Byline: Aileen Mehle
Nothing like pushing the season. Pushing? Not really. When you look at it one way, June is just around the corner — especially in England.
Already, some of the most fashion-forward (or you can make that fashion-backward) London ladies have begun to have their cuckoo hats built for Royal Ascot, the absolute peak of the London season. Built? Yes. A lot of those loopy lids, a couple of stories (storeys?) high and as wide as the Thames, are built, not made. You can’t collect all those ribbons and laces and flowers and plumes and other view-blocking special effects overnight, you know. It takes imagination and beadiness and guts and in extremis a pistol pointed at a hat-maker’s head. Of course, I’m exaggerating, but not much. For men, it’s all champagne and strawberries and cream. They just plunk on a gray topper and most of them think they look really swell. Vanity, thy name is delusion.
The week of Royal Ascot runs from June 18-24. Come rain or come shine, that’s when the tippy-top royals sweep into their carriages and trundle off to watch races run by horses whose blood and breeding matches their own. As usual, there are those Americans who wouldn’t dream of missing the season, and you will find them there togged out in their finest. And those who support the Prince of Wales Foundation based in Washington, D.C., will find the most coveted invitations waiting for them. For instance:
On June 20, Viscount and Viscountess Linley — who doesn’t know his auntie is the Queen of England and that she is a beautiful blonde heiress? — will be giving a cocktail (drinks?) party at David Linley’s gallery on the Pimlico Road. As anyone who is anyone knows, it’s the chicest shop ever with examples of David Linley’s creations on display — and on sale. They cost the earth but, dear ones, think of the cachet! And he uses all those beautiful woods!
The next afternoon, guests will be invited to a luncheon party given by Mr. and Mrs. Christopher Forbes (Kip and Astrid to chums) in the garden of Old Battersea House. You all remember Old Battersea House. Turned over to the Forbes clan by the government in exchange for a peppercorn, this historic London residence is a 17th century manor housing one of the world’s most important private collections of Victorian art. As I have written before, one of the most picturesque of the bedrooms is completely filled with Queen Victoria’s most personal possessions and the adjoining bathroom is a repository of many of her undergarments, framed and hung on the wall, long white silk stockings and especially her vast white linen underpants. I don’t want to say they stretch from wall to wall, but move over Jennifer Lopez.
That evening, the Prince of Wales will host a formal dinner party at Buckingham Palace, also known as the official home of Her Majesty The Queen. Here, in the Royal Collection, hangs one of the greatest art collections in the world, and curators will be on hand to point out the majestic treasures. Then Prince Charles will receive in the gorgeous Blue Drawing Room with its French doors overlooking the gardens and the reflecting pool.
Dinner will be served in the historic Picture Gallery, designed by none other than the fabled architect John Nash in 1826 and commissioned by George IV to magnificently show off his collection of Dutch and Flemish paintings, pictures by Steen, van Eyck, Franz Hals, Rembrandt, Canaletto, Rubens, Poussin and Vermeer. After all that, it’s off to the West Gallery complete with Gobelin tapestries where there will be special entertainment selected by the Prince of Wales. No one knows yet exactly what that will be. Perhaps not even Camilla Parker Bowles, who will grace the evening. And I do mean grace. In manner and demeanor, she is the equal of a royal, and she never forgets to smile.
The next morning, a Friday, it will be time to retreat to the Cotswolds in Gloucestershire for an English country weekend. Oh, joy! How marvelous this old tradition of leaving the hustle and bustle of the city behind one for the peace and quiet of the tranquil countryside. Here among the steep slopes and cliff-like valleys, the flat-topped range of limestone hills, two big country manor houses that lie just outside the picturesque village of Castle Combe, have been reserved for the weekend. There, one may stroll through the village, play croquet and golf, fish in the Byebrook River, shoot clay pigeons, sip tea on the terrace or, crikey! — even quaff a pint of ale at the local pub. I’ll drink to that.
The Prince of Wales’s country estate, Highgrove, is in a lush green part of the beautiful Cotswolds, and this is where he will host a formal dinner and dance under the stars that evening. The decor, a secret until that night, will have a mystical theme and a unique marquee will be erected just for this special affair. Dame Shirley Bassey will perform for the Prince of Wales — he’s a fan — and his guests and an orchestra will play into the night. (Clue: “Those for whom the veil of The Columnbird has been lifted will share knowing glances and smiles bespeaking the secret of the garden as they step into their carriages.” If you figure out what that means, tell me.
Saturday, it’s onto the field to the Prince of Wales Burberry-Chopard Polo Cup, and you will be thrilled to hear that the Countess of Wessex, Sophie Rhys-Jones that was, will be giving a luncheon before the polo match. Naturally, Burberry and Chopard will create an enchanting setting reflecting the tradition, elegance and style of the English countryside with Pimm’s Cups and champagne to revive those giddy souls who have partaken overmuch in the previous evening’s revelry. Quite a number, bloody likely.
And here’s the most exciting news! This autumn, the Prince of Wales will be visiting the United States and during his stay he will host a memorable evening in New York for his special friends. I’ll let you know when and where. Let’s hope he brings Camilla.