Published 29 March 1998 Style Magazine 246th article
Flying high: Michael Winner, Vanessa Perry and Dieter Abt at the Eagle Club
It costs £10,600 to join the Eagle Club. It looks like a war-time bunker, sitting on top of Mount Wasserngrad, near Gstaad. Thereafter, the carefully selected members give an annual donation of their own choice, which the club announces on its notice board. I observed that most people gave £211, although Mr Sackler and Mr Wolff stretched to £245.
The purpose of the Eagle Club is to provide rest and succour to the glitterati, so they don't have to mix with tourists at a similar-looking restaurant a few yards below. People often ask, when I go to ski resorts, "Do you ski?" To which I reply: "No, I eat." I also enjoy going up and down in the ski lifts. You get a nice view of snow, pine trees, mountains and villages, occasionally over-virile skiers enter and pass a few bons mots. It's a thoroughly pleasant experience.
On the two occasions I have been taken to the Eagle Club - once by Roger Moore and recently by a German nobleman, Knautschi von Meister - it has been incredibly crowded. The trestle tables on the terrace look as if a contest is on, with a prize for the most-crammed-together bench seat. I was offered the best view, close to the rail, looking thousands of feet down the sheer icy drop below. Members' kids on a lower-level terrace threw plastic bottle tops into the ravine, which shows that vandals are the same whatever their class.
After waiting for ever at a door while overdressed skiers kissed each other and blocked it, we got to the terrace, where Januaria, Knautschi's friend, looked around. "Very disappointing," she said. "I don't see one single royalty today. Victor Emmanuel of Savoy, he's often here; Maria Gabriella of Savoy, Gonzalo de Bourbon, he's the first cousin of Juan Carlos, king of Spain. Farah Diba was here two days ago; she was the wife of the Shah of Iran . . ." She peered intensely and gave up.
"And King Constantine with his mobile phone," added Dieter Abt, a successful fiction writer, once owner of the British caterers who did royal garden parties until things collapsed rather dramatically. Dear Dieter was accused of fraud on various counts. I always liked him: he once invited me to the Wimbledon finals. I knew he was too stupid to commit fraud and, indeed, on the few counts the judge didn't throw out, the jury found him not guilty with alacrity. He is now a key member of the Gstaad set.
Not only was it a bad day for royalty, it was a terrible day for food. Bipo, one of the few waiters, had an impossible task. Someone ordered spaghetti. "Once you get the order in, it comes very quickly," said Dieter. Over an hour later he looked pretty silly.
I fought my way to the buffet, which was like a Granada service station. What little there was left looked tinned and unpleasant. I did get some nice mackerel and filled my plate anyway, because I sensed food would not rush toward me.
After an hour and a quarter, the pasta, now cold, and some roesti arrived. "The pasta wasn't good, was it?" observed Januaria. Even the roesti a national food of Switzerland, was described by someone at my table as "too greasy and not crunchy".
Still, it was a pleasant setting, and there's something endearing about seeing the super-rich putting up with conditions that would appal a coach party from Warrington. "I'll just say 10 coffees," Januaria muttered as Bipo arrived again. "That's how they make money," said Dieter. "You have to order 10 coffees to get one." He looked around at the chaos. "The wine's flowing like glue," he observed.
I nipped back to the buffet and got the last of the meringues, all eight of them. They were excellent. After that, everyone complained there weren't any left. By the time the coffee arrived, I'd decided, all in all, the Eagle Club was a terrific place. Bizarre, yes. A time Warp, yes. But I liked it.
Apparently, there's a problem. The Wasserngrad ski lift runs at a loss. "Three years ago it ran out of money, so the local people and the government put in money to save it," said Dieter. "It may not last much longer."
That would be terrible. The Eagle Club would be deserted, high in the mountains. Like the Titanic on ice. Where would Victor Emmanuel of Savoy go then? How would Gonzalo de Bourbon fill his days? Would King Constantine have to bring a picnic? Farah Diba, poor thing, would be inconsolable. So would I. It's too terrible to think about.
Having read several articles concerning Michael Winner's infamous lunch with my dear self at the Waterside Inn, it was interesting to note a number of untruths. First, it was I that made the reservation in my name, not Mr Winner. Second, the table given to us was one of the finest in the house and there was no request to change it. Mr Winner's opinions concerning the food and the restaurant were shared by other diners in the presence of Madame Roux. I have taken criticism from Michael Winner on several occasions and not had to resort to banning him. Even though his views sometimes hurt me, his behaviour has always been impeccable. I think it is sad that a person who has paid for a meal is not entitled to express his opinion, and Michel Roux should realise that it is only one man's opinion. I feel the only reason he has adopted this attitude towards Mr Winner is that he does not feel secure with his own product. Maybe that explains why he was not there on the day.
Marco Pierre White, London
I am writing to solicit your advice on behalf of the egghead boffins at Lincoln College, Oxford. We are eagerly looking forward to graduating, waltzing into top jobs and earning pots of money like yourself. However, at the moment, money is a little tight, and we'd like to know how we can maintain the appearance of arrogant toffs on our relatively limited budgets. How about taking us out to dinner at one of your favourite restaurants, so that everyone can see how rich and powerful we are going to be? Failing that, can you lend us a grand?
Daniel Moorland, Oxford
Michael Winner's waiter at the Palace Hotel, Gstaad (Style, March 15) made the amusing error of serving pineapple instead of apple pie. Surely this is more reasonable than mistaking red geraniums for carnations, as Mr Winner did? Perhaps he should stick to dinners rather than window boxes.
Stephanie Halse, St Davids, Pembrokeshire