I had first met Ann when I was taken as a guest to the Gateways Club off the Kings Road. It was a lesbian club, but men were allowed in as guests at Sunday lunchtime. At the time I had been volunteering at a gay advice centre and somebody had the bright idea that the male volunteers should know something about the lesbian scene and the women should know about the queer scene. In those days both men and women identified as gay, they were either lesbian or queer. LGBT was going to come along later. The plus came a lot later.
It turned out that Ann was something at the Palace. Exactly what was not made clear. It was to be a couple of years before I found out that she worked in the press office. I never did find out which member of the royal family she was assigned to. In the twelve odd years that I was in contact with her she never said anything about the going-ons in the Palace. In that respect she was the soul of discretion.
In other matters she was the biggest gossip going and if there was any gossip going around in the London gay scene you could be sure Ann would know it. If she did not, then she would probably invent it.
One of the problems of being gay in the early seventies was that one could not, acceptably, take one's partner to one of the many social events which society deemed one should attend. You were expected to be accompanied by a member of the opposite sex. It was, therefore, incumbent on one to arrange a suitable partner to attend such events.
During our first meeting at the Gateway Club, Ann mentioned that she was expected to attend the opening of an exhibition by an up-and-coming young artist, who it turned out was related to her. The exhibition was taking place at an avant-garde gallery, which was only a few hundred yards from the advice centre where I volunteered a couple of times a week.
"Should be a good show," Diana, at whose table we were sitting, stated. "Probably will be but doubt if I will be able to go," Ann stated.
"Why not?" I asked.
"It's a black-tie affair. Do you know any gay boys who have a tuxedo?"
"Yes, I have," I replied. Of course, I had a tuxedo, I was a magician. At least part-time, when I not doing photography or selling my body. The later two were how I made a living, magic was very much a hobby, which sometimes generated a bit of an income, but never enough to cover the expenses.
Ann looked at me in disbelief. "Really?"
"Yes, he has," Blackie said. "I had to go and see him in a magic show a few weeks ago, he was wearing it."
"You do magic?" Diana asked. "I thought you were a photographer."
"Part-time photographer, part-time magician," I stated. I could have added full-time whore, but thought it best not to. "Whatever is paying." Blackie gave me a look when I said that. There were times I suspected she knew more about me than was good.
"What are you doing on Thursday?" Ann asked.
"Don't know, depends on what work comes in. I'm covering at the centre two to four," I informed her. Unless I had some photographic work on, I never got up till gone eleven, so normally never did any of the early shifts at the centre.I also preferred not to do the evening shifts, they made it difficult to meet up with potential clients in the pubs. The men in the clubs paid more but the pub guys were much more regular customers. Also, if you worked it right, you could pick up a customer in a pub in the early evening, service them and still get to one of the clubs by ten, where you could get picked up by one of the high rollers. Of course, you had to be careful in the pubs, there were often coppers around in plain clothes. You better make sure the punter approaches you, otherwise you could get done for soliciting.
"Good," Ann stated. "You can escort me to the opening. The reception starts at eight, so we should arrive about half past eight."
"Isn't that a bit early?" Diana asked.
"I'm a relative, darling, not a film star like you. I can't do fashionably late. If I'm late they proceed without me."
"Wish I could say the same," Diana stated.
"Anyway ah…. What's your name?"
It was at that point that Blackie got around to introducing us.
After that, arrangements were made for me to meet Ann on Thursday evening at seven forty-five. The agreed meeting place was Leicester Square tube station. Ann and I then got on to discussing magic, which it appeared was also an interest of hers. So much so that I agreed to meet up with her on Tuesday so we could visit the studio of Martin Breese, the magic dealer.
The Tuesday visit did not take place. Ann met me at lunch time as arranged but apologised that she had not been able to get the afternoon off, as had been planned. There was a bit of a brouhaha at the palace and all the press staff had been called in.
"What's going on?" I asked.
"I've no idea," Ann replied. "Though word is that Prince Phillip is on the war path, which is never a good sign."
We had lunch in Leicester Square and then Ann returned to the palace, and I went off to spend money I had not got.
On Thursday I was at the assigned meeting place at the agreed time. Ann arrived a few minutes later, looking gorgeous in a dark blue evening dress. She admitted to me later that it was (a) by Dior and (b) on loan to her from a minor member of the royal family.
I escorted her the few hundred yards from our meeting place to the gallery where the reception was being held. Ann had our invitation in her clutch bag. Actually, it was her invitation, I was merely along as her 'and companion'. As we approached the entrance to the gallery, she handed me the invitation, which I handed to the functionary at the door without looking at it. He took it, examined it, then handed it to the footman who stood inside the door, indicating at the same time that we could enter. As we did the footman announced our arrival. To be more precise, he announced Ann's arrival. Though I found out at that point that Ann was not Ann and that she had a title. I was, of course, announced as the companion.
Once inside and supplied with a glass of champagne, Ann informed me that Ann was actually the second of her middle names and the title was a courtesy one, she being the third daughter of a member of the British aristocracy. She also made it clear that further questions would not be appreciated.
Not that I really had chance to ask any further questions as a young man, who I presumed was the artist, due to the fact that he was not in formal evening wear, dashed across, grabbed hold of Ann, kissed her on both cheeks, before dragging her off to the other side of the gallery, leaving me standing by the buffet. A fact that I was not complaining about. Free food is free food, even if it is served in mouth-sized portions. I proceeded to graze.
"You must be a companion," a young man, also involved in consuming a sizeable portion of the buffet, stated.
"Yes," I replied, looking up from the plate of food I had managed to load up. I guessed he was in his early twenties, some three or four years older than me. Good looking in that rugged blond way.
"Same here. I'm David by the way," he replied, the drawl on the here emphasising his upper-class origins and education. I introduced myself.
David continued. "My cousin Rachel drags me along to these events." He made them sound awfully dull.
"You could always refuse," I pointed out.
"No way. Daddy's got the title, so it'll come to me. Rachel's daddy's got the dosh. Millions of it. He's my godfather. With a bit of luck, he'll remember me when he pops it. All I have to do is keep his only daughter happy.
"Who are you with?"
I told him, he laughed.
"What's so funny?" I asked.
"You're with HRH, she's my sister."
"Yes, she was always ruling over us in the nursery. She rules over us even now. It's Ann who's fitted me up to escort Rachel around in the first place. Can't complain though. She gets me in places where the title never would and she picks up the bill."
"What happens when she marries?"
"That's not on the cards. She's not interested in cock unless it's on a bloody stallion. Not like me." The latter was said with a suggestive look that made his interests clear. I made my professional status clear to him and despite his indications of poverty, he was more than happy to accept my terms. We consumed our food with some gusto, then occupied one of the cubicles in the gallery's toilets for the next forty minutes or so. After which arrangements were made for me to meet him the following weekend for a somewhat more relaxed and lucrative, for me, session. My relationship with David was to last longer than my escorting duties for Ann.
When we did emerge from our sojourn in the bowels of the gallery, I found Ann deep in conversation with a grey-haired woman who, I estimated, was in her late fifties or early sixties.
"It's a truly remarkable and innovative collection," she was informing Ann. "So, different, so enlightened. The subtle use of colour and shade is…"
At that point she seemed to run out of words. Having looked around the gallery I could have provided a few: messy, sploggy, vomit-inducing daubs, all fit. However, I thought it best not to mention any of them.
Ann gave me a look, the type of look that said one thing. Get me out of here. I glanced at my watch; it was twenty to ten.
"Ann darling," I said, as I sidled up to the pair of them, "we do have a table booked for ten."
"Christ, sorry Aunt Jane, I forgot. I'll catch up with you next time I am down your way." With that, Ann grabbed my arm, and we made an exit.
"Your aunt?" I asked. "The artist's mother."
"My aunt yes, the artist's mother, no."
"Oh, I thought you said he was your cousin," I stated.
"He is, unfortunately," Ann responded. "Aunt Louise is his mother. She's got the sense never to be able to attend his exhibitions, always seems to be out of the country when they're on. That was Aunt Jane, my father's other sister. She is the one that discovered Peter's talent. Unfortunately, she has the funds to foster it."
"Why?" I asked.
"Well, she is part-owner of the gallery. She married young to a rich American. He died tragically young. Fortunately, he left her a fortune. Unfortunately, she's been spending it for the last forty years promoting young artists. The thing is the fortune is so big that it is earning more than she spends.
"Aunt Jane insists that Peter has a remarkable talent. All the up-and-coming young artists agree with her, because they want to exhibit in her gallery."
"Remarkable! I can understand, talent I find difficult to appreciate," I commented.
"I've found it remarkable difficult to appreciate, when it comes to Peter's art," Ann responded. "I've seen better stuff produced by five-year-olds."
"That's what is remarkable," I stated in defence of my position. "It's remarkable that somebody his age can actually paint worse than a five-year-old."
"Or a two-year-old," Ann responded. "Let's grab a pint before they bloody close."
That was the first time I escorted Ann to an event. Over the next couple of years, I was her regular escort when she needed a male to attend her. It was not a frequent activity on my part. Sometimes I could go weeks without hearing from Ann, other times I might find myself escorting her to three events in a week.
Even when circumstances were such that I found it advisable not to be in London, I would still get a phone call from Ann asking me to come down for the evening and escort her somewhere or other. Film premiers, first nights and orchestral performances seemed to make up the majority of our times out together, though I did accompany her to a couple of society weddings.
By this time, I had known Ann for about five years and had met a number of her family members. I had become so much of a fixture as Ann's escort to various functions that I was now often invited by name. It being presumed that if Ann was there, I would be her escort. This was particularly true of the Dowager Countess, who was either Ann's grandmother or her great aunt. I never quite established which but opted in the main for grandmother. The problem was everybody addressed her as My Lady. They also seemed to be in perpetual fear of her.
It was after I had met the Dowager Countess a couple of times that my name started to appear on invitations. Something which surprised me somewhat, to such an extent that I mentioned it at one point to the Dowager Countess as I returned to her bearing a plate loaded with edibles from the buffet which I had collected in accordance with her instructions.
"Of course, you're included on invitations," she stated with emphasis. "I need somebody intelligent to speak to. All this lot can talk about is horses and shooting."
"What makes you think I'm intelligent?" I asked.
"Anyone who can get here from the Black Country must be intelligent," she stated. "It's not easy. I know."
I looked at the Dowager Countess in surprise.
She smiled. "There's not much of an accent. If you did not know it, you would miss it. Elocution lessons?"
"Speech therapy for ten years," I replied.
"Just as good and quite effective," she commented. "I had elocution for four."
"Dis is bustin ain't it," she replied in a very low voice. I looked surprised.
"Moxley," she continued, back with a normal voice. "Got out at 14 in 1920, joined a variety dance troop, ended up at the Gaiety theatre. Met my first husband, an American millionaire. I was his third wife, I quickly found out why his first two had left him. He loved fast cars and fast women. We were on track for a divorce before we got off the Leviathan in New York. Fortunately, for me, his love of fast cars was too much for him. He had brought a Hispano Suize over with him on the Leviathan. Five days after we arrived, he crashed it, fatally. So, I came back to England sans husband but with a fortune.
"Unfortunately, for an 18-year-old girl, even one with a fortune, a husband was a necessity in those days. I was a rich widow without a husband and the Earl was an old title without an income. We got on very well. I gave him the required two sons and a daughter. I also turned a blind eye to his friendship with the coachman. On the whole, we had a perfect arrangement."
I laughed, the Dowager Countess joined in the laughter, then guided me to a quiet corner of the room.
"Now, tell me your story," she instructed.
I did. It seemed we had a lot in common. So much so that I was kept on the invitation list while she was alive. Even after I had stopped escorting Ann.
It was a society wedding which caused the problem. One of Ann's cousins, she seemed to have no end of them, was getting married on the Tuesday at a West End church. Unfortunately, Princess Anne was getting married the following day at Westminster Abbey. Ann, of course, had invitations to both. However, I was only required for the one. Not the one at Westminster Abbey.
By this time, I was back living in the Black Country trying to make a living flogging questionable antiques. My escorting of Ann, therefore, required that I went down to London. Fortunately, she covered the expenses. Unfortunately, there was a rail dispute on, and I arrived later than expected at the hotel where I was booked for two nights. Normally when I came down, I stayed at the Bedford on Southampton Row; this time, no doubt due to the royal wedding, no rooms were available at that establishment. I had though managed to get into a place not far away, which was supposed to be somewhat upmarket.
The thing was I had arranged to meet David at four for a bit of entertainment in my room at the hotel. Well, one has to earn what you can where you can and the trade in questionable antiques was not that good. There was a distinct lack of gullible American tourists in Wednesbury.
The combination of the train delay and an inexplicable shortage of taxis at Euston meant that was nearly four by time I got to the hotel. I was, therefore, somewhat annoyed to find, when I got to reception, that there was no room for me. Apparently, there had been a mix up over bookings. The desk clerk was very sorry, but there was nothing they could do. She did inform me that they had tried to find a room for me in the other hotels in the group, but there were none available.
That left me in a quandary. It was unlikely that I would be able to find a hotel room available, at least in my price range, in central London with the royal wedding the day after tomorrow. The only thing I could think of was going to stay with some friends of mine in St. John's Wood. I knew they would put me up, even at short notice, but I would be paying with my arse, and Benny would want it before accommodation was supplied, so I would not get to meet up with Ann as had been arranged. Then there was what to do with David. He would be arriving any minute.
I asked the reception clerk if I could make a phone call. The clerk looked a bit uncertain but lifted the phone and put it on the raised area of the reception desk by the signing-in book. She instructed me to dial 0 for the switchboard and then give them the number. An instruction I followed. There was a glass partition between the reception desk and what was no doubt the reception office, where a switchboard and operator were clearly visible. I noted the look of surprise on the operator's face when the number I had requested was answered, just before she connected me to the call. Once connected I gave the extension number of Ann's office and was put through. Ann answered with her full name.
"Ann darling, it's Nigel, there's a problem at my hotel," I proceeded to inform her. I had not noticed that David had entered the lobby and was now behind me. The switchboard operator had also come out of her office and was whispering to the receptionist. "It seems there is a confusion over my booking at they have not got a room for me."
"Tell HRH that I will be in the abbey on Wednesday," David said from behind me. I turned to check that it was David. I then passed the message onto Ann, also informing her that I would not be in the abbey on Wednesday. "Though I will see you at the reception later," I added, having been invited by the Dowager Countess to a reception she was giving in honour of the wedding at her London town house. I finished off by saying that I was not sure about dinner that evening, I would phone later, when I had sorted out accommodation.
Ann made some rather scathing remarks about the hotel where I had been booked. Once she had finished making her opinion known, loud enough that I think anyone with ten feet of the reception could have heard it, she hung up, after giving me the instruction to make it for dinner this evening.
I was just putting the phone down when a small rotund man in a black suit with grey waistcoat emerged from the back. Apparently, something must have been said to him. He introduced himself to me as the manager and apologised for the confusion over the room booking.
"We do not have any alternative rooms available at this hotel, we are fully booked. However, our sister hotel on Russell Square has a suite available."
I pointed out that I only needed a single room for two nights. The manager was very understanding. "Quite sir, I can assure you there will be no extra charge, after all, the error was on our part."
Well, in that case, who was I to refuse, especially as it meant moving up the road from a three-star to a four-star hotel. As we were walking the couple of hundred yards up the road, David started to giggle, then he burst out laughing.
"What's so funny?" I asked.
"They think you are having dinner with Princess Anne," he stated.
I looked at him puzzled.
"You gave the switchboard the number for them to get?" he asked.
"And how would they answer, you've dialled it enough."
"Buckingham Palace switchboard."
"Did they get the extension, or did you ask for it?" David inquired.
"I asked for it," I replied.
"And Ann answered it and you called her Ann, telling her there was a problem with your room booking and you might not make dinner."
"And I came in and told you to tell my sister that I would be in the Abbey on Wednesday."
"How did I refer to my sister?" David asked.
"HRH, you always do," I pointed out. Then it hit me. HRH, Her Royal Highness, and I was on the phone to Buckingham Palace speaking to Ann. No wonder a room had suddenly become available.
I did make it to dinner with Ann that evening. A thoroughly fucked and sated David was with us. He also had to attend the family wedding the next day.
That was to be the last time I saw David for some years. He was by then somebody in the Foreign Office and was shortly after shipped off to serve in some diplomatic post overseas. The next time I saw him was at Ann's wedding, an event which somewhat surprised me given Ann's interest. David informed me that the bridegroom was a member of the European nobility who had a large fortune and little interest in the females of the species. As such Ann was a perfect partner for him. She would supply the required heir and the spare. As the title could descend in the female line it was not that important that a male child be delivered of the arrangement. He would supply Ann with a house in Mayfair where Ann's life partner could be her companion.
The only request on Ann, other than the supply of the required heir and spare, was that (a) physical intimacy should be avoided, it being agreed that the sperm would be passed between rooms with an device to facilitate its delivery to the required location, and (b) the Graf would prefer it if his wife was in a different country to where he was, except when it was strictly necessary for them to be together.
It is an arrangement which has seemed to work out pretty well. For the next forty or so years until the Graf's death, I would see pictures of the pair of them in various up market magazines.
The wedding itself was somewhat pleasant, the church in which it was being held being quite historic and having some interesting architectural features, the study of which passed the time during what seemed to be an interminably long service. I noticed the Dowager Countess, who I was seated next to, had had the good sense to bring a book along to read. Just as the couple had finished their vows, she turned and said to me, in a voice that echoed around the church, "I wonder which one is the bride."