You recall last year better half and I took a house on the North East coast of Corfu in September? It was one of those idyllic farmhouses in the hills overlooking the mountains of Albania surrounded by red grape vines, lemon trees and olive groves. The house is taken this year but we (or rather better half) has booked one incredibly similar in the hood and we’re flying at the end of the month. Not a moment too soon as it happens. Last year I had to be heavily sedated and bungled into the back of a car to get me off the island. I had no inclination to return to London. The year following hasn’t been without event and I pine like a puppy at a screen door to return.
I’m sending you a photograph of my favourite beach on Corfu, Agni, before all the yachts, super yachts and gin palaces moor as they do daily for lunch at a restaurant that is the island’s answer to The Ivy. It’s not every day you see Peter Mandelson, Nat Rothschild and George Osborne in their Villebrequins. I’m not usually one for choosing a destination that is basically Mayfair by the sea. But actually you rarely see the guests of Casa Rothschild in St Stephanos despite the local glitterati moving hell or high water to win an invitation to the compound. On the surface, St Stephanos is a sleepy backwater. In reality it is like Davos in Lycra.
Corfu is a novel waiting to happen. Maybe this year I will be moved to dip Waterman in ink and start one. Autobiographical? I should coco. If I wrote an autobiographical novel it would make Jackie Collins read like Patience Strong. You know it is high time for a holiday when you start to grouse when the temperature in London rises about 25 degrees and find yourself shouting at children and small pets on Oxford Street. I know the minute I don’t leap out of bed at the thought of matching a shirt and tie is the time to slip into your Havaianas and click your heels three times.
I’d love to take sartorial advantage of sunny days in London but simply don’t consider it done to dress in holiday mufti for town. The sights you see en route to Oxford Street makes one think the Mau Mau had reached Mayfair. There’s something savage and rarely beautiful about men strutting topless the minute we get a lick of sunshine in London. On a building site and select watering holes in Soho, yes, but not on the pavement. Reminds me of that marvellous Thora Hird line in Pat & Margaret when a possessive mother discovers her repressed son had been making love with his middle-aged girlfriend in the spare room. ‘Not on the eiderdown!’
We must put our heads together about a holiday reading list Rowley. I’ve just finished The Final Curtsey; a memoir by Margaret Rhodes, cousin to HM The Queen and niece of the late Queen Mother. Mrs Rhodes is the kind of woman who makes one proud to be British. She’s a passionate stalker (of the Highland variety), an inveterate traveller and a countrywoman through and through. One of my favourite lines was when The Queen offered her a house in the grounds of Windsor Castle with the caveat that Mrs Rhodes might not relish moving to ‘the suburbs’.
At the heart of the book is Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother for whom Mrs Rhodes was a lady-in-waiting. Though not an apologist, Mrs Rhodes is unintentionally amusing when attempting to give the lie to the Queen Mother’s enjoyment of the odd libation. We learn the Queen Mother was a moderate drinker who would daily partake of a Dubonnet and Gin before lunch, wine with her meal, sip a very dry Martini before dinner and enjoy a glass of champagne while tearing a pheasant wing of an evening. That’s the secret of living past 100 whatever the unit-counting killjoys may tell you.
So what else is new? Mrs T and I have a date this month for a presentation at the Savoy to show the GM our re-decoration of the Maria Callas Suite. I’m sending you a picture of the pastel sketches that art consultant Peter Millard and I commissioned for the Signature Suites way back before the reopening on 10.10.10. Somehow these pieces never made it into the Signature Suites. I think they are terribly beautiful and – most importantly – are original artworks. It is my ambition for all of the artworks in the Callas Suite to be originals.
We are not talking Van Goghs and Monets of course. I am trying to be more stealthy and buy pieces that will steadily rise in value the rarer they become. For example for Callas, I found antique sheet music for one of her most famous roles: Donizett’s Anna Boleyna. This I will frame with an 18th century print after Holbein depicting Anne Boleyn. The figures we are talking about are low hundreds. But I think they will be magic in a suite that at present simply has scads of photographs of Callas dotted around. I’ve also bought some classical Grecian prints of works by Claude Lorraine that subtly refer to Maria Callas’s birthplace.
Once Callas is completed, we can move on to the next Signature Suites and revisit Churchill, Chaplin, Coward, Dietrich, Monet, Katherine Hepburn, Sinatra and Richard Harris. It is very satisfying to go back to a project and reconsider. We always knew that the Signature Suites at the Savoy needed tonnes of personality and drama. They have to live up to the astonishing Thames views that take the breath and melt the heart.
Off to see my new agent Geraldine later this week to have a chat about new TV opportunities. Since Ascot I’ve been like Norma Desmond waiting for the cameras to start turning again.