Cannes Can. June 2017.

Dear Rowley,

What to make of fashion on the French Riviera? Suffice to say one feels rather inadequate without boobs like zeppelins straining to be released from a tropical print Roberto Cavali silk blouse and Swarovski crystal sandals emitting shards of light that could perform keyhole surgery. And that’s just the men…

Those of us who look at the international runway shows and question ‘who would wear a bubblegum pink chiffon batwing gladiator’s tunic belted with lamé leather?’ can look no further than Cannes. You will not see a handbag or a heel on the Croisette that doesn’t look as though a drag queen has been playing merry Hamlet with a bag of rhinestones and a hot glue gun.

There is an undeniable fabulousness about resort fashion worn by ladies who are unafraid to wear two million Euros-worth of Bulgari jewellery just to tear a lunchtime lobster on the Croisette. You see the odd artfully ripped jean but the price tag is probably four figures and the label Philippe Plein. The patron saint of the Riviera is no longer Sophia Loren, Joan Collins or Gina Lollobrigida. It is Patsy Stone.

H and I were on the Croisette within an hour of landing in Nice paying a pilgrimage to the Carlton Hotel where Hitchcock filmed To Catch a Thief in 1954. Thief is such a magical film not least because it co-starred Cary Grant and Grace Kelly who would, within years, occupy the Pink Palace in Monte Carlo as Her Serene Highness Princess Grace of Monaco.

The Carlton Hotel is one of the stars of To Catch a Thief. Grace Kelly is filmed floating around its marble halls in an Edith Head-designed ombre blue chiffon evening gown and a collar of Winston diamonds. She’s even more sublime at the Carlton beach club and is filmed racing down the coast road to Monaco on the precise corner where her car crashed in 1982.

However chippy you might be about the super yachts that line the Côte d’Azur in their hundreds, the glamour of these sea palaces is breathtaking. Granted, super yachts probably aren’t acquired without the morals of a dope peddler in the Grand Bazar in Tangier hence the number of brawny gents in dark suits with earpieces and semi-automatics strapped to their pectorals.

On a jaunt to Monte Carlo, we saw Dilbar which is allegedly the largest private yacht in the world. Dilbar? I ask you. It’s like calling a pet black panther Enid. We were lunching on a terrace overlooking the marina in the company of a united nations of twenty-something glamour pusses whose faces were not first edition. These brittle blondes with eyes like knives perched their statement handbags on wrought iron pedestals next to sky-high heels that probably cost more than their full sets of porcelain veneers.

The men lunching on fruits-de-mer platters the size of a cymbal were clearly up to no good. A cabal including shaven-headed Lebanese wearing Ray Bans and a Swede with a sexy top knot basked like salamanders toasting world domination. These are the people who by fair means or foul have won at life. I felt like I was in an episode of The Night Manager.

Earlier in the week I had watched a skilled Riviera lounge lizard with a Groucho Marx cigar and skin like a Gucci handbag halt a racing cougar on the terrace at the Carlton just by complimenting her acid yellow nail polish. The women on the Croisette all look like Old Masters that have been cleaned and re-varnished. There is the glow that only great wealth, January to December sun and a bucket of Creme de la Mer can achieve.

Rather than envying the have-yachts, I must admit I thoroughly enjoyed watching them in their natural habitats. Though the high rise apartments in Monte Carlo are starting to resemble the Park Hill flats in Sheffield, it was heartening to learn that the historic royal and aristocratic villas on the Côte d’Azur have survived. King Leopold II of the Belgians’ Villa les Cedrès in Cap Ferrat is officially the most expensive house in the world. It sold for one billion Euros.

I had no idea that the Romanovs had colonised the Riviera as early as the 1850s or that Queen Victoria paid nine visits in the last two decades of her life going so far as to say on her deathbed that if she’d been in Nice she would have recovered. She wasn’t and she didn’t.  Royal princes of Russia and England died on the Riviera. Grand Dukes married Imperial ballerinas in its Russian Orthodox churches. Courtesans had rendez-vouz with kings.

One of my favourite Riviera royal stories concerned King Edward VII when Prince of Wales persuading Lady Randolph Churchill to take a hotel suite in Cannes so he could enjoy a clandestine meeting en route from the Yacht Club. So scandalous was the Riviera’s reputation at the twilight of the 19th century that Nice, Cannes and Monte Carlo were known as ‘The World, The Flesh & The Devil’.

Because I find it faintly immoral to visit a casino before nightfall, H and I decided to tour Monte Carlo’s Pink Palace instead. I had no idea the palace contained staterooms decorated in the 18th century style and it was a joy to see the marble staircase in the courtyard where Princess Grace posed in her wedding dress.

There was a rather underwhelming exhibition of uniforms worn by the palace guards plonked on wax dummies who bore an uncanny resemblance to Dickie Davis. I tell you, if they displayed Princess Grace’s film costumes and her couture the queues would reach Menton. My fingers are positively itching to curate another costume exhibition. Until next time…

 

 

 

 

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House of Cards. June 2017.

Dear Rowley,

Only the news that Bette Midler won the Best Actress in a Revival Tony the other night has somewhat leavened the fall-out from Mrs May’s ill-fated general election. True, it is well to remember that Mrs May won even though the cost was dancing with the devil to achieve a majority. But if I were the Tories I would still be in a Code Red that Mr Corbyn’s Labour party inspired a record turn-out in student cities.

There is absolutely no getting around the fact that when the election was announced it was predicted that Mrs May would win a majority that outshone even Margaret Thatcher in her pomp. Within days, the self-sabotage began. Every policy seemed to be grim and aimed at sticking in the collective craw of Conservative heartland voters.

The Dementia Tax debacle was entirely avoidable when you consider all but the super rich in England are justifiably fearing cost of care in old age. The repeal of the fox hunting ban was quite simply perverse considering so few people were calling for it. All carrot and no stick is not only a brutal manifesto, it is a stupid one.

To add insult to injury, Mrs May’s repeating ‘Strong and Stable’ like an old lady at a bus stop became increasingly comedic when the government was forced to U-turn on the Dementia Tax and the leader effectively went into hiding from the media. ‘The Lady’s Not for Turning-Up’ was like shooting fish in a barrel for the Labour party.

TV debates are admittedly like Beyond Thunderdome without a firm hand and Misha Hussein’s was as weak as a kitten. But for the chief gladiator not to enter the ring smacked of weakness and fear. Mrs May allowed Jeremy Corbyn to do his benign Papa Smurf act unchallenged.

Where were the Tories on social media? Twitter is left-wing in its bias (not as much as the BBC I’ll grant you) but it is a necessary tool for the Conservatives to speak to generations of voters in their own language not in the dry, dusty dictates that came from Mrs May’s press office.

We have X-Factor and the like to thank for elections becoming personal popularity contests. Mr Corbyn’s team knew that and gave him the green light to promise the abolition of tuition fees and rebates for those already crippled with debt. Well, if I were still a student he’d have got my vote too.

It was pernicious to saddle students with tens of thousands of pounds worth of debt like an albatross around their necks. But as we all know, Mr Corbyn and Diane Abbott’s mathematics are as dodgy as Tony Blair’s man tan. Still, Mr Corbyn was allowed to promise castles in the air unchallenged by the Tory party and that came dangerously close to Mrs May losing an election.

To concentrate so myopically on Brexit was also a mistake. I think we’ve all ascertained that ‘Brexit means Brexit’ but did want some flesh on the bone from Mrs May rather than her repeating herself like a Dalek saying ‘Exterminate! Exterminate!’ The Labour party had given the Conservatives its support for Brexit. One would have left Brexit as an inevitability rather than continue to shadow box with an issue already decided.

It really doesn’t look good that The Queen’s Speech is going to be delayed while Mrs May tears-up her manifesto and starts again with a few notes and queries from her Irish friends. I’d imagine Her Majesty isn’t best pleased though I am sure it will be a relief to wear a nice Rachel Trevor-Morgan hat this time rather than the Imperial State Crown.

Going on Tory party history, I think we all expected Mrs May to have fallen by now in a night of the long knives. Mrs Thatcher was one of the most revered leaders in the 20th century and her party still knifed her in the back when she was politically wounded. You’d have thought there would be no clemency granted to Mrs May.

I am sure former chancellor George Osborne is not alone in thinking Mrs May is a ‘Dead Woman Walking’ or a ‘Zombie Prime Minister’. I am equally sure that though Boris Johnson denies a leadership bid now that he will have a go and fight the next general election whenever that might be.

Mrs May showed an awful lot of promise in the first year of her premiership vowing to stand-up for hard working Brits, punish the vampire squids in the financial services industry and crack-down on big businesses avoiding tax. I thought that was a solid foundation after the venal Tony Blair years, the grim Gordon Brown era and David Cameron’s Eton cabal.

I think perhaps she underestimated personality politics and listened to a small kitchen table cabinet of Iagos who were playing at politics rather than really thinking about the welfare of the British people. I think we all want to hear a lot less from the Palace of Westminster and just trust the people we’ve voted in to get on the job on our behalf.

Can’t say I know enough insider gossip from the Tory party to know what Mrs May’s fate will be. The general election wound was deep and I would question how much further the lady can progress before collapse. We all know politics is brutal but I do think perhaps it is time for a party who listens to the people and governs on our behalf not from self-interest or desire for legacy.

 

 

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London Pride. June 2017.

Dear Rowley,

So, so very sad to see another trio of sad lunatics mount a fatal attack on my beautiful city. This time it was a van ploughing-up London Bridge before the killers  marauded around Borough Market with machetes murdering seven and wounding over fifty. This so shortly after a lone Jihadi scum blew-up children at a pop concert in Manchester.

Well, the policy of come one, come all, build mosques and welcome went well didn’t it? And what precisely have Allah’s soldiers achieved? Yup, heightened suspicion of all Muslims living in Britain and strengthened our resolve to rid the country of those who wish us great harm. I understand there are 3000 names on the blacklist of terror suspects and yet the liberal metropolitan elite bleat ‘Guantanamo’ if there’s a whisper about internment or extradition.

All you need to picture is your daughter or granddaughter dead with a body embedded by a nail bomb or you nearest and dearest bleeding to death in Borough Market to override PC and start fighting back rather than pre-empting. Within days of Britain declaring war on Nazi Germany, enemy aliens – including Sir Oswald and Lady Mosley – were imprisoned for the duration. I think the phrase better to be safe than sorry is salve to the conscience.

Whenever multiculturalism rears its head, I always argue that Britain and London in particular has been multicultural ever since the Romans invaded. We are remarkably welcoming and always have been. But we understandably feel the need to pull in the welcome mat when one particular radicalised arm of one particular religion hacks the heads off our soldiers in broad daylight and murders children at pop concerts.

I am with Queen Elizabeth I about not making windows into men’s souls. Religion is an entirely private matter and  no one has a right to impose their own beliefs on another. It has always mystified me why a religion that despises everything the West stands for would choose to live in the West. How can this be? It would be rather like me choosing to live in a county where homosexuality is punishable by death and then complaining about it.

I think we can all agree that rather a lot of people think Britain is a super place to live. It wouldn’t be too much to ask of our security services to winnow out the ones who want to cut our heads off and blow us to smithereens. It is about time that whoever is in government isn’t afraid to stand-up for the citizens who love the UK and condemn the few who mean us harm.

Previous terror attacks on London have broken our hearts. Westminster Bridge and London Bridge have made us angry. I don’t think we are prepared to stand by any more and let innocents be slaughtered on home ground by enemy aliens. And yet could you imagine a British patriot entering a mosque wielding a machete and practising ‘eye for an eye’ justice. We don’t believe in murdering innocents indiscriminately to make a point.

Of course the irony is the people mown-down on London’s bridges might well have been Muslim. Much the same happened with that nutter nail bomber in the 1990s who blew-up the Admiral Duncan gay bar on Old Compton Street killing a pregnant bride, her husband-to-be and several other straight people having fun in a pink pub.

There is very little of Donald Trump’s bombast that resonates with me but when he called terrorists ‘losers’ I felt like applauding. By using the language of the playground, Trump brought terrorism down to the most basic truth that they will never win on earth or in whatever heaven they believe in.

I wonder whether the jihadis think that London will grind to a halt or cower in fear. Rest assured this will not be the case. Yes, yes we all know that another mad loon will strike again somewhere in London and that we might well be fleeing from a machete wielding c**** with a bomb strapped to his parka. Will that stop us on our daily and nightly round? Absolutely not.

So as per usual it is business as usual in London with an extra veneer of sadness and anger. Will it happen again? Doubtless another radical Muslim will think that taking down as many as he can and taking his own life will further the cause. It won’t. Will we hate Muslims as a result? No but we will consign the arseholes who kill our own to the cesspit of history.

I have always said that if you don’t agree with the people in power then don’t shout from the sidelines: become one. H has often said that I should start with Bloomsbury and make a difference as a council member. I haven’t taken this seriously until now when I feel so angry about what’s happening to my gorgeous city.

The joke has often been that I would stand as a member of the Peronist party for Camden. Well, now we’ve got a potential gay first minister in Ireland then I wonder whether there isn’t a place for a drunken slut with anger management issues joining Camden. Actually strike that. I am no longer drunken, a slut or angry. Has the time come for me to get political and start fighting for London? Can I count on your vote?

 

 

 

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Let There Be Light. May 2017.

Dear Rowley,

In the gospel according to RuPaul, ‘if them bitches ‘aint paying your bills, don’t you pay them no mind’. This is a lesson in life I have truly taken to heart. People who have absolutely nothing invested in your life aren’t worth the salt in your tears. Trust me. We’ve had this conversation about money before: I hate it! I need it! Cash is like tokens bought at the funfair. The more you have, the  more goes you get on the rides. Simples.

The thing to remember – and La Farmer was so right about this – is that it is only money. Money can make as many bores, snobs and misers as it can facilitate a lot of fun for those of us with a lust for life. I was once told by someone very dear to me that I would never swallow dive off Waterloo Bridge because I had too much of a lust for life. True, as it happens.

Now we both know that the past few years have been ‘trooooly messy’ in parts. I’m not going to make light of it because I would not wish some of the days/weeks/months I went through on my worst enemy. Form an orderly queue…

Besides, you know me. When I’m feeling on top of the world I always imagine that Fate and Nemesis are poised to take pot shots at my hopes and dreams with a blunderbuss. But not this time. I’m dating a Patronus charm in human form and all the Dementors (fear, guilt, Bombay Sapphire) are kept at bay.

One of the dumbest things one can do is question happiness when you’ve found it. Protect it and take care, yes, but don’t doubt. I think of years recently past like the last act of The Magic Flute when Tamino must walk through blazing fire and raging water armed with the wisdom of constancy, patience and discretion. It helps when you don’t walk alone.

You truly never stop learning and I think that might be what keeps the faith with life. I’m with Mary Poppins on the power of laughter to lift you to the ceiling. H, Su, La Farmer and Mr Bowering convened around our boardroom table outside Ciao Bella last night to make plans for our Great Exhibition. I don’t think the laughter or the Chianti stopped flowing from 6.30pm until bedtime.

Do you remember my saying that I wanted a three dimensional project after finishing the manuscript for Jewellery for Gentlemen? Well, The Wedding Gallery at No 1 Marylebone is it. Imagine a Sir John Soane church next to Regents Park with a double-height vault beneath the deconsecrated events space. The gig is along the lines of creative director for tailoring, watches and jewellery and it has the makings of a new London family.

I can tell you now that without my London families – Henry Poole, Turnbull & Asser, Thames & Hudson, the Mayfair Jewellers and of course the Sherwood Massive – the last couple of years would have sunk me. They all kept the faith when I didn’t have any left. Mind you, reading the books I wrote during ‘the Troubles’, I am pleased to report that the quality was there even if the fun was missing.

Apropos fun, I am 40,000 words into my novel Tomster, KitPlay, Starboi & Me. Here’s a sneaky peak at the Prologue and the first paragraph.

 

Prologue

If you’ve lived in this city as long as I have you will doubtless be all-too-familiar with Dr Johnson’s tedious aphorism ‘When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life’. That’s all very well, Samuel dear, but have you ever wondered what happens when London grows tired of you?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 1

I believe it was Tomster who first suggested that we open a brothel next door to the British Museum. KitPlay laughed, Starboi looked nervous and I wondered how soon we could start. Granted, the business of pleasure is not the most obvious joint venture for a choir master, an actor, a barrister and a writer who had only just met at the bottom of a bottle of Chablis in a Bloomsbury wine bar. With the age of forty backing away from us all like a lion tamer who had lost his whip, surely we were too old for the oldest profession. But as Starboi put it, ‘being morally bankrupt at our age is to be expected. But financially?’

 

Codenamed the Grindr Novel, I think we can safely rule out the young adult audience but the readers who perused the first draft tell me it is bawdy rather than smutty which I took as a compliment. Tomster is not 50 Shades of Gay. The ambition is to view a contemporary subject such as dating apps through the eyes of a Nancy Mitford or E. F. Benson. No pressure there then…

I adore writing fiction but have had to pay serious attention to it being a page turner. One of my heroes of gay fiction is Joe Keenan, an Emmy-award winning Frasier scriptwriter, who wrote three of my favourite novels of all time. The man is a genius with the one-liners but his plots absolutely fizz like 1930s screwball comedies.

When we sell the film rights I’m thinking Jonathan Rhys Meyers as Suited&Booted. Well, him or Ellen Degeneres. Until  next time…

 

 

 

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Fashion at Chatsworth. May 2017.

Dear Rowley,

While staying in Derbyshire for the Bank Holiday weekend I took the opportunity to visit House Style: Five Centuries of Fashion at Chatsworth House curated by heiress apparent Lady Burlington and US Vogue editor Hamish Bowles for whom I did work experience at Harpers & Queen before the old King died.

The Ducal house of Devonshire has many fashion moments on which to call: the celebrated beauty Georgiana Duchess who rivalled her friend Marie Antoinette as a style leader, Louise Duchess’s Devonshire House fancy dress ball of 1897, the devastatingly chic dancer American Adele Astaire marrying into the Cavendish family in 1932, 11th Duchess Deborah and her couture-clad Mitford sisters Mrs Rodd (Nancy) and Lady Mosley (Diana) and Deborah Devonshire’s model granddaughter Stella Tennant.

First things first, I thoroughly enjoyed the groupings of surviving garments that compared and contrasted the centuries of style. Nowhere was this more successful than in the chapel where we saw two ’Circle of Life’ tableaux of Cavendish wedding dresses and mourning clothes as well as cabinets of Mitford and Cavendish christening gowns.

Lighting was always going to be an issue in a house of Chatsworth’s eminence but more problematic for me was an almost complete absence of captioning for free-standing garments. Instead numbers were attached to mannequin arms that most resembled a beauty contest or cattle auction. These women were some of the most celebrated and photographed of their age. Perhaps a well-placed portrait would have sufficed.

It might have been a curatorial decision to choose gloss mannequins with those Meccano ball-and-pin arms but boy do they let a garment down when exposed. I am thinking of the two sets of Coronation robes in the Painted Hall: Mary Duchess’s worn at the 1953 coronation where she was Mistress of the Robes to HM Queen Elizabeth II and the older off-the-shoulder robes that Deborah Duchess found in a tin trunk and had to have permission from HM to wear at the 53.

Ermine trimmed coronation robes for peeresses display like a dream and I was thrilled to see the two Devonshire tiaras replicated for the exhibition. Both Duchesses wore over-the-elbow white gloves to the coronation so why the bare Meccano arms? There was also a surfeit of bald mannequins for an exhibition that cried out for more tiaras and millinery.

I did adore a timeline of display cases that went beyond the creation of the 1st Duke and took us to the present in small objects. This I loved because each tableau was captioned in swirly burnt umber inked handwriting that told the stories. There was Evelyn Duchess’s evening bag with her cipher described in crystals, Deborah Duchess’s Turnbull & Asser shirts, miniatures of the 6th ‘Bachelor’ Duke’s beloved niece Lady Blanche and scads of scrapbooks and photographs.

House Style does take over huge swathes of the public rooms at Chatsworth so you are not short changed for treasures to see. In fact, perhaps there could have been less. I thoroughly enjoyed the Devonshire House Ball room in which life-size photographs of the extravagantly costumed royals and aristocrats rendered in Perspex were placed near to cabinets with their clearly identified miniatures. I felt the ghostliness of the ball and adored the projection of the staircase of London’s Devonshire House destroyed in the 1920s.

My favourite room bar none was the one containing original costumes from the Devonshire House Ball including Louise Duchess’s ‘Zenobia’ costume with its beautifully recreated ostrich plume headdress. This masterpiece of embroidery by Worth caught my gaze for a good fifteen minutes as did that of the Duchess of Portland (Marguerite de Valois?). Once again, what one wanted more than life itself was a picture of Deborah Duchess wearing Zenobia for her 80th birthday ball.

Inventive touches gave pause for thought throughout the Georgian staterooms: the 11th Duke’s embroidered Lobb slippers, Deborah Duchess’s insect brooches displayed on antique china plates and a remarkable room linking a portrait of Bess of Hardwick with a sequinned get-up Stella Tennant modelled at the 2012 Olympics. It was a privilege, having worked recently with antique jewellers Hancocks, to see their Devonshire Parure set in 1856 for Emperor Alexander II’s coronation together for the first time in a long time.

The hits for me in the rest of the exhibition was a John Galliano crinoline worn by Stella Tennant that was posed next to a portrait of Georgiana Duchess but for the Meccano mannequin. I loved seeing Georgiana’s many bills for diamonds, dressmaking and gambling stacked into a tableau of beautiful ruin. Evelyn Duchess’s shepherdess fancy dress was remarkable for the waist that must have rivalled Queen Alexandra’s.

Lord only knows why underwhelming modern garments were posed in front of the Chatsworth library – surely one of the prettiest rooms in the house – but the curators did go all-out on the couture exhibit in the State Dining Room that featured many of Deborah Duchess and Amanda Duchess’s finest that put some of the more modern pieces to shame.

The men had a bit of a bum’s rush in the State Dining Room. A white tie ensemble’s waistcoat was so far below the tailcoat it practically hit the mannequin’s knees: a cardinal sin on Savile Row. I am sure there was finer men’s tailoring belonging to the Dukes in the collection. But for those who are devoted to fashion and to the remarkable Cavendish women, House Style is a feast for the eyes and the mind.

 

 

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