Byline: Aileen Mehle
It isn’t easy being the queen of a country. Queen Elizabeth II could probably tell you a thing or two about headaches. So could crafty Queen Elizabeth I, who somehow managed to keep her own head while all about her others were losing theirs — and blaming it on her. As for Mary Queen of Scots — oy! Hers was chopped off, red hair and all, but not before she suffered a thousand psychic wounds including the trauma of witnessing the assassination of her beloved secretary, David Rizzio, who, before her very eyes, was stabbed 56 times by his jealous political enemies just outside her bedchamber in Holyroodhouse Palace in Edinburgh. This bedroom is considered the most famous room in all Scotland. And in Bloody Mary’s time, what with one thing and another, it was a very busy place.
Of course, all the rooms in Holyrood are, if not as famous as Mary’s chamber, simply magnificent, the Morning Drawing Room, the Throne Room, the King’s Apartments, the Music Room, the Retiring Rooms. The largest room in the Palace is the historic Picture Gallery. When this Queen Elizabeth visits Scotland, it is where she recognizes and invests representative citizens of Scotland, including, earlier this year, Sir Sean Connery. But when Prince Charles, Prince of Wales, received his guests at a private dinner in the Gallery just the other evening, you wouldn’t have known the dear old place. For that intimate evening only, the scenery had been completely altered.
The gorgeous ceiling was illuminated in a pattern of gold, blue and turquoise lights, and as the guests entered they saw a gentle mist at the Gallery’s end with a barely visible red velvet structure rising from it. Inside was an Aladdin’s cave of color and texture, a tent pitched inside a palace fit for a king — or even a prince, especially this particular prince.
In this magical, mystical wonder were walls of printed Indian muslin in rich Persian patterns back-lit with golden lights. The guests sat at one long table covered with gold crushed velvet and surrounded by blue silk damask covered chairs. The place settings were George III, silver gilt, gleaming on silk patterned place mats with gold damask napkins in individually jeweled napkin rings. The glasses were green, purple and turquoise and the champagne flutes were a foot high.
The tent glowed in the light of gold Moroccan lanterns, and running down the center of the table was an incredible tableau of spices, sand, golden urns, gilded seed pods, beaded and jeweled fruits, floating orchids of every variety not only on the table but cascading from golden baskets hanging from the ceiling of the tent. One caught glimpses of 100-year-old saris, embroidered in gold on mauve, green, turquoise and blue silk, and the gold menus and place cards bore the crest of the Duke of Rothesay, which is the Prince of Wales’s senior Scottish title. A single harpist plucked away at the far end of this enchanting illusion. And Charles, who was having his first look at all this super-theatrical splendor, looked both astonished and amused. If this was his reaction, you can imagine how the guests felt. Some of them looked as though they had died and gone to heaven. And then there was the impressionable lady who, just about overcome, seemed on the point of fainting away. Ah, Americans.
The first course, a green tureen of fresh garden peas surrounded by chanterelle mushrooms and a sabayon of truffles, arrived on a golden platter. Organic breads and His Royal Highness’s own oaten biscuits were offered and everyone sipped fine white burgundy. The arrival of the main course was heralded by exquisite plates surrounded by apple blossoms with HRH’s crest in the center. Organic chicken (Charles is a big organic man) stuffed with sun-blushed tomatoes was served on a galette of courgettes and carrots, and the salad was made of beet roots from the Royal Gardens, also organic. This was all washed down with fine St. Emilion claret (not organic).
To finish the meal, individual, delicate crystal plates were piled high with layers of thin shortbread and rich blackberries and black currants and dripping with cream and Greek honey. Those tall champagne glasses were filled with Laurent Perrier pink champagne. Perhaps this is the moment for you to eat your heart out, Martha Stewart, you billionaire, you.
As the surfeited guests all but waddled away from the table, Camilla Parker Bowles, who, with inordinate charm, receives with the Prince of Wales often these days and nights, rose from her seat next to Robert Forbes of the Forbes publishing empire, with the elegance one associates with nibbling on a lettuce leaf. Though as someone there noted she “ate hearty.” And looked, I mean it, so very happy.
It should be noted that sitting next to Charles, on his right and left, were Betsy Bloomingdale of Beverly Hills, chic as ever and done up in designer duds, and Marion Jorgensen, the noted California hostess. Charles looked very happy to have them there as he chatted on about his wonderful garden at High Grove and they chatted on about theirs. His won.
Michael Fawcett, who has worked for the Prince of Wales since he was a teen-ager, was responsible for the beautiful tent. The beautiful guests were there to support the Prince of Wales Foundation, headquartered in Washington and responsible for many grants to American and British charities favored by HRH. Robert Higdon runs this organization with the class, ease and diplomacy it deserves. For all his skills, and if the Republicans get in, he could be an ambassador to some place. And I don’t mean Zaire.