead of the curve. After all, in politics, disaggregation from any recognisable legislative platform is now a way of life for the Republican party. The annual CPAC conference in mask-free Orlando showed how policy, like public service, is a fusty old concept for doddering throwbacks like President Biden. Trump is now literally, as well as figuratively, the pouty blimp who hovers over the party. The tedious business of governing — another kind of public service — goes on without him. And for that we are thankful, all of us — our bulldog Gimli included.