T he most satisfying night of recent weeks had to be
the poetry reading in the British Library organised by Josephine Hart, a woman born to fill us with her infectious love of poetry. It was standing room only, as Evelyn and Lynn Rothschild discovered, arriving late for the reading of Shelley by Dominic West, Byron by Edward Fox and Keats by Bob Geldof. Before the start it had been explained that Bob and Jeanne Marine (his traffic-stoppingly lovely girlfriend) had been in India, where they had been hit by celebratory henna bombs, leaving their hair a rich reddish brown. Back in London, Bob reached for the Daz to sort his barnet out — but this turned his hair from a dark henna into a startling pink. As Bob stood to read ‘Ode to a Nightingale’ an unfamiliar expression crossed his face: was the pink responsible for what I took to be a disarming hint of gêne? In silent anticipation we waited. Then: ‘My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains/ My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk.’ W.C. Fields warned, ‘Never appear on stage with small children and fluffy animals.’ Those treading the boards must now remember never to share the stage with quasi-beatified, knightly, pink-haired punk rockers. Bob damn near stole the show.
At the end of the National Portrait Gallery fundraising dinner — for which I served on the charity committee — we wandered among the Tudor and Victorian portraits and found we could have a picture taken of ourselves and have it melded into a world-famous shot. People opted for Superwoman, Bo Derek, Ursula Andress coming out of the water. Like a spoilt and determined child, I pointed at my choice. ‘Are you sure, dear?’ came the solicitous query. ‘YES I AM.’ The result sits by my desk and is a picture of me (instead of Wallis, but wearing her skin-tight Mainbocher dress and diamond neck clips) sitting next to Edward VIII. Who knows? History might have been different ... I float off in a grandiose dream.
Ihave put feelers out for tickets to Wimbledon this year. I want one more chance to watch angry Tim Henman. You may ask what is so angry about our former tennis number one. The answer is his teeth. Those razor-sharp pointy fangs are very cross indeed — and they are made all the more angry because they sit in the midst of that schoolboy face and hairstyle. Poor Tim. If pretty tennis and pointy teeth won anything, then he would be world champ. Igave my inaugural dinner party at my new apartment, and it was a mainly fun (I hope) but also literary and artistic gathering. Interestingly, the guests’ national origins were betrayed by their arrival times. The Austrian and the German — Princess Michael and Maya Schonburg — arrived absolutely à l’heure, as all good-mannered Austrians and Germans do. (Had there been any Swedes other than myself, they would have arrived a day early.) The rest of my guests arrived between the time they were invited and dinner. Nothing beats having your dearest friends round your table. I come from the music industry, in which any dog is the potential dinner for another. The startling contrast between the music and publishing industries was demonstrated to me again as I observed the easy camaraderie between historians Adam Zamoyski, Anne Somerset, Andrew Roberts and the Princess (and two of my other guests, Nicky Haslam and Matthew Carr, could be called honorary historians).
Iam leaving London shortly to work on my new book and make a tour of Italy with Niccolò Capponi (his family threw the Medici out of Florence in the mid-1400s) and we will be haring about northern Italy and as far south as Rome in a car that is about as sturdy as a man-sized Kleenex. Our aim is to examine how princely women lived in the Renaissance. This was a time when people really did keep it in the family — and so what if there was the occasional sibling who looked more truffle than human being? The minuscule gene pool obviously had to take its share of the blame.
Celebrating the 250th anniversary of Sèvres china, the Wallace Collection is exhibiting pieces by modern artists (1964–2005) and displaying them in a startling counterpoint to the existing classical collection of the peerless 18th-century Sèvres. I confess I’ve never been able to look at porcelain in quite the same way since reading The Age of Innocence, in which Mr Letterblair tells the handsome hero, Newland Archer, that his ‘secret love’, the Countess Olenska, is married to a homosexual. The Count is described thus, ‘His eyes have too many lashes and he spends a great deal of his time collecting expensive china, if you see what I mean.’ One last note about exhibitions: I telephoned Andrew Roberts to say that there is a picture of us by John Stoddard in an ‘after-party’ mood, and I am removing my headache-inducing tiara while Andrew looks thoughtful and tired. It is on show at the Charing Cross Gallery from 27 April. Did he want to come and have a look at it? I should have known better from ‘Medal Man’. He replied, ‘There is already a photo of me in the National Portrait Gallery.’ I picked up my inhouse phone and yelled, ‘Deirdre, get me Testino, yes Deirdre, the Testino.’ God, I hate competitive former boyfriends.
Leonie Frieda’s book Catherine de Medici is published in paperback by Phoenix.