Blenheim Palace, Woodstock, Oxfordshire
At present, I’m sitting on the fast train out of Oxford Station heading for London’s Paddington Station. [Insiders tip: On the weekends you can buy a “Cheap Day Single” and upgrade to First Class for ₤5.] It’s late morning and after a lovely breakfast at the Randolph Hotel in Oxford where we’re been for the last several days, I’m heading back to London after an eight day-long immersion into the life of one of the most renowned international statesmen the Rt Honorable Sir Winston S Churchill.
One becomes The Rt Honourable upon appointment as a Privy Councillor to the reigning monarch.
One of the most exhilarating life experiences I’ve had was being announced upon entry from the Long Library on the way in to meet Their Graces The Duke and Duchess of Marlborough, before joining them for dinner in the Great Hall. We were each announced by a footman in full livery of white tie and red tailcoat.
We were welcomed to Blenheim Palace the ancestral home of the Marlborough’s with a Champagne reception prior to dinner. ‘Blenheim Palace’ Champagne was served and seemed to be flowing rather freely. Near the entry to the Great Hall, there was a seating plan for the evening and as I found my name at Table Four I was pleased to know that our table host was to be the Duchess herself.
There were eight tables for about 80 guests for the evening and a Churchill family member hosting each table.
Upon hearing the footman loudly crack his gong three times and announce in a booming voice, “Dinner is served!” we were invited through the massive wooden doors and into the Great Hall. I found Table Four and began to look for my place card and was naturally quite pleased when I found that the Duchess and I were seated next to one another for the evening.
The Duchess of Marlborough
The Duchess is at once, without a doubt, aristocratic and regal in her bearing and at the same time quite lively and engaging. We had an extraordinary conversion beginning with a discussion her recent trip the US to visit friends, including time Palm Beach, Los Angeles and Sun Valley.
I asked her where she stayed while in Los Angeles, and she said, “Well, I don’t know the area well enough, but it’s that rather nice area, not far from the Getty Museum.” “Perhaps it was Bel Air?” I suggested. “Yes, exactly that’s it!”
We discussed the magnificence the new Getty Museum and that the collection contains one of her favourite paintings, by an Italian fellow, of who’s name I cannot at the moment recall. “We also went that pink hotel, you know the one, they have the restaurant with the horses,” she added. “Yes of course; the Polo Lounge at the Beverly Hills Hotel,” I offered. “Yes, exactly,” the Duchess replied.
I added, “Its one of my favourite spots, outside in the garden for a cocktail on a sunny day.”
The conversation progressed to horses and dogs and she mentioned that she rides every morning and takes her dogs along for a ‘miles-long ride’. She asked if I had any dogs, and I said, ‘Yes, an English Cocker Spaniel, named Gus after the first Roman Emperor Augustus.’ ‘Well, that’s rather regal,’ she said, ‘Do you take him walking for miles in the morning?’ ‘Well, a little “farm” like you have here would be rather expensive in LA, but I do take him walking for a few blocks…’ I replied somewhat sheepishly.
Scale is rather important to consider in this type of atmosphere.
The conversion continued on and was very pleasant indeed. The meal and the wine was all served in the most gracious manner. It was a most memorable evening.