July 06, 2012

Marquess of Londonderry

Marquess of Londonderry

The Spectator lost one of its most loyal readers when Alistair, 9th Marquess of Londonderry, died recently of that most dreaded pancreatic cancer, the very same that had killed his brother-in-law Jimmy Goldsmith fifteen years ago. Alistair would have been 75 in September, an age that Jimmy never came near. Sir James once told me that Alistair had the best brain of anyone he knew, with almost encyclopedic knowledge about politics and music.

Jimmy would ring him and casually ask in those pre-Google times who was the vice president of, say, Upper Volta. Back would come an unpronounceable name, Goldsmith would have his secretary check it, and presto, Alistair would yet again have come up trumps. He was an expert on Liszt, whom he played beautifully but mostly in private, and he was the greatest pun artist of all time.

I met him fifty years ago with one of his closest friends, John Aspinall, and they immediately quizzed me—harangued me, rather—about Oscar Wilde, yours truly having made the mistake of saying I knew more than most men about the Irish playwright. Just as with Jimmy and Aspers, we never had a cross word, and he’d burst out cackling whenever I’d say something outrageous about the state of the world, especially when I was politically insensitive. His nephew Robin Birley, in whose fantastic new club I now spend my evenings, looks and acts just like him but needs to work on his puns a bit more.

“Pugs’ regatta has now replaced Royal Ascot week, the Chelsea Flower Show, and Lord’s and Henley as the year’s premier social event.”

Speaking of Alistair and the Goldsmiths, Jemima Khan had a housewarming party in Oxfordshire that left me quite warm in places one does not mention in the Speccie’s elegant pages (unlike my Low Life colleague Jeremy Clarke, who as usual had me in stitches writing about my mentor Porfirio Rubirosa’s big bamboo last week). Many beautiful young women came to one of England’s prettiest houses, the Bath Stone alone distracting my eye from the female forms floating about. The place was full of old friends, with a spiffy Nicky Haslam flitting around dropping smoldering Noel Cowardisms and other verbal gems such as, “veddy, veddy vulgar to be confrontationally erotic.”

I sat next to the smartest man in the house by far, Sir Bob Geldof, downing vodkas nonstop and taking it all in when a dream walked up and ruined my evening. “You promised in Regensburg I was the only one,” said the beauty, “so what’s all this about Jessica Raine and Rebecca Hall and that deputy editor of yours?” I tried to speak but in the state I was in no sound came out, just some stuttering and hard swallowing. Then I kissed the dream’s hand and collapsed on Bob Geldof, who said something like, “Get the f—- off me, you f———fool.”

It was about three years ago in the Thurn Und Taxis Palace in Regensburg for Maya Schoenburg’s birthday where I cornered a beauty named Sophie and chatted her up for one hour without respite. After exactly sixty minutes of the longest soliloquy ever, Sophie smiled ever so sweetly, gave me a light kiss on the cheek, and left on the arm of Lord Freddy Windsor, whom she married soon after. I got over it but not really. One never does when one fails, no? Of all the country houses in the world, she had to come into this one, was my first and last thought as Geldof shook me off and I sat glazed looking at Jemima’s legs and making strange, animal-like noises. My buddy Charlie Glass assisted me to my car, where a kind driver made sure I got home safely.


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