High life

Tales from my private jet

13 March 2021

9:00 AM

13 March 2021

9:00 AM

Gstaad

I was very sad to read of Rupert Hambro’s death. I didn’t know him well, but first met him long ago, along with his younger brother Rick, also gone. They were both quintessential English gentlemen: handsome, kind and with a great sense of humour. Rupert invited me to lunch quite a few times, but because of circumstance I was never able to reciprocate. The last one was at Wiltons, which he owned, I believe, but he never gave any indication that all was not well. In an age of crybabies and professional victims, Rupert stood out like a saint in hell. He leaves his lovely wife Robin, a Philadelphia-born beauty, and two children.

Thinking of Rupert and Wiltons, I remembered a dinner I gave there long ago for my friend Nick Scott to meet some of The Spectator people. Nick was a very funny man and writer who had not managed to publish his gems, so I decided to turn him into Shakespeare by introducing him to those in charge at this magazine: namely, our chairman Andrew Neil, the then editor Matthew d’Ancona, and the recently departed editor, Boris. Also invited were my then High Life editor Liz, and the love of my life — unbeknown to her or anyone else at The Speccie — Mary Wakefield. I sat between Liz and Mary, placed Boris at the head at one end and Andrew at the other, and some 25 of us began to make whoopee.


Oh yes, I almost forgot. I invited most of my Pugs friends to the dinner — such as the Bismarcks and the Hoares — plus some other sweet young things. Our chairman Andrew was still a bachelor back then, and arrived late from recording his TV show accompanied by two ladies (or perhaps it was three — or four or five). Mary, Boris and I went out for a ciggie at one point, and Boris mentioned that he had to decide by the following morning whether or not to run for mayor. If memory serves, Mary said that he should. When I asked — begged — Mary to come with me to a nightclub, she said that she was off very early the next morning to Rome. This was a eureka moment as I, too, was going to the Eternal City. I know, it sounds a bit pathetic, but one has to put one’s best foot forward. I was a married man in his sixties and not exactly a magnet for ladies who didn’t believe that diamonds are a girl’s best friend, so the pitch was: ‘I have a plane taking me and some friends to Rome early tomorrow. Would you accept a ride?’ Eventually — and for the first and last time in her life — she said yes to me.

In the meantime, inside the grand private dining room Wiltons and Rupert had made available to me, Nick Scott had taken to the grape with a vengeance and told some very funny jokes. He’d failed to mention that he’d like to contribute to the magazine — in fact, he’d gone as far as to tell Matthew, Andrew and yours truly what a lousy job we were doing at Britain’s oldest and greatest weekly. Nick Scott and Tim Hoare have since died, as of course has Rupert, but I have such pleasant memories of these dear friends that I need to share them.

Things got worse the next morning when, on our flight to Rome, Charlie Glass, lefty by political persuasion, decided that the lavatory did not have enough headroom and complained rather bitterly about it. This prompted Bolle Bismarck to ask him if his commie friends flew on bigger private jets, which Charlie thought a cheap shot. Mary made matters worse when she told me that the purpose of her trip was to attend Gian Carlo Menotti’s Spoleto music festival. The reason for our trip was less refined perhaps, the Valentino ball for the 1,000 richest but worst-read people in Europe. Charlie Glass was attending an extreme left-wing party’s annual conference, whose theme that year was how to deal with the curse of private jets. When someone asked me at the Valentino bash what was going on in Spoleto, I told them it was a rap concert for ex-felons.

Mind you, all this was about 15 years ago. Some of the protagonists are dead, Boris is on top, and I’m wondering why supposedly conservative newspapers are making a fuss over his girlfriend and decorating costs. Why are Lord and Lady Bamford in the news? All they do is help people, their generosity knowing no bounds. Why is Damian Aspinall, whom I haven’t seen in 30 years, being investigated? All he does is save wild animals that need saving. And, while I’m at it, why isn’t Philip Green being investigated for being much too vulgar to be allowed to call his miserable self ‘Sir’?

Finally, guess what happened to my buddy Charlie Glass? This is unconfirmed, but apparently, as he was addressing the lefties and the commies in Rome, some Roman Judas revealed that he had flown in on a private jet and the mob went after him. What is confirmed is the following: when I rang Charlie up just as I was finishing this column, he answered in a very weak voice from the Florence hospital that saved his life. He had been struck down by a very bad case of Covid. I offered to come over and bring anything he needed, but he said he thought that the worse was over, although it had been so bad at times that he’d wished that the mob had caught him all those years ago.

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