Of Twitter and teacups
GREY GOWRIE, seated opposite, is relishing the delicious boiled potatoes. (He is Irish, let’s face it.) We are guests at the same house party. One of the last surviving members of the Thatcher Cabinet, in which he served as Arts Minister, he is still outrageously handsome, gossipy, un-grand, witty, flirtatious, informed. He is an accomplished poet, which is evident in his conversation. Being a working artist infuses his instincts, as it then did his political decisions.
‘It’s remarkable how one can evaluate an era by its teacups’
His present-day equivalent, Karen Bradley, won her portfolio in Theresa May’s breathtaking reshuffle. So dazzling was the hand that the Prime Minister dealt that this particular appointment has been overlooked—apart from in this magazine’s Athena column (July 27). However, if I’m honest, my heart slightly sinks.
A senior tax manager for the accountancy firm Deloitte, Mrs Bradley lists her interests as ‘walking’ and ‘experimenting with recipes’. No poetry there, then. The most artful thing about her appears to be that she appointed her husband, Neil, as her Office Manager. As to the future of the portfolio for Culture, well, let’s see.
But the new Home Secretary… I mean, wow! She and I are dancing, a few days later, at a knock-’em-dead party in Oxfordshire. Amber Rudd I knew as the wife of A. A. Gill, the best column- ist of our time. He moved on, leaving the brave girl to bring up their attractive children and to build a career that has now reaped its reward. She’s looking good: cool, stylish, fun.
The band is excellent: 1980s retro ska, Madness-inspired, a fullbody bouncer. Crowding the dance floor around us are acrobats, royalty, musicians, equestrians, gardeners, gypsies, vagabonds and aristocrats (the interesting ones). Sir Peregrine Worsthorne, all long white hair these days and jutting beard, is as beautiful as Don Quixote.
Matthew and Emma Rice’s circle of friends is as eclectic as it is joyous. Emma Bridgewater, as she is better known, has defined our generation. Look at a Wedgwood saucer and you think of snooty Gainsborough ladies sipping their locked-up Lapsang. Look at a Clarice Cliff teapot and you imagine jazzbabies attitudinising over the Earl Grey. Look at one of Matthew and Emma’s mugs—we’ve all got one—and this present group of revellers, fired up on grouse and Negronis, suddenly becomes just as immortal.
Prosperous, yes, but not rich, not exclusive; generous; not forbidding; funny. Referencing the most outré of the Young British Artists and, at the same time, welcoming, comforting.
Playful with its playbill calligraphy, Bridgewater pottery cajoles one into liking this England. It’s remarkable how one can evaluate an era by its teacups.
We—james and I, I mean: the cabaret—are taking up a monthly residency at The Pheasantry, on Chelsea’s King’s Road. This astonishing little building, once Charles II’S hunting lodge, subsequently became the ballet studio in which Fonteyn and Nureyev conducted their love affair (whatever love means). It’s now a useful Pizza Express, wherein harassed nannies watch their infant charges crayoning on the tablecloths.
Pizza Express, to its eternal credit, has long been a lifeline for us cabaret folk. The pilastered basement is a respected and welcome venue for jazz musicians and chantoozes alike. In order to publicise our season, James has finally lured me into Tweeting: ‘It doesn’t matter whether it’s relevant. Just tell your followers what you’re doing. It establishes a Profile Presence,’ he instructs.
‘At a party with Helen Atkinson Wood. Although when I offered, she Woodn’t,’ went my first effort.
In a flash, Penny Smith, that smart-as-paint television pre- senter, had Tweeted back: ‘Michael Wood. But he’s history.’
‘Theresa May. And I’m still hoping Jemima Khan.’ ‘Tragically, Immanuel Kant.’ I’m enjoying Twitter hugely. Can’t think why I left it so long.
The Pheasantry is still to come. For now, I’m snatching a few days in the mountains of Umbria, or what’s left of them, working on an opera libretto with a composer who lives near Cortona.
They felt the earthquake here: ‘The ground shook, for about 15 seconds, but the scariest thing was what came next: a long, sighing groan, as if the hills themselves had been mortally wounded.’
Poor flattened Amatrice provided the infrastructure (shopping, banking, transport) for a host of satellite hill villages that now face a slower extinction. No pressure, Mrs Bradley, but the Ministry of Culture is a bit like that, too. Kit Hesketh-harvey is one half of Kit and Mcconnel, a Society cabaret entertainer, lyricist, opera translator and broadcaster. He lives in Norfolk