I’m not a big fan of dressing up like a prepped-out Hamptons dork.
Yet, there I was, sporting the obligatory blue blazer, linen shirt, khakis, and suede moccasins, desperately trying to fit in with the stuffy upper-crust crowd watching British scion Prince Harry take on Argentinean stud Nacho Figueras at the star-studded Veuve Clicquot Manhattan Polo Classic on Governor’s Island on Saturday afternoon, May 30.
It was glamorous. “It’s so lovely to see all these wonderful people dressed beautifully, ladies in hats,” said Mark Cornell, president and CEO of event sponsor Moet Hennessy and a dead ringer for the writer Christopher Hitchens.
It was exciting. “I love men who hit balls with sticks on islands off of Manhattan,” gushed the artist Dustin Yellin.
It was climactic. “Prince Harry! Sets up Revlich! And Revlich wins the game in the final seconds!” hollered the game’s announcer.
It was, in the words of writer Bob Morris, a “rubby” situation: “People feel that if they’re going to go to a polo match and then, on top of it, you have the imprimateur of Prince Harry, then they’ve rubbed up against privilege.”
And privilege was in plenty supply.
“I’m not witnessing a lot of recession suffering, that’s for sure,” said Mr. Morris, scanning the well-heeled crowd that afternoon. “I’m seeing the Hamptons moving into New York. I’m seeing a fuck-load of real estate that somebody must develop. I’m seeing a lot of well dressed people in need of a tab of ecstasy. You know what else it needs? Lily Allen walking around with a little potty mouth, drunk and insulting people.”
Earlier that morning, I had read all about Prince Harry’s hugely hyped U.S. visit in the New York Post, a trip culminating with the day’s looming polo match. He had schlepped up to Harlem, inspiring the kids with that common touch he inherited from his late mum, Princess Diana. What a role model!
This was the kinder, gentler Prince Harry, of course, a far cry from the pot-smoking, paparazzi-scuffling, Nazi-uniform-wearing royal pain in the arse that you read about in the British tabloids; the guy who once referred to a fellow solider serving in Afghanistan as a “raghead.”
In fact, that seemed to be the whole point of his visit; undoing his hard-earned bad-boy image.
“He’s doing a good job this week of doing all the right things, keeping a low profile,” David Lauren, son of Ralph and heir apparent to his father’s fashion empire, would tell me on the polo grounds later that afternoon; errant balls twice whizzing past us—one nearly decapitating some poor young woman in a big hat. “And he should stay low key for now, be understated. I think people are looking for him to be a good reflection of his country.”
I, too, tried to keep a low profile that afternoon. But it’s hard when you’re strapped with that all-important orange wristband. This was my golden ticket, entitling me to easier entry amid some super tight security and also allowing me the pleasure of briskly strolling past spectators in the general admission cheap seats. Commoners!
My ego soared all the way down an endless red carpet, fellow reporters and photographers roped off lest they invade my personal space with their microphones, recorders, stench.
I recognized a few comrades standing in the press line but didn’t nod, just kept staring straight ahead—hey, it is what it is, suckers, eat it!—waiting for a few camera clicks and inevitable whispers of “who’s he?”
Doesn’t happen. Suddenly, I heard someone excitedly say, “Are you Nacho’s sister?” Flashbulbs galore.
For the rest of the day, Mercedes Figueras, sister of Nacho, walked around saying, “I’m not your sister!”
Finally, I arrived at the VIP tent, where things quickly began to unravel. It seemed my hallowed orange wrist band no longer cut the mustard. I needed to fork over at least $1,000 (and up to $50,000) for a silver one to mingle with the A-listers.
Don’t you know who I am? An unwavering publicist pointed way off in the distance, where I was to spend the next five hours cooking in the sun. My heart sank as I watched some of the same journalists that I’d just been pitying get whisked right in. They saw me too. Ouch.
I guess that was part of the point of this whole extravaganza—to keep the prince away from fun-loving people like me.
Or Bungalow 8 owner Amy Sacco, for that matter, who later described her dream date with the dashing prince thusly: “I would kidnap him, give him a funny mustache, take him to a Rangers game, then to Patsy’s pizza in Brooklyn and off clubbing after, with Suzanne Bartsch, Kenny Kenny and Eric Conrad, then to La Esquina for breakfast burritos, before the tattoo parlor, then Bungalow 8 for a nightcap.”
Of course, Harry has a far less ambitious social secretary these days. After the match, he would be whisked back to England, long before the start of the official after-party later that night at Pink Elephant. (His absence partially explained the party’s lackluster turnout—the ubiquitous Byrdie Bell and her crew even failed to show up! Another reason: “Pink Elephant is sooo 2005,” as one nonplussed attendee put it.)
Yet, relegated to the so-called “picnic area,” nursing some champagne against my gastroenterologist’s wishes (too gassy), I couldn’t help but envy Prince Harry. Guy’s got all the youth, fame, money he could ever want and unquestionably presides as grand marshal in a stunning parade of ass beyond my wildest dreams.
And look at me, middle aged, swatting bugs, getting sunburned, miserable, and all for naught. I might as well be sitting with the commoners across the field.
Incensed, I stormed over to make my case for inclusion to the VIP gatekeepers, one of whom eventually agreed to let me into the tent, just as soon as the prince arrived.
I turned around and, suddenly, there he was—the prince!—hair messy like he’d just woken up from a long nap, hands in his pockets, schlumpy, walking by with his mates. I overheard one guy ask him if he happened to know Alexandra so-and-so, probably some hot dame. The prince said he did not. What a player!
I tried to follow them inside but was barred yet again at the gate. This time, I was told I could finally join the party just as soon as the prince leaves.
Eventually, I made it inside, where it seemed the prince had left an indelible impression on New York celebs.
“You know what, I’m not much of a royal sort of watcher,” said the designer Marc Jacobs, wearing thick James Brown-style platform shoes. “It’s like, I’m a New Yorker and the royal family has never fascinated me so much. But I just got to meet him and I have to say he was immediately charming, what one would expect a prince to be, really, really cool, nice, friendly, very engaging, and cool. Seems like a good guy.”
What about his missteps?
“I think we all do missteps,” said developer Aby Rosen. “His are reported. Yours and mine are not reported. So that’s the only difference.”
Interview magazine publisher Peter Brant described the prince as a bold, aggressive and fearless polo player like his dad, Prince Charles.
What’s he got that I don’t have?
“He’s a prince,” Mr. Brant said. “You know how they say it’s nice to be king?”
Rapper LL Cool J said that Harry had gravitas, a generous spirit, and didn’t give off any airs. The bad boy stuff was a plus. “None of us are perfect, we all have flaws and I think the average person when they see royals they think of them as perfect and him having some flaws, that only makes him more human and more natural and we respect that,” he said.
At the bar, investment banker Euan Rellie declared it a great day to be British because of Harry who, despite those “very trivial missteps” a few years ago, had emerged as a real credit to his country. “The Nazi uniform thing wasn’t a great idea in retrospect,” Mr. Rellie said. “Not particularly proud of that one. But he’s okay, he was a kid. I made mistakes at age 35 that he made when he was 18 and thank God mine didn’t get into the newspaper!”
After ordering a grassy mallet, Mr. Rellie continued, “People here seem to have fallen under his spell and I think he’s got some of his mother’s fairy dust. He’s also well spoken, entirely authentic, and he has some of the best qualities of British people, in that he takes serious things sometimes rather lightly and light things rather seriously in a way. He’s doing good charity work and seems to enjoy himself, wears jeans with a rip in them which humanizes him and makes him convincing as a result, gives him added authority. He’s not overtrained or over polished and comes across very naturally.”
Earlier, Mr. Rellie had witnessed the prince asking the photographers to “cool it guys” when they were getting carried away. He found it charming and disarming.
“There’s a high glamour quotient but the other thing that he brings is a slightly informal way which again makes it even more sexy,” Mr. Rellie said. “Girls are certainly nuts about him. My wife is nuts about him and we’ve been married for seven years! Talk to Lucy.”
Lucy Sykes Rellie, wearing a white wavy hat, chic fitted dress, fabulous high sexy shoes, described Harry as the antithesis of the stuffy old royal, inheriting his mum’s common touch and natural charm.
She denied having a crush on the prince, however: “Noooo! Noooo. He’s like 20 years younger than me! But I was very, very impressed. I mean everyone, I looked around the room and they were all in tears.”
Actress Chloe Sevigny, dressed in an ensemble she described as “American Gigolo slash Great Gatsby,” sympathized with young Harry’s life under his overbearing handlers: “I think they’re keeping him caged in. Poor prince.”
With that, my envy went through the roof. I had spoken to Ms. Sevigny on a half dozen occasions over the years and always failed to impress her with my drunken inappropriate questions. Harry didn’t even have to go out to get the actress’s attention.
The writer Mr. Morris found this amusing: “Oh, oh, oh, you can’t, like, bother just, like, envying, I don’t know, Dana Vachon, something reasonable. You have to go for the prince, the thin prince. Nice idea, George. Ha-ha-ha-ha!”
The good vibe changed as soon as the pop star Madonna arrived with her kids and an entourage to rival the prince’s own massive security force.
Her bodyguards made sweeps, demanding to see wristbands, kicking people out of banquettes, all to make things safe and comfy for the most famous woman in the world. I overheard several revelers saying that she ruined everything.
For two hours, I had been free to roam the VIP tent but suddenly a security guy was on my case, too, demanding that I produce a silver wristband or leave. Somehow I slipped away but continued to fret about the inevitable hand on my shoulder. I prayed they’d be gentle about it and wouldn’t toss me out back by the porta potties.
As the polo match reached its dramatic conclusion, the Material Mom vaulted the VIP fence to get a closer look from the sidelines.
Why didn’t I think of that earlier?
The announcer boomed, “What a match, what a game, what a beautiful day! What a great day for charity! What a great day for polo!”
As Madonna climbed back over the fence to her banquette, she stumbled, fell forward and grabbed onto a tent pole, which came toppling down in the direction of her children. Miraculously, they were saved.
“I’ve had no champagne, officer,” she said, laughing.
With reporting by Caitlin Keating
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