Have you ever been to Buckingham Palace? Not just for a tour of the awe-inspiring premises — an extraordinary experience in itself — but for dinner? A gala dinner given by the Prince of Wales? If you have, you know what a gorgeous pleasure it is. If you haven’t, come along with me and we’ll pay a glamorous little visit to His Royal Highness, Prince Charles, and his beloved companion, Camilla Parker Bowles, who, you should know, has never looked better, and I’ve been looking at the lady for more than 15 years.
You will be part of an exclusive group of 100 mostly American supporters of the Prince of Wales Foundation, the purpose of which is to contribute to both American and British charities favored by HRH and organized by the foundation’s Washington office.
Upon arrival at the palace on this beautiful summer’s eve, one makes one’s way up the magnificent red-and-crimson velvet and gold grand staircase, the scene of so many state visits and historical events through the centuries. Then, it’s on through the dazzling, soaring Green Drawing Room and the Red Throne Room, equally soaring and dazzling, where the red and gold velvet thrones of Her Majesty the Queen and HRH Prince Philip sit in grandeur. The destinations are the Blue Drawing Room, the Music Room for champagne and the State Dining Room for a splendid concert by the London Philharmonic, starring the wonderful American violinist Joshua Bell. It was a first concert for the room (the group was intimate) and an opportunity to use one of the smaller but still grand rooms, with its portraits of former kings on one side and views of the largest private garden in London on the other.
The orchestra struck up gems from Rossini, Tchaikovsky, Ravel and Puccini, but the highlight of the recital was Joshua Bell. Many of the guests had seen him in concert halls, but none had witnessed the performance for such a small group by a real American jewel in a British setting.
The Prince spoke with warmth to all the guests and in particular praised the philanthropist Mrs. Walter (Lee) Annenberg, as, indeed, Joshua Bell has been a recipient of her support since the tender age of 13. (Lee, whose late husband was our ambassador to Britain, had just that afternoon been awarded the Order of the British Empire and was proudly wearing the gold medal on a scarlet ribbon pinned to her pale green silk shoulder.) After the music, the guests were ushered into the picture gallery, a stunning scene of one long table in one of the most glorious rooms imaginable. The table, which reached from one end of the room to the other, was centered with 30 golden candelabra and 30 pieces of silver gilt from the reign of George III. The tablecloth, a pale green silk, was almost the color of Lee Annenberg’s dress. Did she know ahead?
The chairs at each splendid place setting were carved of ewe wood, and at every guest’s table setting was a hand-painted fan with rich summer colors depicting a view of the Picture Gallery painted by Alec Cobb. It is simply beautiful and simply marvelous for framing. Hanging on a satin ribboned tassel was a medallion enscribed with the menu about to be served: confit of salmon with creamed cauliflower and a parmesan wafer; roast filet of beef with a béarnaise sauce and chêvre cheesecake with balsamic strawberries.
The centerpiece of the table was a candelabra displaying 14 candles, a 6-foot-high piece depicting St. George slaying the dragon. Five- and 6-foot-tall columns of carefully arranged English garden roses filled the room with their perfume, and for once, the ladies’ jewelry may have been overshadowed by the tables’ centerpieces. One guest inquired, “What would that piece be used for?” and was informed, “Madam, it’s an ice bucket.” But, of course, how many would know, as how many people in the world have an ice bucket that is 18 inches high and 14 inches wide, with Neptune sitting on top of it? (This Neptune is just one of four.)
Needless to say, everyone’s eyes roamed the room, the walls of which were adorned with Van Dykes, Vermeers, etc. At the end of the meal, every fan was taken from its place and fluttered in ladies’ hands, and a few were even clutched in gentlemen’s hands. Is it too much to say that the group left the palace in a sort of magical royal daze?
And this is who was there: Peggy Noonan; Betsy Bloomingdale; Anne Hearst with George Farias; Evelyn and Leonard Lauder; Barbie and Joe Allbritton; Joanne and Roberto de Guardiola; Nada and Nemir Kirdar; Dina and Brad Martin, the head of Saks Inc.; Astrid and Kip Forbes; Elena and Robert Allbritton; Mary and Mandel Ourisman; Pauline Pitt; Carol Price, the former American ambassadress to Britain; the newly engaged Hilary Geary and Wilbur Ross; Lily Safra and her granddaughter, Lily Elia; Patricia Hearst-Shaw and Bernard Shaw; Blaine and Robert Trump; Deborah Norville and Carl Wellner; Lynn Wyatt, and Marylou Whitney and John Hendrickson. As the world probably knows by now, John Hendrickson proposed to Marylou Whitney in a cozy corner of Buckingham Palace.
Princess Diana’s sensational necklace, called “Swan Lake,” boasting 214 diamonds and seven Salt Sea Pearls, designed by Garrard, the English crown jewelers, will be unveiled at Hollis, Reh & Shariff, the estate jewelers on Job’s Lane in Southampton, at a kickoff party for The Animal Rescue Fund of the Hamptons on Aug. 6. The benefit itself will be held on Aug. 21 at The End, Avon heiress Sandra McConnell’s waterfront house.
The necklace, which Diana wore to the ballet at her last official public appearance, was bought for her by Dodi Fayed and is the only piece of jewelry she owned that is ever expected to be available for sale. The asking price is $1.8 million, and $100,000 of that will be given to The Animal Rescue Fund. Jamie Niven will conduct the auction.
Mira Sorvino, 36, who married her 22-year-old beau, Christopher Backus, in Santa Barbara in June and remarried him in Capri this month for good measure, says she can’t wait to become a mother. Of course, the whispers are that she’s visiting the obstetrician as you read this — well, maybe not as you read this — to see if she’s already pregnant.