11 MARCH 1995, Page 46

High life

Mining the tycoons

Taki

Gstaad Once upon a time the glitzy types left Gstaad on the last day of February. No longer. Arriving last week, having sat out the 'season' in London, the first person I saw was the one I least wished to see, an uncle of Thierry Roussel, the world's most successful escort. Thank God, the porcine uncle did not see me, but nevertheless the damage had been done. It is hardly con- ducive to a happy time to run into a fatty before one has the time to get the skis on.

Still, the snow just keeps coming, which means many of the apres-skiers have head- ed south, where they belong, mainly to Monte Carlo. The talk in Gstaad is all about the Russians, and how there are 32 Russian kids enrolled in the Rosey, and of cash payments for everything. Mind you, cash is to the Swiss what a marching band used to be to the Prussians, so there are great fears that Gstaad one day soon will end up like Grozny, a snowy Russian out- post.

Yet for some strange reason I don't mind the Russkies. Sure, they are not exactly sophisticated, and do tend to dress up their women like Chanel-inspired Christmas Trees, but at least they're European, and given time they will pick up where they left off 70-odd years ago. One Russian lady who I met last year has already improved. She no longer throws bread crumbs at wait- ers while trying to catch their attention. In fact this woman reminded me of Mrs Mary Leiter, wife of Chicago mining tycoon Levi Leiter, who was known around the turn of the century as the 'Duchess of Dupont Cir- cle' for the opulence of her 55-room man- sion in Washington D.C. She commented after crossing the Atlantic Ocean: 'At last I am back on terracotta.' My Russian lady friend comments non-stop on her ideal street-walking shoes. March 5th is the date of the annual birthday party of Alecko Goulandris, my oldest friend. We met in 1945 and have been close ever since. Fifty years without a single cross word being exchanged is some- thing of a record for Greeks, and it's all due to him. Among his priceless Impres- sionists, Alecko has a painting I gave him as a thank-you gift 35 years ago. It is of Yogi Berra, a New York Yankee catcher and member of baseball's Hall of Fame. Alecko has admired Yogi for his malapropisms which always made sense. It was Yogi who first said 'It's not over till it's over,' The place is so crowded nobody goes there any more,' and 'You have to be a ventriloquist to tell the future.' The party on Sunday night was a terrific affair. It always is because Alecko and his wife Marietta invited only friends. There is nothing that can put one in a good mood faster than arriving in a beautiful chalet full of friends and hitting the Rothschild red with a vengeance. In the beginning we pulled Nikolas Romanov's leg about his countrymen, then we changed to Robert Miller, finding the Greek name for Miller. Bob Miller is the American Midas whose daughter is getting married to the Greek Crown Prince Paul, but unlike some bil- lionaires, he was unassuming and very friendly. Things became confused after a while because I found myself in a different Goulandris chalet without having the foggi- est how I got there, but still I woke up the next day in my very own bed. That's what good friends are for. Apparently I was driv- en home, undressed (by a male Goulan- dris) and lowered gently to oblivion.

This was the good news. The even better is that I'm skiing daily with William Buck- ley and the snow conditions are excellent. The only annoying part is the snowboard- ers, who are dangerous and numerous, but one can't have everything. Like Mohammed Fayed, who wants British citi- zenship but has been refused, I would like snowboarders outlawed, but I'm as likely to get my wish as poor Mohammed is to get his. But not to worry. Had he been granted his citizenship — which even I agree he deserves — he'd still be known as 'having been born under a bluer sky', as Somerset Maugham described Max Kelada in a short story.