Monthly Archives: November 2013

Remembering Robert Mapplethorpe

I thought, in acknowledgement of it being World AIDS Day on 1st December and with the recent success of Patti Smith’s memoir Just Kids, it might be interesting for readers of my blog to have the chance to revisit my memories of the photographer Robert Mapplethorpe.

In 1984, Quartet’s New York office was more and more on the watch for likely books emanating from local contributors. Their recent discovery was Robert Mapplethorpe, who was attracting attention not only for his outstanding talent but also because of some of the subjects he chose to photograph. He was already revered and loathed in equal measure. Everyone agreed, however, that with his unique but disturbing style he ranked among the best photographers of his generation. He pushed degeneracy to extremes and stretched the boundaries of homoerotic imagery to a level of debauchery that was wilful, shocking and unashamedly revolting.

I met Mapplethorpe in his studio-cum-apartment in the Bowery. With Quartet having become internationally known for publishing plush photographic books, I had it in mind that he could be a natural addition to the list. He was oddly dressed in leather gear, with such fetishistic sex-aids as dildos, chains and whips strewn around his living area. The walls were covered with amazing photographs of young men and women in bizarre but powerful poses. The atmosphere was disturbing and I felt slightly uncomfortable until he led me into an adjoining room to show me some of his exquisite photographs of flowers. By these I was totally enchanted, affected by their beauty and the magic they seemed to generate. There was no doubting that they were masterworks and their creator a genius. I began to warm to him and to feel a growing optimism about the chances of landing him as a Quartet author. He said that he had photographed Rebecca Fraser – who he knew worked at Quartet – when she was in New York, and offered me a signed print. Thus the meeting ended on a positive note as we agreed to think about the most suitable terms for a future collaboration.

After this first encounter I was feeling quite excited about having his name on the list of famous photographers we published. On my next trip to New York, a couple of months later, I went to see him in the Bowery again. His place was still as cluttered as before with sexual contraptions of every imaginable kind, some of them with sado-masochistic connotations. This time I felt distinctly uncomfortable and had to struggle to maintain an appearance of relaxed unconcern. Robert was as outrageously dressed as usual, all in black leather, and although he lacked a whip he seemed as threatening as if he had one.

We exchanged pleasantries and then went straight to the heart of the matter. He would love to be published by Quartet, he said, but he would have to insist on a large advance against royalties and total editorial control over what appeared in the book. The size of the advance he specified would have been difficult for Quartet to raise, but not impossible; his second demand was another matter. Total control would have been unacceptable under any conditions. My instincts told me that his choice of some of his photographs was likely to be so reprehensible as to make any collaboration between us untenable.

When he had to leave the room to take an urgent phone call, I wandered into another room that he used to exhibit some of his latest work. There I was brought to a standstill by a series of photographs of fist-fucking so shocking that I experienced a surge of physical nausea. I darted back to where I had been sitting when he went to answer the phone and tried to regain my composure. When he came back I said I would consider the terms he suggested and made my exit without further ado.

I never saw him again, nor did Quartet ever publish any book of his. Robert Mapplethorpe died of the ravages of AIDS a few years later, hailed as one of the most accomplished photographers of his time. His fist-fucking photographs were later exhibited in New York amid a barrage of controversy. Today there are collectors worldwide of his photographs, which sell at auction for great sums of money.

I remember those more innocent times in New York with great affection, before the horrific onslaught of AIDS destroyed so many talented and creative men. I still covet my signed Robert Mapplethorpe print as a souvenir of my two meetings with him. He was indeed a photographer’s photographer.

Sophia Waugh

Last night we celebrated the launch of Cooking People, by Sophia Waugh, at Daunt on Marylebone High Street. Here is my speech in full.

Ladies and gentlemen, Sophia Waugh, the author of the book we are celebrating this evening, is very close to my heart.

It was thanks to her father, whom I had met casually on a number of occasions without ever really getting to know him and who subsequently wrote me an unexpected letter in 1984. It was a request for me to consider interviewing his eldest daughter Sophia – described by him as beautiful and fresh out of university – for a possible job at Quartet Books, an outfit he always referred to in the press as ‘Naim Attallah’s seraglio’.

I duly obliged and asked Sophia to come and see me at Namara House, where I had my headquarters. She arrived, simply dressed, and seemed totally confident and relaxed. She sat opposite me with her legs neatly tucked under her bottom and prattled away with no hint of inhibition or any special concession to formality.

I was won over by the sheer warmth of Sophia’s personality and had no hesitation about offering her a job.

Her response was spontaneously joyful as she accepted it on the spot and said she was prepared to start as soon as possible. Instead of shaking her hand as she left the office, I bent forward and kissed her.

Unbeknown to me she had already attended another interview with Alexander Chancellor, the then-editor of the Spectator and a close friend of her father. He too had offered her a post and according to his account she had said she would take it.

When the news broke that Sophia would be joining Quartet, Alexander complained to her father of his disappointment that she was choosing Quartet over the Spectator. Auberon was forthright with his response: ‘You should have kissed her, as Naim did.’

Well, this heralded the beginning of my warm and loving association with the Waugh family – especially with Bron, whose memory will remain with me until the day I too depart from this earth to the unknown beyond.

But we are here today to launch Sophia’s excellent book, Cooking People. With modern cookery books always at the top of the bestseller lists, Sophia looks at the differences – and the similarities – between cooking then and now. Looking not at the grand dishes of the courts, but at the domestic cookery at the heart of our culture, Sophia traces the food writers who have changed the way we eat.

Her contribution is an ideal Christmas gift since the Festive Season invariably entails indulging in culinary delights. So it is an opportunity to show Sophia the generous side to your character by purchasing more than one copy of her book to make her evening a memorable event.

I will now conclude this longer address than usual by quoting her own words, which encapsulates the thrust of her subject: ‘We eat, we think about eating, and we write, and read, about eating. Fashions may change, but there are some things that never can. On the walls of the oldest known tomb of an Egyptian woman are painted pictures of bread-making so detailed that they amount to a recipe…’

I hope after all this endeavour you will come up trumps by dipping deep in your pockets and flashing fifty-pound notes, and requesting little change.

Beware the Little Woman’s Wrath

There are two old sayings: ‘He that has a wife has strife’; and, ‘He that has a wife has a master.’

The husband with his new girlfriend

A tycoon who claims to be bankrupt was ordered to pay his estranged wife £20 million last week after a judge ruled he has hidden his wealth from the High Court. Mr Justice Moor said he believed Scot Young, fifty-one, was worth £45 million with ‘wads of cash in his possession’, and gave him twenty-eight days to pay Michelle Young the lump sum, plus £5 million in costs.

Instead of being relieved with the ruling Mrs Young, forty-nine, who wanted at least £300 million, called the decision a ‘disgrace’ and asserted that the saga was far from over. The ruling, which marks the climax of a bitterly acrimonious seven-year divorce battle, has enraged his wife who has accused her husband of fraud and manipulation in claiming that he was now bankrupt and had debts to the tune of £28 million.

Mrs Young has apparently spent already £6.4 million in legal fees  and expert costs in an all-consuming fight to the financial death with her husband, whom she claims is worth ‘a few billion’ and has robbed her and their two daughters by concealing his assets offshore (see picture below).

It is hard to believe that in a time of world-wide austerity a sum of £20 million awarded, regardless of how much her husband may or may not be worth, is sniffed at by a wife whose greed is unlikely to gain her any sympathy from the public. It simply goes to prove that a woman either loves or hates in extremes.

And Mrs Young is a prime example of the dangers that await a married couple when their bond is ruptured and the woman’s revenge takes over her life, often to a calamitous end. A sad story of a failed marriage fought in a public arena with no holds barred, as in this case, will reflect badly on the institution of marriage that a lot of us consider as sacrosanct. The young generation will feel threatened by such a display of damnable behaviour, which will give them pause to ponder before taking the challenge of any matrimonial immersion that should last a lifetime.

I hope Mrs Young will reflect deeply and sensibly and put an end to this unpleasant saga that has run its course by now.

I can only pray that a divine intervention will follow to heal the wounds of this senseless battle by two people who must have once loved each other and brought up two lovely daughters to bless their union.

Is the Female Deadlier than the Male?

Rivalry among women is more predominant than society is willing to admit.

Even the best of friends compete to outshine one another. I remember Marlene Dietrich, when she was living on Avenue Montaigne in Paris, always made sure that any companion or friend who accompanied her to an event was less attractive than herself so that she would remain the focus of attention. It is part of the capriciousness of the female species, embedded in their genes.

The latest incident which has gripped the headlines last week was the case of Rebecca Adlington, the Olympic gold medal winner, getting all weepy and losing her self-confidence at the sight of bikini-clad beauty queen Amy Willerton in the Australian jungle.

Adlington, twenty-four, has two gold medals to her credit as well as seventeen other major awards and is Britain’s most successful swimmer ever. Now retired, she has great stamina and oodles of talent and an athlete’s tireless work ethic. She is popular, a good conversationalist and is fortunate to be engaged to a debonair fellow swimmer, Harry Needs.

Her body has a healthy look and a perfect swimmer’s form that many a woman would love to have. However, it didn’t take her long to lose her normal poise in the rough and uncomfortable surroundings in the jungle pit of I’m a Celebrity – and knuckle-under in wallflower anguish.

Experts believe that Rebecca could suffer psychological damage as they accuse the ITV show’s makers of ‘deliberately manipulating’ Ms Adlington to increase viewer ratings. The athlete covered herself in a one-piece swimsuit last Friday, a day after she broke down confessing she has struggled with abusive comments about her looks for years.

The outburst was triggered by the sight of Amy Willerton wearing revealing bikinis to soap herself under a waterfall built into the programme’s set. Ms Adlington became tearful during an interview as she discussed her own body hang-ups which came to the fore in the shadow of Amy’s curvaceous body.

Willerton, twenty-one, is a very pretty girl who happened to grace my office when she accompanied a good friend of mine when he came to visit about six or seven weeks ago. I found her a bubbly sort of person, nicely spoken, intelligent and no doubt good at other essential things. She has a sexual kind of magnetism which overwhelms naturally without being contrived. I liked her a lot.

As for tearful Rebecca, may I suggest she ignores the comparison the media is highlighting and be proud and grateful for her own achievements which are pretty remarkable; not in the field of modelling, but in other venues that made her an iconic athlete. She of all people must know that rivalry in all things boosts the level of excellence.

Lord Lambton Remembered

In the mid 1980s I and my wife stayed at Tony Lambton’s home at Villa Citenale near Siena.

We were given a guest bedroom that he claimed was haunted. It was typical of Tony to try to unnerve his guests while playing the perfect host. The ghosts must have been hibernating when we were there as they never made their presence felt. Any discomfort we experienced was of a less ethereal kind, for the old-fashioned bed had a sinking mattress that made sleep virtually impossible. During the night we were forced to lift it off its base and deposit it on the floor to give it a flat, stable surface on which we tried to get a night’s repose. Tony’s response was to be rather amused when he realized his guests had spent the night on the floor in preference to making the most of an imposing bed that had no doubt been witness to many an indiscretion, perhaps even of an ecclesiastical nature. The villa had been the family home of Fabio Chigi, who became Pope Alexander VII in 1655 and rebuilt the house for his nephew, Cardinal Flavio Chigi.

Tony’s life could have been described as having much the same flavour as that of a dissolute monarch of a bygone age, but in his case his wicked sense of humour redeemed his less orthodox indulgences. There was also a counter-balance in his notorious frugality. Once, when there were several people expected for lunch at Villa Citenale, he suggested we should have as a starter a tomato salad. He then led the way into the gardens where there was a vegetable patch he tended, of which he was very proud. Dozens of tomatoes were flourishing in the Italian sun, but I had only picked a few before he commanded. ‘Don’t pick any more.’ I tried to say there wouldn’t be enough for everyone, but he was adamant: ‘I can’t stand wasting food!’ Another time I took my wife and Lambton’s live-in companion Clair Ward into Florence for a stupendous meal. When we got back. Tony was furious at what he called our wasteful pursuit of gluttony. He had his eccentricities, but was a great friend and, to some, a much feared enemy. His death in December 2006 made our world a duller place.

It is such a pity that his children are now in litigation regarding his estate, which he left to his son in its entirety. Who says that inheritance is a blessing, when it often divides families and sows the seeds of bitter conflict.

A Book for Christmas: The Year of Miracle and Grief

First published in 1984, this gem of a book is hauntingly enchanting, and has a serenade quality like a piece of music that never dates.

A twelve-year-old boy finds magic, mystery, romance and sadness at the beautiful Lake Baikal, deep in Siberia, considered the oldest lake on earth. As his astonishment yields to inquisitiveness, he begins to explore the fairy tale of the area… 

miracle and griefTranslated from the Russian by Jennifer Bradshaw, it never loses its poetic flow and its impact transports the reader to a world where innocence and charm transcend the cruel world we live in.

It’s a book for Christmas, written with flair and an imaginative perception by Leonid Borodin, a Christian writer and Soviet dissident who was arrested more than once and imprisoned for his beliefs.

The New York Times called the book ‘a work of art so seamless and so natural one can only imagine it took ages and ages of hard dreaming to construct’. Having spent so many years in jail, the author had ample enforced time to dream – which helped him to survive and in so doing create a mythical world of his own for our enjoyment and benefit.

Order your copy now. You will not regret it.

A Woman a Week: Nicole in a Commando Mood

Nicole Scherzinger is an American singer, songwriter, television personality and occasional dancer.

Born in Honolulu, Hawaii and raised in Louisville, Kentucky, she made an appearance on the television series Pop Stars in her adulthood, earning herself a spot in the band Eden’s Crush and then achieved widespread recognition as the lead vocalist for pop group the Pussycat Dolls, one of the world’s best-selling girl groups of all time, before commencing her career as a solo recording artist in 2007.

As the primary voice for the Pussycat Dolls, both in the studio and onstage, she has sold fifty million records worldwide and a further sixteen million as a solo artist. She has earned numerous awards and accolades.

In 2013 she was ranked eighth sexiest artist of all time by VH1.

Julien MacDonald, the famous Welsh fashion designer, has done it again within the short space of one week. First, his stunning creation for Abbey Clancy, and now with one sensational, thigh-revealing catsuit for Nicole – which will certainly raise even the most static of eyebrows.

I am not in the least surprised, having followed Nicole avidly as a judge on The X-Factor. She exudes the kind of sexuality and warmth seldom seen on the screen, and has a natural tendency to shed all inhibitions when it comes to expressing her inner feelings, tearful at times, when moved by a song – and is not afraid to show it.

In brief, a multi-talented freak of nature, Nicole is deliciously edible, a banquet of delights. For this reason alone, I rate her very highly and have pleasure in nominating her as my woman of the week.

May her beauty and grace continue to entertain and enthral us at the same time.