16 MAY 1992, Page 39

High life

Unwarranted smear


his used to be a sleepy fishing village bordered on either side by Nice and Monte Carlo, with a small casino, two de-luxe hotels, a tennis club, a tiny port and the grandest of all villas, La Leopolda. The house was built by King Leopold of Belgium, but became famous as Gianni Agnelli's summer retreat during the Fifties. In fact, the villa was the focal point of the summer season until 1963, when Gianni, no fool, saw the writing on the wall and unloaded it for the unheard-of sum at the time of three million greenbacks. A Cana- dian lady, a Mrs Kilmer, I believe, bought 11, and sold it to a mysterious American, 'Colonel' Paul. It is now the property of Edmond Safra, the Lebanese multi- millionaire financier who was smeared by American Express as a drug banker. Amer- ican Express not only got it wrong, they also had to apologise and pay millions as compensation, but that's another story alto- gether. The only bad thing Safra has done is to change La Leopolda — for the worse, needless to say, but a crime not punishable by prison.

I used to stay there quite a lot, and it was there I first met Lord Lambton, in a double-breasted blue suit in the middle of a broiling August day. He was as cool as the proverbial cucumber, and his first ques- tion was whether I was sleeping with Mrs X, who I wasn't with, but he was.

He then asked me whether I masturbat- ed, or rather how much masturbating I did, and did it affect my tennis. When I later asked the present Duke of Beaufort whether Tony Lambton always spoke about sex to people he didn't know, David Som- erset, as he then was, told me that Tony could not travel for longer than an hour without masturbating, and therefore always had an ample supply of hankies with him wherever he went.

Young as I was, I believed the duke, which he then wasn't, and so for the next 30 years went around telling people who didn't know Tony about his onanist tenden- cies. I am now very happy to set the record straight. The Duke of Beaufort was joking when he said that Lord Lambton was a masturbator. (How do you like that for name-dropping and sex, two things that are believed to interest the reader.)

But back to Beaulieu. Almost 30 years later, it is still a village, albeit with a very large port, too much through traffic, and the hills above it built-up a la Monte Carlo. But there are no night-clubs to speak of, no high rises, and no Sheratons or Hiltons. am here competing in a veterans' tennis tournament, as pleasant an event as I've ever played in, most of all because the competitors don't cheat, swear or dispute every call. Having played a very long sin- gles and got very drunk afterwards, I missed my midday match by hours, but my opponent said it would be fine to play in the late afternoon. This is as unheard of in modern tennis as a Serbian soldier not shooting non-Serbian civilians.

In view of the fact that I hadn't touched a tennis racket since Barbados in January, I'm quite happy with the way I played, but what makes me happiest of all is the fact that I have the city of Nice between Cannes and myself. Which means the Hollywood trash that has descended on the Riviera has as yet to pollute Beaulieu. But I did spot a hell of a lot of flotsam in the Bay of Ville- franche. It smelled of Hollywood agents to this old Riviera hand.