Meet the Virgin Mary July 2010

Dear Rowley,

Can you remember that line we both love in the Joan Crawford biopic Mommie Dearest when Christina gets expelled from school for heavy petting? Driving home, a furious Joan reaches for her hip flask and – finding it empty – Christina directs her to an off license. ‘I might have known!’ snarls Joan. ‘You know where to find the booze AND the boys!’ Bless you Miss Crawford. Are we the only ones who applaud when Joan thwacks that ungrateful brat with a wire coat hanger?

It is all too easy living a rackety life in Mayfair to forget that it’s not always ‘all about you’. Sometimes you have to give back to the city that gives one so much pleasure. Last year Helen, Joan and I organized a memorial service for one of our dearest friends who checked-out far too early. We chose Savile Row’s parish church St George’s in Mayfair. St George’s is an early Georgian masterpiece that commands the street leading from Hanover Square. We all came to feel a great affection for St George’s while planning the memorial; not least for Rector Roddy Leece who has to be the most charming man in Mayfair.

The church is currently fund raising to restore the gilded ceiling, the magnificent stained glass and install a new organ. I am not a charitable person but felt compelled to do something for St George’s after a fund-raising cocktail reception at Sotheby’s across the road. So I added-up all the money you and I spend on cigarettes per year and donated said amount to the church. This is really a widow’s mite compared to the serious cash that is still needed to complete the work so do put the word out, darling, to your richer friends.

In my last letter I gave you the clue where I had been yesterday evening saying I was cheek-to-cheek with the Virgin Mary somewhere in Mayfair. Well, did I tell a lie? The church is currently scaffolded to the ceiling as work commences stripping down something like 30 paint layers to reveal original ball and claw mouldings, iron grilles not seen for hundreds of years and a gilded ceiling as elaborate as a Buck House stateroom. Roddy called yesterday to ask if I’d like to join a very small party on a private view of the work in progress. Incidentally, he’s the only man I’ve ever met who makes a hard hat look chic.

On arrival, we were kitted-out in safety equipment and those agile enough to explore climbed something like seven ladders until we were literally nose to plaster with the gilded ceiling of St George’s and eye ball to eye ball with the stained glass Virgin Mary. This is a view no one has had since the window was installed. I’ve seen some sights this year but nothing quite as spectacular as looking up through a rondel in the ceiling up into the eaves of church roof. Graffiti dating back to 1710 has been discovered tooled into the walls. Apparently clay pipes and all sorts of historic driftwood was found above the ceiling. I will never, ever forget my date with Mary.

After the tour we retired to the vestry for a glass of champagne or three. It is truly fascinating to be in the company of people who have little in common but St George’s church in Mayfair and I felt privileged to raise a glass with these marvellous ladies and gentlemen who are assuring the future of the church for centuries to come. You know I do a little bit of work with a fabulous guy called Zack who produces features for BBC1s Inside Out? We’ve already made a film about my work in the Savile Row archives for the next series (September so set your video darling) and I think we should do an eight minute feature about the restoration of St George’s. I think once Zack has seen the interior he will melt.

What other news do I have for you? I spent all day yesterday being followed by the ITV film crew who are doing the doc about the reopening of the Savoy. We went shopping in Cecil Court (the antique alley to end all others) and struck gold. I found a first edition of Serge Lifar’s memoir about Diaghilev and from the chapters I read in the bath this morning it is a magical recounting of the Ballets Russes’ glory years. Of course Diaghilev, his lovers, his dancers and his collaborators (Stravinsky, Picasso, Coco Chanel and Jean Cocteau) all stayed at the Savoy when they were performing in London.

My favourite filming was with David Drummond. David is something of a theatrical legend. He has a theatre memorabilia shop literally cellar to ceiling full of treasures. When I asked him for material on Richard Harris (for whom we have named one of the Savoy suites) he told the tales of auditioning for a play with Harris when the actor was unknown. Richard Harris was also a customer of David’s over the years buying editions of Shakespeare that he used to get down on one knee and recite from in the American Bar.

Away from the Savoy we have some rather terrific plans for Savile Row coming-up in Autumn. I told you about the black tie book launch (at the Savoy natch) for my Thames & Hudson Row edition, we have another event in the offing that involves the Prince of Wales, a flock of sheep and Taunton cider. But more of that in my next letter…