The consolations of old age

It’s taken me a long time to realise it but family life beats chasing skirt

High Life

07 Jan 2016

OK sports fans, what do Dame Vivien Duffield and Evelyn Waugh have in common? The answer is absolutely nothing, so why start 2016 with such a dumb question? Waugh was short and round and so is Vivien, but apart from weight and height there are no similarities. So why ask? Easy. I was reading about a dinner party Waugh gave for Clare Luce in November 1949 at the Hyde Park Hotel. He later wrote to Nancy Mitford complaining how much money the dinner had cost him, and how Clare — in my not so humble opinion the greatest woman of the 20th century — had failed to write a thank-you note.

Waugh was a hell of a writer but a pretty piss-poor human being. He was petty, a closeted tortured gay with seven children. And from what I’ve read, he was always down on his fellow man and on life in general. Pretty depressing stuff. Why give a dinner and then complain that it cost too much? I thought of Waugh because Vivien gave a dinner last week for more than a hundred. Surprisingly, she sat me on her right, and insisted I stay on her right even after I gave a speech that was close to the bone. Mind you, unlike la Luce, I wrote a thank-you note.

The Mecca for the new rich and famous, as Gstaad is often called, turns into a horror show when it’s packed to the gills, especially when it snows only indoors. But as I write the white stuff from heaven has been falling non-stop for three days and nights, which should make the commonplace interesting. By this I mean that Gstaad is a ski resort where there are more après-skiers than skiers. When the good white stuff falls, the place becomes interesting. Otherwise it’s like being in any glitzy resort anywhere in Europe.

Although it sounds soppy, this was a real family treat for me. Both my children and my two grandchildren are here, and the place is always buzzing. It took me a long time to get it, but family life can be as satisfying as chasing you know what every night until the early hours. Old is the operative word. It has its good points, and being surrounded by one’s family is one of them. An added bonus was the arrival of my NBF Harvey Weinstein, the only producer nowadays making movies that are watchable and often high-minded. In fact, he’s the only one that relies on storyline and talented actors rather than explosions and car chases. He previewed one of his latest, Hands of Stone, based on the life of the great Panamanian boxer Roberto Durán, a very interesting choice for a film given that Durán is better known for saying ‘no mas’ (no more) in his fight against Ray Leonard than for the myriad knockouts he inflicted on his opponents before that. Robert De Niro is perfectly cast as Ray Arcel, his trainer, and the volatile, hot-tempered and very anti-American Durán is perfectly portrayed. You don’t have to be a boxing fan to like this flick.

This month, of course, will see the trial of a family that, again in my not so humble opinion, should have been put on trial a generation or two ago. The vast Wildenstein art empire is to face scrutiny by the French for tax evasion. When I was very young, a surly, grumpy and perpetually complaining man always seemed to be on the next table in New York’s El Morocco. He was always accompanied by a woman, and was forever asking the best maître d’ ever, Angelo, to remove me because … I will let you, dear readers, guess why.

Needless to say, Angelo never did remove me, but made him move more often than not. Daniel Wildenstein croaked in 2001 and his son Guy is now facing the music. The Wildenstein family has often been accused of shoddy practices, but the art world is nothing but shoddy as far as I’m concerned, so cheating on taxes would not exactly ruin an already shady reputation.

Forty-five years ago, in Paris, I played non-stop polo against Guy Wildenstein, who was the best mounted player I’ve ever come across, although quite shy when mixing it or taking a man at high speed. His brother Alec died some time ago, he being the hubby of the woman who’s had more plastic surgery than I’ve downed bottles of vodka. I will not go into detail about the trial because it will all come out in the wash. But I will make a prediction. Guy Wildenstein was awarded the Legion of Honour in 2009 by Nicolas Sarkozy, the then French president, and I hate to think what he got it for. The family is accused of having moved and hidden assets in the hundreds of millions of dollars, and has been suspected of doing so for donkey’s years. Yet Sarkozy rewards him with the highest award.

People such as the Wildensteins do not go down. Especially in France. Sarkozy is a glitzy, shady man who wants to be president again. Nothing will come out, everything will be denied, and the meek shall inherit the earth. And Wildenstein will get to keep his hundreds of millions.


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