Stockholm Syndrome March 2011

Dear Rowley,

Isn’t it funny that when you work at full gallop for a prolonged period – as I have on Fashion at Royal Ascot since January – you just keep going long after the winning post is passed. It’s a bit like the horses who leave their riders arse over tit under Beecher’s Brook in the Grand National and keep on racing. I think it’s also not dissimilar to Stockholm Syndrome when a kidnap victim falls in love with his captor; the captor in question being a publishing deadline. But the line has been crossed, praise be, and nothing can be changed. We’ve only got Amanda Wakeley’s foreword to get in and Thames & Hudson Opus No II really is done and dusted until we see finished books in May.

On the plus side, the front cover is already listed on Amazon, Hatchards has invited me to their Authors of the Year shindig in May and I’ve been asked to speak at the Oxford Literary Festival in September. Not really a great fan of giving lectures. Cameras are fine but when you have to see the whites of their eyes, I do feel like Mata Hari facing the firing squad. All I want is a cigarette and a blindfold. The last lecture I gave was up in Glasgow for the royal embroiderers Hand & Lock. That worked because I had visual aids and we did it in the dark. Sound familiar, darling?

I’m sending you a photograph of a fabulous painting of Royal Ascot at York. It is the one that got away and came in too late for inclusion in the book. The divine pink roses were in the foyer of the new Corinthia hotel in Whitehall: a great sepulchre of a Victorian hotel that has been given the kiss of life with a multi-million pound refurbishment. The Corinthia is going to be major. It has a four-storey Japanese Elemis day spa, mezzanine signature suites up on the penthouse floor that belong in World of Interiors and an oyster bar called Massimo’s designed by David Collins that is as grand and soaring a space as the Wolesley. I rather fancy Massimo’s private dining room – and Massimo come to that – for my 40th birthday.

The Royal Wedding coverage gathers apace. I missed Huw Edwards by a whisker when I went in for a final fitting at Anderson & Sheppard. They are now building the BBC studio in Green Park and Prince William has admitted to knee-knocking nerves about the big day. He’s not alone. But it does help working on international telly programmes about the wedding as a warm-up. The Savoy rang last week and asked if I would do a piece for ITV to be syndicated on the Discovery Channel in the US. The head chef, Bernard, had put together a Royal Wedding Breakfast and I was asked to work with him on the dishes.

Bernard is German, quite temperamental but also incredibly charming. I showed him a collection of previous royal wedding menus produced by the Savoy for the nuptials of Princess Elizabeth in 1947, Princess Margaret in 1960 and Diana, Princess of Wales in 1981. We chose a dish from each menu – all rather similar as it happened with a bias towards a foie gras dish, a consomme and a fish course followed by a madly inventive pudding – so our royal wedding breakfast would reference three generations of gastronomy.

Bernard tells me that Prince William is a great fan of banana cake so that’s on the menu. But instead of calling it Prince William’s Banana Surprise or some such vulgarity, we have changed its name to Banana Cake Prince William. I think it sounds less like a cue for a Carry On film gag. The morning after the Savoy filming, I was asked to contribute to a Sky three one-hour feature about how to attract, get engaged and marry a Prince. Shows of this ilk are always slightly irreverent but I had a secret weapon in Mrs T who looked at all the questions in advance and gave some super answers about trying to pass oneself off as an aristo.

Of course the answer is you can’t. That’s where Catherine Middleton has played her cards perfectly. If you want to attract a Prince, you don’t try to dress like the gels he was brought-up surrounded by. You need to vamp a little, display some character and a modicum of maturity. I don’t think there is any harm in having photographs of Catherine Middleton modelling a see-through dress in her student days at St Andrews (a dress that my mate Kerry Taylor sold at auction for about £70,000 last month). Neither do I find pictures of Miss M at a roller disco or leaving Boujis at 3am a worry. It is healthy that Miss Middleton is a rounded, mature young woman who wasn’t born into the gilded cage of royalty and aristocracy.

The speculation about Catherine’s dress is reaching fever pitch. I think I’ve got a jolly good educated guess as to who the designer will be and I don’t think it is Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen. There has also been a lot of gossip on the Row about whether Prince William will actually wear RAF uniform or a morning coat. The news today that the Prince might ride to his wedding should technically negate the idea of a morning coat. But when researching the Royal Ascot book, I chanced upon two interesting images. One is an 1880s Illustrated London News tinted print depicting Princess Alexandra riding in Rotten Row. She is accompanied by a chap astride wearing a morning coat.

The second image was a photograph taken at Ascot in the 1930s. Apparently, the Starter traditionally rode to Royal Ascot wearing full morning dress. So there’s an interesting development. Until next time…