Sunday, June 20, 2010
Warm buttery Jaguars and a couple of Sirs
Two Sirs, a couple of Ma'ams and a Right Honourable or two... was I in a Nancy Mitford novel? No, indeedy, though it felt just as grand. Yesterday saw a reception to celebrate Queen Elizabeth II's birthday at the British High Commissioner, Dr Nicola Brewer's Johannesburg residence in Hyde Park and the Prince William and Prince Harry were guests of honour, as was the Rt Hon Boris Johnson, the half Russian and Eton-schooled Mayor of London. He arrived in South Africa this week to lend support to London's hosting of the 2012 Summer Olympics, as well as England's bid to stage the Fifa World Cup in 2018.
Things have calmed down a little since the ultimate football Friday and the vuvuzelas have died down all over town since Bafana Bafana were defeated at the hands of the Uruguyans this week and focus is on the games. But famous folk are arriving every day to support their teams, and the "Sirs" (as we were instructed to address them; what if I were to panic and call them Ma'am instead?) came out to support the English team, as Prince William is the head of the Football Association in the UK. The FA has always had a member of the British Royal Family as its figurehead President, since 1939.
The princes had been at the dismal game between England and Algeria the night before and had a busy schedule. Just before our function they had both attended a Fifa lunch at The Saxon and so were somewhat late for the Commissioner's reception, despite all the British insistence on protocol and punctuality. All the formal hobnobbing made a change from their time at the Mokoladi Wildlife Foundation in Botswana where Prince Harry was photographed by my newspaper mock-threating his brother with an African python. It peed near William's feet - Harry's face was a picture.
When we arrived we were sent down the road to Summer Place in Hyde Park where gleaming Jaguars with soft leather interiors the colour of butter, central heating and walnut finishes picked all the gentlemen in their military dress and medals and the ladies in coats and suits up and shuttled us to the venue. Heady stuff and enough to make you feel like a Ma'am, or at least as though you were in a James Bond movie! The warmth made a welcome change from the icy winter air which has slammed down on sunny South Africa. It's bliksem cold, colder than an ostrich's plucked behind. Fans have been shivering in temperatures of -10.5 degrees in places like Polokwane. The travel agents warned the British fans to pack their long johns and prepare for cold weather, but the silly poohs are constantly seen on television looking ferociously pink and pre-pneumonial in T-shirts and shorts.
Before the royal arrival talk focused on the "angry fan" who managed to breach security and slip into the English team's dressing room. He had a "frank discussion" with David Beckham about the team's no-goal performance against Algeria; by "frank' we understood his language was somewhat unrestrained. Fifa's face was even more eggy because the Princes had just left the dressing room and all security had been focused on them. The thing is there have been upsets all round (including us!) and even Germany lost to Serbia. I will put money on the fact that the stoical Germans just drank more beer, instead of weeping and wailing, gnashing their teeth and invading dressing rooms.
The princes were due to circle the room and the guests were instructed to get into "clusters", each with its own "cluster champion". The clusters were tables where groups were expected to gather in groups so it made it easier to circulate. First we got to meet the Rt Hon Boris though. Former journo-turned-politico Boris turned out to be a character, very raconteurial. He looks a bit like an albino-esque, unmade bed and is no stranger to controversy, but seems great fun and obviously good with the press.
He is currently blogging from South Africa on how football can transform lives for the better and even has been seen blowing the vuvuzela. The travel agents did not warn fans about "vuvu fever" which has bitten so many of them. When you hear that incessant droning, it's not just the South Africans, the fans are piling in too whether the BBC likes it or not. Love 'em or hate 'em, the vuvs are going back to Europe with the fans and even flying off the shelves at Sainsburys. So much for noise pollution, just buy it a plane ticket and send it somewhere else!
Prince William was ushered over to our table which was mostly media (The Guardian, Pretoria News, Nadia Neophytou from Eyewitness News, Chris Maroleng "dont touch me in my studio"" from E News Africa) and handsome former footballer Paul Elliot turned football ambassador, looking fabulously GQ in a striped tie and suit. Paul is a smoothie of note and rather hogged the prince but we all finally got a chance to shake his hand. The prince obviously loves to talk football and was quite frank about the fan incident. The English need to get behind their team, he said and the South Africans nodded sagely, agreeing that they need to do the same for theirs. He also let fall the fact that team coach Fabio Capello could be a "bit petulant", which could qualify as the understatement of the year.
It's such a weird thing about people always in the media but you feel as though you know them. I have had a very soft spot for Prince Harry since he was born, but was told that he would only be greeting the other side of the room, not the side I was on. His brother is the future king of England but Harry is the one who touches people's hearts, the "naughty one". He is his mother and is so good with children, in Botswana the children made him a "Chelsy Davy" television set which he loved!
I was told to be "more pushy" if I wanted to meet my favourite prince, so I went over to the other side, greeting Mike Higgins en route. Mike was formerly with Virgin Airlines but is now with Botswana Air. Mike was delighted there were fellow Glaswegians present, such as Brian Gallagher, also of the British High Commission. Brian introduced me to Prince Harry and I was able to tell him that I had seen his cousin, Lady Kitty Spencer, another charmer, this February (in 44 degrees heat, I might add). He looked quite surprised by this information but said they very seldom went down to Cape Town. My prince was looking very tired at this stage, not surprisingly what with the exhausting schedule and the fact that they had probably got to bed late after the game.
The princes moved towards the front as the High Commissioner gave the toast to the Queen after both national anthems were sung. A lot of nice things were said about the way South Africa is hosting the 2010 Fifa World Cup, and about the country in general. After the royals had left we all got stuck into the cupcakes before the buttery Jaguars purred up the front door to take us back to our cars and we all ran shivering for our heaters at home.