6 DECEMBER 2003, Page 72

Trumped by The Donald


Palm Beach

When William Paley died aged 90, 14 years ago, he was referred to as being middle-aged in the Palm Beach press. Paley would have liked that. He had panache and lots of drive, and he loved women. Going into his tenth decade could not have been much fun. Mind you, he made the best of it. He surrounded himself with women, used his boundless charm until the end, and went to meet his Maker essentially heartless and self-absorbed. There are a lot of middle-aged people in Palm Beach, but none can compare with Paley. Although I had met him many times, I was hardly a friend. But Paley had style, and that's more than I can say for most people nowadays. Palm Beach ditto.

The place had lotsa style back in the Fifties — only the very rich and very refined needed to apply — but then came the developers and they developed. The island of Palm Beach — a sandy stretch between the ocean and Lake Worth — has retained strict zoning laws and all that, but zoning laws can do nothing about people. Most of the old estates — those of the Youngs, the Firestones, the Munns and the Phippses — have either been broken up or sold to new arrivals. New arrivals tend to have new money and even newer manners. Let's put it this way: there are some very crude people floating about Palm Beach, people whose rich children are some of the dumbest, most vacuous human beings since English football fans were pronounced brain-dead.

Although I was invited by friends to stay, I chose a hotel. I got around on a bicycle, the old-fashioned way. Except for a large Thanksgiving dinner at Terry Kramer's, I stuck close to home and saw only old friends — the last of the great foreign correspondents, for example. Arnaud de Borchgrave, a teenager by Palm Beach

standards at 76, is preparing to leave for Iraq, having just returned from Afghanistan. He and I reminisced about Palm Beach and the glamour that is no more. He told me that the Palm Beach club — restricted to Jewish members only — has 250 members and they in turn own 190 private jets. I think he was joking, but then maybe not. The Gentiles-only clubs have been under siege lately because the Jewish-only clubs have allowed a few Christians in. This is seen as a Trojan Horse situation by the Christians, and they expect a lawsuit any day now. For obvious reasons. I think I'll give this one a miss.

My favourite club story is that of Donald Trump. But before I go on, I have to declare an interest. I have met Donald Trump once in my life, at Lady Black's 60th birthday party in New York. I was drunk and he was laughing at my state, but in a very nice manner, Having said that, Donald Trump can do no wrong in my book. What he lacks in style, he makes up in panache and chutzpah. His use of hyperbole is, for lack of a better word, hyperbolic. He loves and praises his buildings in the same manner that the motherof-my-children loves and praises my children, When he bought the Mar-a-Lago, the famous Post cereal estate located next to the very exclusive Bath and Tennis club, he immediately put out the word that the B&T was trying to steal his membership list.

He also built a tunnel which leads his nouveaux barbarians on to the beach adjoining the B&T, driving the latter's members to apoplexy. Actually, it is extremely funny. You have these short-fingered, hairy vulgarian money-bags covered in gold, sunning themselves next to very proper one-piece bathing costumed ladies whose jaws have been tightly wired since birth, forcing them to look like affronted duchesses at the invasion. Plebeian pride lives. The Donald, in the meantime, is chuckling and raking in the moolah.

Up in wintry New York, the new Time Warner building has gone up in Columbus Circle with enormous pomp and publicity. But wait. The Donald has suddenly taken it all away from them and it didn't cost him a penny. All he did was hang out a sign on the back of his Trump Tower pointing out to the suckers who had paid top dollar at Time Warner that his building was on Central Park, and that theirs was not. As The Donald would say, this is absolutely, totally true. Time Warner advertises an on-the-park address, which is like saying Bulgaria is on the Med. There is the behemoth Trump Tower blocking the way. The Donald's sign was the only thing we read about the TW opening extravaganza. Final score, Donald Trump 2 — Time Warner 0.

Sure, Palm Beach ain't what it used to be, but then what is? But if the nouveaux were all like The Donald, I, for one, would move there.