Christina! Bring Me The Axe! April 2018.

Dear Rowley,

I don’t know about you but one of my pet hates is walking into a party or an event alone. I need a wing man or woman to help me settler my feathers before surveying the room and spotting friends. There is nothing worse than barreling up to people in an intense conversation and bobbing around like a demented penguin hoping to be noticed and introduced. Pet hate even more is events such as a Victoria & Albert fashion exhibit opening when there’s a red carpet for the VIPs and another entrance for the proles.

If there is one thing that is guaranteed to bring out the Joan Crawford in me it is a date being late to escort you to a party. It happened this evening. I loitered outside the V&A for half an hour waiting for a fashion designer who had invited me to the gig. I always employ the half an hour rule. If someone is rude enough to keep you waiting for half an hour without a text or phone call then I hoof it in high dudgeon.

There’s really no excuse – and that includes being on the tube – in not alerting your guest for the evening that you are going to be left looking a right Charlie outside a party. It presupposes that the other person’s time is more precious and they are worth waiting for. Well, have I got news for you. I wouldn’t wait for more than half an hour to meet The Queen – Anna Wintour – let alone a moderately successful fashion designer.

Unless my coven are in attendance, I find most parties a lottery. It can be a hoot if you bump into an old friend unexpectedly but it can equally be social Siberia not knowing a soul and chasing the cute cater waiters for another glass of fizz to pluck up the courage to introduce yourself to somebody. I agree with La Farmer that you can’t cite shyness after the age of sixteen. It isn’t shyness in my case. It is a pathological hatred of attending parties alone and exposed.

I am so much more of a dinner party kind of boy. I love an Awards dinner or some event conjured up to have a ball in the name of a charity that you couldn’t give two hoots about. My favourite are seated dinners when you have to engage with your left and your right and can holler across the table if both are a bore.

My worst parties are when I know one of the enemy will be in attendance. The answer of course is not to attend should someone like the Wicked Witch of the West End be imminent. It will only end in tears and torn clothing. When did parties become such a chore and people so bad-mannered?

I blame social media and telecommunications for the lack of manners. People seem to think that if it is a public event they can turn-up when they like rather than at the designated hour and their dates can wait. Well. we can’t as it happens. I would rather miss a party than break my half an hour rule. I think people need to know if their behaviour is off. My time is rather precious too. Then again, I am of the old school that says if you want to be on time be early. It’s a habit I learned from my parentals. It is always best to be the first and bed yourself down at a party rather than breeze-in after the host.

Today was the first sunny day in London since 1815. It was gorgeous and nowhere has light like London when there is a cloudless sky. The red pillboxes gleam as do the busses. The trees look greener and the flowers in Hyde Park were simply a symphony of gorgeousness. We all feel better for a Vitamin D shot. But truth to tell my mind was on Menorca. If it is this good in England think how much more glorious it would be in your Balearics.

Technically, I could scoot off to Menorca tomorrow. I am incredibly tempted to get an Air B&B in Mahon and spend the week bussing to Son Bou beach daily for my skinny dip on the nudist beach and my marathon novel reading on that glorious stretch of white sand. I live for sea water. In fact I feel most at home under salt water which must be a consequence of Scorpio being a water sign.

I have said it before and I will say it again. Water is nature’s tranquilliser: to drink, to swim in and to listen to. I love the crashing of the waves on Son Bou beach. It is where I feel most connected to life on this glorious globe of ours. I am in great need of some tranquility at the moment and one more stand-up for a London party will send me screaming for Easy Jet toot sweet.

Wouldn’t it be lovely to live on the Mediterranean time scale when minutes and hours don’t matter and the only appointment you have is with the sea round about mid-morning before a late boozy lunch and an afternoon of kippage on the beach before sundowner cocktails.

After ‘the troubles’ I really did think it would be delightful to leave London way behind me and go and live a simpler life on Menorca. Perhaps the simple life would bore me but perhaps not. A change of scene is good for the soul. A change of routine might be a life-saver. So here’s to beaches and the Mediterranean Sea. It is all I need to nourish the soul and sooth the body. Does anyone have Easy Jet’s number? Until next time…

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Reinvention. April 2018.

Dear Rowley,

One of my favourite Marilyn Monroe fashion portfolios was shot by Richard Avedon in 1958 entitled Legendary Enchantresses. In the pictures, Marilyn is transformed into Gaiety Girl Lillian Russell, vamp Theda Bara, It Girl Clara Bow, Teutonic Goddess Marlene Dietrich and Platinum Blonde Jean Harlow. Of course all shoots with Marilyn Monroe from the day she changed her hair from auburn to champagne blonde is an act of reinvention.

What I adore about these pictures is that MM doesn’t really get away with it. Her unique brand of beauty seems to shine through the costumes and make-up. There is every indication that Marilyn was aware of her own power. When making her last uncompleted movie Something’s Got To Give, she instructed director George Cukor, ‘remember, you’ve got Marilyn Monroe. Use her’. Ordinarily I would say anyone who speaks about themselves in the third person is loop the loop. But Marilyn was no fool. Norma Jean Baker knew that Marilyn Monroe was a self-invention and one that she should and was proud of.

I believe that even those of us not in the acting profession develop a patina of persona. We become what we want the world to see and that is hopefully our best. For many years I was Savile Row Barbie: suited and booted, formal and reserved. In many ways that persona became a straight jacket (no comments please) that hid the deeper truth. Until you show your truth to the world, there will always be an element of performance or masquerade.

Interesting isn’t it that the true friends are the people who saw beyond the performance all along and liked one for who one is. They might appreciate the performance element but it is what lies beneath that attracts them to you and vice versa. I’ve never been much of a naval gazer until two periods in therapy that were super useful in finding the T. I think we all like to be liked and love to be loved. There’s nowt unusual about that. Trying to be liked by everybody you are on a hiding to nothing.

I do believe manic depressives inspire great love and great hatred sometimes in the same person. Divisive is the perfect word for it. A manic depressive attitude means that the desire to please is strong. It usually manifests itself in a strong work ethic and a career with more twists and turns than Grace Kelly on the coast road to Monaco. It has taken me forty-six years to work out that I am equally black and white with reactions to people. The minute I sense animosity, the scorpion’s tail is up and ready to sting.

The one common denominator in all of my friends is a striving to work very hard and play as if it is their last night on the planet. All of my tribe like to get a little ragged around the edges with one more glass of wine at the end of the evening. We also get up off our arses the next morning and are at our professional activities with gusto. There is a single exception with a dear, dear friend who went AA and was that rare bird: a tee-totaller who is as gorgeous and amusing as he was when lifting the elbow.

The friends I have lost along the way are the ones who practise self-denial. One in particular was such fun as a drinker and turned into Miss Vinegar Tits 2000 when he put down the G&T. I think all of the true friends are two drinks down being on peak form. Churchill was famous for that tankard of champagne of a morning to kick-in a good mood. I would not be at all surprised if my tribe practised what Churchill preached. Meeting them is like coiffing Dom Perignon.

I think what draws me to this inner circle of friends is a common questing. None of us sit on our laurels despite having achieved highly in our particular endeavours. We all think we can do better and we all have an insatiable curiosity about life. We might let other people into the inner circle and funnily enough we are usually unanimous about who fits in the Sherwood Massive and who doesn’t.

What we all do is have each other’s backs. We can all be brutally honest collectively or individually. We pull each other up when we’re not kind or not thinking before speaking but we also forgive the occasional night when one of us has had one over the eight. For many years I put work first. Now I put work in perspective. It is what I do not who I am. This is such an important lesson to learn. Our circle are always there to support the mates but it is for the person not the project.

I’m in contemplative mood this evening because I had a super low key pizza evening with La Farmer, Mr Bowering and Fran the other night. There is nobody’s company in which I feel so relaxez-vous and able to speak easy knowing these friends have my best interests at heart. We all find each other hilarious which helps an awful lot. We laugh at each other’s jokes, fill each other’s wine glasses and leave feeling a million dollars for each other’s company.

My tribe aren’t cookie cutter. We all lead very different lives despite hovering around the same professions. We’re all at different stages of the ride which is incredibly useful when advice is called for. We also all keep each other young. There isn’t one member of the Sherwood Massive who isn’t keen to try new experiences and meet new people. That said, we’ll all still be together at the end of the night making sure we all get home safely.

So here’s to friends. Who’s like us? Damned few. Until next time…

 

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Fashion at KP. April 2018.

Dear Rowley,

I had quite the revelation when visiting Kensington Palace this morning. I was drawn to KP for the new Victoria Revealed exhibition in which three of the Duchess of Fife tiaras were on show for the first time in decades. Princess Louise, Duchess of Fife, was the granddaughter of Queen Victoria. It was to this lucky lady that a parure of diamond and emerald tiara, necklace, earrings and brooches designed by Prince Albert for a young Victoria went at some point in the 19th century.

The lucky Duchess also had an en Tremblant diamond drop tiara and a Russian kokoshnik made for her that remain in the Fife family. The room in which the tiaras were on display was empty but for the central display case. For tiaras, this worked. But sadly the rest of the Victoria Revealed rooms were equally empty but for a smattering of Winterhalter portraits and the odd bit of children’s costume made for a young King Edward VII.

The curators did their best with tricks such as piped music, paper models of Court Dress and scribbles of text on mirrors and table tops but none of this masks the fact that the rooms in KP opened to the public are relatively empty and soulless.

The only two artefacts in the Victoria Revealed exhibition that were new to me was a white lace widow’s mob cap worn by Queen Victoria after the death of Prince Albert in 1861 and a turquoise, diamond and pearl Coburg eagle brooch that Albert designed for Queen Victoria’s bridesmaids. For the latter, a model is exhibited in the British Museum and I see it on a monthly basis.

Kensington Palace is part of Historic Royal Palaces. It is not the Royal Collection though evidently pieces can be borrowed from the royal family’s collections such as the dresses belonging to the late Diana, Princess of Wales that were closed to the public this morning though I have seen the exhibit.

The King’s rooms are high Hanoverian but bare except for modern gaming tables – presumably for the kiddies – and two examples of 18th century court dress. As I wandered these empty rooms I pondered how fabulous it would be if Kensington Palace’s State Rooms were given over entirely to costume and jewellery. The Diana exhibit has done KP a world of good with tourist numbers. Why not make it permanent?

The Queen’s apartments are special because they are relatively untouched since they were inhabited by Queen Mary II and Queen Anne. The ceilings are bare and low, the long gallery has bits and bobs of Queen Mary’s blue and white china collection and we are blessed with a state bed. But how much more fabulous would it be to have the Historic Royal Palaces costume collection on show in the long gallery rather than just floorboards.

Historic Royal Palaces do have to compete with the private collectors at auction for anything relating to the palaces that sell on the open market. The palace even had to buy back the blackamoors that guarded the late Princess Margaret’s apartments back from the sale at Christie’s organised by the princess’s children the 2nd Earl of Snowdon and Lady Sarah Chatto. It is terribly sad that more isn’t gifted to KP to fill up all those empty rooms.

I had the privilege of seeing some of the Historic Royal Palaces collection when it was kept in Princess Margaret’s vacated set of rooms Apartment 1A. 1A is now home to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and their young family. Prince Harry and his bride-to-be Ms Markle will also set-up home in Kensington Palace; the buildings that used to be called ‘the Aunt Heap’ because all the widowed princesses and duchesses used to be shunted off there to die.

Like St. James’s Palace, Kensington is still inhabited by members of the Royal Family making security an issue. But KP has been opened to the public for decades without too much trouble. As a costume and jewellery gallery it could be filled by the permanent collection of HRP and then host special exhibits such as the one dedicated to Hartnell and Hardy Amies pieces made for Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, HM The Queen and Princess Margaret a few years back.

We know from Geoffrey Munn’s historic tiara exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum that sparkly headpieces and gorgeous evening gowns are like catnip to the public. On the occasion I visited KP for the Diana, Princess of Wales exhibit I noticed that the lion’s share of visitors were women and gays. How much more keen would this demographic be to visit KP if the rest of the palace was given over to costume and jewellery?

One of the saddest rooms in the palace was a closet that had been decorated by King George II’s consort Queen Caroline. Apparently Queen Caroline had opened a set of drawers in the palace and discovered drawings by Leonardo, Raphael and Hans Holbein the Younger with which she decorated a private closet.

Said closet now exhibits two Holbein drawings with the rest of the walls painted dung brown with outlines where the pictures would have hung. What is stopping HRP from borrowing HM The Queen’s priceless Holbein drawing portfolios and recreating Queen Caroline’s private closet hung with Holbeins and fellow Old Masters? No amount of curator’s tricks be that projections or facsimile letters flying around the ceilings can compensate for the lack of actual material of Royal provenance being on show. So over to you Historic Royal Palaces…

 

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Anne of the Thousand Days. April 2018.

Dear Rowley,

One of the most formative films I ever saw on the television as a child was Anne of the Thousand Days. The title refers to Anne Boleyn, second wife of King Henry VIII, who reigned for 1000 days before her beheading for treason, incest, adultery and witchcraft. Why Anne Boleyn is such a totemic figure for gay men I do ponder.

Perhaps it is the combination of a young, bewitching creature who led a king a merry dance for years playing for a crown before a premature end anticipates the protocol of other gay icons from Marilyn Monroe and Judy Garland to Amy Winehouse and Billie Holiday. Strong women such as Anne Boleyn appeal to gay men of old. One wonders whether the new generation are more enamoured of fluffy creatures such as Kylie Minogue, Katy Perry and Taylor Swift.

But back to Anne of the Thousand Days. The film won mixed reviews despite being nominated for ten Academy Awards. The French Canadian beauty Genevieve Bujold lost the Oscar to Maggie Smith in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie although in any other year her bravura performance was deserving of the gong.

I don’t think another actress has given a more accurate portrayal of Anne Boleyn and that includes the illustrious roll call of Merle Oberon, Dorothy Tutin, Vanessa Redgrave, Charlotte Rampling, Nathalie Portman and Claire Foy. Bujold is prettier than the Anne Boleyn in the National Portrait Gallery but they share the same hazel eyes, pert nose and thin but beautiful lips.

Apparently the producers wanted Olivia Hussey, Julie Christie or Faye Dunaway for the role before casting Bujold in her first English-speaking role. This was a miracle of casting as were the Oscar-winning costumes. I was most taken by the tawny satin gown Anne wears in her trial scene in the Tower of London and the pearl-trimmed Gable headdress that we know she wore.

The execution is also as honest as history tells us down to Anne’s last words inviting anyone who wishes to meddle with her cause to do as they will. The film took liberties where any film should giving Anne a confrontation in the Tower with Henry offering her a bargain of life in a nunnery in exchange for a divorce which never happened.

Bujold was particularly magnificent in the aforementioned scene because Richard Burton – who won the Oscar playing Henry VIII – had brought wife Elizabeth Taylor onto the set. Not only had Elizabeth been rejected for the part because she was too old, she also suspected Bujold of having an affair with Burton. Just before filming the jail confrontation, Bujold allegedly said ‘I’m going to give that bitch an acting lesson she’ll never forget’. And she did.

Genevieve Bujold’s Anne is in turn imperious, taunting, haunting and melancholy. The moments of vulnerability when Bujold’s hazel eyes mist over with tears are some of the most poignant ever laid down on celluloid. I adore Anne of the Thousand Days because it only gave history a hand when the film demanded that the chess pieces be placed just so.

I did think Claire Foy made a good fist of Anne Boleyn in the TV adaptation of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall novels though she was forced to choose the mean, manipulative side of Anne’s character by Mantel and screen writer Peter Straughan.

Anne evidently had steel to keep the king dancing on a string for the best part of the 1520s and the early 1530s. But I felt Foy had to be too bitter and hard-faced when she had to display a modicum of charm after the birth of Elizabeth I to keep Henry’s attention throughout two more births be they stillborn male heirs.

Vanessa Redgrave and Charlotte Rampling were too witchy for my taste and, besides, they only played cameo roles in larger films about Henry VIII and Sir Thomas Moore respectively. Nathalie Portman showed a little more vulnerability but she still played Anne Boleyn as a jealous, social-climbing shrew. What I loved about Anne of the Thousand Days was setting up the love story between she and the future Duke of Northumberland Harry Percy that was thwarted by a lustful Henry VIII.

It is a tribute to Bujold’s performance as Anne Boleyn that nobody even attempted another movie portrayal of Anne Boleyn with she as the central character between 1969 when Anne of the Thousand Days was made and The Other Boleyn Girl starring Portman in 2008. I still can’t name an actress who could make as nuanced a portrayal of Anne Boleyn as Genevieve Bujold.

There is an amusing post-script to Anne of the Thousand Days. Richard Burton loathed the film and his performance in it though the Oscar probably assuaged his fears. He even loaned one of the costumes to Sid James to wear in Carry On Henry that was filmed on the abandoned sets at Pinewood studios.

Anne of the Thousand Days remains my favourite Sunday afternoon movie after a sumptuous lunch nursing the last glass of Malbec. I am with Genevieve Bujold from the first frame when we discover the youthful Anne on location at her childhood home Hever Castle preparing to meet her lover Harry Percy. She is pert, pretty and full of the life that Henry VIII would leech away from her.

I wonder whether Anne Boleyn pondered whether it was all worth it when she spent her last days in the Tower of London. I would like to think that her motivation was what she considered the true reformed religion. Without her we might still be a Catholic country.

For a woman to split the earth like an apple for the love of a King was nothing short of miraculous. In this respect alone, Anne Boleyn deserves our attention and our fascination. Until next time…

 

 

 

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Costume Drama. April 2018.

Dear Rowley,

On what level is Beyonce and Jay Z role models? If further proof were needed of this fame-hungry vampire couple’s hubris look no further than their six-year old daughter Blue Carter. Said child has two nannies, a chef, bodyguards and a personal stylist. She’s going to grow-up like the spoilt rotten younger sister of Violet Elizabeth Bott and Verruca Salt.

Black pride and hubris are two very different entities. Jay-Z and Beyonce live like the worst of the African dictators and act like Evita claiming to have a right to all riches the world can offer as an example to her downtrodden people. Allowing a child of six to appear before the world’s cameras wearing a diamond brooch and couture pink baby pant suit is rather sick-making. What can that child have to look forward to? Nothing will impress her come ten years of age.

Jay-Z and Beyonce claim to lead fashion with the latter telling the world her costumes for this year’s music festival Coachella will change fashion history. With the best will in the world, the Olivier Rousteing for Balmain stage costumes are the same old toot that ladies of burlesque have been wearing since the turn of the 20th century.

Have you ever noticed that Madonna rarely if ever sits front row at any catwalk show be it Milan, Paris, London or New York? She has walked the runway topless for Jean-Paul Gaultier back before the old king died but that only confirms her position as the major muse for fashion designers in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Where Madonna leads, the likes of Beyonce can only follow.

My closest encounter with Madonna came when she was researching the costumes for her Edward and Mrs Simpson film W.E. I was at Gieves & Hawkes at the time and had gathered as many archive pieces relating to the Duke of Windsor for Madonna and her costume designer Arianne Phillips. I never expected Madonna to show for the meeting but Arianne told me M always attended the development meetings but was unwell that day.

Had Madonna walked into No 1 Savile Row that morning I think I would have gone all hopeless gay fan boy. She and Arianne Phillips have to date collaborated on six world tours’ worth of costumes; the latest being the extraordinary Rebel Heart tour that confirmed Madonna as the numero uno fashion muse for the most directional fashion designers of our time.

Working on storyboards, Arianne Phillips transformed Madonna from Samurai warrior princess to Rockerbilly via 20s flapper and gypsy queen. She worked with Alessandro Michele for Gucci, Alexander Wang, Ricardo Tisci for Givenchy, Lebanese couturier Nicolas Jerban, Prada and Jeremy Scott for Moschino. All the aforementioned worked under the direction of Madonna and Arianne.

I find costume design is rather unsung in the pop industry. Are there awards for best tour costume? If there were Madonna would clean-up. Stage costumes have to perform with the artist. In Madonna’s case, they are layered to give three looks in one set while also being easy to shed, comfortable and dynamic enough to allow for maximum dance action. God knows how Madonna dances in knee-length black PVC boots with six inch heels. Major discipline I would imagine.

The Rebel Heart finale dress by Jeremy Scott for Moschino is a crystal-encrusted flapper dress with elbow length gloves fringed with half a yard of crystal fringe. God only knows how shards of crystal didn’t fly into the audience as Madonna gyrated to Sticky & Sweet is beyond me. I also loved the costume in repose when Madonna sang La Vie en Rose strumming on a ukulele: gorgeous.

What I admire about Madonna as a fashion idol is her refusal to repeat. Vocally and musically, she has successfully smuggled her greatest hits Like A Virgin and Vogue into the present with new vocal arrangements and bravura image-changes. Madonna has performed Vogue dressed as Madame de Pompadour, a Hindu deity and a very naughty Nun in Rebel Heart. The image and the music are in perfect synch every time.

I have only seen Madonna live once and was fortunate to be at the Confessions tour at Wembley Arena when the concert was filmed. This was Madonna’s equestrian era when Arianne dressed her as a riding school dominatrix for the opener and concluded with an Abba Disco Barbie sequinned leotard and cape. For Madonna to be a clothes horse, she has to maintain the figure of an athlete and this she has done throughout her career.

Nobody works as hard as Madonna on tour. I believe Sticky & Sweet toured the world for a year continuously and Rebel Heart was not far behind. Contrast this with Mariah Carey who can barely walk across a stage with breaking a sweat. Madonna gives till it hurts and the audience goes with her. I don’t think Judy Bennett and I sat down once during the Confessions tour. When the artist is giving their all, it seems churlish to not go with her.

I don’t think there’s another artist out there in contemporary rock or pop who puts on a show like Madonna. Every tour is like a blockbusting musical with contrasting set pieces broken only by choreographed happenings to allow for costume changes. Madonna must wear out backing dancers by the dozen. They are invariably a polusexual gang who bump, grind and writhe. Madonna has promoted sexual freedom in the days when gay equalled HIV and death and transsexuals were pretty much unheard of.

Sex with style is Madonna’s stock in trade. She is fearless in her self-expression and positively welcomes controversy playing with Catholic iconography as she has always done. The costumes are an integral part of the woman and her music. Madonna we salute you.

 

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