At dinner the other night a friend wondered what came first, social climbing or name-dropping? It’s obviously a very silly question, and we all had a laugh about it. ‘As Achilles told me in his tent the other evening, Helen always fancied him and Menelaus didn’t like it a bit.’ Or, ‘I’m rather tired of listening to Claudius complaining that Agrippina doesn’t hold a candle to Messalina in the sack.’ We played that game for a while and then I dropped the name of Highgrove, and the first time the Queen was seen in public with Camilla. I began to describe the outdoor lunch and my guests started to drift off. No, it’s true, I was there, I told them. Actually, we were discussing the new Tom Bower opus on Prince Charles and wondering how much of it is true. I know Tom Bower slightly, and was interviewed at length by him for the hatchet job he did on Conrad Black. (I was delighted by the hatchet job he did on the phoney Mohammed Fayed.) The reason I brought up the lunch was that it’s mentioned in his new book.
According to Bower, the Queen simply would not meet Camilla at first. Then, in the summer of 2000, Prince Charles gave a lunch at Highgrove for King Constantine’s 60th birthday, and that’s where yours truly comes in. The invitation was standard but I was led to understand that details of the lunch should not appear in my next column. The King of Greece is a very nice man and a very good friend. He put it to me very gently. Security was tight as hell and my driver was very impressed. He was used to bringing me home from nightclubs in a very different state from my present one. He had a problem finding Highgrove as the house wasn’t listed under Soho clubs.
I remember saying hi to Camilla, who was acting as hostess, and seeing the Queen and noticing how tiny she is. Then we sat down to lunch and began to down a very fine wine. It was hot, the sun was shining, everyone was in a very good mood, and I behaved myself until it was time to be given a tour of the house by Prince Charles and to inspect his plants. I don’t know who was faster off the mark, the man who designed the Titanic and was first on a lifeboat, or the poor little Greek boy off to Badminton for some cricket.
The radar about the lunch was bleeping frantically, but the hacks had been unable to infiltrate. My friend John O’Sullivan and I had dinner and he was laughing over the fact that I was the only hack present but sworn to secrecy. Now here’s the gist of it: Camilla and the Queen were at different tables and as far as I know there was no contact. What took place before or after I haven’t a clue.
When Tom came to New York and interviewed me about Lord and Lady Black, I told him about an incident when Conrad was extremely angry with me for something I had written about Israel. Boris Johnson, the editor at the time, refused to fire me. That’s when I received a call from Lady Black. I was told to wait on the line — but the moment she came on I said to her in a rather aggressive manner that only the editor could fire me, and then I hung up. She didn’t get a word in edgeways, as they say.
She rang back herself, and when I answered she said, ‘Silly boy, all I wanted to do was to invite you to tea,’ which she did. I told this story to Tom Bower, but it came out rather differently in print. I can’t remember the details but his version hinted that Barbara Black had high-hatted me, if you know what I mean. Instead of her trying to make peace between her hubbie and me — the Blacks and I have always been good friends — she was portrayed as having tried to make trouble, the exact opposite.
So, are the details of Prince Charles’s self-indulgence — travelling with his own pictures and furniture, having his Martinis transported to Chatsworth — to be believed, or are they as false as those horrid details about the Blacks? Being a poor little Greek boy I can only judge from what I know, so perhaps the heir to the throne is not as self-indulgent as Bower makes him out to be.
But let’s have a bit more name-dropping. Now that Larry Kudlow is the new economic tsar in America, my stock must be on the rise. There is no nicer man in the world than Larry Kudlow, and no more knowledgable and sagacious an economist. Larry has suffered in his life, remade it, and is as polite and gracious to small-timers as he is to big shots. Last time we met we had a ciggie outside a hotel and he told me that Trump was going to win the election that coming week. I wish him all the luck; here’s a man who has been through the mill and deserves it.
And to top it all off, guess where the little rocket man and the Donald will meet and negotiate not to blow the world up? I got it straight from the horse’s mouth: John Mappin. In Kazakhstan, that’s where, and you read it here first.