15 JANUARY 2005, Page 46

Health check


Gstaad Nothing like the flu to remind one of life’s priorities. It’s health, stupid, with everything else a very distant second. No woman, not even Ashley Judd or Jemima Khan, could get me out of bed and into theirs with a 40° temperature. (Maybe with a 39°.) Sporting glory with the flu? Fuggetaboutit. A great party at the Bismarcks? I’d rather be healthy in Grozny. And, as far as moolah is concerned, I’ll sign the Faustian contract right here and now — except that my kids have to be taken care of. Satan can have every penny as long as I meet my maker feeling good, no pains and aches, no fever, not even a sniffle. (But knowing what a shit Mr S. really is, I won’t hold my breath.) Otherwise it’s been as good a time as I can remember. Fortunately, the flu didn’t hit until all my house guests were gone, and the parties were a distant hangover. I blame it on the ludicrous European custom of shaking hands, and the even more ridiculous Swiss custom of kissing three times. I think I even know who gave me the bloody thing. He is a Swiss gentleman who bores for Switzerland and whom I ran into outside the Eagle club. He was coughing and covering his mouth but nevertheless stuck out his paw and like a fool I shook it. Two minutes later, up on the terrace, he came up and shook hands again. After lunch, he bid me adieu by yet again sticking out his hand. And I don’t even like the guy.

Then there was the penultimate party before the flu, when a sweet young thing remonstrated because I just touched cheeks with her twice. ‘Here in Switzerland we do it three times ... get with it ... ’ As we haven’t seen a cloud in the year 2005, with very cold nights and very dry days, the bugs are having the kind of field day the insurgents are having down in Eyraq, as George W. calls that miserable place. I will get to Iraq in a moment, but first let me set the scene. I had my old buddy Jean-Claude Sauer, war photographer, legion d’honneur, staying, along with probably the best-looking couple making the rounds nowadays, Leopold and Debbie Bismarck, with two of their four beautiful sons.

The Bismarcks and the boys were very sporty, as was the mother of my children and yours truly. (Sauer sat on his arse all day.) On the last evening, we dined chez Baron and Baronne Lambert, old and good friends of mine about whom I have written at length in these pages. There were also Dame Vivien Duffield, Sir Jocelyn Stevens, Count and Countess Bismarck, Princess Alexandra Schoenburg, Jean-Claude and yours truly. The other two without a handle were an elderly man with his younger wife, both with Middle-Eastern accents. I knew them both but not well. Everything was hunkydory until the elderly man from down south began to give us a geopolitical lecture. Talk about what old age, a younger wife, and a couple of billion dollars will do for a man’s ego.

Never have I heard such crap, not even when Tony Blair informed the House that we had 40 minutes to get out of town before Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction solved London’s traffic problems once and for all. According to the billionaire fool, American troops were in Iraq for good, ‘because in 2016 they will be the bulwark against China and India advancing east and taking over the oil ... ’ Here we are having problems with 20,000 schmucks, our forces stretched to the limit and about to declare victory and sneak out of town in the middle of the night, and this jerk is telling us how a new, forceful and determined Uncle Sam is playing an endgame to checkmate China and India. (His wife looked on adoringly, while Bolla Bismarck looked deeply into his glass.) Mind you, it made for a lively dinner party, not a Gstaad strong point, to say the least. I think I know where the Henry Kissinger wannabee got his facts from. Most likely from some policy wonk dispatched to tell him what he wants to hear in return for his contribution to a think tank. Well, it didn’t exactly work. Everyone politely disagreed, with the exception of yours truly. I do not like to be condescended to by those who know how to count to two billion but think that SchleswigHolstein is a German delicacy. I know that one should never be rude, but too many people have died in Iraq in a useless war, too many are suffering horrendous injuries, and far too many have lost everything for a rich man to dismiss the whole mess with a so what? Which he did. Needless to say, this particular gentleman has come as close to war as Blair and Bush have. My flu hit me the next day.