I do think our politicians should take more notice of the Eurovision Song Contest. We haven’t had a real winner since Bucks Fizz made their mind up in 1981: the year Prince Charles married Lady Diana Spencer. It was all down hill from there. Nowadays we could nominate Shirley Bassey to sing for Britain and the Eastern Block and Balkan countries would gang up on us and give us nul points.
We’re not popular in Europe/Russia any more. It’s own back time since the days when we owned a third of the globe. I think Britain is still pretty spectacular. Maybe we should stop apologising and start being proud of our skirt whipping, empire building days. We’re now so nervous about immigration, political correctness and apologising for our existence. Britain is a very cool, very camp and very idiosyncratic country. We are eccentric to a fault and should celebrate our fabulous history not say sorry for it.
Argentina has of late embraced its past with a museum dedicated to the late, great Eva Peron. Evita has been something of an obsession for me since seeing the musical for the first time. Evita was an illegitimate actress/prostitute who moved to Buenos Aires with a tango singer called Magaldi and rose through the ranks to become first the mistress then wife of the future President Juan Peron. Newsreel footage of she giving speeches from the balcony of the Casa Rosada demonstrate how powerful Eva was as a politician.
Evita and President Peron were not without their faults. They soundly routed the English influence in Argentina, crushed the oligarchy, suppressed all opposition in the press and politics, made enemies disappear and allegedly siphoned off millions to a Swiss bank account. The Eva Peron Foundation embezzled millions from rich Argentine citizens to feed, clothe and house the descamisados (shirtless ones) who Eva considered herself to be a mother to.
Eva Peron died of cancer aged only thirty-three. Her funeral made the late Diana, Princess of Wales’s passing look insignificant. Her body was embalmed but after Peron was deposed in 1955 it was abducted and disappeared for decades until it was disinterred from an anonymous grave in Milan and returned to the Recoleta cemetery in Buenos Aires where she is buried beneath concrete to repel grave robbers.
When I was a child working as a secretary at the Sunday Express for Alison Macdonald the Associate Editor, I gained a little confidence and was sent on various foreign assignments including interviewing Liza Minnelli in Last Vegas and travelling to Buenos Aires to hunt down Eva’s lost wardrobe. When Evita became First Lady of Argentina, she dressed for the part. Her gowns were from Dior, Balenciaga, Jacques Fath and Norman Hartnell. Her jewels were made by Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels and Boucheron.
When Peron was deposed, Evita’s townhouse was ransacked. Her gowns were confiscated by the government, her furs auctioned and her jewels broken down. I was doing some research in the archives of the Illustrated London News when I discovered a feature dated 1955 displaying the ‘gross excesses’ of dictator Peron and his wife Evita. I wondered where the booty had disappeared to. So Alison got the newspaper to pay for an open ticket to Buenos Aires and hunt down the couture collection.
Can’t even begin about how much fun it was being a twentysomething in Buenos Aires. I danced the tango with a man at midnight, met the British Ambassador and also met the Duchess of York’s mother Susanna Barantes who introduced me to the richest woman in Buenos who actually knew Evita. Long story short, I tracked down Evita’s possessions to an anonymous bank vault in the suburbs of Buenos Aires.
Heartbreak! Evita’s estate was still in probate. This was the early 1990s. Languishing in a vault was priceless couture, hats and shoes stored in the most appalling conditions. Two hundred pairs of white stilettos were piled into a cardboard box. Hats were squashed one on top of the other in bin bags. The couture was in trouble. The famous Christian Dior tiered tulle and sequin blue crinoline dress was wrapped in newspaper and tied with string. A pink satin jewelled cape was crushed into a box. A fabulous Balmain black velvet sheath dress trimmed with jet feathers was ripped and torn onto a mannequin that was too big for the frock.
We photographed the collection and then met a relative of one of Eva’s milliners who sold me two of her hats. These I took back to London and the Sunday Express sold one as a reader competition. The other I had to return to BA. While there I had bought a portrait of Evita that was signed. This had to be sold during one of those periods when I was short of cash (what else is new?). But I will never forget my encounters with Eva Peron.
I remember going to the Recoleta when I was staying at the Alvear Palace hotel and praying at the grave. A gaggle of tourists came up to me and asked if I was a relative. Can’t make it up can you? I also had myriad affairs in Buenos Aires. I do find the Argentineans irresistible. Buenos Aires is like Paris but with people who are pleasant as well as gorgeous. I think I went a little nuts in Argentina. I found a terrific men’s fashion boutique and would spend hours there with the owner who looked like George Clooney. At one point he kissed the back of my neck: arguably the most erotic moment in my life.
Anyway, too much information. What I have in common with a dead Argentine dictator’s wife I have no idea. But I do feel a connection with Eva Peron. I think it might be Andrew Llloyd Webber’s lyrics that do it for me: ‘and if ever I go too far, it’s because of the things you are. Beautiful town I adore you’. I feel much the same about London…