The jokes about keeping a mistress are old, and I’ve yet to hear a truly funny one (‘The difference between a wife and a mistress is like day and night,’ and so on). Like many other good things, mistresses have fallen out of fashion, the closing pay gap between the sexes being one of the main reasons for their demise. History tells us a lot about great men who had mistresses, which most great men did. Beauty and physical attributes aside, the most important quality for a kept woman was her discretion, with a capital D.
Which brings me to the downfall of ex-King Juan Carlos of Spain, whose wife Queen Sofia I count as a very good friend. I first met him before he had become head of state-in-waiting under Franco. He was a polite young man, and we hung out together during the Monte Carlo tennis tournament with Manolo Santana and Nicola Pietrangeli. He very politely reprimanded me when I called him Juanito instead of Your Highness in front of Manolo and Nicola, and they seemed confused.
When I next met him, he was counting the days as Franco lay dying in Madrid. Princess Sofia and I had a quarrel of sorts when I defended the Greek colonels who had been condemned to death that morning — we were on a boat off Majorca — and she took umbrage. There were some beauties on board the Atlantis on that particular cruise — it was 1975 — and Juan Carlos had a roving eye. But he was very sweet to Sofia. We all know the rest. Having learned from his brother-in-law, King Constantine II of Greece, that a king does not compromise where the constitution is concerned, he resisted the Spanish military’s coup and became a hero overnight, uniting Spanish political factions in the process.
Then the roving eye took over. Please don’t get me wrong. It is as unlikely for me to condemn a womanizer as it is for the New York Times or the New Yorker to give an unfavorable review to anything written by a minority female. Juan Carlos’s behavior became unacceptable when he was unkind to his wife, who is the closest thing to a saint and who has never set a foot wrong, ever.
After numerous mistresses, one of whom I know well and find wonderful, he met his Waterloo (pardon the cliché) in Corinna Larsen, who, after marrying a man nine years her junior, was able to call herself Princess zu Sayn-Wittgenstein. So far so bad, and it gets worse. As I said earlier, discretion is what makes a great mistress. M, who was Juan Carlos’s mistress for a long time, hardly acknowledges the fact that she knows him. She wears a modest diamond ring, and when I told her I would double it in size because he was a cheapskate, she played dumb and charmingly told me it was a gift from her father. La Corinna I met once, at Pepe Fanjul’s dinner for her in New York — he’s Juan Carlos’s best buddy — and I must admit she’s got what it takes. She looked at me when we were introduced and asked how long I was staying in the Bagel.
‘As long as it takes,’ I answered, leering. She gave me one of those smiles Hollywood gals practice for hours to develop and never do. She sure was alluring, and I’m certain she is even more alluring when unencumbered by couture, but to involve her in his financial affairs was a kamikaze move by the king.
The Spanish royal family, like the Greek one, is poor, and the ruling Saudis — who are as royal as my jockstrap — were eager to be associated with their fellow royal cousins. Juan Carlos allegedly received a payment of €88 million from Saudi Arabia’s late King Abdullah in 2008 via an offshore account. Nobody ever wins when dealing with the Saudis, and Juan Carlos was no exception.
Now, as I said before, the more indiscreet a mistress in bed, the more discretion is required out of it. Things turned sour between the king and La Wittgenstein, and in the meantime, he was hardly speaking to his wife, treating her as a non-person. All these negatives, which kept on piling up, were down to his arrogance. Did he really believe that Corinna’s love had nothing at all to do with the cash he provided? (He gave her €65 million.) Or the cachet of him being king? I’ve always preferred sweet young things, but the two mistresses I had after I turned 60 both ended up multimillionaires. No, it wasn’t my cash, although I spent plenty on them; it was through marriage to unsuspecting suitors. I even attended one of the marriages.
Juan Carlos is the perfect example of what not to do. You never open up to a mistress, but always to a wife. You pick a mistress for sex but also for discretion. Gianni Agnelli of Fiat fame had so many, yet not one of them ever spoke to a reporter. Preferably you pick a mistress whose family has taught her good manners along with morality. The most immoral thing a mistress can do is spill the beans, and Corinna is now working for Albert of Monaco. I wonder which one of the two would sing first.
This article is in The Spectator’s October 2020 US edition.