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Windsor Castle to Somerset House, London Was Swinging — and Suzy Was There.
“Pussycat, pussycat, where have you been?
I’ve been to London to visit the Queen.
Pussycat, pussycat, what did you there?
I frightened a little mouse under her chair.”
So much for that pussycat. This one has also been to London, not to visit the Queen, you understand. Her Majesty has been terribly busy lately, what with welcoming the Russians to England and giving a lovely little lunch (just 12 guests) for Lee Annenberg at Windsor Castle. But I did visit Windsor Castle and Clarence House and the Orangery at Kensington Palace and Somerset House and Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles and Sir Elton John and David Furnish at Sir Elton’s far-flung country house, Woodside, and Lily Safra at her gorgeous treasure-filled house and Mary Lawrence in maybe the city’s most remarkable apartment, modern and glamorous — it’s for sale. In the course of all this hubbub, as the case may be, I kissed, hugged, shook hands or just stared at such disparate notables, in no particular fashion, as Lord Rothschild, Lord and Lady Black; the Duchess of York; Shakira and Michael Caine; Dame Judi Dench; Marguerite Littman; Kylie Minogue; Lita and George Livanos; Henry and Nancy Kissinger; Rose Marie Bravo; Mercedes and Sid Bass; Elle Macpherson; Tim Jefferies (this good-looking playboy is still playing the field, but not yet over now-married Claudia Schiffer, his biggest love); ever-so-many Hearsts (Patty, Anne, Amanda); Princess Firyal of Jordan; Lionel Pincus; baseball legend Cal Ripkin and his beautiful wife, Kelly; Kimberly and Stephen Rockefeller (she sat next to the Prince of Wales at dinner at Windsor Castle); Blaine and Robert Trump; Nicky Haslam; Marina Palma; Hugh Grant; Mario d’Urso; Jade Jagger; Donna Summer; Elizabeth Hurley in a diamond tiara; Lord and Lady Dundas; Lisa Marie Presley; Joan Rivers; Betsy Bloomingdale; Robert Higdon; Pauline Pitt; Denise Hale; all sort of Forbeses (Astrid, Kip, Charlotte Forbes Escaravage); Nada and Nemir Kirdar; Naomi Campbell; Jayne Wrightsman; Lord and Lady Bamford; Robert Hanson; handsome young Lord Rothermere with his sister Geraldine; Barry Manilow; Jemima Khan, and others too fabulous and bosom-baring to mention. And I saw not a single mouse to frighten.
Now you know who, here is where and why all those Americans and other exotica were caught mingling among the Brits. The Prince of Wales has a foundation in his name based in Washington that supports the charities and causes he favors in England and the U.S. Each year, Prince Charles is the host of grand parties like no other in London and the surrounding countryside to benefit those particular causes, inviting those who contribute to them. Every year, the parties, always splendid, always surprising, are different and magnificently done — produced is a better word — in venues that only he and other members of the royal family have recourse to, castles, palaces, vast country houses. When it seems the divertissments are too grand and glamorous, imaginative and clever and ingenious to be outdone, he outdoes them. This year, the two dazzling parties he hosted with Camilla by his side were given in Clarence House, where the Prince now lives and where Camilla has porters, and at Windsor Castle.
Because awe-inspiring Windsor is the official residence of Queen Elizabeth and the largest occupied palace in the world, let’s begin there, where Charles received his guests wearing what is known as the Windsor Jacket with scarlet lapels and cuffs and gold buttons. And Camilla charmed her way through the group wearing a brilliant turquoise and diamond necklace and her biggest smile.
History tells us there has been a castle at Windsor for more than 900 years. William the Conqueror chose the site, high above the Thames and on the edge of a Saxon hunting ground. It was a day’s march from the Tower of London, a fortress castle intended to guard the western approaches to London. Since those early days, Windsor Castle has been inhabited continuously and improved upon by successive sovereigns. Some were great builders who strengthened the castle against uprisings and rebellions, and others, living in more peaceful times, created a palatial royal residence.
More history. Nine centuries after it was founded, the castle still performs its prime role as one of the Queen’s official residences. The State Apartments are the opulent formal rooms used for court ceremonials and official occasions. These glorious rooms range from smaller, intimate rooms of Charles II’s apartment to the vast reaches of The Waterloo chamber, which was built to commemorate the famous victory over Napoleon in 1815. Here you will find such treasures from the royal collection as masterpieces by Holbein, Rubens, Van Dyke and Lawrence, exquisite tapestries and porcelains, sculpture and armor.
Almost everyone remembers the tragic fire that broke out in Windsor in 1992. It took 15 hours and a million-and-a-half gallons of water to put out the blaze. Nine principal rooms and more than a hundred others encompassing about 97,000 square feet were damaged or destroyed by the fire, nearly one-fifth of the castle area. The next five years were spent restoring the castle to its former magnificence, an effort led by the Prince of Wales, which resulted in the greatest historic building project to have been undertaken in the United Kingdom in the 20th century. Now, not a single vestige of the disaster remains.
St. George’s Hall, where dinner was served, is one of the most historic rooms in Windsor Castle, associated for six centuries with the Order of the Garter. It is set on the site of Edward III’s Great Hall and Chapel. In 1829, the hall and chapel were joined to create one enormously long room more than 180 feet long. This incredibly romantic gothic room was inspired by Sir Walter Scott, whose novels were greatly admired by George IV. When he and his architect remodeled the castle in 1820, gothic, extraordinary gothic, was chosen for all the processional spaces, while classical architecture was mainly used for the reception room. In St. George’s Hall, the ceiling of plaster grained to resemble oak is decorated with the coats of arms of all the knights of the garter.
Friday, read all about the dinner, what they ate, what they said, how the enormous table was decorated, and how the guests moved through the Green Drawing Room and the Crimson Drawing Room, passing through the State Dining Room, the Octagon Dining Room and the China Corridor into the Grand Reception Room, where the Prince of Wales stood waiting to welcome them. As for the names mentioned above, not all of them were at Windsor. Some of them were at Sir Elton’s White Tie and Tiara Ball wearing their best and barest. Can you figure out who was where?