Thursday, May 22, 2008

A Day in the Life of A Royal

Last night's dinner for the American Associates of the Royal Academy Trust at Dame Jillian Sackler's. Photo: JH.
A beautiful and coolish sunny day in New York.

Where were they.
Last night down at Christie’s, Maggie Jones, Executive Director,  and Silda Wall, founder, of Children For Children hosted their 8th annual “The Art of Giving” gala dinner benefit and honored  Sherrie Rollins Westin of Sesame Workshop and David Westin of ABC News. Co-Chairs: Blair Husain, Kathy Lacey and Jim Hoge, Cynthia McFadden, Daniel and Leora Rosenberg, and Joe Versace.

Up in Central Park at the Zoo, the Wildlife Conservation Society held its annual The Explorers’ Party, a family benefit that celebrates education, wildlife, and the fun of learning. The Explorers’ Party provides critical support for educational programs in all five of the Wildlife Conservation Society parks.

And down at Cipriani 42nd Street, the Cooke Center for Learning and Development honored Tom Freston, principal, Firefly 3 LLC and former president and CEO of Viacom, and attorney Phyllis K. Saxe at its 21st Anniversary Gala.

While over at Carnegie Hall in Zankel Hall, New York Festival of Song (NYFOS) presented “Here To Stay” celebrated its 20th anniversary season with performances by artists from the classical, opera and Broadway stages with NYFOS Artistic Directors Steven Blier and Michael Barrett as pianists and hosts. Following the concert, the evening continued with a dinner and additional performances in the Pegasus Suite at The Rainbow Room at Rockefeller Center.

At the beginning of the evening, up on Park Annabelle and Alberto Mariaca hosted a cocktail reception at their beautiful apartment for the great Peruvian writer and politician Mario Vargas Llosa.

HRH Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex and Dame Jillian Sackler
Several of the guests went on from there up the avenue to the fabulous maisonette of Dame Jillian Sackler, widow of the great American medical man and philanthropist Arthur Sackler. Dame Jillian was hosting a dinner for forty to mark the 25th anniversary of the founding of the American Associates of the Royal Academy Trust. The guest of honor was His Royal Highness, Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex.

The Prince, as you may have read here yesterday, is in town to promote his father, the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award International Association and its International Special Projects. The objective is to raise funds to provide “seed-corn finance” to encourage initiatives, partnerships and new ways of reaching young people – especially those at risk. The motivation is the fact that one-fifth of the world’s population is under 25 and many are struggling to cope with social pressures, academic expectations and the transition from adolescence to adulthood, and that the distractions for teenagers today are increasingly more dangerous than earlier generations faced.

Although the Prince’s appearance last night was specifically for the Royal Academy and its American Associates who provide ample financing for the RA’s projects.

New Yorkers, especially older, well-heeled New Yorkers will always turn out for royalty, especially British royalty; although the days of socialite pandemonium that Diana the Princess of Wales provoked are now gone – and perhaps forever if the social behavior of her children’s generation is any indication.

Prince Edward, now always referred to in introduction as the Earl of Wessex, is a pleasant fellow who still looks like a recent grown-up except for the premature bald spot on the top of his head. He’s bright-eyed, kindly in manner, and more at ease in his role as one of his family’s ambassadors than he was when I first saw him here a few years ago.

He resembles his father more than either of his brothers, and has his father’s voice although, like his brothers, he apparently lacks his father’s sureness of wit. The Duke of Edinburgh, no matter his habit of making politically incorrect references, can/could be a very funny, even ironically self-deprecating (at times) anecdotalist.

What is notable about being in the presence of the British royals – with the exception of Diana and her successor, Camilla, HRH the Duchess of Cornwall – is that they seem (or seemed) at all times, no matter how relaxed in conversation, to be quite separate from everyone else. That is: not one of us, in any way, shape or form. They lack the common touch, shall we say. But then of course, they walk with kings not because they are great but because they are kings.

Before one of the Earl of Wessex’ appearances this time, guests were “advised” as to how to greet him. The etiquette of meeting a prince, so to speak. He was to be addressed as “Sir.” It was all right to shake his hand and all right for women to curtsy before him (if they wished), although not all right for men to curtsy (if they wished?). We were told to refrain from taking a photo of him and please ... no autographs please. There have been times when the Prince, the Earl, has been asked for an autograph. His response was simply “no.”

It is rarely likely that guests at black tie dinners would ask a British royal prince for an autograph but then you never know with some people. Conversation, from what I could observe (or experience) is very polite, very civilized, very superficial and very brief. Therefore there is that large grey area that can never be broached.
Seated from l. to r.: Jamie Figg, Frank Wyman, Lee Thaw, Kenny Lane, and Barbara Bancroft. Standing: Rich and Carol Miller with Pemmy Frick.
Because of their media popularity and their goldfish bowl existences, there is so much general trivia known about them – their wives, their alleged love lives, their houses, children, hobbies, and even, of course, the occasional scandals. This is all out of bounds, conversation-wise. You would never think to say, “what do you like to do in your spare time?” Or “where’s the wife?” Or, “what’s it like to have a queen for a ma?” Or “how does your father treat you?” All of those things that interest the public (which, after all is almost all of us) that reveals a person, a personality, a character, are out of bounds.

This is because, as it was explained to me by one of the royal equerries, the Royals are really an Institution more than a group of individuals known as family. They are advised and counseled in how to behave with the public as institutional figures. And when they get it wrong, "behind closed doors" they are informed and advised otherwise. Therefore they can have no “real” relationship with the public like the rest of us, but instead have an institutional relationship. Unless of course it’s on the Q.T.

Despite this, of course, we know that somewhere under those stout hearts, thinning bloodlines and kind coronets lurk real people since that is the nature of all humanity. There is also a whole shadow world of Royal Household staff members who can – and frequently do -- tell what the “sirs” and “ma’am’s” are really like when the doors are closed and the shades drawn. Often what you learn is that can be just like the rest of us – small lives caught up in their own mere existences and confusions; victims of passions, deceits; daydreamers with inexplicable obsessions, fixations; hopes and wishes buttressed by disappointments, misunderstandings and the odd day to day human habits.

However, because of the parameters – walls, really -- that separate them from the rest of us, one is left with the impression that over all they are very dull. One is not, was not, left with that impression from some of the women in the family, most especially those who married into it like Diana who had such a profound impact on the world, or Fergie, the duchess of York, or even the very horsey Camilla who has a warm bright smile on meeting, and the confidence to go with it.

Nevertheless, they remain an interesting curiosity if perhaps only because we have very limited accessibility to them and their “other-worldly” lives.
The dining room before dinner.
There is a woman here in New York who often appears on these pages, named Barbara de Portago, who runs foundations related to Versailles and the Monet Gardens at Giverny. Every year she hosts a fund-raising dinner for her foundations and invites a royal personage as a guest of honor. Most of these royals are related to ancient lineages but defunct thrones – like France, Russia, Italy, etc. For the occasion, they are asked to speak to the guests about their history or their experiences as royals. 

What they all seem to share in common is a sense of obligation and duty to their countrymen, their fellow man, whether exercised, realized or not. What they all seem to share in common with the rest of us is pride or interest in family and heritage and – whether exercised or not – a responsibility to the greater good -- far more than a lot of our leaders demonstrate much of the time.

After hearing their talks I am always left with the impression that that is what it is like to be truly royal. No doubt that is what lies at the core of the Windsors, at least with their Queen, and quite possibly with her issue.
Frannie Scaife
Ann NItze and DPC
Kathleen Hearst
John Whitehead and Victoria Wyman
Betty Scott, Daniel Rose, and Stanley Scott
HRH The Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex shaking hands with Pierre Durand, Barbara Bancroft, and Theresa de Bulgheroni
(from Argentina)
Lady Renwick (American Associates Board Member) with Alexis Gregory
Kenny Lane and Sam Peabody
Lucy McGrath
HRH Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex
Martin Sullivan (CEO AIG) with Ann and Bill Nitze
Pierre Durand and Diane Nixon (American Associates Board Member)
Guests entering the dining room.

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