One place in London you never tire of visiting?
The Charles Sargeant Jagger memorial to the fallen in WWI, at Hyde Park Corner. The “toughest” bit of sculpture I know.
One place in the world you never tire of visiting?
Pavlovsk, near St. Petersburg. Especially the staircase hall.
You’re a seasoned cabaret performer. The three great chanteuses or chanteurs of the past or present you always like to hear?
Lee Wiley above all, but Josephine Baker and Jimmy Durante come pretty close.
Song lyrics that always move you?
Rodgers and Hart’s “It Never Entered My Mind”. The last (rarely sung) lines make me cry, even when I sing it.
A motto you live by?
My own: “Life is Too Long”…not too short. Too long to hold grudges, keep up feuds, be angry with ex-lovers, have regrets.
You’re hosting a dinner party with three famous historical figures. Who would they be?
The Duchess of Windsor, Count Axel Fersen, Marilyn Monroe. Might shed light on unanswered questions. But three is not much of a party. Can’t I have Princess Diana and Rasputin as well?
A room you have never forgotten?
Cole Porter’s library by Billy Baldwin in the Waldorf Towers. Largely because Cole was in it.
Perfect item of furniture?
Brilliantly designed bedside tables (nightstands?). The French in the eighteenth century called them cabarets, as originally they were something you saw at night. Mattress height, two-tiered, the lower one longer. And softly lit underneath, makes going to the bathroom in the dark bearable.
The one object you most cherish?
Diane Arbus’s photograph of Mae West, which Diane gave me after I commissioned her to do s story on the old sex symbol.
A character from a novel you wish could come to life?
The narrator of Sybille Bedford’s A Legacy.
You’ve known many famous people. Who’s been most influential to you?
Wilfred Blunt, my art master at Eton, Fulco Verdura (opera), Lady Diana Cooper and Diana Vreeland (life), Joan Didion and Sybille Bedford (how to write), Jean Howard (glamour).
The most revealing passage in your new (and achingly poignant) book, The Impatient Pen?
In my review of Robert Becker's biography of Nancy Lancaster, I wrote, “And yet, and yet, there is an underlying sadness...for all her visual and social brilliance…one realizes, as she did, that it is the houses and the furniture and the servants that are her real friends.” Michael Tree, her son, wrote to me saying, “I think only you have got her right.”
If you could be someone else, who might that be?
I wish I had been a Latin American playboy.
Something you wish you had done that you haven’t yet?
Been tattooed, almost all over.
What does the word “Milieu” mean to you?
The loveliest time with the loveliest people at the loveliest place.
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INTERVIEW BY DAVID MASELLO
This interview appeared in the Summer 2019 issue of MILIEU.