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Michael Patrick Shiels
Michael Patrick Shiels

London “Bridging”

May 18, 2018

 

England’s PM resides at 10 Downing Street near the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben and Churchill’s War Rooms

Royal Wedding weekend at England’s Windsor Castle has the world’s attention. The marriage of Prince Harry to a divorced American actress would have, at one time, been unimaginable due to Royal protocol. King Edward, after all, caused a constitutional crisis in 1936 and had to abdicate the throne due to his desire to marry divorced American socialite Wallis Simpson.

But during Saturday morning’s nuptials, His Royal Highness Harry and Meghan Markle will be take center stage – despite his declining rank in the royal line of succession. Harry’s princely brother William, Duke of Cambridge, was firstborn to H.R.H. Charles, Prince of Wales (Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth’s son) and his child bride Diana, who became known unofficially as the “People’s Princess.”

William, and the two princes and one princess born to his wife Kate, are next in line. In fact, the new bride may only be bestowed with the title “Her Grace,” instead of H.R.H., which is the title Simpson was limited to when she and the former King were reduced to Duke and Duchess of Windsor.

Titles be damned, Harry and Meghan’s wedding will be the most celebrated “storybook stuff” since Prince Rainier of Monaco, in 1956, said “I do” to American actress grace Kelly, who became “H.S.H.: Her Serene Highness.”

One needn’t be husband-hunting to desire a royal experience in and around London. Virtuoso, a luxury travel agency network, analyzed its future bookings and found the United Kingdom tops the list of this summer’s high-end American world travelers. Dave Lorenz, VP of Travel Michigan, has traveled frequently to London to make sure British vacationers visit Michigan too.

“People in the United Kingdom often wonder if anything happens in Michigan other than automobile manufacturing,” Lorenz revealed. “Once we show them photos and videos of the natural beauty of our state they are intrigued and can’t wait to visit.”

Lorenz doesn’t have much time to sightsee in London, but other Michiganders who’ve traveled there, including myself, have.

Naturally the Royal residences, including Windsor Castle, Buckingham Palace, and Kensington Palace (home to both princes William and Harry, which also displays, among other things, the dresses of their late mother Diana, Princess of Wales), along with Tower of London (home to the Crown Jewels), are “must-see” spots for visiting royal watchers.

Politically-minded travelers to Jolly Old England can enjoy a sweeping, birds-eye of the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben, and Westminster Abbey from atop the “London Eye,” a huge Ferris wheel of enclosed capsules just across the Thames River. Clustered within blocks of each other, those sites are also near Number 10 Downing Street, the heavily guarded home of the Prime Minister – currently Theresa May. Below all of that, in the same neighborhood, are the secret Churchill War Rooms, which are now an underground museum of the Cabinet War Rooms and Churchill’s Bunker from which, protected from the German bombing raids, the Prime Minister directed the allied forces during World War II.

Ironically, the British secret intelligence agency, “MI6,” is decidedly above ground across the river in what is arguably the most conspicuous building in all of London. The ornate and heavily fortified SIS Building is plainly visible on the Albert Embankment next to Vauxhall Bridge, though if you’ve seen any of the recent James Bond/007 movies, you’ve already had a very good look at it. Visitors from Michigan, considering their automotive interest, may want to kick the tires of the world’s most impressive collection of vehicles used and seen in 007 movies at the “Bond in Motion” exhibit in the London Film Museum – which is back underground in Covent Garden.

Ian Fleming, author of the 007 books which gave life to the movies, frequented the cocktail bar in Duke’s Hotel off St. James Place near Bond Street. Legend has it he derived the super spy’s name (which matched that of the author of an acclaimed bird watching guide) from the location of Duke’s. Even more are convinced it was a martini maker in Duke’s who inspired Fleming to write one of 007’s signature lines “stirred – not shaken,” (which was how Bond’s “Vesper” vodka martini was ordered in the original books, but not the movies.)

007 movie producer Barbara Broccoli, and those who have played James Bond, come into convergence with the Royal family – and you can too – at La Famiglia, a bright, traditional Tuscan restaurant across town in Chelsea. La Famiglia, enjoyed often by Princess Diana in her day, presents dazzling dishes such as roast wild boar with rosemary, garlic and olive oil served with Swiss chard (Prince Harry’s regular order, by the way.) A photo of Diana is tastefully displayed.

I went further in an attempt for a Royal experience one evening in London. I was out on the town, very well dressed in a camelhair blazer, tan trousers and tie. After drinks and an early dinner with some British journalists at the Wig and Pen in Covent Garden (which, after a 500-year run, closed shortly after), the group broke up for the night. I decided I wasn’t quite finished, and, feeling adventurous, instructed the London cabbie to drive me to Annabel’s, a famous, but very private nightclub I’d heard about on Berkeley Square in Mayfair. Princess Diana, Prince Charles, Aristotle Onassis, Frank Sinatra, and even Her Majesty the Queen of England had been members of the tiny but posh elegant establishment. I wanted to be next.

The cabbie, who reminded me, or rather, warned me, that Annabel’s was an exclusive club, dropped me off at the doorstep. I promptly, without a hint of hesitation, marched directly to the stairway leading from the street down (again, underground) to the small door, and drafted into Annabel’s behind an apparently wealthy, Arabian couple.

It was very quiet inside, so in the manner of a human divining rod, I went straight to a seat at the bar in the back where I ordered a Scotch whisky, neat. While taking a sip from the two fingers of Oban in the rocks glass, I took a deep breath.

“So this is what it is like to be inside Annabel’s,” I thought. As might a secret agent, I took mental note of the details around me, kept my eyes peeled and my ears open for celebrities, and rather enjoyed my sudden status. I hadn’t yet thought about how I would pay for my drinks, since I noticed the few other patrons using only member numbers – not cash – to settle up.

“Devil may care, for now,” I figured. “After all, I was in Annabel’s. Who knew what the night would bring me! An heiress? A starlet? A smashing business relationship? A secret scandal? Royalty?”

Then came my fatal error.

I went to the loo, which was back up near the curtained front entrance to the club. The ladies room is on one side of the lobby – gentlemen’s on the opposite side. My slight hesitation in whether to turn right or left brought the very tall, English maitre d over immediately.

“Sir, of course you know the men’s room is over here,” he said politely, gesturing and looking down at me.

“Thank you. Of course,” I replied, turning, before he asked me a question I dreaded hearing.

“Sir…you are a member of Annabel’s, correct?”

This was my moment of truth. I knew my only hope was to look him straight in the eye.

“Naturally,” I said.

He was silent for a moment and then retorted, “Since you are a member of Annabel’s, sir, you surely must be aware of our dress code.”

I stared at him with a lifted eyebrow before he continued, “Gentlemen are to wear suits with matching trousers and jacket. Not, as you are wearing, trousers with a matching blazer.”

It was my move in this potentially embarrassing chess game, but I didn’t flinch.

“Since when?” I countered boldly, in a secretly desperate reach.

Then he cracked.

“Well, sir, you’re right. It is true that during the holiday period the club had relaxed the restrictions a bit. But we found that some people were becoming too casual. For instance, some people arrived in denim.”

“Jeans!” I scoffed, shaking my head with indignity. “That’s bloody unimaginable!”

“Indeed, sir. So you see why we’ve restored the dress code. I am terribly sorry you were not properly informed. Please, though, perhaps you can go back and finish your drink and then take your leave for the evening. I apologize for interrupting you.”

I withheld a grin, but knew I’d dodged a bullet, so I seized the opportunity to retreat unscathed.

“No, no that won’t be necessary. Out of respect for the rules of my club,” I told the maitre d, “I shall depart immediately. I wouldn’t wish to set a bad example for the other members or trouble you with the burden of making an exception to the dress code for me.”

“You needn’t do that, but I understand, sir.”

I nodded.

“It’s what’s best,” I said, reaching for the exit and tugging the door handle before I turned back around to admonish him. “But you will make a better effort to properly inform me of these capricious policy changes next time, won’t you?”

“I will, sir. Have a good evening.”

Contact travel writer Michael Patrick Shiels at Mshiels@aol.com. His radio program may be heard on stations across Michigan and online at MiBigShow.com or through the one-touch app Michigan’s Big Show. His latest book is “I Call Him Mr. President – Stories of Fishing, Golf and Life with my Friend George H.W. Bush”.

May 17, 2018 · Filed under Shiels

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