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. She looked like her background.' In 1986 she was pronounced American Deb of the Decade and although the circuit was deeply unfashionable in the Eighties, Cornelia was proud to be a debutante - after all, as a Guest, she had nothing to prove.
She wrote a book called The Debutante's Guide to Life which has been compared to The Sloane Ranger's Handbook of the same era and which aimed to educate young women in the elusive arts of 'Oh, you know, how to eat a quail and write a thankyou note, that sort of thing,' she breezes. 'It's almost impossible to get hold of now, I tried on the internet just out of curiosity- nothing.' She seems unbothered.
While cruising comfortably at the pinnacle of 'good' society, Cornelia was also becoming notorious for hanging out with an altogether faster crowd at Studio 54 which was in its swinging heyday. She was best friends with Andy Warhol, whom she'd met aged eight at one of her mother's dinner parties, and buddies with the fashion designer Halston whom she adored. She was described by media commentators as a threat to Jerry Hall because of her friendship with Mick Jagger, while other escorts included Rob Lowe, Warren Beatty, Tony Curtis and Philippe Junot. She threw a 24th birthday party for Boy George where guests included Madonna and John F Kennedy Jnr and yet, amid all of this, she was still lampooning her background by singing with her band The Debettesat Xenon nightclub and crooning a ditty of her own composition on The David Letterman Show. 'Yes, I rebelled for a while,' she sighs, 'but my mother is a very smart lady - she never said a word. I mean, I never got any piercings or anything, but I definitely wore too much makeup.' At 24, she decided it was time to settle down and got engaged. To Sylvester Stallone.
'I'm fed up with bimbos and actresses,' he said at the time, 'I'm happy with Cornelia because she's honest, intelligent and she's not after my money.' She was, after all, heiress to a monumental fortune but, as she said in her book, 'It's common to talk about money.' The couple took a vicious battering from the press who accused her of being a publicity-seeking airhead. For some reason people were prepared to be kind about the Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria (Kennedy) Shriver romance while Cornelia and Sly were ridiculed. The relationship didn't last.
Cornelia went quiet and sought refuge in her horses: 'I was born on the back of a horse.' She based herself at her family's famous Old Westbury House on Long Island and rode professionally for 12 years. 'I think I enjoy the partnership aspect of riding most. You and your horse are both working to win,' she says. She remained consistently visible on the New York social scene but became gradually less conspicuous and seemingly proportionately less frivolous.
She had a couple of low-key relationships, most recently with English Olympic equestrian Tim Grubb, but at the moment she's single.
By the time we've been hanging out on the shoot for a couple of hours I've been relocated, re-employed and married off. She has a hugely expansive personality - I'm sure that if things were to go wrong an impenetrable patrician icemask would descend, but today there is no hint of anything other than cosiness except when the hotel decides that the schedule has changed and we can't shoot where we've set up. 'Oh, don't be ridiculous,' says Cornelia glacially, 'it'll take five minutes.' What do they do in the face of such apparent confidence? Relent, of course.
Forceful, yes. But not above going a bit glassyeyed over accessories - Louboutin shoes and, most particularly, the Cutler and Gross shades the stylist provides. She wears them the whole time her hair is being done. 'Can I have them? Please just call them- they'll say yes.' They did. Such Grace Kelly charm augmented by steel is just the sort of thing that led CZ to comment when her daughter turned 21, 'Cornelia is some number.'
CORNELIA GUEST'S GROOMING GUIDE
. Have weekly manicures and pedicures to look polished.
. Use La Prairie Skin Caviar for the face and body - keeps skin looking young and gorgeous.
. Take plenty of exercise and fresh air to maintain a youthful appearance.
In London I do Pilates and go riding whenever I can.
. I have weekly massages with London massage therapist Kirsty McLeod (020 7259 0424).
. This autumn I will be wearing the MaxMara fur-trimmed cape in cream - I love winter white and brown.
. My must-have for the season is a fantastic little MaxMara navy side-buckled wool skirt which can be worn by day with great boots and into the evening with high stilettos.
. My favourite shoes are from Manolo Blahnik and I will be wearing a high pump in buff suede.
. Gucci's dark brown snapple bag is my new bag of the season.…
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: 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. Contributors: Rivkin, Annabel - Author. Newspaper title: The Evening Standard (London, England). Publication date: August 22, 2003. Page number: 22. © Not available. COPYRIGHT 2003 Gale Group.