The Perfect Guest; in America She's Royalty, in London She's the SAS with Nothing to Prove. Cornelia Guest Tells Annabel Rivkin How to Get Ahead in Society

By Rivkin, Annabel | The Evening Standard (London, England), August 22, 2003 | Go to article overview

The Perfect Guest; in America She's Royalty, in London She's the SAS with Nothing to Prove. Cornelia Guest Tells Annabel Rivkin How to Get Ahead in Society


Rivkin, Annabel, The Evening Standard (London, England)


Byline: ANNABEL RIVKIN

Cornelia Guest, the woman who taught the Superior American Socialite everything she knows, is sitting in one of the Dorchester's marbled bathrooms in a white dressing gown, with curlers in her hair and a towel wrapped around her feet to keep them warm. 'You need a new eyelash curler, girl!' she sniffs at the makeup artist, managing to pull off aristocratic disapproval and white-trash sass at the same time. She recommends her preferred brand of curler. Cornelia is full of 'top tips'.

We move from makeup to diet. 'Food combining,' she states firmly. 'Read Suzanne Somer's diet book and drink water- here, have mine.' Her hairdresser Snowden ('Snowy, darling') is hovering in the doorway. Six gargantuan security men guarding the gems from various Bond Street jewellers are crammed into the bedroom, uneasily watching a Jerry Springer chat show on cable. Two stylists, one PR, a rack full of MaxMara and a lot of croissants complete the vignette.

What would normally be a team for a photo shoot has organically become an entourage. I walk into the bathroom and find myself sitting cross-legged on the floor at Cornelia's feet - is this because she makes me feel super-comfortable or subservient?

To be fair to all of us minions, Cornelia Guest is royalty, albeit American royalty. Her father was Winston Guest, a cousin of Winston Churchill and heir to the huge Phipps steel fortune. Her mother is CZ (pronounced See Zee) Guest, former showgirl, garden writer, style maven and major American icon.

Her godfather was the Duke of Windsor. Rich Americans know their social register like the back of their hand and the Guests remain in a league of their own. As Truman Capote once remarked; 'Cornelia Guest has the number one name. The Guests are from real patrician stock, unlike the Vanderbilts and Rockefellers, who are descended from crooks.' About a year and a half ago, Cornelia, whose first love is riding, decided to bring her horses over to England with a view to working with a trainer she admires in Ascot and competing on the European circuit. When she hit London, the socialites gushed at the very mention of her name. 'She's an absolutely charming and amazing guest,' explains David Furnish whom she met with his boyfriend Elton John at a Christmas party. 'She's so well travelled, so interested. In New York she's very closely associated with her mother, whereas here she can be her own person in her own right.' She has become very close to David and Elton and there are plans afoot to take the famous White Tie and Tiara Ball over to America and to hold it at Templeton, the family's grand, dogfilled Long Island house.

She's loving London life, hanging out with fellow high-octane New Yorkers such as Elizabeth Saltzman Walker of Vanity Fair and Kim Hersov of Harpers & Queen but also being embraced by the staples of London society - only last year she was linked with the Duke of York. She opts for the ladies-who-lunch traditional hangouts such as San Lorenzo and Daphne's but 'I have been to Chinawhite once. I've grown up since Studio 54 but I will say that no nightclub will ever compare to that one in its heyday.' The pedigree and the spice are still absolutely apparent in her manner even though she's a glossy, calm 40 now and she likes the solidity of London. 'In New York you are transient all the time, I mean you are admonished for being photographed twice wearing the same dress - it's crazy.' She still has the Park Avenue preoccupation with style, 'Well, I'd rather not look like crap if I can avoid it, but frankly I love the country and I just want clothes that allow you to go from one place to the next. I mean, I have 12 dogs-' Cornelia first sprang into the public eye when she was declared American Deb of the Year in 1982 - she was reported to have gone to more than 500 parties but CZ explained in her inimitable style that she was admired because 'she was one of the few people who had the correct credentials. …

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