Forgive the radio silence since my 40th birthday bash. No, darling, I haven’t been committed to The Priory until further notice. You can blame Ciao Bella, Noel Coward and ITV for my going temporarily awol. Where to begin? My birthday dinner at Ciao Bella was an absolute ball. Audie Charles and Edward Sexton sent champagne for the table and Scott and I had already sunk a couple of bottles in Bloomsbury Towers before dinner at eight so you can imagine the mood was giddy and gay from the get-go.
The unsinkable Susan Farmer was mistress of ceremonies at Ciao. Unbeknown to me, she had called the Sherwood Massive together like Lord Voldermort shooting the Dark Mark into the night sky and my favourite people were gathered round the gingham table cloth when Scott and I staggered into view. As you know darling, the gift quota prior to Ciao had been disappointing. I am apparently quite difficult to buy for. I rather felt like doing a conference call with all my nearest and dearest and blaring If You Don’t Know Me By Now down the iPhone.
However, La Farmer triumphed. She commissioned a pair of white gold and pave set ruby cuff links from Shaun Leane – one of my favourite people in London and quite the JAR de nos jours – who also arrived with a five million year old fossil that Guy ‘Dashing Tweeds’ Hills had given to me for my 39th that Shaun had set in rose gold as a tie stud. What, I slurred, wasn’t to like? Dinner ended (eventually) in a miasma of grappa and champagne with the divine Judith Watt texting the next morning, ‘Fellini movie, anyone?’ Quite. I don’t think London has seen a gathering like that since the Trial of Oscar Wilde.
The weekend reached an elegant conclusion with an invitation from Rosy Runciman to attend a very private concert for the Noel Coward Society to celebrate the repatriation of the Master’s baby grand piano from Chalet Coward in Les Avants to the Prince of Wales theatre. Rosy knows how to throw a terribly chic party. We had Patricia Hodge reviving her role as Gertrude Lawrence singing Coward’s Parisian Pierrot (such fun!) and the great Richard Briars doing the most marvellous cameo in Why Must the Show Go On? It was truly terrific to be in a room with people who knew Noel and who had witnessed the greats such as Dame Joan Sutherland, Judy Garland and Marlene Dietrich singing around that piano before civilisation ended circa 1969.
We made a mad dash to the Criterion for dinner after the performance. What a beautiful Belle Epoque dining room. It could be THE restaurant in London. As is, the Criterion is stranded in grubby, smelly, nasty Piccadilly Circus and simply does not have the menu or the service to make the grade. Sir Noel would surely need the sal volatile should he be unfortunate enough to haunt London in 2011. Still, much comedy value was derived at the Criterion with a poppet of a little waiter wearing more mascara than Liza Minnelli who was quite simply the most appetising thing on the menu.
Noel Coward’s lyrics still have such magic and resonance today. There was not a dry eye in the house – not to mention a dry seat – when his plaintive ballad If Love Were All was performed at the Prince of Wales. When other composers hear ‘I believe, that since my life began, the most I’ve had is just a talent to amuse’ they must wonder where the go to surrender. Why Must the Show Go On? is a personal favourite because it has such resonance with my year to date.
Tuesday saw me bright eyed and bushy tailed reporting for duty at Huntsman on Savile Row to do a pre-record for ITVs This Morning about the glory of bespoke tailoring. The peg was Downton Abbey. Here’s the story you won’t see on the telly. About a thousand years ago I fell head over heels with an actor called Guy Henry while he was touring my university city Newcastle-upon-Tyne with the RSC. Long story short, we had the maddest fling and Guy was billeted with Hugh Bonville and Saskia Reeves. I met Hugh again when promoting Savile Row: The Master Tailors of British Bespoke on Loose Ends with Clive Anderson.
Hugh took me aside and said that he was in serious need of immaculate Savile Row bespoke tailoring for the second series of Downton and I thought he should go to a tailor who was trading during the Downton era: Huntsman. Huntsman cutter Dave Ward cut Hugh immaculate white tie evening tails that have starred in the present series and given Huntsman masses of lovely and appropriate publicity. So I thought the This Morning appearance would be good for Savile Row and for Downton.
What can I tell you about filming daytime TV? Well, the high point was being given a charming, intelligent director called Rhian who was enchanted by the Row and avoided the usual cliches that come when TV meets Savile Row. It also helps to have a terribly handsome sound and camera crew who know how to behave and work their magic while I am showing-off dressed in white tie. The challenge (as is common parlance for frustration) is trying to capture the history of Savile Row in under four minutes. This is rather like asking the Pope to summarise the history of Catholicism in four bullet points. You decide darling. We go live at noon on Thursday…