Numero uno Numero uno

Broadsides from the pirate captain of the Jet Set

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Sir Roger and Lady Moore braved a snowstorm but made it on time driving from Crans-Montana. Sir Peter Tapsell flew in from Britain, snow or no snow on the runways. The poor little Greek boy had to travel less than a mile, but was the last to get there. While Gstaad was being covered by the thickest snow we’ve had in years, some 50 lucky souls dined with the finest product of this region, the one and only Ruedy Mullener, the uncrowned King of Gstaad and its environs. The occasion was Ruedy’s 80th birthday, and some enterprising young man should try to bottle him and sell him to Hollywood. He might be 80, but he looks 50, skis as if he were 35, and has the sweet nature, humbleness and wisdom of a 99-year-old. For those of you who have never heard of him, Ruedy taught both Roger Moore and me, as well as countless others, how to ski, walks up and down mountains throughout the summer with Peter Tapsell (keeping the latter’s mind clear from the bull he hears daily in the Commons) and has been the numero-uno ski instructor in Gstaad for 60-odd years. The Mullener family has lived in these parts for some 500 years, which means they’ve owned land for 500 years longer than most of the baboons that have descended here have been giving body-language signals.

Oh, yes, I almost forgot. Ruedy was and continues to be a caricature of the ski-instructor-cum-seducer. He is fair, always tanned, with bright-blue eyes, a winning smile and a very handsome face. About 45 years ago, while he trained me for the winter Olympics, I noticed that he drew girls around him like the proverbial turd draws flies. I quickly proposed to him a year-round association. He would accompany me everywhere, draw the girls and leave the rest to me. But he let me down terribly. He had met a Scottish beauty by the name of Leslie and revealed to me that he was monogamous. It was a terrible waste and shame, but what can one do with unrelenting monogamous love? Despite my pleas, Ruedy married Leslie and they’ve been happy and inseparable ever since. (Needless to say, I gave up on him and Sir Roger took over, followed by Sir Peter.)

But last week we all sat down to a wonderful dinner at the Posthotel Rössli, Gstaad’s oldest inn, still owned by the family which first welcomed Papa Hemingway when he came to these parts to begin A Farewell to Arms. Hunting horns — very difficult instruments, incidentally — played rousing tunes of mountain scenery, and we washed the carré de veau and rosti down with Fendants, Syrah and champagne. Leslie’s and Ruedy’s beautiful grandchildren posed with James Bond, his fellow instructors serenaded him, and, despite becoming legless, I managed to make sense in the few words I said about Ruedy. The most gracious speech was Roger Moore’s, a gent if ever there was one — and very quick with a pun, too: he responded to someone telling him that she was born two blocks from where Monica Lewinsky was with, ‘This is hard to swallow...’ The evening finished with Ruedy thanking everyone for coming, forgetting to mention that without him Gstaad would not mean what it does to most of us old-timers.

And, speaking of golden oldies, I received a telephone call from the Daily Mail the next day asking me whether I was dying. Actually, they put it this way: ‘We hear you’re not well, and you’ve been given three years to live...’ Well, although the evening before hadn’t helped — I continued late into the night after the birthday boy, the mother of my children and the knights had retired — it was news to me. That I had fewer than three years to live, that is. (If the Mail’s info is correct, I’d better start having some fun.) Oh well, I wonder who sold this particular rumour. It had to be someone who dislikes you, said the princess. Not necessarily. When people think you’re dying, they’re usually nice to you. It’s probably a friend who thinks I’ve been defending the Germans for much too long, and need people to stop hating me. Why hate someone who’s got fewer than three, n’est-ce pas?

Take Susan Sontag, for example. She of the great punchlines and clear sentences. (And if you believe that, the Tories will sweep it next May.) Never has death come at a better time for someone who has been conning the soi-disant intellectual community for as long as she had. Just as she was about to lose credibility even with the swine that used to defend Stalin’s crimes, she drops dead, and bingo — to the Pantheon. She was a posturing fashionista, always trying to jump on the next intellectual trend, but in death she has been turned into an icon by the same clowns who, like her, make up for their lack of serious thought by acting seriously depressed. Imagine if this were to happen to the poor little Greek boy. It would be a fate worse than death.