Sunday, July 13, 2008

Miss a day, Miss a lot (and an English Royalty Lesson)

I’m hanging in the UK for a bit longer than I expected, but then… it’s not like I have a bus to catch! But here’s a bit of what’s been going on.

After the let-down of having Wimbledon and the Henley Regatta over, the only thing left was to watch “Competitive Bell Ringing” on the BBC. (You think I’m kidding??) Teams from all over the UK came for a full-day of clanging 12-bells. I did doze off a bit, but I think it was the team from Birmingham who wom. Or was it Leeds?
The Brits love their “presenters,” who are the hosts of various TV shows. Graham Norton is my favorite, not just because he’s such an outrageous gay man but because he’s really quite funny. And because he’s on late night, there’s lots of four-letter words!
I was channel surfing late one night, and whom did I spot but David Hasselhoff, and my bff from Las Vegas. (He and I exchanged some emails after I did an interview with him, and I was honored one night when he actually stood up and hugged me at a party a few weeks later, as if he really remembered me.) The Hoff was host of a show where the host changes each week, and they pull lots of silly stunts.
I do like how they start and end shows at odd times. A show can begin at 11:15, and it can run 40 minutes if they want. Sure, there’s still lots of 30 and 60 minute programming, but not all!
OK, just two more. I also try and catch a show called QI, the reverse of IQ, hosted by Stephen Fry. He has four people on who answer masterful questions about anything under the sun. But mostly it’s a humor show where they try and be wittier and pithier than the next, but none more so than the erudite Fry.
And, for all you family tree fans, there’s a show called “Heir Hunters” where a team goes on the road to find heirs to unclaimed fortunes. It’s amazing how they can build and build the excitement to the point where someone opens the door to find they’re going to inherit $20,000 unexpectedly. Where’s Ed McMahon when you need him?
And have I mentioned GINGERS before?? A “ginger,” in Brit parlance, is anyone with red hair. It’s a mildly derogatory, almost said with pity: “Oh, there’s a ginger…” like, you poor thing. It’s like a ginger is cursed by the devil, but everyone understands it’s out of their control.
Maybe the gingers are all the ones I see with the wild dyed hair: bright pinks, yellows and blues. Is that so 1980?
I caught a new musical called “Marguerite,” which was written by the guys from Les Miz, Boubil and Schonberg, with music by Michel Legrand. You’d think, wouldn’t you? But no, it was a bit of a disappointment. It stars Ruthie Henshall, who’s a big deal in the West End of London, but not very known in the States. The surprise was the romanic lead: Julien Overden. He’s done a bit in New York, but he’s got an amazing voice and quite a looker, too.

I’ve never quite understood the whole hierarchy of British royalty but now, thanks to Ali’s boyfriend Ed Monckton, here’s that list:
Monarch (King or Queen)
Royal Prince/Princess
Duke (addressed as Your Grace)
Earl (but written as Lord Whatever)
Viscount (again, addressed as Lord)
Baron (addressed as Lord, but using first name, as Lord Charles)
Knight (called Sir, as in Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber)
And then there are “courtesy titles,” which can be titles given just for the person’s lifetime (rather than a peerage that passes down to the children), and those cam be anything from Earl or Duke down to The Honourable. WHSmith is actually The Honourable WHSmith, but that’s only a written title, never spoken.
Phew, got it?

The "Big Party" Report

It’s Sunday, July 13 here in London, and I’ve been a lazy blogger. “The Big Party” was a week ago, and it took me a full three days to recover. NOT that I was hungover (I wasn’t, because I really didn’t have time to drink much at the party), just exhausted, as we all were.
But, essentially, the party was a huge success. It just proves once again that, if you have the right elements, putting on a great event isn’t a mystery. Great food, excellent music and an interesting mix of people – that’s all it takes.
The “marquee” (or tent) company took four days to put up on the lawn adjacent to the Manor House in Hambleden, where Henry’s mother lives. It involved the 4,100 square foot main tent, plus an attached tent for the cocktail reception and two auxiliary tents (for the kitchen and a room for the orchestra). Then the specialty lighting people took a day and a half, after which the caterer came in to set the tables and linen. The flower lady arrived on the morning of the event to place all her gorgeous flowers (that cost who-knows how much!), and the last to arrive were the furniture people, who put in the couches and tables into the reception tent, and finally the casino games people, who set up their tables in the conservatory.
Whoops, and don’t forget the valet car parking service, which is somewhat rare in England. Most of the time, you self-park but Sara insisted that people should be able to pull up in front of the Manor and walk in without having to slog through the car park field across the street. (We lucked out with good weather, but it would’ve been a total mess if we had had rain that day.) And, who can forget the portable loo – the most amazing porta-potty I’ve ever seen. It was the size of a trailer, and had nice towels, music and framed art inside. (Too bad it got clogged up by around 11 pm, but that’s another story…)
Canapes (what we would call heavy hors d’oeuvres) consisted of salmon, shrimp and tuna, as well as guacamole in pastry cups and sausages (of course, it’s England!). Then the curtains were drawn, and guests all took their seats. There were mostly tables of eight, and each had a place card – figuring out who sat where was a process that went on for a week beforehand. (I had a hand in it, and my biggest faux pas was evidently placing two “arch rivals” not only at the same table, but literally right next to each other. Whoops.)

Dinner was served around 9:30 pm: filet steaks with fancy spuds and veg, and it was delicious, I must say. Then there were speeches, where daddy Henry introduced and thanked everyone, then friends of Sara (the 21 year old) and Ali (the 18 year old) gave witty short talks about them, those clever Brits.
Dessert came next: American-style cupcakes with fresh berries. Then the 14-piece orchestra kicked in for a few hours of big band music, followed by a few more hours of “live DJ.” To top it off, the caterer brought out “bacon butties” and chips (French fries) at around 1 am, which are basically bacon on hamburget buns with ketchup, but the kids all scarfed them up without haste.

Everyone looked fantastic in their gowns and tuxes. Sally in her Carolina Herrera, and the girls in their designer togs as well. Earlier in the day, there was a team of hair, makeup and tanning people all over the house, making sure everyone looked their absolute best.
I was familiar with most of the guest names, since I kept the rsvp list and did the place cards. Henry came with Frida, aka Anna-Frid, the original brunette in ABBA. (They’re living together at her home in Zermatt.) The Duke and Duchess of Norfolk arrived, and they’re good friends of all the Smith’s. (The Duke, aka Eddie, is the secular head of the Catholic Church in England, and a very high peerage.) Lord Hambleden, the girls’ grandfather, wasn’t able to make it, evidently due to a sick doggie at home. Whatever.

After the party, some of the kids “retired” to their cars, where they slept, and a few even pitched tents. Mind you, these were the same kids who wore gowns and tuxes, but it’s considered completely normal for them to sleep it off in their cars and then drive home “sober” the next morning.
Sara had set up a sea of blow-up mattresses in her dad’s rental house not far away. I never made it over there, but 20 or so made it to the after party, which lasted til 6 am or so… (When I asked Sara is there was going to be some hanky-panky, what with all these virile 20-somethings, a lot of booze and a room full of mattresses, and she said: “No, we have more self-control than Americans.” Touche!)
I’m sure I’ve forgotten some of the details – like the guy who arrived in his helicopter! Of course, the fun of such an evening is then hearing all the stories for the next week or so. The biggest scandal of the night seems to be a toss up between the guy who got so drunk he tried to walk home but then someone found him passed out in the bushes with his legs sticking out – or there were the two guys who were discussing who’s who at the party, and one said to the other “who’s the one in the blue dress with the bad roots,” and the other guy said: “that’s my girlfriend.” Whoopsie!
All in all, it was an amazing evening, and I was glad I could be a part of it. But the question remains: how are the girls gonna top this at their weddings!?!?!