Ladies and gentlemen, Elvis hasn’t left the building yet. But he’s on his way.
Just days before the Australian GP, my great friend David Merlini, the Hungarian escapologist, called me: he had flown to London for a meeting at Bernie’s offices, and happened to mention my name. Now Bernie was intrigued… so could I join them?
I did, and the next day we met again, for lunch at the Carlton Towers. I am constantly amazed at how my Hungarian connections seem to create a web of synchronicities that draw me to fascinating people.
David, who was born in Budapest, met Bernie during the Hungarian Grand Prix, and they became firm friends. My mother spent her childhood in Budapest, and my parents were married in the great synagogue there.
Bernie’s daughter Tamara joined us for dinner. She told me she is passionately opposed to fur in fashion, and is using her status as a model and TV presenter to back PETA, the campaign for the ethical treatment of animals. She even posed nude for a PETA photoshoot, draped only in an F1 starter’s flag.
She presents Channel Four’s Red Bull Air Race World Series, and I told her of my aerobatic antics in a biplane over Budapest with the stunt champion pilot, Peter Besenyei.
Tamara simply smiled and said it sounded like fun. No wonder FHM ranks her among the world’s most eligible women — of course, any girl who grows up around Grand Prix cars and racing drivers is going to be blase about a little thing like looping the loop in a stunt plane.
Her father Bernie is a lovely man — charming, humorous and clever. It’s often the way that super-rich people are the most relaxed and likeable: they can be competitive without being negative or destructive. Bernie is a naturally positive, optimistic guy, and we clicked immediately.
Some of the kindest people I’ve ever known have been billionaires. I remember Cornelius Vanderbilt Wood, the oil executive and theme park designer who helped Walt Disney to create Disneyland in California. Everybody, even his wife, the actress Joanne Dru, called him C.V. — he treated his staff like members of his family, and of course they responded with love and loyalty.
Every minute with C.V. was a pleasure. It was like spending time with a favourite uncle. I wanted to hear how his imagination had dreamed up Disney rides like the Magic Mountain roller-coaster, but he told me his wildest adventure was crossing a bridge… from England to America.
In 1968 C.V. joined forces with his boss, Robert P McCulloch, who owned the McCulloch Oil Corporation, to buy London Bridge. The bridge, constructed from Dartmoor granite, was sinking into the Thames, and had to be knocked down.
C.V. calculated the value of the raw stone at $1.2million, and offered double that to have it dismantled piece by piece and shipped across the Atlantic to Long Beach, California. From there, the bridge was loaded by road to Lake Havasu City in Arizona and reconstructed.
It was the ultimate oilman’s whimsy, and for a while in the late Sixties every con-artist in London was busy selling bridges to Americans. C.V. was a wily businessman, though, and London Bridge is now one of Arizona’s biggest tourist attractions, at the centre of a winter holiday resort of condos and golf courses.
It just goes to show that nice guys can be the biggest winners.
On the flight to Cannes for the Mipcom fair, I was chatting with Little Britain’s Matt Lucas. He’s instantly recognisable, even when he’s not wearing the tight shorts and leather top of ‘the Only Gay in the Village’.
All the cutlery on commercial flights is plastic, but I promised to bend a spoon for him when we touched down. In the terminal, though, we lost sight of each other — Matt was ushered through customs with just hand luggage, while Shipi and I were waiting to collect our suitcases.
I’m learning to love minimalism at home, but I haven’t got used to it when I travel.
Luckily, I caught up with Matt immediately — we were both booked into the Hotel Martinez. It’s on the Boulevard de la Croisette, with magnificent views across the bay. I borrowed a hotel spoon, and Matt was amazed to see it droop in front of his eyes.
“That reminds me of an ex-boyfriend,” he said, but I didn’t like to ask him what he meant.
I won’t even carry a credit card, so it is strange that one of my oldest friends is my accountant, Pheroze Sorabjee at Jeffcote Donnison. It’s that time of year whe
n tax affairs have to be tied up and papers have to be signed, so Shipi, Hanna and I made time to drive into London one morning last week to sign the paperwork.
We bought ourselves to a coffee in Selfridges first, where Hanna discovered the perfect treat for the occasion — a bag of Credit Crunch Chocolate. “Let’s invest inthese,” she said. It was the sweetest moment of the day.
And speaking of sweet things, I treated myself to a Sorbet Explosion in Cannes at dinner this evening… six different flavours, piled high in a glass. Sorbet is really just coloured ice, but it looked like ten thousand calories!
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