Julian Fellowes's period drama Downton Abbey, the second series of which is being filmed at Highclere Castle, has prompted a flurry of speculation about domestic staff. What is it like for them, and their employers?
JULIAN FELLOWES'S PERIOD drama Downton Abbey, the second series of which is being filmed at Highclere Castle, has prompted a flurry of speculation about domestic staff. What is it like for them, and their employers? I once had an unforgettable experience with a somewhat vague homosexual friend, who asked me to act as hostess at a small birthday drinks party he was giving for one of those termagant Macaroons from Palm Beach.
It was only on the morning of the party that we both realised we had forgotten to hire any waiters. Overriding my caveats, my gay chum asked an amiable fellow called Jim, who had been helping with some household carpentry, to act as butler. It was very simple — Jim was to put the champagne glasses on a large tray and go among the guests. Once the revellers had arrived, Jim began to carry out his instructions. Almost at once I heard the termagant shriek: ‘Is this a joke?’ Others were staring at their champagne flutes in bewilderment.
It occurred to me, with mounting hysteria, that we had omitted to explain to Jim that the glasses on the tray should have something in them. Our ‘butler’ fled, while the Palm Beach matron made what I would describe as a Batmanesque exit. Even if my bank balance were able to sustain domestic staff, my nerves certainly wouldn’t.
RECENTLY I WENT to a dinner given by Rolling Stone Bill Wyman. Also present were Bob Geldof and a luminescent Jerry Hall, in raffish knee breeches. Call me old-fashioned, but I was quite shocked by the evening’s proceedings. So far from being hell-raising, everyone’s behaviour was so sedate as to give the Amish a run for their money.
Sir Bob, who I always imagined to be a malodorous, ignorant leftie, spewing obscenities, was pristine, moderate and better informed than most politicians. As for the vittles, my hopes of caviar laced with cocaine were dashed by plates of roast beef and Yorkshire pudding. Even more shocking, there was very little imbibing of what Keats called ‘the blissful Hippocrene’, while at 11pm everyone left — for their own beds. Is this how self-respecting rock stars behave? Quel scandale!
I HAVE DECIDED to take up ballet. In the ballet world, it’s called the ‘Black Swan effect.’ Mesmerised by the film, hundreds of women are enrolling in adult ballet classes all over the country, hoping that they will morph miraculously into Natalie Portman. So I telephoned the London Central Ballet School and announced my intention of taking part in their beginners’ class.
‘Plié!’ shouts the ballet instructor. ‘Then jump. Eight times. And repeat.’ The girl standing beside me, as light and pliable as gossamer, bends her knees and sails into the air as if a languorous breeze is holding her aloft. I bend my knees and there is a crack like a pistol shot. Then I jump up and down, looking like a rusty Edwardian jack-in-the-box which, after spending a century in an attic, has finally been released, its springs flopping in every direction.
Fifty-one pairs of eyes on 51 lithe bodies swivel towards me. Only an unfit female, past the first flush of youth, who has never done ballet, could comprehend the full extent of my embarrassment. With my new black leotard, the skirt of which has slid down to my calves, opaque pink tights, and ancient Chanel bag at my feet, I look less like Natalie Portman than a manic depressive let loose in a fancy-dress shop. Was it sensible of me, I now wonder, to have booked another nineteen lessons?
LONDON-BASED JAMES Murdoch has been hailed as heir to his father Rupert’s vast media empire. I once took the young James, who is perfectly charming, to the theatre to see Anything Goes. He was a bit strapped for cash, so I lent him £10 for his taxi fare home. Could I have it back now, please?
I HAVE COME back from a winter holiday in Mauritius, spent at the Maradiva Resort, which is so deluxe it makes Sandy Lane in Barbados look like a boarding house. Mere rooms are considered frightfully démodé. Instead, there are 65 villas with their own pools, lit at night by Moroccan lanterns, and al fresco sitting rooms with air conditioning. Imagine: air con outside! These pleasure domes are set in a demi-paradise of gardens, bursting with hibiscus, roses and magnolia.
Moreover, the beach, which appears to have been ironed by God, is so spacious that the refuge-seeking rich and famous enjoy complete privacy, gabbing away without being overheard. This annoyed me intensely, as I adore eavesdropping on oligarchs and their sliver-like female companions. I did succeed, however, in creeping up behind one pot-bellied Russian with three women in tow, two of whom were his daughters. They were squabbling over a perfect pearl necklace on sale in the hotel for £14,000. There was some heated horse-trading before the women were gradually pacified by a timeshare on the necklace and two diamond baubles costing £40,000.
Why do I never receive such gifts? To paraphrase Dorothy Parker, it’s never a perfect pearl, only one perfect rose — usually bought at a nearby garage.