July 05, 2014

Fort Belvedere, Surrey

Fort Belvedere, Surrey

To Fort Belvedere for a ball that most likely will discourage any more balls because of its brilliance and perfection. Galen and Hilary Weston, who lease the historic house, once the playground of Edward VIII and the venue where he signed the Instrument of Abdication in front of his three brothers, are amazing hosts. In this age of gushing exhibitionism, their restraint and good taste leave one speechless upon arrival.

On a brilliant June evening, with the weather holding, 400-some guests arrived in Windsor Great Park and descended the rolling impeccable lawns of the Fort. On the right, on a perfect grass court where once upon a time I used to regularly play with Galen, a mixed doubles game was in progress. The ladies wore long 1900s dresses and large hats. The men were in impeccable long whites. The rackets were wood. But there was something wrong. This foursome could play. On a wet slippery court in long whites and dresses, the four of them whacked the ball back and forth and the rallies were longer than the queue waiting to greet the Westons. They were obviously pros hired by Galen to add to the weekend house party atmosphere. It was an exquisite touch only spoilt for me when I told some wise guy that I had played a lot on that court and he asked me what the Duke of Windsor’s game was like.

“He’s a bit younger than me and the last time we played it was a tie, the difference being he’s brilliant in business and I have trouble with subtraction and spent forty years just playing tennis.”

Galen never ceases to amaze me, and I’m not the type that courts business tycoons. He’s not only the number one in his profession, but was as good an amateur tennis player as he was a polo player, and by that I mean top class. He’s a bit younger than me and the last time we played it was a tie, the difference being he’s brilliant in business and I have trouble with subtraction and spent forty years just playing tennis.

But back to the party. If there was a theme it had to be Arcadia, the dreamlike vision of pastoral harmony with nature. Hilary Weston was lieutenant governor of Ontario, a place one can fit ten times my country within and still have lots of room to roam, and her cherry-blossom garden with tree trunks planted on the ceiling had me confused after only three double vodkas. So I asked my friend Debbie Bismarck whether it was age or had someone spiked my drinks. “It’s a mirror, you fool,” she answered rather rudely, but thinking about it later on, how was I supposed to know these things? Everything that led to anywhere was festooned with roses, something even a philistine when it comes to decoration like myself noticed without Debbie’s help.

Most beautiful girl who once again ruined my evening with a slight kiss on my cheek and then running away quicker than you can say bolt, Sophie Windsor; most tolerant by far, Debonnaire Bismarck, who compared me to an annoying younger brother who clings, as I cut in on her seven times straight until nobody bothered to ask her anymore. Most gracious, the Prime Minister, to whom Philip Treacy introduced me, and who flashed a broad smile at my drunken antics and remembered that we had met at the Spectator’s summer party a few years before. Philip Treacy, incidentally, made my little girl’s wedding hair-dress, a Mercury’s wing-like thing that made her look absolutely beautiful.

Dumbest remark of the evening? That’s an easy one. Someone asked the multibillionaire South African tycoon Johann Rupert, who had flown the day before to Stuttgart and back in two hours, what airline he had taken. The last time Johann was inside a commercial plane he was still in short trousers, and, by the way, he is a true Afrikaner and a wonderful tough guy whom I adore.


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