In September 1991 I attended a party at the Queen Anne Orangery in Kensington Gardens to celebrate the publication of the memoirs of a very dear friend, Quentin Crewe. The title he gave them was Well, I Forget the Rest. This remarkable sixty-four-year-old writer had been for more than half his life confined to a wheelchair, from which he greeted the friends and former wives who turned up to salute him. The Evening Standard covered the event as follows:
Naim Attallah, something of an authority on these matters, confessed his unbridled admiration for Crewe’s romantic endeavours. ‘He is the greatest seducer,’ he said. ‘I don’t know how he does it. There’s no way I could have achieved any of the things he has if I had those disabilities.’
Lord Snowdon, who invented Crewe’s first electric wheelchair, disclaimed any part in such goings on. ‘I don’t think it has anything to do with my chair,’ he told me. ‘And if it has, it’s a peripheral thing. It’s his sheer strength and will of personality.
Quentin was a truly extraordinary man. As well as being a successful journalist and writer he was also a determined adventurer who had defied his disabilities by travelling through some of the most difficult terrain on earth. His exploits were legendary, but his powers of conquest where women were concerned remained the aspect of him I most admired. I saw it happen at first hand when his daughter Candida brought him to have lunch at Namara House. While waiting for me to come down from my office on the fourth floor he went to kill a few minutes browsing in the bookshop on the ground floor. It so happened, at the time, that a twenty-six-year-old model with stunning looks was working in the shop between modelling assignments. Before I could get down to greet him, Quentin had engaged her in conversation. Two months later she was his lover, accompanying him on a long journey through India. When I saw them together on their return, the girl was so besotted that she could not keep her hands off him. She hugged and caressed Quentin with a tenderness that belied the difference in their ages or any impuissance arising from his handicap.
Despite his disability, Quentin had three wives, five children and lovers aplenty, but his was no straightforward tale of triumph over adversity. When he was a boy his mother’s nightly admonition was, ‘Keep your hands above the sheets!’ It was advice he never heeded. He continued to delve beneath the covers even after a Swiss governess had shown him a cautionary Victorian illustration of the madness and degeneration that lay in store for those who failed to take note. Using all the authority of her position, she pointed to the perpetrator of such shameful acts, explaining that the consequences of his wickedness had come about because il joue toujours avec sa quéquette, comme toi. Later, in view of what happened to Quentin, it was as if the governess had been a genuine Cassandra figure, a real prophet of doom, for he was struck down at an early age by muscular dystrophy, a cruel disease that had him confined to his wheelchair for the rest of his life.
When I interviewed him for Singular Encounters, I mentioned to him how his reputation for attracting beautiful young women was fabled. Did the secret lie in his combining being such a great raconteur with an irresistible charm, or was there some inherent sexual chemistry that attracted feminine beauty and youth? His response was typically diffident:
It gets less easy, but I think they’re intrigued by something different – that is to say, somebody in a wheelchair. The only explanation I can think of is that those who seduced me wanted to discover what it was like to go to bed with somebody disabled. Or there is always the other possibility, that one is less frightening to them, that one isn’t a great beast who’s going to leap on top of them and beat them. Whatever it is, I’ve been very lucky.
His explanation seems quite plausible, especially in the light of a more recent instance where the publisher of the Spectator reportedly said she had slept with former home secretary David Blunkett to find out what it was like to sleep with a blind man.
Quentin was one of my heroes, and his death, like that of Auberon Waugh, has left a gap in our society that can never be filled. One hopes that these two men, who loved women with a true passion, are receiving their rewards in heaven from celestial creatures even more beautiful than those who dazzled and beguiled them in their terrestrial lives.