Four Minutes to the Stage Miss Callas August 2010

Dear Rowley,

Well, this week has brought good news and bad. I’m always a believer in saving the best till last so here’s the bad news. It has been far north of 18 months that I have been working on the museum display for the reopening of the Savoy. Way back in the mists of time I spent a couple of days researching Maria Callas at the Royal Opera House archive on site in Covent Garden. There was magic in there: letters on Savoy writing paper from La Divina demanding ever more money from the Opera House, some lovely Ballets Russes portraits and a very elaborate necklace that Callas is alleged to have worn performing Medea in 1957.

Despite the fact that there were no photographs of the necklace as worn by Callas, I did pursue loaning the piece to display at the Savoy and found a knockout black and white Getty image of Medea. However, a small consideration called budget got in the way. Perhaps this is not such bad news. Let’s face it, without the photographic link I could show a piece from Claire’s Accessories and claim it has Callas provenance. Strangely, I did find a collection of loose gold beads on t’Internet as worn by Callas in the Pasolini film Medea but it’s not the same thing I find.

I cannot show anything in the museum of dodgy prov because there are parties who would make a point of exposing them. Yes, there is more than a little Mapp & Lucia about the village that is the Savoy. However, I have been allowed a little fun in commissioning the portraits for the Signature Suites with the hotel’s art consultant Peter Millard. I’ve been promising you photographs of them forever and finally had the opportunity to have a gander last Friday.

As you know, I have been doing a fair bit of filming with the ITV film crew who are shooting the documentary about the Savoy (transmission date in late December). So please find enclosed a shot of the crew at work in Peter’s River Cafe studio in Hammersmith. In the distance you’ll see the full length portrait of Callas inspired by John Singer Sargent’s Madame X. It is a beauty but I think we will give La Divina redder lips as she was famous for.

You’ll have to wait until the opening (10th October) before I can show you the other Signature Suite portraits. But I know you’re going to love our Warhol screen print of Frank Sinatra and our Richard Harris after Lucien Freud. These are original artworks and I think guests in the Signature Suites might want to commission a copy as a take-home. Why not? Working with Peter has been great fun. I am back at his studio tomorrow to decide on the framing for the collections of photographs I have amassed for the Signature Suites.

The Savoy museum space has been a challenge but one I think I might have solved today. Peter asked for three images to hang in the museum. Instead of going to the archive collection, I toddled down to the National Portrait Gallery in search of three sensational portraits I call the Savoy ‘Decades of Beauty’ ┬áimages. I found six namely Anna Pavlova (who had a terrific overbite when caught at the wrong angle), Lillie Langtry, Gladys Cooper, Nancy Mitford, Tallulah Bankhead and Vivien Leigh.

I needed to confirm that Nancy Mitford had as I suspected dined and danced at the Savoy in the 1920s and 1930s so wrote a letter to Her Grace Deborah, the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire and the last surviving sister of Mrs Rodd (Nancy Mitford). As you know, my parents live on the Chatsworth Estate and very kindly asked the Duchess if she may have Savoy recollections after church last Sunday. She does so I nipped down to the NPG to print off the Bassano portraits of Mrs Rodd as well as portraits of the Duchess’s mother Lady Redesdale and sisters Ladies Diana, Pamela, Unity and Jessica.

It is always inspiring to work in the NPG. While looking in the Bassano archive, I found the most remarkable collection of theatrical portraits from the 1890s to 1940. I found a galaxy of Savoy stars in this picture file and printed off 3o of them. These will be the backdrop for all of the display cases in the Savoy museum giving the display coherence and a look that is as glam as the interior. I will copy three of them to send with my next letter. They are truly to die for.

What else occurred today? I had a meeting with a telly production company who are interested in developing ideas for 2011. I also popped into Cecil Court to finally buy an autographed portrait of Charlie Chaplin for his Signature Suite. It comes with its certificates and will make a nice set considering I already have a Marlene Dietrich, Noel Coward, Maria Callas and Katharine Hepburn. Monet and Sinatra so far elude me or blow the budget. Richard Harris I will tackle later in the week.

We have two weeks and counting before Simon and I fly to Corfu. We’re going back to St Stefanos – or the Costa del Mandelson-Rothschild as it is now known. The farmhouse we are renting is full of charm and rather sprawling so we’ve invited a few people to come and spend a few days with us. It could be such fun and I wish you were able to join us.

I do hope that we can nail the Savile Row book launch at the Savoy before I go. The to-ing and fro-ing between the Savoy, Savile Row Bespoke and I has got a little out of hand: the sticking point being a shortfall in sponsorship that it is proposed can be bolstered by charging for tickets for non SRB members. This I think is a disaster. Who pays to attend cocktail parties? I will do my best to find another sponsor and save face. Wish me luck. Until then…