High life

After a lifetime in nightclubs, now I party at home

4 December 2021

9:00 AM

4 December 2021

9:00 AM

New York


It’s party time in the Bagel, and it’s about time, too. Good restaurants and elegant nightclubs are now a thing of the past, at least here in New York, so it’s home sweet home for the poor little Greek boy, for dinner, drinks and even some dancing at times. Here in my Bagel house my proudest possessions are my three Oswald Birley pictures. One is enormous and covers the whole wall of the entrance hall. The other two are a self-portrait and one of a rather grand lady. They are masterfully executed portraits, with aesthetic as well as psychological realism, an extremely difficult goal for an artist to achieve. Birley is more than equal to contemporaries such as Augustus John and John Lavery.

Sir Oswald is Robin Birley’s grandfather, and I discovered his art a long time ago, even before I had met a 12-year-old Robin on his way to school, and having lunch with his father, Mark, and brother Rupert at Wiltons. It’s strange but I prefer Sir Oswald’s paintings to some very good ones I inherited from my old dad, including the best ever Dalí, which I stupidly sold instead of keeping it for my future Austrian grandson, a de Staël I bought from the artist’s daughter, plus a Matisse and a Balthus or two.

The only nightclub I go to nowadays is in London — Robin’s place, 5 Hertford Street — but here in the Bagel I entertain at home and only good friends. It is easy to drift into meaningless jargon when listing all the things required for a successful party. In fact, there is only one: fun people. Avoiding bores is a lifelong pursuit of mine, because one bore is the equivalent to three fun people, and three bores can ruin a party of 30. Women embalmed by Botox are bores by definition; as my friend Michael Mailer recently pointed out, we had a lady for drinks whose last frown was registered 25 years ago. I also try to avoid men who have grown soft and feminised and have been shaped by computers, movies and rap music. Bores can be dangerous to one’s health, but even they will run for their lives when confronted by the woman who recently wrote an article in an American neocon monthly about what really happens to trousers that don’t fit and are returned. Seriously.

People my age tend to be boring because they talk about health or lack thereof, hence I invite only the young. For example, the other evening Prince Pavlos of Greece arrived for dinner and brought his beautiful 25-year-old daughter Olympia along. I call her the dream in yellow. She in turn brought her fiancé, Perry Pearson, son of Lord Cowdray, who 50 years ago installed a circular bed on his boat Hedonist. (Those were the days when boats were mostly owned by gents. Now the opposite is true.) The dinner was more than half Hollywood, with Josh Murphy, an actor whose father is governor of New Jersey, talking shop with Michael Mailer. I stuck to my royal guest and a few young beauties who dropped in as the night progressed. The prince was mercilessly teased about attending Paris Hilton’s wedding, and his presidency of Pugs club was threatened as a result.

Having spent my life in nightclubs in the past, the discovery of partying at home is a pleasant one, and extremely convenient. Even lunches are now fun. The Spectator chairman, Andrew Neil, had me for one along with his wife, Susan, and the great Douglas Murray. Alas no one has taken his suggestion that I be named head of the BBC seriously, but all I can say is that the BBC could do no worse than it’s doing, so why not a Greek injection?

At a Thanksgiving lunch in Brooklyn, the subject was The Spectator’s own Lara Prendergast’s article about Boris and Carrie in the American monthly Harper’s. The conversation was mostly about sex, a word someone now claims was invented by H.G. Wells (I doubt it). The consensus was that Carrie does not spill the beans, whereas someone like Petronella Wyatt does. I’ve never met Carrie, but although I am hardly the world’s most discreet person, intimate details about ex-partners are a real no-no.

What I find funny is how little the average American knows about Britain. Boris is, according to the papers, in trouble with his own side. Personally I doubt it: the hacks need to fill the pages. But even if true, perhaps the American ambassador to London is following the story, perhaps not. The few sophisticated Yanks who know about Boris know only about the sex and the hair. Mind you, it’s the same the other way around. Most Brits know only about Biden’s senility and age, not the fact that he’s probably the biggest fibber ever to be president, and that includes the Donald.

When I revealed, during the very liquid Thanksgiving lunch, that Boris had been my editor for close to a decade, everyone wanted to know what he was really like. I said he was baggy, sweaty and sprawled all over the place, but what redeemed him was that he daily made love lying inside his roll-up desk during office hours until one woman slammed it shut and… ouch. That’s how legends start.

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