Alexander Chancellor's Week

A National Portrait
Jan. 30 2002 3:34 PM

Alexander Chancellor's Week

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I didn't go to a party last night because nobody invited me to one. So I missed what the Evening Standard described today as "London's glitziest party of the year" (though it may have meant the year so far, which, as it is still January, gives me grounds for hope). The party was held at the National Portrait Gallery (NPG) in honour of the famous Peruvian fashion photographer Mario Testino, whose pictures of the stars dominate a retrospective exhibition of his work opening at the gallery this week. Madonna was there. So were Salman Rushdie and supermodel Kate Moss. Gwyneth Paltrow flew over from Paris for it. And my daughter Cecilia went all the way from Hammersmith to Trafalgar Square in a taxi to join them. She is a model, too, and although Testino has photographed her lots of times and she was one of 18 British models dressed up in Union Jacks whom he pictured for the cover of British Vogue's January special issue, she had doubts about the appropriateness of exhibiting the work of any fashion photographer in a national portrait collection, even of one who was "adored" by Princess Diana. But as the Evening Standard also pointed out, the NPG director's "genius in finding ways of luring the coolest names and faces in town into what was once a tired old Victorian collection shows why he is now front-runner to succeed Neil MacGregor as director of the National Gallery". Well done, Charles Saumarez Smith! He is in tune with the times.

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The Vogue cover, on which Cecilia appeared with her new baby beside Kate Moss, Naomi Campbell, et al., was reproduced last month in the Daily Mail, which made the silly mistake of libelling her. In one of its brief notes about each model pictured, the Mail said she had once been convicted of drink driving, whereas she has never committed any driving offence and hardly ever drinks anything. However, one member of her family has been convicted of drink driving, and that person is me. I had my licence taken away for a while after the police stopped me for speeding late at night in London shortly before Christmas 1995 and a breathalyser test showed me to be well over the legal alcohol limit, and I have been careful to avoid this situation ever since. Naturally, the Daily Mail will have to make amends for this terrible slur on Cecilia's reputation, though what sort of amends is still unclear. At lunch today at Private Eye, I had the good fortune to sit next to one of the country's leading libel lawyers, who offered me the free advice that this was a pretty serious case of defamation. I pressed him no further, but he could hardly believe that the Daily Mail could have been so foolish as to commit it.

Before lunch I went to visit the dental hygienist. I go to her not only because she is good at her job, but because she is kind and doesn't waste time criticising me for not spending hours every day assiduously brushing and flossing my teeth and gums, as most dental hygienists do. My last one was inexcusably bossy. This one knows that I work on them as much as I am prepared to and is willing to leave it at that. She would rather I stopped smoking, though, and to please her I will have another try. The dental hygienist always has interesting things to tell me, but the most interesting one at the moment is about her war against foxes in her garden in Wandsworth. There is a plague of foxes in London, where they can find plenty to eat and nobody hunts them. But a fox has killed her children's pet rabbits, and her husband, an estate agent, has become so enraged that he spends his spare time hanging nooses on the garden fence in the hope that a fox will strangle himself on one. It is a futile endeavour, of course, for foxes are not stupid. But something must be done. A few years ago a fox even killed all the flamingos in the Queen's garden at Buckingham Palace.

Alexander Chancellor is a co-editor of Slate UK.

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