The Library is Open. April 2018.

Dear Rowley,

I feel terribly at home in libraries. They are in that loathsome Millennial phrase ‘my happy place’. So it is perplexing to me that my visits to the British Library are so few. But it was to the BL that I went this afternoon to start researching a new book nominally titled The Savile Row System. I can’t say much more than that other than it is a Su Thomas, James Sherwood and Sam Clark production and could be a super title for Thames & Hudson.

It feels like millennia ago that I finished the text and layouts for Jewellery for Gentlemen and yet we still have to wait until September this year for the publication date. As of May 1st I am resuming work on the Henry Poole & Co monograph Henry Poole: Founding Father of Savile Row. The lion’s share of the text is written and I am more than ready to get started on the picture research. We know all the noble British, European and Russian royal and aristocratic customers so it should be relatively straightforward to track down surviving garments.

I feel a book comes alive for me when we start working on the pictures. The text is done and all we need to do is sprinkle the magic over the book with pictures that bring the words to life. The British Library is a phenomenal achievement built around a glass cube that contains the King’s Library: a collection of over 38,000 books gifted from King George III to the British Library when it was housed at the British Museum.

I was too young to visit the BL when it was kept at the BM. It must have been magical to research at desks that played host to Virginia Woolf and E. M. Forster; two of my heroic authors. Still, the British Library in Kings Cross isn’t too shabby. They have a museum dedicated to the treasures of the collection that blew me away today. There are drawings by Leonardo da Vinci, musical scores penned by Purcell and illuminated manuscripts in miniature gilded and jewelled to within an inch of their lives. This paper archive is worth more than gold.

We had a very productive meeting at the BL who have an archive of tailoring magazines unsurpassed in the world. These illustrated journals will be the backbone of The Savile Row System and I think Su, Sam and I will create another first in publishing. We shall see what we shall see. Another pleasure of the day was adding to my vinyl collection. I bought Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black that sounds sensational with the crackle and groove of vinyl. She was the Billie Holiday de nos jours.

I am feeling so much calmer since ‘the troubles’ died down. I am no longer slipping a Bailey’s Irish cream into my morning hot chocolate and wait until cocktail hour for my first lick of Prosecco. I am also writing furiously which is always a good sign. Some people need rest after a manic episode. I want to get back to work. Give me a project and watch me fly again.

Not that I don’t need rest. I do my best to be in bed alone at midnight at the moment and to get at least six hours’ sleep. This is the max for me. Any more time sleeping is time wasted. I can get plenty of shut eye in the Chapel of Rest darling. There is work to be done and I am chomping at the bit to get on with it.

The one element of my life before the recent troubles that I cannot subscribe to is being suited, booted and tied every working day. I don’t feel like wearing my suits at the moment and don’t want to choke my neck with ties. So I’ve gone back to the early 90s when I used to wear suits with Converse trainers and T-shirts. If it looks anachronistic well screw it. Sue me. I’ve also blonded my hair as it has never been since the 1980s. And my dear blondes do have more fun.

Now the dust has settled from the troubles I have re-assessed my friendships and have found Su, Richard, La Farmer, Mr Bowering and Mr Brown to be top of my list of lifesavers. These wonderful people rang my doorbell when I had gone silent for more than a week. They kept on texting and phoning to check-in and make sure I hadn’t checked-0ut. My parentals have been particularly good and for that I am eternally grateful.

You certainly get to know who your true friends are when manic depression takes over one’s mind. I got in touch with my favourite (read only) Aunt to say hello. She told me she’d taken a step back because there was nothing she could do to help. That’s a laugh. She hadn’t stepped forward for the best part of a year. Not even a phone call. This I find disappointing. If the boot were on the other foot I’d have been up that motorway at warp speed to help her along. Still, you live and learn.

I’m with Amy Winerack on Rehab. I say no, no, no. I remain a heavy drinker who can function perfectly well in the working arena. In fact I would go so far as to say I am always two drinks away from top form hence the dependence on Dame Booze. I find it hard to live without a little drinkie every day. It is in my physical and mental nature to enjoy lifting a few. Honit Soit Qui Mal Y Pense. Until next time…

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Ruthless: The Musical. April 2018.

Dear Rowley,

Being a musical queen, I do love to drop in on West End shows whenever I have a quiet night and no-one to play with. Last night I tried for returns for the brilliantly reviewed I, Tina and plumped instead for the so-so reviewed Ruthless: The Musical at the Arts Theatre. Shows how wrong critics can be. Why does a newspaper such as The Guardian with its dull, worthy readership even bother to review a show like Ruthless that demands a finely-tuned sense of camp humour that the quinoa-eating, Guardian reading bores would loathe?

I would imagine the reviewers of Ruthless would have taken an equally dim view of The Rocky Horror Show when it premiered at the Royal Court theatre before the old King died. Ruthless is an all-girl production if you allow for Dancing on Ice Mr Natsty Jason Gardiner in the drag role as Sylvia St Croix: five ladies to be precise. The plot spins on child star Tina’s bid to get the lead in the school production of Pippi Longstocking. Ruthlessness is driven into young Tina by super agent Sylvia and her Stepford Wife mother Judy Denmark played by Kim Maresca who originated the role off Broadway.

Though child star Tina is the focus of attention as the child born with magical talent, this is Jason Gardiner’s show. Bearing a striking resemblance to Christina Baranski, the 50s Titian-haired drag was a joy to behold. I couldn’t take my eyes off Mr Gardiner every moment he was on stage. The mannerisms are broad and masculine in the mould of the late, great Joan Crawford. If they ever adapt Mildred Pierce for the stage, Mr Gardiner is your woman.

There are a million in-jokes about film and musicals including riffs on Mama Rose in Gypsy, Auntie Mame and Bob Fosse’s choreography. If you are a musical queen – as were the predominantly gay and female audience clearly were – these are laugh out loud moments. There is zero subtlety in Ruthless making it more like an evening at the Admiral Duncan drag bar than a West End show and it was none the worse for that.

Interesting, isn’t it, that women can be mistresses of camp. I adored Kim Maresca who gets a step change in the second act from Stepford Wife to Broadway star complete with her own Eve Harrington in the4 shape of Lara Denning as her dementedly ambitious maid. The plot is ludicrous – little Tina serving time for strangling her rival in the school play with a skipping rope – and even the child is camp as a row of tents. My favourite line? When she loses the role of Pippi, the little monster spits ‘you’ve got to be f***** kidding me’ which got the biggest laugh of the night.

I was seated front row centre which gave me a ringside view of Jason Gardiner’s excellent stagecraft. He shows a side to his talent that blew me away. If he revived Sylvia St Croix when judging Dancing on Ice he would be a national treasure by now. He gives till it hurts playing Sylvia. Even when the focus is not on Sylvia, Mr Gardiner acts his socks off as if his life depended on the success and talent of nasty little Tina.

One of my favourite West End divas, Tracie Bennett, has a plum of a role as theatre critic Lita Encore who loathes musicals. The score by Marvin Laird gives her a never-ending number that lampoons every musical you care to think of including Cats, Phantom and Les Miserables. Tracie eats the scenery as Lita. Her performance makes Mr Gardiner seem subtle by comparison. She is camp, honey, and the audience loved her.

You can always tell a happy theatre crowd by the interval. Practically the entire audience went outside for a ciggy and a bucket of wine. We were here for a fun night out and boy did the cast deliver. I recall a very mutinous audience when I went to see Sheridan Smith in Funny Girl. There was an air of revolution because the national treasure was letting them down in the lead. No such grumblings at Ruthless. You always know the audience is in the moment when they return to their seats early from the interval.

I thoroughly enjoyed both acts of Ruthless and the denouement is reminiscent of the Cluedo film pastiche Clue. Who shot who isn’t even in it. Harriet Thorpe as Miss Myma Thorn gets the least laughs as the school drama teacher but this is the book’s fault not the actress. Miss Thorpe reminded me of a drag superstar called Ruby Venezuela who used to MC at the late, great Madame JoJo’s.

I feel we are all in need of high camp in its highest order right now because the news is pretty dire and the weather in London shockingly shit. I cannot get Jason Gardiner out of my mind. He absolutely tore the stage down as Sylvia St Croix ensuring that I and I would say the lion’s share of the audience will be repeat audience members. I need to see this show again; perhaps on closing night but one hopes this is far, far into the future. Ruthless is booking into June. Bravo, ladies.

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The Alienist. April 2018.

Dear Rowley,

You know that reading is as fundamental for me as walking the streets of London and drinking G&T. When a book works its magic, I can drape myself around Bloomsbury Towers for hours on end until I have devoured every last page. It is the literary equivalent of binge watching. One such book that captured my imagination many moons ago was Caleb Carr’s The Alienist. Set in 1890′s New York, the Alienist in question is Dr Laszlo Kreizler who is at the vanguard of psychiatry in an era when the study of the machinations of the human brain were still looked on with suspicion.

Carr creates a nightmare New York in which boy whores in the Five Points (lower Manhattan’s slum district) are being abducted by a dark angel who mutilates the bodies in a fashion reminiscent of London’s Jack the Ripper. Kreizler assembles a team including society illustrator John Moore, Jewish police officers Marcus and Lucius Isaacson, Police secretary Sarah Howard, former street urchin Stevie and carriage driver Cyrus to delve into the psyche of this horrific killer to identify the man most likely to be perpetrating these horrible crimes.

Kreizler is a complex creature with a withered arm who has his own demons. Sarah is a porto-feminist and Moore a dilettante. Carr makes each character entirely believable and, what is more, turns New York into one of the leading roles. This is the era of millionaire industrialists such as J. P. Morgan, corrupt Irish police constables, crime lords and those boy brothels where bathtub gin is slopped out to anaesthetise the painted, be-frocked children as young as six being used for sex. Respectability is a thin skein in this hellish city.

I always knew The Alienist would be adapted for film or television one day though it has taken longer than I anticipated for a ten-part series to be presented on Netflix. Apparently the series cost $5 million per episode and it shows. The foul streets, bars and brothels of New York are recreated with minute detail as are the operas, balls and banquets at Delmonico’s populated by the Upper 400 of Manhattan’s social set. There must be more extras in The Alienist than The Ten Commandments. 

The casting is brilliant: Daniel Brühl as a ferrety, bearded Laszlo Kreizler, the gorgeous Luke Evans as John Moore and the feisty, nuanced Dakota Fanning as Sarah Howard. I am so pleased the scriptwriter chose to spend ten-hour episodes on this labyrinthine story. It is a slow burn on the written page and deserves as much on the screen. We experience the frustrations of the detective as they begin to build a mental picture of the killer and thought time is given as much emphasis as action.

This is most definitely a parental guidance Netflix production with the scenes of the murders rendered with stomach-churning accuracy. But gore aside, it is the relationship between the detectives and Dr Kreizler’s household and mental institution that really struck a chord with me. The laurels for acting have to go to Q’Orianka Kilcher as Kreizler’s dumb housekeeper Mary. The actress whispers not one word and yet the love and jealousy between she and Kreizler is played out with exquisite nuance.

Another great performance came courtesy of Matt Lintz as Stevie the street urchin. Stevie is disguised as one of the boy whores to entrap the killer. Lintz plays Stevie as a boy who has had to grow-up way beyond his years living on his wits. And yet when we find him in close proximity to the killer we see him for what he is: a minor in peril.

Though CGI graphics must have been brought into play to describe a New York with railroads flying over great swathes of the squalid city, it was almost indiscernible. I always longed to see New York in the 1890s with the Vanderbilt mansions lining Fifth Avenue and The Alienist granted that wish. The scenes set in high society are richly evoked and those extras must have eaten up a decent chunk of the $5 million so sumptuously and accurately costumed one and all were.

I am not going to write any spoilers except to say that the investigation is taken into Indian country and the killer proves to be as vulnerable as the boy whores he preys on. There are no happy endings in The Alienist and in this I find Caleb Carr to be true to the lives of his characters. Carr reunited the team of detectives for an even more shocking book entitled Angel of Darkness that centres on the abduction of a little girl. If this isn’t adapted for Netflix soon I shall cancel my subscription.

Actually, strike that. I live for Netflix now and barely turn on my television any more. I am a binge-watcher and am already four episodes in to RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 10. Drag Race is now a global phenomenon with serious rumours of a British series fronted by RuPaul and Michelle Visage. Personally, I’d prefer to see British Queens appear on the US version. There is only one RuPaul’s Drag Race and we don’t want any British production company to fuck with the format.

I do urge you to watch The Alienist. It reminded me most of Lynda LaPlante’s Prime Suspect starring Helen Mirren as Inspector Jane Tennyson in period costume. The Alienist shares the same production values of being unapologetically graphic and psychologically as deep as the ocean. So you see they do make them like that.

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She Enjoys Being a Queen. April 2018.

Dear Rowley,

I think Britain has reached a consensus that HM Queen Elizabeth II has been the foundation of all that we respect over her long reign. We have seen The Queen under pressure during her Annus Horribilis in 1992 and the even more catastrophic 1997 when Diana, Princess of Wales was killed. The Queen has emerged from the divorce of three of her children, the death of Diana and the controversial marriage of Prince Charles and his mistress more popular than at any point in her reign since the Coronation in 1953.

The Queen’s dedication to her duty – whether her life be long or short – is admirable. Her Majesty has remained essentially unchanged apart from age as all that is the best of British. But, Lordy, it must be fun being Queen. Her Majesty has met virtually all of the people of consequence during her long reign. She is seen to work steadfastly for the country. But she also has a teacher’s calendar with lots of lovely holidays at Balmoral, Sandringham or cruising the northernmost seas around Scotland.

I often fantasise about how marvellous it must be for someone to bring your breakfast tray every morning, lay out what you are going to wear throughout the day or night and call up from the vaults what must be the most valuable private jewellery collection in the world when entertaining at Buck House or Windsor Castle. The tiaras alone must provide hours of pleasure for Her Majesty and her personal assistant Angela Kelly.

Never having to open a purse or visit a cash point must take away one of the greatest miseries of modern life. Having transport that whisks you from one location to another with military precision must also be super duper. I felt this most profoundly at the Royal Warrant Holders’ Garden Party a few years’ back.

The Queen had had to sit through yet more tedious acts on an open air stage in Buckingham Palace’s garden. Katherine Jenkins warbled the National Anthem as the entire Royal Family looked on. I was very close to the Royal Family when they decamped indoors at half time. Moments later I noticed that the Sovereign’s flag had been replaced by the Union Jack signifying that The Queen was not stopping for the second half. She was probably well on her way to Windsor Castle when the rest of the family glumly rejoined the throng.

As you know, the Crown Jewels and Her Majesty’s personal collection of jewellery are two separate entities. The Queen has pieces that have been passed down the family as early as the reigns of King William III and Queen Mary. The Queen’s great grandmother Queen Alexandra and her grandmother Queen Mary added significantly to the pot not least in the aftermath of the Russian Revolution.

As a seasoned observer of Her Majesty’s jewellery at Royal Ascot, I can confirm that though HM always wears Granny’s pearl and diamond button earrings, she has a vast collection of brooches, pearl necklaces, tiaras and bracelets. Some are gifts from foreign potentates but the lion’s share was inherited directly from Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother.

We are familiar now with the Duchess of Cornwall being decked out like a Christmas tree wearing jewels from Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother’s collection and even Queen Mary’s Delhi Durbar fender tiara. I recall Jasper Conrarn telling me that Lady Sarah Chatto has a bank vault filled with magnificent pieces that belonged to her mother Princess Margaret that she rarely has occasion to wear. This after a landmark auction of Princess Margaret’s estate organised by Lady Sarah and the 2nd Earl Snowdon at Christie’s which included Margaret’s wedding Poltimore Tiara.

The Queen’s jewellery collection alone makes her one of the world’s wealthiest women regardless of the Sunday Times Rich List. The jewels are of incalculable value. Queen Victoria made it very clear what constituted Crown Jewels and personal jewels; a pattern that Her Majesty has followed. I would estimate that there are over thirty tiaras in The Queen’s private collection for Ms Meghan Markle to choose from when she weds next month.

It must be great fun to be Queen and it shows. Since the death of Princess Margaret and Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, HM has become the nation’s grandmother. She can be mischievous as the parachute jump at the Olympic Games proves as did the little film she made with Prince Harry about the Invictus Games. The Queen is also speaking out more. The Attenborough tour of Buckingham Palace gardens showed The Queen’s wicked sense of humour and the twinkle that never leaves her eyes unless she is seriously displeased.

I remember one of Her Majesty’s security guards telling me at Ascot that The Queen sees everything. This was proven when a cameraman wore a baseball cap with his morning tails in the Parade Ring. The Queen noticed. She also noticed when one of the researchers wore too short a skirt in the Royal Enclosure on the trackside lawn. A security guard was sent to tell the poor girl that she was in The Queen’s eyeline.

I believe The Queen deserves much happiness and amusement in her twilight years. Strike that, The Queen looks more spry now than she ever did in the 1970s, 80s and 90s. Expect to see The Queen do an awful lot more television and possibly more pranks. Why shouldn’t she enjoy the benefits of being Queen when she has had to put up with the responsibilities all of her life? So here’s to Her Majesty.

 

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Poor Little Rich Boy. April 2018.

Dear Rowley,

Billionaire poor little rich boy Matthew Mellon’s death – possibly drug related – is suspicious. The man was born in a gilded cage and had in his final years turned $2 million dollars into over $1 billion trading on Ripple currency which is similar, I believe, to Bitcoin. Was the death suspicious? Hell yes. Not only do rich, glamorous people in the public eye have a habit of marrying their kind, they also have a propensity to die young. In Mellon’s case he was on the way to rehab in Mexico when he allegedly had a last lapse.

I met Mellon at Pitti Uomo when he was launching his Penny Loafer business Harry’s which he sold for a profit within years of founding the company. At the time he was married to Tamara ‘Jimmy Choo’ Mellon and I got the feeling he had launched the brand because he was bored. He was sinisterly handsome in the flesh and, I thought at the time, haunted.

The death of Matthew Mellon seems to confirm that the world is run by money. Bitcoin and Ripple are almost laughable because they technically do not exist outside the cyber sphere. It is as if the Illuminati or whatever they want to call themselves are laughing at the poor proles whose lives are spent chasing filthy lucre. I would say that the Illuminati is a cabal of people who inherited all the riches that the world had to offer. It is the people in the shadows who run the show. The wealthy in the public eye are so much pantomime.

I’m not in agreement that people in the pop music industry are part of the ruling class. Look at Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson and Prince. Their lives were chaos in latter years and all of them died in suspicious circumstances. Why? Because they were worth more to the money men and women dead than alive.

I don’t think politicians are a part of the ruling cabal. All those numpties who visit Davos once a year are being given something to do with themselves to keep them out of mischief. Of course politicians’ actions hurt the little people but they are not the concern of the people who run the show. What’s a few bodies to them when Theresa May and Donald Trump bomb Syria? The Illuminati have bigger fish to fry.

There are too many removals of people in the public eye to doubt that someone is pulling the puppet strings. How else does potentially the greatest US president John F. Kennedy end up being mown down in his prime. What about the murder of Martin Luther King and possibly Marilyn Monroe the 20th century’s most famous blonde?

I have a feeling that the Illuminati hide in the open air. The Information Age is simply there to occupy our time and keep our eyes away from what or whom is really ruling our lives. It perplexes me that superstars in the pop industry have become our golden calfs. We worship people such as Madonna, Beyonce, Rihanna and Gaga who all dabble in satanic imagery. Madonna’s sacrilegious side is as well documented as her obsession with sex. At the Super Bowl – the largest TV audience worldwide out there – Madonna quite openly dressed as a Baphomet devil. Her entire set was filled with satanic imagery.

This too is pantomime as I believe is most organised religion. Religion keeps the masses in check. The dark side of religion has much the same effect. Are some people wicked? I suspect they are drawn to a dark side by people twitching the puppet strings. Money is the real God on earth even though we are shown time and time again that it is a false god.

It is as if the puppet masters are showing us that money rarely if ever buys happiness. I suspect it makes misery more comfortable but that’s another story. Look at Barbara Hutton the original poor little rich girl. She was worth $1 billion in today’s money by the time she was twenty-one. She died in her sixties with a net worth of $3,500 after being conned by the parasites that surrounded her. Where were Matthew Mellon’s friends and family one wonders?

I wonder if it is the Warren Buffets and Mark Zuckerbergs who are running the show. Anyone who can go from a dorm room idea at Harvard to a multi-billionaire has to be part of the club. They are also vulnerable being virtual billionaires. Zuckerberg’s fortune was seriously dented by the selling data scandal suggesting that the elders were firing a warning shot against his bows for getting too cocky.

One wonders how the young Illuminati and their playthings are chosen. A talent such as acting, beauty and an insatiable hunger for fame – what Gaga calls The Fame Monster – might qualify people for favour. I don’t happen to think it buys them into the club. Who the Illuminati are I do not know but I suspect they have no footprint in the fame game.

I loathe money. I need it but I loathe it. People like me would be quite contented to earn just enough to continue living a contented and fulfilled life doing what we like and loving who we like. We have no aspirations to achieve any kind of power over other people. Frankly, we’re not interested in other people over and above our friends and our family. We are no trouble even though I suspect the Illuminati have great fun throwing obstacles in our way. All we can do is KBO: keep buggering on.

 

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