December 04, 2021

Sir Oswald Birley, self-portrait

Sir Oswald Birley, self-portrait

Source: Wikimedia Commons

NEW YORK—It’s party time in the Bagel, and it’s about time, too. Good restaurants and elegant nightclubs are now a thing of the past, at least here in the Bagel, so it’s home sweet home for the poor little Greek boy, for dinner, drinks, and even some dancing at times. Here in my Bagel house my proudest possessions are my three Oswald Birley pictures. One is enormous and covers the whole wall of the entrance hall. The other two are a self-portrait and that of a rather grand lady. They are masterfully executed portraits, with aesthetic as well as psychological realism, an extremely difficult goal for an artist to achieve. He is more than equal to his contemporaries like Augustus John and John Lavery. Sir Oswald is Robin Birley’s grandfather, and I discovered his art a long time ago, even before I had met a 12-year-old Robin on his way to school and having lunch with his father Mark and brother Rupert at Wilton’s. It’s strange, but I prefer Sir Oswald’s paintings to some very good ones I inherited from old dad, including the best-ever Dalí, which I stupidly sold instead of keeping it for my future Austrian and Italian grandsons, a de Staël I bought from the artist’s daughter, plus a Matisse and a Balthus or two.

The only nightclub I go to nowadays is in London, 5 Hertfort Street, Robin’s place, but here in the Bagel I entertain at home, and only good friends. It is easy to drift into meaningless jargon when listing all of the things required for a successful party. There is only one: fun people. Avoiding bores is a lifelong pursuit of mine, because one bore is equivalent to three fun ones, and three bores can ruin a party of thirty. Women embalmed with Botox are bores by definition, and as my friend Michael Mailer recently pointed out, we had a lady for drinks whose last frown was registered 25 years ago. I also try to avoid men who have grown soft and feminized and were shaped by computers, movies, and rap music. Bores can be dangerous to one’s health, but even bores will run for their lives when confronted by the woman who recently wrote an article in an American neo-con monthly about what really happens to trousers that don’t fit and are returned. Seriously.

“One bore is equivalent to three fun ones, and three bores can ruin a party of thirty.”

People my age tend to be boring because they talk about health or lack thereof, hence I invite only the young. For example, the other evening Prince Pavlos of Greece arrived for dinner and brought his beautiful 25-year-old daughter Olympia along. I call her the dream in yellow. She in turn brought her fiancé, Perry Pearson, son of Lord Cowdray, who fifty years ago installed a circular bed in his boat, Hedonist. (Those were the days when boats were mostly owned by gents. Now it’s the other way round.) The dinner was more than half Hollywood, with Josh Murphy, whose father is governor of New Jersey and who is an actor, talking shop with James Toback and Michael Mailer. I stuck to my royal guest and a few young beauties who dropped in as the night progressed. The prince was mercilessly teased about attending Paris Hilton’s wedding, his presidency of Pugs Club threatened as a result.

Having spent my life in nightclubs in the past, the discovery of partying at home is a pleasant one, and extremely convenient. Even lunches are now fun. My old friend and executive editor of London’s Telegraph Group, Andrew Neil, had me for one along with his wife Susan and the great conservative columnist Douglas Murray. Alas, no one has taken seriously Douglas’ suggestion that I be named head of the BBC, but all I can say is the BBC could do no worse than it’s doing, so why not a Greek injection?

At a Thanksgiving lunch in Brooklyn, the discussion centered on a long article about Boris and Carrie in the American monthly Harper’s. It was mostly about sex, the latter a word someone now claims was invented by H.G. Wells (I doubt it). The consensus was that Carrie does not spill the beans, whereas someone like Petronella Wyatt, a journalist and ex of Boris’, always does. I’ve never met Carrie, but although I am hardly the world’s most discreet person, intimate details about ex-partners are a real no-no. What I find funny is how little the average American knows about Britain. Boris, according to the papers, is in trouble with his own side. Personally I doubt it, the hacks need to fill the pages, but even if it’s true, perhaps the American ambassador to London is following it, perhaps not. The few sophisticated Yanks who know about Boris only know about the sex and the hair. Mind you, it’s the same the other way round. Most Brits only know about Biden’s senility and age, not the fact that he’s probably the biggest fibber ever to be president, and that includes the Donald.

During the Thanksgiving very liquid lunch, when I revealed that Boris had been my editor for close to a decade, everyone wanted to know what he was really like. I said he was baggy, sweaty, and sprawled all over the place, but what redeemed him was that he daily made love lying inside his roll-up desk during office hours until one woman slammed it shut and…ouch. That’s how legends start.


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