Byline: Aileen Mehle
“Embosomed in the lush, green hillside of the beautiful Cotswolds is His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales’s country estate, Highgrove. (For those invited) HRH will host a formal evening (there) of dinner and dancing under the stars. Guests will arrive and have a walkabout in the Prince of Wales’s beloved and renowned garden where an unexpected folly will surprise and amuse even the cleverest of guests. A secretive and mystical theme has inspired the decor for the evening, and a unique marquee is being erected for this special affair. Dame Shirley Bassey will perform….As the final notes of the orchestra float across the garden, dancers will twirl into the night. Those for whom the veil of The Column Bird has been lifted will share knowing glances and smiles, bespeaking the secret of the garden….”
This little flurry of exciting news is how the evening to come was described to the Prince of Wales’s expected guests beforehand. Overstatement? How about understatement raised to an art form. That night at Highgrove was a beautiful and spectacular triumph. Even Prince Charles himself, who’s seen it all if anyone has, was thrilled. And surprised. He hadn’t known what to expect at the party until he actually walked into that glorious tent. So let’s take it from there.
After driving through the golden evening light of the Cotswolds’ country lanes — the weather was perfection — more than 300 stunning guests, dressed to kill or at least maim, arrived at “Highgrove,” a jewel set in the English countryside. Refreshing themselves with champagne served in tall crystal, multicolored glasses, they set off to explore the Prince of Wales’s vaunted gardens from cottage gardens to topiary, rose pagodas, stumperies (picturesque garden furniture made from the stumps of old trees — Prince Charles loves stumperies) and even the vegetable garden. The music of violas and violins accompanied their walk, while they breathed enormous amounts of country air. Ah-hhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!
Back and glowing, they chatted in corners, admiring each other’s extravagant jewels and clothes before repairing to the Orchard Room, built by HRH to entertain his guests. There they were greeted by the prince and a vivacious, smiling Camilla Parker Bowles, dressed in Nile green silk and very much at home — as why shouldn’t she be? As tiny morsels of asparagus and salmon and more champagne were being passed, a gigantic figure, nine feet tall, and dressed in golden robes, appeared from nowhere and strode across the patio, announcing stentoriously:
“Ladies and gentlemen, your attention, please. Welcome. You have visited the garden and walked on organic lawns. Passed through clipped hedges of box and yew, gazed upon walks of thyme, finding a place of sanctuary amongst rare trees. You’ve sipped champagne amongst vegetation, free from the pollution of a modern world; you have reached new depths of mystery amongst stumps and stumperies. All through your visit, I wonder how many noticed the avenue of fine young lime trees, planted at the front of this Georgian house, celebrating 25 years of our present Prince of Wales? At the end of the avenue is a column snatched from the demolition of Victoria Street Station and brought to this emerald Cotswolds land. However, this column had to be crowned, so an idea was hatched and the Column Bird was created….Is he myth or is he real? I am the keeper of the Column Bird, and now is the time to take your fill of fine wine and food and magnificent entertainment. So strike up the music, this way, make haste, the night of the Column Bird awaits.” He wasn’t kidding.
It was time to go into a marquee as beautiful as you can imagine. One stepped through oak doors onto a lilac carpet through mists (created by what seemed like tons of dry ice) there to behold a magnificent multicolored column towering over the tent topped with a jeweled nest and a dazzling golden Column Bird alighting on the nest, wings spread, a gigantic replica of the one in the garden. Wide columns of silk shot from this mysterious, half-heron, half-stork, and from every angle of the two-tiered marquee. High above on the midnight-blue ceiling, hundreds of stars shone. Fantasyland.
The round dinner tables were covered in rich purple and rose crushed velvet centered by huge golden nests filled with oak and palm leaves, pale lilac orchids, gold ostrich (Column Bird?) eggs and another huge one covered in a Burberry plaid. (Burberry played a big hand in the weekend festivities). The Blue Harlem orchestra played, while guests dined on terrine of Scottish smoked salmon, delicious organic chicken and English raspberries on a bed of meringue, washed down with Highgrove’s own pink champagne from the House of Bellefon. The Miss Joan Rivers, seated on the Prince of Wales’s left (Queen Noor of Jordan, looking extraordinarily beautiful was on his right), took center stage. She was a rip-roaring riot, not only ribbing the guests but paying un-Joan-like tribute to the Prince of Wales for what he had done for his country. That’s where Joan really shone.
Baskets made of Highgrove willow filled with chocolate eggs were placed in front of each lady, one of them containing a wristwatch, created especially by Chopard to raise funds for the Prince of Wales Foundation, which is what this weekend was all about. Within seconds, every egg was smashed. Guess who got the watch? Camilla Parker Bowles. Guess who deserved the watch? Camilla Parker Bowles. Mercedes, bejeweled, and Sid Bass were among those at her table.
After all that, the fabulous Dame Shirley Bassey, backed by a 10-piece orchestra, shimmering in countless silver sequins — she is the Prince of Wales’s favorite singer — brought down the house. Shirley was the perfect end of a perfect evening. Oh, have I mentioned that the most attractive couple at the party was Prince Charles’s nephew, Viscount Linley and his beautiful wife, Serena? Consider it mentioned. And consider that you have not heard the last of all this yet. There will always be an England, and I haven’t quite worked my way out of it yet.
P.S. For the first time, the Prince of Wales Foundation, founded by the Prince of Wales, has awarded a generous gift to an American breast cancer organization, The Breast Cancer Research Foundation founded by Evelyn Lauder. Evelyn was not in England to accept it herself, but Lady Jane Spencer-Churchill stepped in and accepted it in her stead.