High life

My dream dinner party (think Talleyrand, not Kardashian)

30 April 2016

9:00 AM

30 April 2016

9:00 AM

I read this in an American newspaper (it was written by a woman who used to edit my copy for a New York glossy, but I will withhold her name to save her embarrassment and social atrophy): ‘He’s hosted Kim Kardashian and Kanye West for Thanksgiving, regularly cruises with Justin Bieber on his party yacht…’ The mind boggles. Is it possible to read such crap without throwing up? How would you, dear reader, like to spend Thanksgiving with Kim and Kanye, or go cruising with Justin? (I’d rather fail a syphilis test than have a Kardashian as a guest.) I suppose that the selfish generation, whose motto is he who dies with the most toys wins, could easily spend a holiday with the above-mentioned unmentionables, but the my-cellphone-is-thinner-than-yours principle leaves something to be desired.

The person who has had such august personalities for dinner is a Miami nightclub owner, hardly the cream of American society, but my ex-editor meant to be nice. She was actually impressed by his name-dropping. Imagine if she had asked him to name his ideal guests for an imaginary dinner party. I wonder whom he would have picked? Charlie Sheen? The imaginary dinner party is a bit like Desert Island Discs. I was on it once, and Sue Lawley, the presenter at the time, and I got along just dandy. During a break I asked her about the choices people made, and she told me that those who picked only classical and barely listened to the pieces were mostly footballers or music-hall comedians.

Ditto for imaginary dream dinner parties. I once asked an American automobile tycoon — OK, it was Henry Ford II — whom he would have liked to dine with à deux, and he answered Paul Valéry. I was impressed. ‘How come Paul Valéry? Which poem?’ ‘Poem? What poem? It’s my whorehouse on rue Paul Valéry in Paris.’ Sure enough, he was right. Billy’s was a whorehouse in rue Paul Valéry, and I had been a client once, but Madame Claude had left Billy a mile behind in the quality of service. Back then, when girls didn’t give it away as often as they do nowadays, whorehouses were good business. But back to dinner parties, imaginary ones.

I suppose I should start with myself. Who, if I could, would I have to dinner? As I’m only interested in history, I suppose they would all have to be people who have played a great part in it. Among the Ancient Greeks I would be in over my head, so I’d pick someone who was both a great warrior and womaniser, Alcibiades. He was also the first conservative, putting himself above the state. When the Athenians went after him for midwifing the Sicilian disaster, he defected to Sparta. When he slept with the Spartan queen and had to skedaddle out of town, he went over to the Persians. That’s where the Greeks finally caught up with him, and after his girlfriend covered him with her shawl trying to protect him from their arrows, the killers went back to the mainland and said that he was dressed as a woman. Alcibiades was an Athenian aristocrat whose teacher was Socrates, and there’s a wonderful passage where A is riding while old Soc is walking. I remember asking my old dad why it was so and he told me: patricians rode, plebs walked.

I don’t think I would have Napoleon because the Corsican blamed others when he made mistakes, and although I’m second to no one in my admiration for him, in his period I would choose Prince Talleyrand, the Bishop of Autun, foreign minister under Napo as well as before and after him. Napoleon once famously called him ‘a shit in a silk stocking’, but Talleyrand was much more than that. He managed to seduce three generations of the Duchess of Dino, granny, mother and daughter, as difficult an achievement as it was to survive Napoleon’s rule and still hold sway in Vienna. His illegitimate son, Count de Flahaut, fought with Napoleon in Russia and was the lover of three queens, although two of them were Napo’s sisters. Three was a lucky number for the Talleyrand family.

Needless to say, Papa Hemingway would be included. I wonder what Alcibiades and Talleyrand would make of Papa? Hemingway’s style cannot be imitated because it comes from inner necessity. Thousands have tried, but their writing remains a pale imitation. Papa was haunted and wrote hauntingly. He’d be great with Alcibiades on nature and rivers, but cool to Talleyrand’s exquisite manners. Or maybe not. Hemingway appreciated the old aristocracy, as long as they were not too stupid, something the old fox certainly wasn’t. But he wouldn’t bring up women. He was old-fashioned and I’m sure the Greek and the Frenchman would have understood.

Finally, I’d have Prince Metternich as the fourth — a great seducer. He was once late for a conference and a whole province was lost to Austria while the winners were redistributing real estate. When he was informed, he sighed and said, ‘But she was worth it.’ When the Greeks asked for the King of Rome to become their first monarch after the liberation in 1827, Metternich refused. He knew Napo’s son was tubercular and the mild Greek climate would prolong his life. He kept him in Austria and the young man died in his early twenties. Metternich did not want too many Napoleonic descendants around.

So the next time you plan a dream imaginary dinner, give a thought to poor old Kim and Kanye, and don’t forget Justin B.

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

You might disagree with half of it, but you’ll enjoy reading all of it. Try your first 10 weeks for just $10

Show comments
  • davidshort10

    I doubt very much if any of his hoped-for guests would accept an invitation from a boozy, born-rich, ex-jailbird playboy.

    • Sanctimony

      You really don’t like Mr Taki, do you… what’s the problem… too long sitting in the dark and spanking the monkey ?

      • davidshort10

        I don’t think he’d like me very much, and I don’t think he’d like you very much, unless you too are a rich, right-wing, drunken playboy. You really show yourself up with this wanton insulting of another Spectator reader. I am sitting in the warmth of an African sun and can potter about on a readers’ forum on a working day as I have just finished a contract with an international organisation and am packing for a three month sabbatical in England and various spots in the Med. How about you? I won’t lower myself to your level but I suspect you are in your forties and living with your old mum and have never had a proper job. Over and out. Won’t be responding again. Hope you have plenty of Kleenex. Don’t spurt on your Superman posters.

        • PetaJ

          The above makes you commercially successful and well done. However, you are clearly intellectually inadequate. If you weren’t, you would never have fired that opening salvo at Taki. He may not need to work, which clearly makes you very envious, but he at least uses his brain and has a knowledge of history and an intellect of which you can only dream. .

          • davidshort10

            Duh! My degrees from the LSE and Manchester Business School make me ‘clearly’ intellectually inadequate. However, I am not ‘commercially successful’ because much of my work in Africa has not been done for money but for humanitarian reasons, and some of it has been done on UN service in hazardous areas. I am not envious at all of a drunken playboy who has never had a job and so it does not ‘clearly’ – a word you like to use – make me very envious. Have you just woken up from a hangover? I would not be able to make a living without using my brain and my intellect. Are you perhaps someone who inherited money and similarly has not had a proper job? Even his column is not a real job because he has never cashed one of the cheques. He bed blocks a column that could go to someone with talent. But the MD of the Spectator keeps him on for snob reasons. I really must dream tonight of having Taki’s intellect! I wonder what are the Ivy League universities from which he found time from the tennis court or bordello to graduate! Please list your own credentials and perhaps your real name, if you have the courage. I would also like to know the mind set of a troll.

          • Sanctimony

            Taki attended the University of Virginia, founded by Thomas Jefferson, so obviously had a much better and enlightened education than you… a natural-born Richardhead and well-balanced into the bargain, with chips on both shoulders…

            You are quite obviously a total inadequate, educated at a couple of lefty institutions which espouse and engender envy and didacticism and offer little in the way of the appreciation of history or the classics…

            Trust that you managed to cop a good dose of AIDS while pursuing and boasting about your humanitarian work….

          • PetaJ

            I would not stoop to calling a fellow Spectator reader a troll because they disagree with me. That sets your intellectual level. Academic qualifications and intellect do not necessarily go hand in hand. Knowledge is useless without the ability to apply it – that is where intellect comes in. I do have a high level of tertiary education from a top university but that is irrelevant.I actually put myself through university by starting work at 16 during school holidays, uni vacations and week-ends and have never inherited any money. Some of the most intelligent, successful and wisest people I have known have never been near a university.

          • #toryscum

            bragging about your educational history on an anonymous internet forum to someone you don’t know is really quite pathetic, isn’t it?

        • Sanctimony

          Of course you won’t respond… you are all p*ss and wind….

  • PetaJ

    My ideal dinner party? Ayn Rand, Omar Khayyam, Nostradamus and……..Taki!

    • #toryscum

      I recently read atlas shrugged, bizarrely on the indirect recommendation of bowe bergdahl, and I thought it was absolutely brilliant!

      • PetaJ

        Yes, it is. So is The Fountainhead which was also made into a rather disappointing film.

  • Sanctimony

    Ah, Talleyrand, the alleged father of Delacroix and who, on return from exile in America stated: I found there a country with thirty-two religions and only one sauce…

    He also had the distinction of being excommunicated by the Pope…

    • Jacobi

      What a fascinating character, and such good taste. No, not that. I mean in returning to the Church on his deathbed!

      • ARJ_Turgot

        Well Napoleon also punished him by taking away his personal chef. It seems to have been a considerable personal loss.

  • Frank

    As if Talleyrand would consent to have dinner with you!

  • Fraser Bailey

    I can never understand these people who would want Mandela and Ghandi etc at a dinner party. Personally I’d want, say, George Best, Nell Gynn, Hannibal and, to add a little intellectualism, Isiah Berlin.

    • Sanctimony

      Or even Nell Gwyn

  • terence patrick hewett

    James Ussher, Chaucer, Bill Waggle-dagger, Eartha Kitt, Becky Sharp, Josephine Baker, Marie Lloyd, Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson: hosted by Emmeline Lucas at Mallards in Tilling.

  • Ingmar Blessing

    Two Germans (or, well Prussians) for a good dinner party:
    – Philipp zu Eulenburg-Hertefeld, intelligent, influential, reform-oriented, non-militaristic, but most importantly: Gay and flamboyant! Way too under-appreciated. Things quickly became heated up, once they’ve sacked him.
    – Alexander von Humboldt, natural scientist and discoverer, just brilliant. Is he still known? Well, he should be.

  • retundario

    Hitler and Hulk Hogan. My ideal brunch would be with Jimmy Cricket and Hulk Hogan (again).