The jokes about keeping a mistress are old and I’ve yet to hear a truly funny one (‘The difference between a wife and a mistress is like day and night,’ and so on). Like many other good things, mistresses have fallen out of fashion, the closing pay gap between the sexes being one of the main reasons for their demise. History tells us a lot about great men who had mistresses, which most great men did. Beauty and physical attributes aside, the most important quality for a kept woman was her discretion, with a capital D.
Which brings me to the downfall of ex-King Juan Carlos of Spain, whose wife Queen Sofia I count as a very good friend. I first met him before he had become head of state-in-waiting under Franco. He was a polite young man and we hung out together during the Monte Carlo tennis tournament with Manolo Santana and Nicola Pietrangeli. He very politely reprimanded me when I called him Juanito instead of Your Highness in front of Manolo and Nicola, and they seemed confused.
When I next met him, he was counting the days as Franco lay dying in Madrid. Princess Sofia and I had a quarrel of sorts when I defended the Greek colonels who had been condemned to death that morning — we were on a boat off Majorca — and she took umbrage. There were some beauties on board the Atlantis on that particular cruise — it was 1975 — and Juan Carlos had a roving eye. But he was very sweet to Sofia. We all know the rest. Having learned from his brother-in-law, King Constantine II of Greece, that a king does not compromise where the constitution is concerned, he resisted the Spanish military’s coup and became a hero overnight uniting Spanish political factions in the process.