Tell me I’m not the only one who’s had a gilt complex since I was knee high to a grasshopper. I can vividly remember my first visit to Versailles. We were in Marie Antoinette’s bedroom and a rather blowsy Texan lady nudged her none too svelte husband in the gullet and said ‘it’s pretty but you can’t imagine anybody actually living here’. My response? ‘Try me!’ I’ve never had the slightest difficulty imagining blissful domesticity in palatial interiors. Given half a chance I’d be moving furniture and telling the tour guide that a Sèvres vase of peonies would look charming underneath the Vigée Le Brun atop the Louis XIV fireplace.
My dear friend Tessa and I surmised many years ago that we were courtesans at Versailles during the ancien régime. You only have to point us towards the Hall of Mirrors and we can hear the rustle of the bombazine and reach for the rouge pot. People are often rather incredulous when I say I heartily believe in reincarnation but sometimes it’s the only explanation when you sleepwalk past the velvet ropes in a Stately Home and start rearranging the scatter cushions. That said, I must have been an absolute horror in the last life because I certainly seem to be paying for it now. Kidding. Sort of.
The gilt complex reared its green-eyed head again in recent weeks on a jaunt to see parents in Derbyshire that included a visit to Chatsworth House. Locals are rather possessive about Chatsworth and take a dim view of too much change. One finds oneself putting on a Lady Bracknell face as played by Dame Edith Evans and, peering through imaginary lorgnettes, making damning comments about the choice of diaphanous drapery in the Painted Hall. I’m not alone in this. A couple who I surmised came from the Rochdale area were most put out that the Sargent of the Three Sisters had been moved: sounding for all the world as if they were going to cuff a running footman around the chops for doing so without their express permission.
Promenading around the grounds with Mum, I actually had to stop myself from assuming a patronising smile and correcting tourists that the Emperor Fountain was built for Tsar Nicholas I of Russia, not Nicholas II, and that the Blanche commemorated on the Great Urn was not a favourite lapdog but the niece of the 6th Bachelor Duke of Devonshire. Perhaps this is the allure of houses like Chatsworth and all the visitors are touched on some level with the gilt complex.
When Scott ‘Bespoke Banter’ Wimsett and I went to the private view of The Queen’s Coronation 1953 exhibition at Buckingham Palace this week the urge to swank was almost irresistible. My favourite moment was the walk from the exhibition in the ballroom through the South-facing State Rooms overlooking the gardens. Most of the guests were still perusing the exhibition (fabulous and an absolute must see this summer) so Scott and I had the State Rooms to ourselves. As we wafted into the Music Room (where Prince George of Cambridge will be christened), I found myself saying ‘do you know, I don’t think I recall seeing this room before’…quite as if I spent every waking hour when not in Bloomsbury Towers drifting around Buckingham Palace.
Gilt complex aside, the private tour of the Palace was magical. It was a hot summer’s evening and all of the windows on the South side of the Palace had been opened. It reminded me of the scene in the DiCaprio Gatsby when we first discover Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan) lounging in a Long Island palace with chiffon curtains swirling like a mistral. My favourite State Room in the Palace is the Yellow Drawing Room dominated by a romantic portrait of Queen Alexandra at her loveliest wearing Queen Victoria’s diamond coronet.
Speaking of sparklers, what about the Pink Panthers striking again this week at the Carlton Hotel in Cannes? The latest estimate was £90 million of magnificent Leviev diamonds stolen in a classic smash and grab. When I was in Cannes for the amFAR Film Festival bash in May the Pink Panthers got away with £1 million of Chopard jewels stashed in a Novotel hotel safe (!?) and de Grisogono rather carelessly lost a diamond necklace after a presentation in the Hôtel du Cap. Do the jewellers not think twice when the PR department suggests a jaunt to the French Riviera? It’s rather like repeatedly dangling your pet canary into the lion’s cage at Whipsnade Zoo. Sooner or later the big cat is going to bite.
What else is new on the Rialto? Well, I woke up yesterday morning to the blessed news that Pope Francis now ‘tolerates’ gays. I suppose it is progress from Pope Benedict calling homosexuals evil but can you really respect a religion that says it’s tolerable to think about it but God forbid (literally) thoughts becoming deeds as they inevitably do? I know the old argument that you’d like to murder your mother-in-law but the fact that you restrain yourself shows Christian forbearance. However, we’ve all seen what happens to Catholic priests who can’t resist temptation. The unhappy conclusion tends to involve choirboys, orphans, abuse and – all too rarely – prosecution. Now that’s a guilt complex for a new Pontiff to wrestle with. Until next time…