Monthly Archives: May 2017

A WAKE-UP CALL FOR THE PRIME MINISTER

As polling day is coming nearer, the flagging support for the Conservatives has for the past few days reached a critical level which, if it continues, will make a future Conservative government unable to operate effectively and render Brexit a calamity waiting to happen.

The manifesto which Theresa May offered the nation is to my mind the worst ever concocted by a Tory party. It chooses to target both the middle- and the working-classes and have the rich, as the Sunday Times’ recent list shows, much wealthier than they have ever been. And as for the elderly, contrary to what she claims, they will end up in a state of fearful penury.

When David Cameron resigned I was one of the enthusiasts who backed Theresa for I truly believed that she was the best candidate available to lead the nation, given the mess that the referendum left in its wake. But as she triumphantly took the reins and the head of the new Tory government, she radically changed. Her rhetoric veered to a hard Brexit and her early success turned into a power-driven momentum that caused its appeal to the common voter to sag, and is now causing the Pound to crash and the City to fear the worst.

For believe it or not, if Donald Trump can win the presidency of the most powerful nation in the world, Jeremy Corbyn, who lives in a bygone era, might do the same here – unless she can change her tune and amend some of her punitive haphazard policies which quite frankly have not been properly studied or formulated.

And her egging on by some of the right-wing press is not helping her cause. She must hitherto discard the propagandist element of such empty flattery that will come to haunt her in the long term. There is an old Middle Eastern adage which goes as follows: People are with the standing wall; once the wall collapses all is lost. Newspapers are notorious for their backing and can turn unashamedly in no time at all.

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DOWN MEMORY LANE FIFTEEN

I have always been fascinated by people who are able to use influence and contacts to operate with panache within the flimflam world of celebrity. Such a person was Charlotte Chandler, whose book, The Ultimate Seduction, Quartet published in 1986.

Charlotte Chandler was a mysteriously influential American lady whom I met in London through the public-relations office of the Savoy Hotel. She was born in California, an only child, and used to write short stories. That was the total extent of her printed biography, and it was as much as she considered anyone needed to know about her. No one knew her age. She once said she stopped counting when she reached nineteen. Her background was no less obscure: it was shrouded in mystery. In Hollywood she had somehow got to know most of the stars and celebrities, from Charlie Chaplin to Douglas Fairbanks, and had interviewed many of them. Fairbanks used to address her as ‘Cha Cha’ when he wrote to her, to distinguish her from Chaplin, whom he called ‘Ch Ch’. With her engaging manner and bouffant style of piled-up curls, she listened to them all and gathered anecdotes wherever she went. Mae West told her, ‘You know, honey, I see something men must like about you – you’re a brilliant listener.’ All the time Charlotte was interviewing Miss West, she was aware of a sound like small birds rustling their wings. It turned out to be caused by Miss West fluttering her false eyelashes.

Having gained access to the notoriously difficult-to-interview Groucho Marx for Playboy, she then wrote a book about him called Hello, I Must Be Going. Now, in May 1986, Quartet were publishing her latest book, The Ultimate Seduction. All those she had known were in its pages, including the famous film directors Billy Wilder and Federico Fellini. With Fellini she had a particular friendship and a drawing he did of her was on the jacket. Picasso also drew her but signed it ‘Pica’, saying it was only half a Picasso since she had declined to disrobe completely. Marc Chagall told her how fame was a ghetto when she called on him with a picture painted by Groucho that friends told him was ‘very Chagall’. Chagall then reciprocated with a book that he signed ‘Very Chagall’. Over teacakes from Fortnum & Mason, Henry Moore told her how his mother used to watch him sculpt, shaking her head and saying, ‘And you could have been a teacher.’ Tennessee Williams, with whom she stayed many times, remarked, ‘Nobody who knew my day-to-day life would envy me at all.’

The title of the book came from a quote by Picasso: ‘It is your work in life that is the ultimate seduction.’ Charlotte explained the reason for her book of conversational interviews, which was like no other in existence:

The ultimate seduction is not about sex, but about passion. It is the thrill that cannot be surpassed. For the people in this book, that passion is their work. Sex is the ultimate distraction, work the ultimate satisfaction. They all followed strong drives towards goals not always known, and found – themselves. All were able to work at what they wanted to do and do it successfully. All were willing to risk everything when the chances of success seemed small. All gave everything to their work and received everything from it. All began by defining their work, and then were defined by it.

Besides celebrities from the world of show business, she included in her collection the president of Hermès in Paris. Charlotte never took no for an answer and was full of surprises. She had arrived at teatime in Madrid to visit Isabelita and Juan Perón in exile, to find the late Eva Perón being attended in her coffin by her consultant embalmer, Dr Ara, who was carefully combing her hair. Perón had particularly wanted her to come on that day and pay her respects to Evita.

I don’t know if I thought Eva Perón would look like a body or a mannequin or a wax doll or something else. She looked like all of those or none of those. She was wearing a white dress which had acquired a shroud-like appearance. But her face was even whiter. Perón said to me, ‘She was fair, like you.’

Dr Ara was offered some tea as well, but declined. He was too absorbed in his work of preserving the hair, tufts of which kept falling on to the polished parquet flooring. ‘There was only one crack in her,’ said Isabelita. ‘But it was a shame about the hairpins. They rusted in her hair.’

Charlotte befriended academics and rogues and knew the true value of working the circuit. In New York she was a regular attender at the grandest social functions and always seemed on intimate terms with those who wielded power in publishing and the artistic world. Famous restaurants in New York accorded her special treatment and she was often seen being ceremoniously ushered to her favourite table. No one could fathom the secret of her influence or how she achieved it all on an income that was modest by the standards of those with whom she kept company. She lived at the right address and had neighbours, such as Pavarotti, with whom she was on the friendliest of terms. The way she operated and how well informed she always was could only be marvelled at. Over the years she and I have become good friends, meeting regularly in New York and London.

The Ultimate Seduction is full of revelations and it packs a punch without being threatening. Her interviewees became her close friends and each relationship is unique in its own way. She keeps her manner very low key and her voice at the same low register. She is a slow eater and a sympathetic listener. To engage in conversation with Charlotte is to find time irrelevant, her languid attitude being perhaps her greatest strength. She is seductive without being aware of it and quick to make anyone feel at ease without any visible effort on her part.

The book launch for The Ultimate Seduction was held in the Beaufort Room at the Savoy Hotel, where Martin, the fifth-floor waiter who usually served Charlotte and other illustrious visitors, was this time on the guest list with his wife Teresa. Show-business luminaries who were there included Robert Morley, Adolph Green, Emlyn Williams and the widows of Sean O’Casey and Jack Hawkins. The Beaufort Room was decorated with pink balloons and large colour blow-ups of Charlotte with some of the people from her book, such as Henry Fonda, Bette Davis, Tennessee Williams and Fellini. The Fortnum & Mason pastry chef created the cake in the shape of a large book that looked as if you could actually turn the pages and recreated the jacket with Fellini’s drawing. At the end of it all, half the cake remained uneaten and was donated to an orphanage.

A MISSED OPPORTUNITY

A 1982 painting by Jean Michel Basquiat will be shown to the public for the first time in more than 30 years, after being sold to a Japanese billionaire for $110.5 million, a record for the artist. Yusaku Maezawa, a 41 year-old fashion tycoon, said he acquired the painting for a museum being built in his home town of Chiba in Japan. But initially he plans to promote it by lending the painting to institutions and exhibitions throughout the world.

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‘When I saw it for the first time, I was struck with so much excitement and gratitude for my love of art,’ said Mr Maezawa. ‘I hope it brings as much joy to others as it does to me, and that this masterpiece by the 21 year-old Basquiat inspires our future generations.’

Basquiat’s depiction of a colourful skull forged from slick oil and spray-paint, and painted in graffiti style, joined a club of only ten other works to have sold for over $100 million dollars. It is now the sixth most expensive work ever sold at auction. There were gasps from the audience at Sotheby’s Post War & Contemporary Auction as at least 4 people placed their bids on the phones. In the 10-ten minute bidding war in New York the price shot quickly past the $60 million for which it had been guaranteed to sell.

‘At that moment, Jean Michel Basquiat entered the pantheon of artists whose work has commanded prices over $100 million, including Picasso, Giacometti, Bacon and Warhol,’ said Gregoire Billault, head of Sotheby’s contemporary art department in New York. The piece, which went to auction named ‘Untitled,’ was virtually unknown before it was unveiled at Sotheby’s.

It had remained in the same private collection since it was bought at auction in 1984 for $19,000. Mr Maezawa, founder of the Contemporary Art Foundation and an e-commerce entrepreneur, announced his purchase with a post on his Instagram account. Last year, he set the previous record for a Basquiat, paying $57.3 million for a painting of a horned devil. The African American artist was born in Brooklyn, New York, and died of a drug overdose in 1998. Last year, Basquiat became the highest grossing American artist at auction generating $171.5 million from 80 works, according to Artprice.

In 1981, Francesca Thyssen, the free-spirited daughter of Fiona, who happened to be a friend of mine, was constantly making waves in London’s hedonistic sub culture of rock groups and young painters, arrived at my office in Wellington Court, Knightsbridge, with Jean Michel Basquiat, who at the time epitomised the youth culture of the 1980s.

If I could have guessed when I met him what a tremendous presence he would become on the art scene before departing from it at the age 27, I would certainly have become a very wealthy art collector. Instead, today in minor consolation, to remind me of a lost opportunity Quartet has for many years published his biography, which is still selling well.

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For those who are intrigued by this young prodigy our book will perhaps give them an insight as to why his paintings are reaching unparalleled heights at auction.

MY WOMAN OF THE WEEK

If I don’t write in my blog, or think about the gentler sex from time to time I feel bereft, as if something is missing in my life.

Some feminists, and others, will naturally accuse me of being addicted to what they might call an unhealthy disposition towards women, but they are wrong. I consider women as God’s more creative side in his moulding of the human body, especially in an aesthetic sense, so this week, my choice falls on a new discovery, at least as far as I’m concerned.

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The lady in question is Kimberley Garner, an English swimwear designer, television personality, actress and socialite best known for her role in the reality TV series Made in Chelsea.

Educated at St George’s School, Ascot, where in the sixth form she took courses in Art, Politics, Photography and Religion, Garner is the daughter of a property developer, Russell Garner and his wife, Geraldine, of Kensington.

After leaving school in London and the Lee Strasburg Theatre and Film Institute in West Hollywood, Kimberly became a property developer on her own account and was reported in 2012 to be a regular worshipper at Holy Trinity, Brompton.

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She first came to public attention as a regular cast member of the BAFTA award-winning show Made In Chelsea which she joined in March 2012 and left in November, the same year.

In May 2013 Garner launched a swimwear collection. She has gone on to release a further two collections to date. Garner is a director of Kimberley London Ltd, the company which sells her collections.
With her father, she’s also a director of Young London Events Ltd.

In 2017, she took the female lead in the Hollywood action movie, Sweetheart.

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From all accounts, one can see that Kimberley is a clever woman with great ambitions in a variety of spheres. Apart from a stunning body, at the age 27 she has still far to go. Her future is rosy and we are bound to see a lot of her in years to come. Currently she is at the Cannes Festival, looking a sheer delight

Let us therefore applaud her achievements to date and look forward to greater accomplishments in the future. She is certainly blessed by the Almighty who must look favourably on his creation.

The Majestic Narwhal

As the owner of a narwhal long tusk, I was fascinated to read that the mystery of why the narwhal has a long tusk may have been solved after one was filmed using it to catch cod. The elusive Arctic whale has been described as the ‘unicorn of the sea’ because of its spiral tusk which can grow up to nine feet long in adult males. To me it is a beautiful object, a powerful memento of a great whale that roams the Arctic waters and can easily be classed as an art object.

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Charles Darwin thought that it was used to attract mates. A study in 2014 claimed that it was a sensory organ and that its thousands of nerve endings were used to measure the water’s salinity to help it navigate and find food. Other theories include it being an ice pick, a weapon used to compete for a mate and a tool for sonar.

Although the tusk is likely to have multiple purposes, footage from Canada shows definitely that one function is as a fishing tool. A drone filmed a narwhal using quick taps of its tusk to stun Arctic cod, rendering them easier to capture and eat.

The drone was used by scientists investigating narwhal behaviour in Tremblay Sound Nunavut, Canada. Less is known about narwhals than other whales because they live only in the Arctic and observing them is tricky.

WWF, the conservation charity conducting the research with Fisheries and Oceans Canada said the footage was also significant because it showed the area was a narwhal feeding ground that needed to be protected.

The narwhal is classified as near-threated by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Only about 80,000 are left.

The loss of Arctic ice through global warming is exposing narwhals to greater risk of attack by killer whales which are venturing north into the territory, according to Rod Downie, WWF’s head of polar programmes. He said that narwhals were also threated by industrial developments including increased risk of being hit by a ship as melting ice allowed more routes to open, and noise disturbance from seismic surveys by the oil industry.

‘Narwhals are one of the most magical creatures but they are one of the species that are most vulnerable to climate change. We are witnessing a rapid loss of sea ice in their Arctic home. That’s why we are working with our partners to track narwhal movements so that we can identity critical habitats that need to be protected.’

Many scientists believe that the Arctic will be almost free of sea ice by 2040. What a disaster that would be. My narwhal tusk is so majestic that the mere thought of the extinction of the narwhal would grieve me no end. We must therefore do everything we can to protect it.

WE MET PERHAPS IN THE IN BETWEEN?

I’m delighted that Bella Pollen’s new volume of autobiography Meet Me in the Inbetween is garnering such good reviews.

In January 1982, Arabella Pollen, daughter of Sotheby’s then vice-chairman, Peregrine Pollen, became part of the Namara Group. Arabella’s project was to launch a fashion company under her own name, with my financial backing and the full resources of Namara at her disposal. Though Arabella possessed no formal qualifications in dressmaking or design, I could see she had ability and drive. She combined beauty with energy and her elegance and poise were enhanced by her piercing blue eyes. She was, moreover, being helped in her adventure by one of the rising stars at Vogue magazine, Sophie Hicks – today a well-known architect. I was very taken with Arabella, and although fashion was not an area on which I had set my sights, I was carried away by her aura. It was overwhelmingly seductive. She was every man’s dream: youthful, zestful and self-assured. There was also that indefinable quality about her that made a man wish to protect her and gave him the impression that she needed him when it was in fact not the case; nevertheless the sensation was gratifying.

She took over my old office at Wellington Court and the process of promoting Arabella started in earnest. I was determined to make her a household name. The strategy was to establish Arabella as the fashion designer for the young – the new generation of hopefuls who formed the nucleus of a trendy society with their boundless ambition and natural savoir-faire. Arabella’s beau, Patrick Benson, was referred to by Tatler as her chief button-sewer, whereas he was in fact a multi-talented artist whose many sketches provided her with inspiration. Sandra Marr, Viscountess Weir’s daughter, was listed in the team as head mannequin, and the indefatigable Sophie Hicks was chief adviser. In due course, a young lady with a lisp, Kathryn Ireland, was appointed special publicity person cum personal assistant.

Katherine was a great operator and a real go-getter. At one point, however, I felt that her influence on Arabella sometimes veered from the positive to the reckless, diverting Arabella towards more recreational pursuits. No doubt I was being over-protective, worried that, because of her youth, she might be led seriously off course. Following through from those early days, Katherine has since moved on to become the hottest property in Hollywood, running her own interior-design company that caters mainly for the stars.
Arabella’s rise to prominence happened in no time at all. Among her clients she was soon counting Princess Diana, a fashion icon of her day, and a large majority of the Sloane Rangers who graced the London social scene in that époque.
When I asked her to contribute her memories of that period for inclusion in my volume of autobiography, Fulfilment & Betrayal, she supplied the following which well captures our special time together:

Growing a Business

By Arabella Pollen

When Naim called me out of the blue one day to ask whether I would write something for his memoir, my initial reaction was panic. I have almost zero recall of my twelve-year stint in the fashion business, maybe because it was a long time ago, or maybe it’s the onset of premature Alzheimer’s. Either way, only the barest threads of memory remain: the up-all-nights and the seven days a week, the brilliance and dedication of my studio workforce. OK, so there was that two-year commute to Paris – Fashion Aid, of course, and the craziness of the Studio 54 shows – but almost all the rest of it, the people, the parties, the excitement, tears, triumphs and disappointments, have merged into one great kaleidoscopic blur stored somewhere deep inside my head. Not Naim, though. Naim Attallah is not a person you forget.

We met in 1980. I was nineteen and a year out of school. I had spent the first six months of that year working odd jobs in advertising and the latter part of it holed up in a crumbling mill in France with a Super 8 movie camera, earnestly attempting to write, shoot and direct a satire on the business. This high-falutin project left me profoundly broke and I was eventually forced to return to London, engage with the real world and look around for a way to make ends meet. Having crashed through my A-levels with a spectacular mix of bad behaviour and complacency, the only asset I had of any real value was a cupboard full of textiles which I’d collected over the years and – for reasons that still escape me – I decided to make clothes out of them. This resulted in a small collection, mostly constructed from stiff and itchy Hebridean tweeds, which somehow caught the attention of an editor at Vogue magazine, and before very much time had passed I found myself sitting in the air-conditioned offices of Namara in Poland Street, clutching a portfolio between my knees. ‘If he likes you,’ the Vogue editor had said, ‘he’ll be back.’

Quite what I was expecting in a publisher who might be interested in starting a fashion business with me, I can’t say. Certainly Naim Attallah was not it. First of all, he was extraordinary looking: tall, broad, enormous hands, odd-shaped ears. He was a Palestinian ‘Mr Potato Head’, but with a charming face and rather beautiful eyes that folded into multiple creases when he smiled. There was his voice: versatile in its range, capable of soaring and dipping through several octaves whenever he became excited. There was his manner: utterly disarming, every gesture expansive. On top of all there, there were his clothes: flamboyant, foreign, yet, conversely, impeccably English. Something bright flashed as he seized my hand. A piece of jewellery, a silk tie? I don’t know. There was just so much detail to take in. All I remember is that he gripped my arm, launched forth with great enthusiasm on a variety of seemingly unconnected topics, flipped through my portfolio, and the deal was done.

Later that day, I walked slowly out of the Notting Hill tube station and blinked disbelievingly into the afternoon light. I had a job. More than a job, I was about to have my own business. I assumed he was mad, certifiably insane. But what I came to understand was that Naim didn’t believe in business plans or spreadsheets. He believed in people, and once he put his faith in you, it was absolute.

Some of us are dreamers, some are thinkers. Naim is a doer, a nurturer of talent and ideas. Together we put down roots and grew a business. God knows, neither of us knew what we were doing, but we muddled through. It was a lot of fun. We had more than our share of success and I loved how proud that made him.

Random things stick in my mind from those days, like Naim’s zeal for cats, not the kittycat variety but animal skins, oil paintings and two enormous white and gold china tigers – maybe kept at Namara, maybe perched on a white rug at his house in Mayfair. I remember the window of our Knightsbridge offices shattering when the Hyde Park bomb exploded. I recently found a gold egg on a chain he gave me from Asprey, which I wore for a while, then temporarily mislaid. I remember the other girls downstairs, bluestocking and studious, working for some mysterious outfit called The Women’s Press.
Naim and I would have lunch together. These were three-course affairs, cooked by someone pretty with a cordon-bleu diploma and served with great style. We talked about everything – his myriad of ventures – film, theatre, art. We talked about Palestine, women, publishing, food, love. He was endearing, passionate, funny, enthusiastic, and just a little bit mad. There wasn’t a soul who knew him who didn’t imitate his delighted shriek of a greeting when you walked into a room. We all took to answering phones ‘in the style of Naim’. I think he probably knew. I suspect he kind of liked it. He was happiest being the sun around which lots of interesting people revolved.

From time to time we argued. Then he was infuriating, bombastic, stubborn, arrogant – but so, of course, was I. I was always in a hurry. I wanted Pollen Inc. to be bigger and better. I wanted success and recognition. I wanted greater financing, higher turnover, more staff. He was slower; and a lot wiser. When the time came for us to head off in different directions, I’m pretty sure I was the one who behaved badly, a touch furtively, unsure quite how to approach the matter, while Naim behaved, as usual, like a gentleman. Twenty years later I still count on Naim’s loyalty and friendship. When I wrote my first book, a truly dire spoof on the fashion business, it was Naim who, with great generosity of spirit, was the first to review it. We still have lunch from time to time. The cordon-bleu days might have gone, but the panache remains. Naim’s enthusiasm and passion for life have never faltered. I am always more pleased than I can say to see him – and I wear my gold Asprey’s egg a lot.

REMEMBERING CHRISTINA FOYLE

Those of us who have laboured in the literary trade for a long, long time should sometimes stand back and remember the places and the people who contributed so much to Grub Street’s glory. Christina Foyle must surely deserve our remembrance.

In January 1991 Publishing News reported that Christina Foyle had just finished reading Singular Encounters and found it quite diverting. Christina and I had got on remarkably well when I interviewed her for Women. She told me how she had adored her father and how much she had learned from him.

My father was really rather a gambler. He was always up to something. Once, coming back from America, he kept playing cards with some rather sharp people. First of all, he won quite a lot, about a thousand pounds a day – this was in the 1930s – and then he lost it all and a lot more besides. He told these men – they were real sharpers – that he couldn’t pay, but they accepted a cheque. Then I had to get off the boat very quickly at Southampton to stop the cheque. He used to give me all those sorts of things to do. And then there was a lot of money owing him from the Soviet Union, with all kinds of bad debts, and he sent me over there to collect them. I went to Russia, by myself, when I was twenty-one. I went all over Russia, but most of the people who owed us money had either been executed or gone to Siberia. I didn’t have much luck.

Christina was very entertaining and a good raconteur:

When I first came to Foyle’s, it was a wonderful time. There were very many great writers about: Bernard Shaw and Wells and Kipling, Conan Doyle. They all used to come into the shop, and they were charming to me. That’s why I started my luncheons, because customers used to say you’re so lucky, you meet all these great people, I wish I had your opportunities. So I said to my father, we ought to give a luncheon and let our customers come and meet these writers. So my father said, well, you’ve nothing much to do, why don’t you arrange it? That’s how our luncheons came about. But I found that, although I was so young, they never patronized me or talked down to me at all. I used to go round and call on these people, asking them to come and speak, and they always said yes. And we’ve had them from that day to this. The first lunch we gave was for Lord Darling, the famous Lord Chief Justice and Lord Alfred Douglas came, who had been involved in the Wilde affair years before; and then our most recent lunch was for Jeffrey Archer, who wasn’t born when we started them. So it’s been marvellous, and I can hardly think of a time when I’ve had any unpleasant experiences.

Christina was a woman to whom I could relate. She often invited me to a Foyle’s luncheon, usually held at Grosvenor House Hotel, and invariably seated me next to her. She was worldly and gossipy and it was enchanting to be in her company. On one occasion she told me how Colonel Gadaffi of Libya would send Foyle’s a cheque for two hundred and fifty thousand dollars and ask her to choose the books for him. She loved her profession and she loved people.

The two strands were completely interlinked in her life.