Magazine article The Spectator

Tact and Taste

Magazine article The Spectator

Tact and Taste

Article excerpt

Gstaad

Now I understand why Ella, the Oxford Union treasurer, turned down my marriage proposal. According to research, one woman in four has a younger husband. Ella is 19, I'm no toyboy at 67, but still it's a tough pill to swallow. And speaking of old farts, Alexis de Rede, the last of the well-born bumboys, died two weeks ago in Paris at 82. As the Daily Telegraph wrote, he was known as 'la Pompadour de nos jours', because he made his fortune the old-fashioned way, as a pillow-biter to that wonderful old Chilean bugger, Arturo Lopez-Wilshaw. Although happily married to Patricia, Arturo was always looking for other buggers while living a life of extreme luxury and good taste. His last boyfriend before he met Alexis was an Englishman, Tony Pawson, a man who had the dubious distinction of making a terrific pass at me on my first night ever on the French Riviera. (No, nothing happened and I didn't hit him either. Actually I was quite flattered. Oh, that's how it goes down on the Riviera.)

By the time I came on the scene in 1957, Rede was known as 'le faux baron', because he styled himself a baron. Ironically, he was as genuine a baron as one could be. His father was a Jewish-Austrian banker called Rosenberg, who was ennobled by Emperor Franz-Joseph in 1916. He then moved to Liechtenstein under the name Baron de Rede. Alexis was born in Zurich in 1922. Even more ironical is the fact that the Almanach de Gotha refused to include the Rede title. (There was talk that he had bought it. So what else is new?) Alexis was obviously a dandy, but very Germanic. He combined a daring lifestyle with great tact, and flamboyance with great taste. Women like Marie-Laure de Noailles and later on Marie-Hélène de Rothschild were in love with him, the former actually seduced him. He was slim, tall and courtly, but extremely reserved, almost distant. He was as laconic as it is possible to be without being downright rude.

He and Arturo would sit on the deck of their beautiful gin palace La Gaviota, and look at us youngsters frolicking about. On Hydra, the Greek island, I watched from my father's boat as the crew would lower Arturo and an Italian grande dame, La Moffa, in a large net into the water to cool themselves down, then winch them back up again. …

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