I’m having a terrific time with Sofka Zinovieff’s book The Mad Boy, Lord Berners, My Grandmother and Me. She’s a super writer and has a talent for sketching pen portraits as economically as Don Bachardy. Some writers think it sufficient to list the names of the sacred monsters of England’s 1930s literary and aristocratic circles and let one’s imagination do the rest. Zinovieff digs deeper.
Doris Castlerosse is not someone I knew anything about other than that she had legs to be beat Betty Grable in Cecil Beaton portraits. The Mad Boy gives a thrilling account of Doris Delavigne from Beckenham who was ‘a balcony girl at the Café de Paris’. Imagine! Balcony girls would hover over the Café’s dance floor like birds of prey looking for lovers with, ahem, potential. Doris bagged Viscount Castlerosse who (like everyone else in the book) was something of a Tommy two-ways.
Lady Castlerosse had cornflower blue eyes, a gap in her teeth, the prettiest legs that ever danced a Charleston and – not hampered by self-doubt – would say of herself ‘I’m lucky and sexy…and how’! Doris was a frequent guest of Lord Berners at Farringdon and was by all accounts an absolute riot. When making a promise she’d cross herself saying ‘tiara, brooch, clip, clip’ and introduced the phrase ‘let’s dish the dirt’ to polite society.
I’d like to believe that Lady Castlerosse was one of Noël Coward’s models for Amanda in Private Lives and that as a sexual adventuress she was as practised in the tricks of the trade as Mrs Simpson. The author isn’t remotely prurient describing the technicalities of the Cleopatra Grip and Lady Castlerosse’s hilarious seduction of ‘terrible homosexualist’ Cecil Beaton. The best line in the book is ascribed to Lord Castlerosse who, coming across Doris and Cecil in a restaurant said to his companion ‘I never knew Doris was a lesbian’.
Well, turns out she was and could literally turn her hand to anything. Lady Castlerosse was installed in the single storey Palazzo Venier dei Leoni in Venice by a wealthy American lesbian lady Margot Hoffman. The palazzo had belonged to the Marchesa Casati (she of the python in a picnic basket, remember?) and would in turn become Peggy Guggenheim’s European home.
Isn’t it marvellous how books begat books? I’m going to hunt down a copy of Lord Berners’ satirical novel The Girls of Radclyffe Hall that casts his homosexual circle as young ladies in a boarding school. Daisy Pulls It Off it ‘aint. Lord Berners casts himself as headmistress Miss Carfax and mercilessly lampoons Beaton as Cecily Seymour who is in love with Lizzie Johnson his real life unrequited lover Peter Watson. Watson bought the object of his affection the Mad Boy a car. As Berners writes in The Girls ‘Poor Cecily; Lizzie has never even thought of giving her a bicycle’.
If you haven’t bought your copy of The Mad Boy from Harchards yet I urge you to do so Rowley. I had rather a bookish week as it happens. My incredibly talented art director Pete ‘Grade Design’ Dawson and I had a meeting about our next project and decamped to the Royal Academy for a cup of mint tea or, as Lord Berners might say, ‘a lesbian libation’.
I also had an evening with my former Thames & Hudson editor Jennie Condell. We zipped into the 100 Club for Sir Tom Baker’s London Collections: Men show then snuck round the corner to the Sanderson’s Long Bar for wickedly good cocktails. Speaking of London Collections: Men, I told you I had a styling gig for a Crown Estates party at Fortnum & Mason.
As I think I told you there’s a secret subterranean room in Fortnum’s behind the wine department. What I thought was a mock Tudor vault was in fact deadly serious Tudor architectural salvage taken from the crypt of a church in the East End that had been bombed. The Vault is a curious room used as a private dining room. The proposal was for me to do something entertaining with gentlemen’s requisites in said Tudor cellar. I came up with the idea of filling a series of Fortnum & Mason hampers with goodies made by the historic shops that line Jermyn Street and St James’s Street.
Do you think it looked fun? We had Turnbull & Asser, Floris, Hilditch & Key, Budd, Tricker’s, D. R. Harris, Lock, Bates the Hatters and Harvie & Hudson as well as relative newbies Emma Willis, Aquascutum, Sunspel and Osprey. The evening went rather well; aided in no small part by a lovely model called Luke who was on guard in the Vault wearing Jermyn Street’s finest. We got chatting and turns out he’s just danced Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake and is auditioning to dance in the West End…much more interesting than LC:M in my humble opinion.
Speaking of Radclyffe Hall, I do so love Mercedes de Acosta’s quip about a lesbian love rival calling her ‘the bucket in the Well of Loneliness’. Heaven, no? Oh, did I tell you Viscountess Castlerosse is Cara Delevingne’s great aunt? Plus ca change.