Wear flat shoes, the invitation from Princess Michael urged. She and her husband, Prince Michael of Kent, don’t like stilettos on their lawns — it’s a garden party in a well-loved garden.
The Princess is as beautiful as ever, greeting all her guests with a kiss and a smile. I know better now than to get carried away and give her a bearhug... the last time I flung an arm around her, the temperature dropped about 30 degrees and the Princess hissed, “No Touching!”
She never ages, and I am aware that so many of my friends seem to possess the same decades-defying power. Sir Jackie Stewart, the former motor racing champion who is still one of the most powerful figures in Formula One, exudes the same youthful energy he did when I first met him at his home in Switzerland, in 1972.
I met Sir David Frost the same year. The two of them were chatting, and David waved to me across the bustling lawn. “Don’t forget — it’s my party tomorrow,” he called.
How could I forget? David’s annual extravaganza is one of the highlights of the celebrity calendar — though last year it was cancelled in the horror-stricken aftermath of the 7 July bombings.
David is another friend who simply never ages. In some attic, there are probably hundreds of faded, crumbling paintings, portraits of my generation — and I’d cheerfully bet that the attic belongs to Martin Summers, the connoisseur and gallery owner. He was there, of course — I met him for the first time at the Princess’s party last year, and since then he has laid on a spectacular exhibition for my protege, Stuart Semple.
Zandra Rhodes, another ageless beauty, glided across to me, and asked if I knew the Russian billionaire, Boris Berezovsky. He was chatting to Laurence Graff, the man they call the King of Diamonds. An East End boy, he made his start as a Hatton Garden apprentice — today his wealth is estimated at £450m.
I am always struck by Boris’s lack of ostentation. He drives the most expensive limousine in the world, a Maybach, but otherwise he’s discreet and understated... until you catch a glimpse of his watch, encrusted in diamonds. It’s probably worth more than that £250,0000 car.
Laurence was intrigued, naturally. I couldn’t match either of them for diamonds, but I was able to produce a watch I designed myself, for a Japanese company. Set in a transparent case, the face is cut into a clear sapphire. When the light catches the etching at the right angle, a Star of David appears. Only 300 were made, and I was delighted to be able to promise one both to Laurence and to Boris.
Talk of watches inevitably led to talk of spoons, but when I wandered off towards the royal kitchens, I discovered I had a shadow. Princess Michael had appointed a minder to make sure I didn’t bend any of the good silver — she really hasn’t forgiven me for my last visit. In the end I had to make do with a stainless steel ladle.
Strolling round town after Princess Michael’s party we were hailed by former England footballer Peter Beardsley and his lovely wife, Sandra (pictured - top). He told me he knew I was a secret Toon fan and an honorary Geordie — I told him I knew Sandra saved him from drowning a few years ago, in a pool with a sharp drop at the deep end. Peter’s not a big man, and he was a terrible swimmer at the time, so it was lucky Sandra had her wits about her. She dived in and hauled him to safety.
Goodness knows why that news story stuck in my mind, because I’d never met either of them before... perhaps it’s a psychic warning to me, never to go swimming with Peter Beardsley. Going for a meal, on the other hand, would be great fun, because they both struck me as genuinely nice, positive people.
There’s a strict rule at Princess Michael’s parties: no pictures. I talked Hanna into posing with me though. At David Frost’s do the next evening, I thought I wouldn’t get any celebrity pix at all, even though the gardens were stuffed with famous faces.
Many of the guests were political stars from across the generations — I spotted Lord Hurd, Lord Heseltine, William Hague, Charles Kennedy, David Blunkett and David Cameron.
Then one of my idols strolled by, and rules or no rules, I had to plead for a fan photo. Rod was completely cool about it. I wanted to talk about some of his incredible shows, but all he was interested in discussing was football — he knew I was a committed fan, and that was enough to get him talking.
He had trenchant, well-argued ideas about every aspect of the World Cup. The BBC should use him as a studio summariser, because his viewpoints are fresh and he isn’t afraid of speaking his mind. As I listened to him tell me how the Portugal team deserved to be punished, I kept thinking, “This would make such great TV.”
Billy Connolly joined us with his wife, Pamela Stephenson. He reminded me that I’d once promised to bend a spoon for him on a plane, and then fallen asleep before he could find anything that wasn’t made out of plastic. “I dinnae why I’m tellin’ ye this,” he admitted, “cuz I dinna have a spoon with me now!”
Pamela offered one of her gold bracelets instead. I rested it lightly on my palm, held my fist over it and watched it curl upwards. She grabbed it before it could snap and then went through my pockets — “If you’ve got a laser beam machine, I’m going to find it,” she warned.
I just let her search. If I had lasers in my pockets, they would have cut me in half long ago.
The paparazzi snapped everybody, but the couple who generated the most excitement were Hugh Grant and Jemima Goldsmith. As they returned to their house across the street, Hugh seemed to fumble with the lock.
After a minute or two, they gave up and walked away, apparently unable to get into their own home. It was like watching a scene from one of his movies — maybe that Bumbling Englishman act isn’t such a put-on.