The Master August 2010

Dear Rowley,

The excitement. You remember I had a private view of the Royal Dress Collection at Kensington Palace earlier this year? Well, I was shown an ankle length mink coat owned by Princess Margaret by the fabulous curator Deirdre Murphey. It rang a big furry bell so I went back to the Savoy archive and found a photograph from the 1950s of the Princess arriving at the Savoy wearing exactly the same coat. I am terribly ambivalent about the role of archivists. Most of them are Gollums. They wish to preserve the ‘precious’ and share it with no one. In Deirdre’s case, it is always a pleasure.

I tend not to work with museums when I am curating displays or exhibitions. They need a decade to contemplate loaning and their budgets would frighten a Rothschild. Instead I like to deal with private collectors and people who love and appreciate what they own rather than those strange coves who want to protect the precious in a feral fashion.

There was super news today from Gary England who is the ringmaster of all the fashion at Royal Ascot. I had sent him a costing for curating the 300 Years of Fashion At Royal Ascot exhibition for 2011. I think it was a fair price and I did make it attractive because I would kill to work on such a prestigious project. But I did – for the first time mind – include costings for two ladies who I could not do this exhibition without: the divine Mrs Katy Thomas who is possibly the most capable woman I know and Judith Watt who is THE fashion historian in London. Between us, we could make magic.

It is very gratifying to say at this stage in my career that if I can’t do something then I know a man who can. If I cannot deliver on a promise then I know there are wonderful people who can. End of story. There is nothing like playing the Six Degrees of Separation game. How swiftly can you get access to a set designer, a picture framer, Madonna, whatever is the test.

As I type, the neighbours down on the ground floor of Bloomsbury Towers are having a barbecue. Don’t you hate the smell of burning flesh? It calls to mind the worst excesses of Queen Mary’s reign. Turns the old stomach over. I can hear Archbishop Cranmer’s screams. Is it a sign of age that one has fallen for the charms of Radio 3? I will defend Radio 4 until my dying breath but sometimes the repeats are too much to bear and one needs a little Ravel to calm the mind and massage the soul.

Wouldn’t you just die without Ravel? No, me neither.  But I think I would die without Stephen Sondheim. I fall asleep so many nights to A Little Night Music (the NFT Judi Dench production although I do think Catherine Zeta-Jones made a good fist of it on Broadway) and it works wonders. I’d rather Sondheim than sleeping pills. Sleeping pills really are the devil. If one cannot sleep, read a few chapters of Mapp &Lucia and all will be well.

Now where was I? Last week I met the most marvellous people at Dunhill who have agreed to loan the Savoy museum something very special. Dunhill owns a lighter presented to Coward in 1941 when he was living at the hotel to celebrate the premier of Blithe Spirit. The object is a blue guilloche table lighter and, despite or because of wear, is super. It was was touched by the Master for goodness sake. They also have  a lighter/powder compact/lipstick compendium owned  by Coward used for stage make-up. This is a dandy piece of kit that will present very well in the Savoy museum backed-up by a super Getty Image.

The latter part of my day has been spent once again at the River Cafe office of the Savoy art consultant Peter Millard. We have been finalizing our plans for the Savoy Museum and the Signature Suites. Much has been resolved not least our framing  the portraits of the Savoy Beauties that I told you about. My worry now is that I must find about 100 suitable frames for all the archive photographs, autographs and guest cards I have sourced for the Sig Suites. John Lewis may  not do the trick this time. We have to make the framing as smart as the exhibits. Nothing but the best will do. I cannot let the Savoy or myself down. No pressure there then.

I am certainly not kvetching about the look of the Signature suites or the museum. Buy I dislike having obstacles thrown in my way such as the telly apparently being installed in the museum. I have learnt to love the museum looking like a sexy nightclub rather than the National Gallery. I cannot deal with a wall-mounted flat screen telly that will make the museum look like Terminal 5. The ceiling is lower than a gay club at midnight as it is.

The ITV telly people did ask me recently if my job was easy. Well, it looks fine and dandy floating around Mayfair restaurants having a ball with too many glasses of Champagne. This indeed is a hoot. I have a charmed life. So I wont be giving anyone the ‘it’s hard to be me’ routine. However, I wonder how many people in London can find an authentic autograph of Maria Callas for under £1000  signed while staying at the Savoy to the precise scale of a museum case that hasn’t been built? Hate to crow but how many people can write, curate, present, archive at a push, bring it all in under budget and occasionally crack a smile while doing it . And you wonder why I drink….