FINDING A GIFT FOR GIVING
Byline: James Fallon
LONDON — Susannah Constantine believes the world has a lot to learn about gift giving. So the long-time London girl-about-town — who has given plenty of gifts in her 32 years, to everybody from Elton John to former boyfriend Viscount Linley — wrote a book about it.
“Everybody gets anxious and insecure over having to give presents because they are a reflection of yourself,” she says, sitting in her west London apartment. “We also are under the illusion that the more expensive a present is, the more someone will like it. But good presents often are the most inexpensive because they show the most thought.”
Her book, “Just What I’ve Always Wanted,” published here by Quadrille, and co-written with her long-time friend Pia Marocco, categorizes people as one of three personality types.
“Affection-driven people want gifts that are sentimental, achievers want trophy presents they can show off and power-driven people don’t like presents at all because they lose control, so you should give gadgets or, if they’re golfers, give lessons,” Constantine says.
The book is loaded with anecdotes. There was the time a dashing Italian playboy asked Cosima von Bulow to meet him for a cup of coffee. On the appointed day, as she was leaving her apartment to meet him, she was greeted by a delivery man carrying an espresso machine for her, two cups, coffee and milk. Behind him was the Italian, carrying a bowl of sugar and proclaiming, “This is the essential ingredient to the perfect espresso.” The gift led to dinner that evening.
Then there was the woman, who remains anonymous, who was desperate to attract the eye of the cricketer Imran Khan. She sent him a box of chocolates, inside of which was a cricket ball and a note that said, “The ball is in your court.” He fell for it.
“The national stereotypes perfectly fit,” Constantine contends. “The Italians and French come up with the most dramatic and expensive ideas and are best at romantic gifts, while the English prefer amusing presents.”
But not all are amusing, as Constantine has learned. Like the one she received on her wedding day from an ex-boyfriend — a set of mugs commemorating the British royal weddings. As a woman who spent much of the Eighties dogged by reporters asking when she’d marry Linley, the son of Princess Margaret, Constantine wasn’t sure whether the present was meant to make her laugh or make her angry.
“That just goes to show you how wrong some gifts can go.”