Published 29 October 2000 Style Magazine 381st article
Tan gent: Michael Winner with Willy De Bruyn and the models (Georgina Hristova)
On the day that British summer time ends, I think back to hot days I enjoyed. Nearly all of them abroad. It was then that Willy De Bruyn, the only amusing Belgian in the world, rang me at La Reserve de Beaulieu and said: "Would you like me to fly you in my helicopter to St Tropez?" So we went to the helicopter pad in Monte Carlo. There was Willy, very smart in immaculate beige trousers, a pink short-sleeved shirt and black shoes. My frayed, cut-off jeans were abysmal by comparison. St Tropez had closed its helicopter pad because locals objected to the noise, but some of the private beaches still let Willy land. He chose the Tahiti beach restaurant, owned by his friend Felix Palmari. "In France," Willy explained, "a municipality can concession one third of its beaches to become private." We landed in the car park.
I've never understood St Tropez. The port is pleasant but vastly overcrowded with souvenir shops and quayside vendors. Behind it are streets full of boutiques, where I've bought many items of clothing. Surrounding the town are private beaches with sun loungers laid out in close proximity to each other. They offer a restaurant, a beach shop selling high-class designer stuff and a bar. There was full-scale panic when I said I'd like to eat my lunch with a view of the sea and the topless girls stretched out between the restaurant and the water. They checked and rechecked a list of reservations, finally putting me where I wanted to be. We were offered drinks, but Willy declined. "Don't you drink?" I asked. "Not when I fly my distinguished friends," said Willy. Obviously there was someone else going in the helicopter on the way back.
The chef, Michel Royer, recommended the Swiss beef entrecote, so I ordered that. I'm easily led.
Willy, who until recently owned the excellent Royal Riviera hotel in Beaulieu, said: "You're going to have a fashion show of beachwear."
"Where?" I asked.
"Here, today," he replied. "When Willy rakes you out, he takes you out."
A black man and a white man played guitars rather too close to me for comfort. Some very good parma ham was delivered to the table and I was given something special for the first course even though I'd ordered melon. This often happens. Nobody takes any notice of what I order. They insist on giving me something they consider significant. "What's this?" I asked the waitress. She waved her arms around. Willy said: "It's lobster something." We decided it was lobster done with avocado. Perfectly pleasant.
What happened next is unclear because sometimes when I speak into my tape it makes no sense. I dictated: "Mashed potato came with the beef with a sort of fried, thin layer of potato on top and this is even more amazing because Willy is from a suburb of Brussels. Willy is 59. I never believe anyone who has a 9 on their age anyway." Bizarre. I think the tape must have jammed.
Earlier we'd flown over vast fish farms. The Mediterranean is so overfished that this false breeding has to make up for it. Battery fish like battery hens. I ﬁnd it depressing.
A waiter then spilled oil on my beach shoes. I finished with a selection of sorbets. Georgina had a huge fruit plate. Then she went into the boutique to try on a long chiffon beach wrap. "Do you have that shorter?" asked Georgina.
"No," the woman said. "That version of it is long."
"It was quite all right," I said, wishing to help.
"I don't want to buy it because of her attitude," said Georgina. She was right really. Georgina's Bulgarian. She's very beautiful but quite stroppy.
Now the models were parading beachwear between the tables, looking excessively snooty as waiters ducked by them. I decided we'd have them in our photo. That was a mistake. The girls took so long getting ready you'd think it was for the cover of Vogue. Willy went in and out of the beach boutique, always holding up two fingers the polite way as if to indicate "two minutes more". Finally, I went in to drag them out, but two of them were topless, so I retreated.
As we left, the African trinket seller was sitting with his trinkets. The restaurant photographer was resting at the back. Some people were starting lunch at 4.30pm. Other tables were being prepared for dinner. Next year, Willy says, he'll pilot me in his private jet to the very famous Pirrizza in Sardinia for lunch. I look forward to that.
PS: In the photo Willy is sticking out his tongue. I chose it because it's the best picture of me.
Recently, I took three guests to Kensington Place. We ordered roast brill with ceps and gratin dauphinoise for two at £35. When the brill came it was rather small - fine for one but pushing it for two. When we investigated, we realised it was only a portion for one. The waitress agreed, disappeared, and reappeared with apologies from the chef who agreed to cook us another brill. The second brill duly arrived. Later the waitress came with the message: "The chef wants to know how much you're prepared to pay for the second fish." I stuttered in complete astonishment and asked for the manager. He apologised, saying he had told the chef not to go upsetting the customers, and there would be no charge for the extra fish. I was not amused, particularly as we spent £250 on dinner. When we left, the manager turned his back on us. Does success breed arrogance? I think so.
Michael Cole, via e-mail
On the subject of Mr Winner's surprise at the dress code at Chewton Glen (Style, September 24), I wanted to write to say that I don't think he should be banned from any establishment for wearing jeans. But he should be thrown out for having them "beautifully pressed".
Ian Dowdy, Hailsham, East Sussex
Why do some restaurant managements insist on putting out bowls of unwrapped mint imperials for diners to dip their fingers into? Surely any environmental health officer making a basic hygiene inspection would prohibit such a practice? Inviting diners with unwashed hands to touch after-meal confectionery is just one extra health hazard the catering trade, and its consumers, can do without.
JL Fisher, Leeds
After Morocco, Burma, South Africa and Tuscany, where next? Perhaps Mr Winner would consider landing his jet at New Delhi airport. I would be most delighted to host him at our version of The Ivy -- a delightful lunch-only place called Basil & Thyme. Mr Winner might also consider bringing along my other favourites, A A Gill and the Blonde. And Georgina, of course. A meal for the five of us would cost the princely sum of approximately £30 (including copious amounts of Mr Winner's favourite bright-orange Fanta). Should I start saving up?
Freddy Bird, via e-mail