Byline: Aileen Mehle
CULTURE AND PHILANTHROPY TIME: Alexis Gregory of New York and Paris, the publisher (Vendome Press) and collector (fine arts and artifacts), gave a rich (very) little lunch at Sotheby’s for Lily Safra and Lord Rothschild (Jacob), two of the most generous and respected philanthropists in the world today. Merely.
Lily, a billionairess, gives away millions and millions of dollars every year through the Edmond and Lily Safra Foundation in the areas of medicine, religion, education and the arts. Lord Rothschild, the head of the English branch of the famous banking family, uses his own fortune brilliantly on behalf of historic preservation and also raises funds through Britain’s National Lottery established for the restoration of once-magnificent, historic English houses, many on the road to wrack and ruin before his lordship stepped in to save the day and the stately piles.
Jacob has totally refurbished the Rothschild family’s gorgeously ornate Waddesdon Manor in Buckinghamshire, which contains the most extraordinary collection of French furniture and decorative arts in England, not to mention row upon row of priceless paintings. It’s the only major Rothschild house open to the public, and visitors from all over the world are welcome. This means you. (Jacob himself lives happily in a small apartment upstairs). If you can’t visit this wondrous house, then do the next best thing, buy the exquisite — and very heavy (four pounds, I weighed it) book “Waddesdon Manor: The Heritage of a Rothschild House.” You’ll be forever glad you did.
About 10 years ago, Jacob, with funds raised privately and from the government, completely restored from disaster (a warren of shabby commercial offices) to divinity Spencer House, now the most beautiful and extravagant private house in London, the city residence of Princess Diana’s ancestors. You should know that if you want to rent the incredible place for a wedding anniversary or a fun party, Jacob will be happy to accept your money. A house cannot thrive by gilt alone.
Jacob’s tremendous project now is Somerset House, which was, until milord waved his magic wand and the British people contributed zillions of pounds, a rather dull and lifeless block of early 19th-century offices on the banks of the Thames. Today, it houses a great gallery where Russia’s fabled Hermitage Museum shows its treasures on a rotating basis, the Arthur Gilbert collection of amazing jewelry, snuff boxes and old silver (the glory of the Los Angeles Museum until Jacob convinced Arthur to ship it to him in London), and the Courtauld Institute’s superb collection of Impressionist paintings.
The huge waterworks right in the center of Somerset House’s great cobbled courtyard (where the Prince of Wales first kissed Camilla Parker Bowles in public, causing a fit on Fleet Street) was given by Edmond and Lily Safra. The fountain gushes all summer to the splashy delight of English tots and becomes a skating rink in the winter where the odd skinned knee and bruised elbow happens — but it’s worth it. There will always be an England, you know.
Lily and Jacob are organizing a glittering gala at Somerset House on July 11 to benefit ARK, a charity for underprivileged children. Sir Elton John will be in concert, and that’s enough to draw a huge crowd. Many a man, woman and child would walk barefoot in a driving rain over those thousands of ancient cobblestones to hear darling, darling, darling Elton sing. But they’ve got to be rich. The price of a ticket is so high it makes your teeth hurt.
Not that that would bother the grupetto lunching in Sotheby’s board room: former Ambassador Anne Cox Chambers, one of the richest women in America; the Canadian media tycoon Lord Conrad Black and Lady Black; investment giant Michael Steinhardt and his wife, Judy; philanthropist Arthur Ross and his wife, Janet; Cecile Zilkha; Carroll Petrie, and those 24-carat golden Greeks, Doda Voridis, Dolly Goulandris, Daisy Soros and Sophie Coumantaros, get their teeth hurt all the time.
I love reading about the rich, don’t you? Actually, the main reason I write about them is because they have all the money. Just kidding.
The main reason I write about them is because, all those pretty dresses, the jewels, the bespoke dinner jackets, the fabulous houses, boats and planes aside, they also use that money to support some of the most worthy institutions in the world.