The Joys of Spring. May 2018.

Dear Rowley,

After the first hot, blue-skied Bank Holiday in living memory, I am genuinely feeling full of the joys of Spring. This being London we fully expect torrential rain come Tuesday but, for now, the magnolia blossom is in full bloom behind Bloomsbury Towers, the cherry make the Regent’s Park look like the set of a Fred Astaire movie and my favourites, peonies, are in the window of Bloomsbury Blooms. To quote Cole Porter, tt is delightful, delicious, delovely.

Today is also the first day since ‘the troubles’ that I have felt like my old self again and repeated the Miss M quote upon which I have chosen to live: ‘Fuck em if they can’t take a joke!’ I swear the burglaries nearly did for me mentally if not physically and the poison that is self-pity had started to creep in.

There is nothing in this world worse than self-pity and that includes Diane Abbott. It is a loathsome human response to a run of luck however bad. It is uglier than anger and drains the life out of one. Today I took my favourite walk along the South Bank, across Tower Bridge and past Traitor’s Gate on the way back to Bloomsbury. It was glorious and – again for the first time in a long time – I felt glad to be alive.

As you know, my finger has been within pricking distance of the Grim Reaper’s scythe at least three times to my knowledge ergo there has to be a reason why this existential problem in Savile Row suits is still buggering on. Again, for the first time in a long time I feel as though the best is yet to come.

As of May 1st, I am back on the Henry Poole & Co book deadline July 2018. I also have two further projects to put forward at the Thames & Hudson editorial board meetings: the first is titled Cabaret in Fashion and the second The Savile R0w System. I can’t say more than the former is my fun project and the latter a legacy one in collaboration with Su ‘Savile Row Bespoke’ Thomas who has proved not only to be a hoot but also as I suspected something of a treasure.

To quote Miss M again, ‘you’ve got to have friends’ and mine have been blindingly loyal for the duration of ‘the troubles’ as have my parentals. Not one of them held-up the ‘self-pity alert’ red card reasoning that I had to come to that conclusion myself and adjust behaviour accordingly. Nobody wants to be one of life’s drains when you have the capacity to be a radiator.

In the words of RuPaul – our fearless leader – I have made a few decisions. Why be Cruella de Vil when you can be Auntie Mame? I’ve learned more than a few life lessons from the shockingly shit first three months of this year and the first is to tap one’s troubles away. It is terribly hard to feel self-pity when lip-synching to show tunes while tap dancing round your kitchen after a glass of prosecco.

You notice I said glass rather than bottle. This is decision numero uno. I always thought alcoholism and manic depression was like putting the cart before the horse. I am manic therefore I drink.  But what if it is the other way around? It only took forty-six years to work that one out.

I’ve had a healthy love of alcohol for all of my adult life. Some would say it was the love of my life. But comes a time when Auntie Mame turns into Miss Hannegan. Everybody loves a drink but nobody loves a drunk. Too true as it happens. I always know I am in my right mind when I start counting the units and they cease to be the week’s recommended intake in a night.

I also know I am on the right track when I question whether paying £12 a day on bitch sticks (aka Vogue Menthol Cigarettes) is a wise investment. I can’t go into my fifties with nicotine-stained fingers and teeth like The Grinch. Nay, nay and thrice nay. Vanity alone should work miracles the nicotine patches cannot. God forbid you ever see me vape. How common!

Can you recall interiors good fairy Nicky Haslam’s etiquette column in ES entitled ‘How Common’? My favourite one of all was going ‘oooooohhh!’ when a Champagne cork pops. I think vaping is ten times more ghastly than a camp squeal when the fizz fairy blows her stack.

Resolutions are terribly easy to make and terribly taxing to keep. I am addicted to cigarettes and it will take the willpower of a David to defeat the Goliath that is Dame Nicotine. I think the best way forward is to have one if I’m climbing the walls and calling everyone the ‘C’ word but not give in to the pack. With the best will in the world, it will be a miracle if I do quit. That said, I’m in the mood for miracles right now.

Another of my decisions is to move house. I need a fresh start. Much as I love Bloomsbury, the shine has been somewhat dulled by being broken into four times. I’ve noticed a major rise in professional beggars bussed-in on a daily basis and am fed-up of the first language of the Borough being Mandarin. So watch this space. Letters from Clapham North might not have the same ring to it so we might be re-branding Letters from London. Until next time…

 

 

 

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In Their Defence: The Duke & Duchess of Windsor. May 2018

Dear Rowley,

Can one defend the reputation of the Duke of Windsor, ex-King Edward VIII, who gave up a crown for the love of a twice-divorced American Wallis Simpson? This is the challenge set by Like A Shot TV for an upcoming documentary I am contributing to. Naturally, I went immediately back to the books namely the Duke’s Memoir A King’s Story and the Duchess’s The Heart has its Reasons.  I also turned to Anne Sebba’s rather caustically brilliant That Woman: The Life of Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor.

I find the Duke more sympathetic than his Duchess. As Prince of Wales, the Duke was raised by parents with ice in their veins: King George V and Queen Mary. They in turn had seen cousins Tsar Nicholas II ofd Russia and Emperor Wilhelm II of Germany fall during World War One and had to stand for stability, continuity and tradition in the face of the republican storm that followed the Great War.

David, as the Prince of Wales was known to his family, was a moderniser ill-at-ease with hereditary titles. On the other hand, his travels to the four corners of the empire made him as popular as a movie idol such as Rudolph Valentino. He was a dashing steeple-chaser, a jazz fiend and polo-playing young man with matinee idol looks who clearly enjoyed the excesses of the 1920s. He was also a fatalist who understood that whether he liked it or not he would one day be King of Great Britain.

The Prince of Wales’s preference for older married women such as Freda Dudley Ward and Thelma Furness who tended to boss and coddle him in equal measures can be seen as a reaction to the aloof, cold Queen Mary. Less explicable was the Prince’s love affair with twice-divorced American Mrs Simpson who appeared to be the dominatrix to end all others.

I do believe the rumours that Mrs Simpson had learned techniques in Shanghai that pleased ‘the little man’ are erroneous. It was Wallis Simpson’s complete absence of reverence that caught the Prince of Wales’s heart. He would have known, when he acceded as King Edward VIII in late 1936 that church, state, family and the colonies would not accept Wallis Simpson as Queen Consort. And yet he would not let go.

In his defence, King Edward VIII had found a woman who enthralled and overpowered him to the point that he was as defenceless of her charms as King Henry VIII with Anne Boleyn. Unfortunately, he abdicated in the face of an avalanche of criticism at a point when he could have retained the throne and Mrs Simpson as Maitresse-en-Titre had his family, Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin and Archbishop of Canterbury Cosmo Lang not forced his hand.

I very much doubt Mrs Simpson wished for abdication. She already had a king’s ransom in jewels showered on her by her king and a position as hostess with the mostest that so deeply offended the Duchess of York (the future Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother. Even without a morganatic marriage, the forty-one year old king could have kept Mrs Simpson at his side and ruled as a bachelor king but he was caught in a bear trap.

Once the instrument of abdication had been signed, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor were at the mercy of their captors. The new Queen Elizabeth was merciless in banishing he and the Duchess from England. The Duke was held to ransom once he’d signed over Sandringham and Balmoral to the new King George VI and was blackmailed to stay away with the threat that a civil list payment would be cut if he set foot in England with his Duchess.

Imagine the ignominy of marrying the Duchess of Windsor without a single member of his family in attendance. Imagine his dismay to be made Governor of the Bahamas for the duration of World War Two making him appear as feckless and cowardly as the Happy Valley set in Kenya.

There are the clouds of Nazi sympathy that surround the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. The Duke was pro-appeasement but so too was David Lloyd-George and the lion’s share of the British aristocracy and media-ocracy including Lord and Lady Astor, Lord Halifax and the first Lord Beaverbrook. Less understandable was the Duke and Duchess of Windsor’s decision to visit Hitler in 1937 and give the Nazi salute. Were those rumours that he would be set up as a puppet king once Britain had been defeated gossip truth or propaganda released by Queen Elizabeth and the government to vilify the Duke and his unfortunate Duchess who had also been denied the HRH: a low blow.

We will never know how vindictive Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth had been until the day the Duke died in 1972. It was said that Queen Elizabeth blamed the Duke of Windsor for the premature death of King George VI. In his defence again, I would surmise that Queen Elizabeth looked terribly happy and serene in her Hartnell gowns and tiaras for the duration of a reign that lasted from 1936 to 1952.

The Duke and Duchess were punished for their love; living in exile and running with the international jet set being cold comfort for the loss of a crown. It is a great ‘What if?’ game had the Duke not abdicated and reigned as a bachelor king. Would the crown still have passed to Queen Elizabeth II on his death in 1972 or would it have gone to third brother the Duke of Gloucester who would have been even more unsuitable than the Duke of Windsor?

Friends of the monarchy said Wallis Simpson was a God-send, removing a most unsuitable man from the line of succession. Much as the Duke of Windsor had good qualities, I could not argue that he would have been a divisive wartime king and not up to the quiet stoicism of King George VI and his family. If he’d been given a role his life might not have been so empty.

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Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries. May 2018.

Dear Rowley,

If there was a BAFTA or an EMMY for costume design on television the winner hands down would be Marion Boyce who has dressed Essie Davis as Phryne Fisher for three seasons of Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries. Set in 1920s Melbourne, Miss Fisher is a private detective of independent means who is an Honourable.

Not only does Essie Davis have the porcelain doll face of a Louise Brooks, she has the mannerisms of the fastest of flappers. And, gee whizz, does Marion Boyce give good costume. There must be a dozen costume changes in each episode from marabou-trimmed peignoir over breakfast in bed to the sassiest of beaded flapper frocks when Phryne is dressed to kill.

The plots are sensational enough for Miss Fisher to go underground as a Burlesque dancer, a knife-thrower’s assistant and a couture model. I am sure all of Phryne’s costumes are made to order rather than vintage. The few surviving garments from the 1920s are either too fragile or too small work in high definition and the best have long since been snapped up by collections such as the V&A and the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute in New York.

Though I adore the flashier beaded and fringed evening gowns and diamond hair ornaments worn by Phryne by night, it is her day dresses reminiscent of vintage Chanel that always hit the spot. The Garconne drop waist line suits Essie Davis’s body to perfection and by cutting on the bias Marion Boyce gives the garments that 1920s movement like an eel through water.

Truth to tell, I am falling in love with women’s fashion at the moment. You’re far too young to remember the days when I did the Milan, Paris, New York and London women’s collections for the Financial Times. I tell you, Rowley, my road has had more twists and turns than Grace Kelly on the coast road to Monte Carlo.

Women’s fashion is really rather thrilling at the moment with the extreme gawky, dorky style of a Prada and Gucci offset by the couture elegance of designers such as Giambattista Valli, Ralph & Russo and Roland Mouret who I suspect might design Meghan Markle’s wedding dress for this month’s Royal Wedding.

Paris has changed-up the design directors of great houses Balmain, Ungaro, Yves Saint Laurent, Dior and Balenciaga while designers such as Victoria Beckham, The Row and Stella McCartney are still making inexplicable silhouettes that seem deliberately ugly-pretty: so wrong they are – allegedly – right. I just find their work bad design.

I would like to write about womenswear again: particularly the couture that is as grand as the last time I saw a couture show in the early 1990′s when the late, great Gianfanco Ferre produced his last collection for Dior. I think the Meghan Markle effect will re-energise British fashion in a major way though I must say it doesn’t need an awful lot more help with the Duchesses of Cambridge and Cornwall always being elegantly and appropriately turned out.

Did I tell you I am thinking of a house move back to Clapham North? In true App & Lucia style, I am writing to my old address to enquire if it will be on the rental market anytime soon. It may seem like a backward step but it really isn’t now the National Anthem of Bloomsbury Towers is Nobody Knows the Troubles I’ve Seen.

I’ve had some rough times this year – often broke, often desperately unhappy – but I’ve got through them and feel happier and fitter than I have done in a dog’s age. This is thanks to friends and a tonne of exercise. I’m even having a bash at quitting the cigarettes though it is very hard to break the habit of a lifetime. But who can afford to smoke these days? There’s little glamour in standing outside a restaurant chugging on a fag in the pouring gales that we are promised this May.

Fucking weather, eh? We had one day of broiling sun only to be followed by torrential rain that destroys shoes and souls alike. Bad weather gets me down as it does many of my manic depressive tribe. We thrive in the sun. So get on with it weather gods. We need some sparkle in our lives sent from the heavens please.

Do you know what has cheered me up considerably? Investing in a cheap but serviceable record player and buying vinyl. Such is my taste that I feel like I’m the only show queen buying records. I’ve got Oliver!, An American in Paris, The King & I, Guys & Dolls, Chitty Chitty Bang Bank, Mame and Cabaret all for a song in the record shop in Notting Hill.

Music is a reason for living. Isn’t it strange that you can’t remember where you’ve been the other day but can sing note-for-note You’re My Little Choochie Face from Chitty despite not hearing it for a decade? I am sure there must be some wisdom in playing familiar records when revising for an exam or a television appearance in my case.

I am currently reading Tim Heald’s Princess Margaret biography A Life Unravelled and the Duke of Windsor’s memoir My Story for a series I am filming with Like A Shot TV for UKTV. It will be heaven to be back in front of the cameras. And on that Norma Desmond note I will leave you. And remember, if all else fails just Whistle a Happy Tune. Until next time.

 

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Evita Forever. April 2018.

Dear Rowley,

These days I always wake-up to The Shipping Forecast. It is almost mediation: Malin, Hebrides variable thee or four, showers good and on it goes like a prayer to the weather gods. This being 5.30am my days tend to be that couple of hours longer than most people and that gives me joy now that I am quite fastidiously living as if the next day is one’s last. Time is terribly precious to me now it appears to race by one with ever increasing speed.

My heroes and heroines tend not to live a normal lifespan: Marilyn Monroe, Eva Peron, Judy Garland, Jimmy Dean and Amy Winehouse to name a very few who checked out too young. Perhaps all of these idols lived at such a pace that they exhausted themselves though I would say that Marilyn Monroe had many somethings that should have given had she lived beyond thirty-six.

Argentine dictator’s wife Eva Duarte de Peron certainly exhausted herself in the promotion of the Peronist regime though I would argue that she was older than the thirty-three years the government said she was in the year of her death. It amazed me listening to lyricist Sir Tim Rice describing his musical Evita saying that he tried to portray Eva as a mendacious, power-hungry monster. I was totally on Eva’s side when I was first enchanted by that musical soap opera that is Evita. 

I don’t think for a moment that Eva’s rise to First Lady of Argentina was left to chance. Eva appeared to sleep with men ever increasing in power until she hit the jackpot with Juan Peron. When Peron was removed in an attempted coup, it was Eva who galvanised her ‘decamisados’ (shirtless ones) to riot in the streets until her husband was free. Eva had the charisma of the late Diana Princess of Wales with a political drive that would have made Churchill look shy and retiring in comparison.

We are fortunate to have film footage of Eva in her prime giving speeches from the balcony of the Case Rosada. She is a firebrand working for the underclasses while dressed head-to-toe in Dior with jewels that would shame an Indian Maharani. Eva did indeed take the riches from the oligarchs and booted the English out of Buenos Aires. She also had her fun doing it; dressing and living like a queen while posing as a Robin Hood character taking from the rich and giving to the poor.

I spent a month all told in Buenos Aires in the early 1990s looking for Evita’s lost wardrobe. I found it in a bank in the suburbs of BA and photographed masterpieces by Pierre Balmain, Jacques Fath, Christian Dior, Cristobal Balenciaga and Norman Hartnell not to mention box-upon-box of hats and cardboard crates filled with over 200 pairs of white high heels. What struck me when researching Evita Peron was how polarised she made the world about her sins and virtues.

Fleur Cowles, who I was fortunate enough to interview for the Financial Times, in the twilight of her life spent six months with Evita and told me ‘she was the most evil woman you would care to meet’. My taxi driver in Buenos Aires drove me to a children’s village that Evita had founded for orphans whose inhabitants still consider Evita a saint.

I don’t for a second believe that Juan and Eva did not feather their nests. I doubt equally that all the funds from the Eva Peron foundation went to alleviate poverty in Argentina. It was rumoured that Eva’s Rainbow Tour of Europe was an excuse to stash millions of Pesos in Swiss banks. Peronism was Fascism dressed up as socialism with Eva as the de facto  Queen. She obviously felt like a monarch refusing as she did to visit England because she was denied a State Visit and only offered tea with Queen Elizabeth II at Windsor Castle.

One would have loved to be a fly on the wall in conversation with Her Majesty and Eva Peron but it was not to be. In the autumn of her life, Eva was riddled by cancer. She was on the campaign trail with President Peron but was forced to give-up hope of being voted Vice President (which she would have won) because she was dying. There are stories of Eva riding in a motorcade with a cage underneath her fur coat to allow her to stand for the duration of parades. The last appearance on the balcony of the Case Rosada showed an emaciated woman whose flame was soon to be extinguished.

Eva came into my mind because I am contributing to a UKTV series that aims to rehabilitate controversial figures such as King Edward VIII and Princess Margaret. I think Eva is due a reassessment. Make no mistake, people disappeared during Peron’s regime. Even after his death in 1955, Juan Peron’s grave was robbed and his finger cut off because the grave robbers though that a signet ring had the codes to his Swiss bank accounts. When Eva died, her body was embalmed and disappeared for the best part of two decades before being repatriated and buried in the Duarte family vault in La Recoleta cemetery sealed with tonnes of concrete so the lady would be left undisturbed. No less than she deserved as the musical Evita ends.

 

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Sweet Charity. April 2018.

Dear Rowley,

I am becoming increasingly beady about ‘celebrity’ – and I use the term loosely – stunts in aid of charity. So, I believe, is the rest of Britain when it emerged that the women who appeared in the ITV’s The Full Monty: Ladies’ Night were each paid £10,000 to flash their boobies at the end of a burlesque-style strip live on stage. Donations came in just north of £4000. True, all the women had reasons for wanting to raise awareness of Breast Cancer. But, then again, I’d be the poster boy for the clap if someone paid me £10,000 for the privilege.

This was the second year of Real Full Monty activities with Alexander Armstrong – a man who is a total stranger to self-doubt – encouraging male ‘slebs’ to flash their cocks for testicular cancer. I watched both programmes and found the smugness rather unbearable. It was evident that even the most seemingly shy celebrity was loving every second of flashing the British population in the name of charity.

On Ladies Night, I thought Victoria Derbyshire protested too much. Would she be denied the £10,000 pay cheque if she didn’t open her ostrich feather fan to reveal boobs after a double mastectomy. To add insult to injury, the TV cameras cut to the back-sides of both ladies and gentlemen making the strip short change for those of us who stuck with the broadcast in the hope of seeing Jade Goody’s ex-husband Jeff Brazier’s enormous dick.

I think we’re all getting a little bit fed up of C-listers doing deeply titillating tasks in the name of Charity. The latest was Telegraph columnist Bry0ny Gordon running the London Marathon in her bra and pants in the name of breast cancer. I Tweeted that she was doing it for attention and applause rather than for charity. When reminded of the money raised, I countered that charity was best when done quietly and fastidiously. I could walk the Great Wall of China in slingback but I’m far too busy. Besides, Kitty, I’d never get any rummy played.

Children in Need is my particular bête Noir closely followed by Comic Relief where C-listers are asked to ‘do something funny for money’ that rarely if ever is. I donate to one charity every month to the tune of £40 which builds up as the years go by. I don’t talk about it and don’t want attention and applause for giving. The same goes for the odd tenner to a tramp.

It kills me when people say they don’t give to beggars because they will spend the money on drugs and alcohol. Too f****** right they do. I’d need a G&T in a can and a spliff if I was contemplating a night on the pavement in Central London in the pouring rain. Sanctimony is the enemy of charity.

I met a real charitable woman in the shape of the late Evelyn Lauder, daughter-in-law of the legendary Esthée Lauder. The lady raised $350 million for breast cancer charities with her pink ribbon initiative. It was cruel that this glamorous lady died from cancer. I admired Mrs Lauder immensely. She told me all about how she, her husband Leonard and Estèe set-up shop in a small office in which Evelyn would pretend to be the receptionist before putting herself through to her other line.

Estèe Lauder is now a multi-billion dollar corporation. You would not have caught Evelyn Lauder swanning around the Easter Parade in her bra and panties. Wild horses would not drag her into a debacle such as The Real Full Monty. Mrs Lauder had class.

My beadiness towards charity extends to the tsunami of celebrities coming out as living with mental health issues. It is laudable that the Princes William and Harry and their consorts the Duchess of Cambridge and Meghan Markle are spearheading their Heads Together mental health charity. But the hangers-on who pop up to say ‘me too’ really – in the words of Kath & Kim – get up my goat.

Mariah Carey recently came out as bipolar. I could have told her the years ago. Who in their right mind has riders such as ‘Mariah doesn’t do stairs’ and demand for fresh puppies in her dressing room to cuddle when she comes off stage. That’s the grandiose behaviour of a major manic attack. I can’t bear Mariah Carey anyway. She as a beacon of light for mental health makes me want to vomit. Cash doesn’t pay for mental health but is sure as s*** makes recovery a whole lot more comfortable and expedient.

People with genuine cases of manic depression know there is no cure. There are checks and balances both pharmaceutical and psychological that can keep it in check. But someone with manic depression is totally unable to control when a manic or a depressive phase begins to invade the mind.

I am coming out of a serious manic episode. It did not kill me but did make for some humiliating moments and very odd behaviour. I won’t go into that now because it is as much as can be a private matter. The people who matter are still with me. The good time boys and girls run a mile. They can stay a mile away the hell from me.

In addition to my donating to charity, I have come out of my manic phase wanting to do something for mental health charities. This does not entail running the London Marathon dressed as a gorilla. It will be discreet, quiet and hopefully as good for me as for others suffering from manic depression. Until next time…

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