I saw that Lord Snowdon died last week. Believe it or not, I had a glancing acquaintance with him [once]. Long story but soon after I moved to London my boss at the time, Mr Campbell took a call from one of his people: he couldn’t believe it. An endorsement from Lord Snowdon was something money couldn’t buy; he was still regarded as a person of probity then . . . although there were suspicions. The divorce and rows with Margaret had not yet become mainstream . . . so any interest from someone married to a Royal was pure gold dust.
Although he was known for his work as a society photographer, he had added other interests once the highest echelons of Aristocratic Society opened up to him. Friends not just in high places but the very pinnacle of wealth and privilege sought to serve. The affairs, the orgies, the children he fathered out of wedlock and the drinking were still not in the public domain: all that came later. He reinvented himself as a designer and allied himself with contemporaries such as Roy Strong, Prince Phillip Mountbatten, Jocelyn Stevens [forgotten today] and other rich, self-indulgent upper-class morons [not that I consider Roy Strong to be a moron but he was foolish in the extreme to add his heft to this particular imposter]. He or more likely someone on his team designed a minimalist crown for Prince Charles; a clock; skiwear; theatre sets and importantly for us, contemporary furniture.
We had acquired exclusive UK rights over a German cabinet hinge called ONI which revolutionised the furniture and kitchen cabinet trade. So common now of course but back in the seventies it was transformative allowing as it did the doors to be set outside the frame but still open to 180deg, which in turn allowed designers to create a completely flush face to a bank of cupboards or office storage. Snowdon wanted samples.
Campbell himself made an appointment. This was a guy who had Basil Spence on speed-dial and off he trotted in his red BMW Coupe across London. Of course he wasn’t there and Mr Campbell just had to leave his samples at reception. It was left to me, months later to collect them from one of the Dolly-birds in regulation mini-skirts who sauntered around trying to look like they had a purpose other than being available upon demand. He might have been there for all I knew, he certainly wouldn’t have come out to meet me even if he had been. Needless to say, we never heard anything more and no endorsement followed. In fact I have a recollection that the packaging had never been opened but I may be mixing this occasion with one of the many other times samples were never even opened, in my working life.
There is a whole tranche of London society that is largely invisible. This was one of my rare encounters with it but as the years went by there were others. I once did a job for an architect whose client was the daughter of a Duke; she was restoring a mediaeval Baronial Hall in Buckinghamshire into a family home. I can remember it had this carved stone 15C fireplace in the main dining area that she wanted pulled out. She must have been about 21: travelled everywhere by taxi. Owned or co-owned a jewellery factory in Marlow, which was how I became involved in the first place. They gave me a short guided tour; millions and millions of pounds worth of diamonds being measured out on laboratory-type tables; everyone wearing those jeweller magnifying glass things.
They live in a bubble that they have no interest whatsoever in leaving. The door of the taxi is far enough. Within the bubble however they are not bound by any legal or moral constraints. Snowdon wouldn’t give a second thought to employing beautiful young upper-class gels to service his sexual appetites or in her case, ripping out a Mediaeval masterpiece and throwing it on a skip. He was given a job by an old University friend as Art Editor of the Sunday Times Magazine, a position many much better qualified people would have given their teeth [all of them] for; but he got it ‘cos he knew the right people. It’s all horrible, horrible, horrible. No morality, no character, no scruples, how can someone who had polio for four years as a child and later in life was so disabled that he couldn’t walk unaided, live, exist, subsist without character? Perhaps marrying a Royal was his lifetime achievement.