23 FEBRUARY 2002, Page 57

Steer clear of idiots


0 Rougemont

K sports fans, what do General William Tecumseh Sherman and Sir Jocelyn Stevens have in common? I warn you, it's a tricky one. General Sherman was the first Union general to use total war tactics in his March to the Sea. When asked to take it easy. the irascible Sherman announced, 'I'm here to win a war, not a popularity contest.' Before his victories, the newspapers had actually reported him as being insane. Sherman, who replaced Grant as commander-in-chief after the war, established the Command School at Fort Leavenworth, a most important contribution. He died on 14 February 1891.

Jocelyn Stevens was born on 14 February, 41 years later. Where the similarity begins is in both men's absolute refusal to win popularity contests. After Jocelyn's successes at Queen and his rescue of the Evening Standard (where a real David versus Goliath situation existed, with the Evening News making 1 million per annum profit and the Standard losing the same amount). followed by his years at the Express, but, before those at the Royal College of Art and English Heritage, there were scandal-sheet reports that he was mad. Like Sherman, who had a low opinion of volunteers and called them idiots, Stevens did say upon accepting the chairmanship of English Heritage that all he knew about the institution was that it was run by idiots. Neither Sherman nor Stevens ever used diplomatic language, which in a way explains why neither man ever became familiar with failure. (Mind you, Sherman failed as a banker and as a lawyer before he returned to the army.) But enough of history and on with the party. Dame Vivien Duffield of opera fame has been Jocelyn's girlfriend for close to 25 years. (I refuse to use the term partner except in homosexual relationships, and even then it's a bummer, no pun intended.) Having thrown parties for his 50th and 60th birthdays, she pulled out all the stops for the big Seven 0. Three parties, on three successive nights, left those of us who tend to take a drink now and then feeling like the Taleban. The Saturday night bash had a Thirties theme, and took place in a local school house that had been transformed into a Parisian cabaret, can-can girls included. (These girls were tall and beautiful, and made the Lido dancers look like Transylvanian midgets by comparison.) Space being what it is, I cannot list all the swells, but the mix between old and young was perfect, and I admit this despite being assigned to a table of people my age. The best disguise by far was Sir Rocco Forte's — that of a Sicilian gangster, scars included — the worst that of the Duke of Marlborough, who came as himself. Royalty was represented by Princess Benedicte of Denmark and her husband Prince Richard Wittgenstein, Maria Gabriella of Savoy, and lotsa Serene Highnesses, including the mother of my children. Brains, not usually located in Gstaad and its environs, were also present. with William Buckley and William Shawcross leading the charge. The Rommel of fashion, Valentino, stayed until the end, as did the Rommel of shipowners, George Livanos. The Rommel of Christie's, Lord Hindlip, ditto. All in all, I can't remember having had as much fun throughout an evening.

Usually I am quickly bored and get drunk, then the fun begins. Not this time. I actually made sense — well, almost — until the bitter end. I danced with Charlene de Ganay, the only girl I know whose dancing makes foreign legionnaires blush. Around five in the morning I went to the Palace where all the Rosey girls were still dancing away, but my son John-Taki had gone and done a Philby and given the game away. (I'd been posing as his older brother.) It was downhill after that, literally, and I've been in bed since then. The flu hit with a vengeance the very next afternoon.

As Dorothy Parker once said when in a word game she was asked to use 'horticulture' in a sentence, you can lead a horticulture, but you can't make her think. There are many new rich people in Gstaad looking for whores, but there are also a few who still can think. We lost the great Roger Moore to Crans Montana, but gained John Sutin, a wit to match la Parker, despite the fact he's Swiss. In other words, Gstaad is still a hell of a place where one can have a very good, old-fashioned time, but barriers are of the essence. Jocelyn Stevens shook up the Eagle Club when he joined the committee. (I nominated him during the general assembly by comparing him to Rommel; 'Couldn't you have used another name?' asked Vivien).

Now our hopes are riding with the Gstaad Yacht Club, with around 60 members, and three kings on the committee. We desperately need a Rommel to keep the barbarians out, and our commodore, George Nicholson, is starting to look a lot like good old Erwin.