2011 – 2012

Oh dear, guilt, guilt, guilt, I’m so ashamed I haven’t kept up my website. Things have been difficult, of which more later, but if it is not too boring I thought I’d give an update on the last year.

Way back at the end of July 2011, I had a magical day at the Cartier Polo International at Smith’s Lawn. Sadly I haven’t had time to watch much polo since I wrote my novel, POLO, back in the early nineties and had forgotten what a fantastic, beautiful game it is.

Brazil beat England in front of a very glamorous crowd. My dear friend Anton Mosimann provided the most wonderful lunch and it was great fun to catch up with old friends like Christopher Biggins and George Milford-Haven, an incredibly handsome polo player, who when I was writing POLO, helped me in my research by taking me up in his helicopter to polo games. It was lovely seeing George again and an equally handsome old friend called John Rendall, looking wonderful in a white suit, red scarf and wide Panama hat. Suddenly I twigged. John was one of the wonderful boys who bought a lion called Christian from Harrods in the sixties, kept him in a Chelsea flat and took him to all sorts of parties.

Finally they very regretfully returned him to the wild where George Adamson looked after him. But most touchingly when John and his friend went back to see Christian some time later, he rushed out of the pride and thunderously purring put his arms round them hugging and kissing them. Happily such a wonderful story is going to be made into a feature film. John confided that he was very sad Richard Harris had died as he would have been the perfect George Adamson.

I was also pleased to see my old friend Lucia Vanderpost, a wonderful journalist, with whom I used to work on the Sunday Times back in the seventies.

I was accompanied to the Cartier by a new friend, Tim Buxton, who is an absolute charmer and with whom I am engaged in a project about which I hope you will all hear more in the future.

On the 19th of August, 2011 Felix my son and I had a magic two days at York races. Knavesmire, the York course is one of the most beautiful places in the world. You feel you’ve moved straight into Pride and Prejudice with beautiful houses nestling in the trees all round the course. On the Saturday we had a wonderful lunch with Weatherby’s and met all sorts of exciting trainers, horses and jockeys. Weatherby’s is the family firm which for 240 years has provided British horseracing with its central administration, acted as its clearing banker, and maintained the founding register of racehorse breeding.

We were also wonderfully well looked after on the Friday by our friend Robert Cowell, known as the handsomest trainer in England, and his very pretty wife Ghislane and watched their horse Prohibit coming third, ridden by a sweet jockey called Jim Crowley. Previously a jump jockey, Jim told me had lived on baked beans and bananas for months in order to lose enough weight to ride on the flat again.

I was also excited to meet Kieran Fallon and Richard Hughes. Although they are slight in build, jockeys have incredibly firm handshakes. Earlier, I actually walked the course with the Clerk of the Course to test the going which was fascinating, but quite a trek. No wonder the horses get exhausted by the end.

Poor Frankie Dettori was very discomforted when waiting for the start of a race, his horse reared up and he fell off backwards, whereupon the crowd laughed and shouted, why couldn’t he do his famous flight back up onto the horse?

York has a fantastic atmosphere, with a glamorous crowd determined to enjoy themselves. I hope our trip will make some exciting chapters in my next novel on the flat.
Early in August I was delighted to be asked to write a foreword to Beyond the Frame, Ed Whittaker’s magical book of racing photographs which was later launched with a wonderful party at the Motcomb Gallery.

On the 28th August I had a blissful time at the Proms listening to Mendelssohn’s Elijah, one of the most beautiful pieces of music ever written. I went with a great friend Ilsa Yardley, who is my daughter Emily’s godmother and also who engineered the great break in my career. It was at Ilsa’s dinner party in 1968 that I met Godfrey Smith, who asked me to write a piece for the Sunday Times colour mag. which magically resulted in a thirteen and a half year column for the paper. So I am eternally grateful to her.

We had a lovely evening as the guests of Roger Wright the Controller of Radio 3, a truly sweet man, and I was very excited to meet the opera critic Rupert Christianson and to see again my dear friend Bamber Gascoigne, who I used always to meet at David and Jossie Dimbleby’s parties in Putney. So it was a real memory lane evening.

A few days later I went over to Greatwood, the wonderful sanctuary that rescues racehorses and provides them either with a home there or with a new owner. One of Greatwood’s great achievements is the fostering of relationships between special needs or autistic children and these great kindly horses.

I was privileged that day to present prizes to those children who’d done particularly well and we had great fun together.

Greatwood is like a Garden of Eden, teeming with sheep, goats, naughty Shetland ponies and masses of dogs running around. The goats were particularly charming as they chewed away like Sir Alex Ferguson at a football match!

On the 11th September we celebrated the christening of our gorgeous grand-daughter Sienna Daisy in All Saints’ Church, Bisley. It was a beautiful day. The party was held at home but my daughter-in-law Edwina did all the cooking brilliantly, so it was all fun and no work.

As Transworld my publishers had very kindly agreed to re-print my book How To Stay Married first published in 1969, to coincide with our Golden Wedding in October, I was kept very busy promoting it through September and October.

John Macatee interviewed Leo and me for the Mail on Sunday about how we were coping with Parkinson’s Disease. I was very nervous as I didn’t want to appear posing as Mother Courage or to be grumbling or complaining about our lot when other people are having such a rough time. Fortunately John writes so beautifully and sensitively and his piece was accompanied by a lovely photograph taken of Leo and me in 1982 by Nikki English, daughter of the great Daily Mail editor, David English. I hope the piece helped people with Parkinson’s and I was also glad to be able to say thank you to all the people, particularly the carers and doctors and nurses who have looked after us from the National Health.

I was incredibly touched by the publicity How To Stay Married generated. The Sunday Times not only took extracts from the book, but also reprinted my new foreword, (or backword, because it was looking back over 50 years.) This was accompanied by another wonderful photograph taken by Nikki English, who could honestly make a pig in spectacles look beautiful.

The Sunday Times piece was followed by a lovely interview with Melanie McFadyean in the Oldie. I was thrilled by the cartoon of me looking foxy on the cover. Quite a buzz to be a cover girl for the first time at the age of 74.

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