Monday, July 16, 2012
It’s hard to believe that it has been 13 years since Sophie Rhys-Jones walked down the aisle at St. George’s Chapel, Windsor and walked out as HRH, The Countess of Wessex. From the beginning, Sophie seemed determined to do things differently than previous Windsor Wives and for a while it looked like she might succeed. She was going to be a working wife, continuing to pursue her career in PR, while fulfilling royal duties as needed. She even talked of putting of having royal offspring while she and Edward enjoyed married life. Over the past 13 years, Sophie has weathered a host of storms including infertility, racy photos, questions about her business and a tabloid scandal that rocked the monarchy but Sophie came through relatively unscathed and has even taken the former Kate Middleton under her wing to teach her the ropes.
When her relationship with Prince Edward was first revealed to the public, Sophie was often compared to Princess Diana. Both were tall, leggy blondes with short hair and English rose complexions, close in age (Diana was born in 1961, Sophie in 1965), but the resemblance was only on the surface. While Diana came from an aristocratic background, Sophie came from a decidedly middle-class one. Her father, Christopher, was a successful retired tire salesman, and her mother Mary was a secretary. Sophie’s mother even took in typing at home to help send her and her brother David to Dulwich Preparatory School and then to West Kent College.
Sophie even met her Prince like other modern couples, through her job. The couple met at a strategy meeting to discuss The Real Tennis Challenge, an event to raise funds for the Duke of Edinburgh’s scheme in 1993. Sophie later ended up standing in for Sue Barker for the photo-call with Edward, her hand resting lightly on his shoulder. She expressed interest in the game of ‘real tennis’ (the version that Henry VIII would have played) which was Edward’s sporting passion. Intrigued, Edward asked her out. Somehow they managed to keep the relationship secret for three months before the tabloids found out.
To the royal family, Sophie must have seemed like a breath of fresh air. They were under pressure when she came on the scene. The monarchy was facing criticism from over everything from the Civil List, whether the Queen should pay taxes, as well as the disastrous marriages of the royal children. Sophie was neither a compassionate fashion icon like Diana nor a loose cannon like Sarah Ferguson. “You wouldn’t notice her in a crowd,” the Queen was overheard telling the Queen Mother and Princess Margaret. Sophie was seen to be unthreatening, a mixture of solid middle-class conventionality mixed with media modernity. Colleagues from work described her as always game for a laugh and down to earth. The editor of OK! Magazine, one of her clients, said “She’s not a girl of extremes and that’s essential to her character. She’s a person who can cope.” Together Sophie and Edward seemed as sexy and exciting as bread pudding. Sophie got along with most of the Royal Family especially Prince Philip but also Princess Anne who had never befriended either of her two previous sisters-in-law. Princess Diana allegedly called Sophie, “little Miss Goody Two Shoes,” behind her back.
Three weeks before wedding, the first scandal hit the headlines. London's biggest tabloid, The Sun, printed a topless picture of Sophie. What should have been a tempest in a teapot became a national uproar in the wake of Princess Diana's death, which was widely blamed on Fleet Street's disregard for royal privacy. The outcry was so enormous the tabloid Sun actually issued a groveling apology. The 11-year-old snapshot showed Sophie gallivanting with radio disc jockey Chris Tarrant during a 1988 business trip to Spain. At the time, Sophie was working for Capital Radio as a PR executive. The picture showed Tarrant pulling up a laughing Sophie’s bikini top, exposing one breast. The photographer, Kara Noble, was paid £40,000 for the photo but in the backlash after their publication, she was sacked from her job as a disc jockey. While the scandal was tame compared to the pictures of a topless Fergie having her toes sucked in the South of France, the publication signaled the end of the honeymoon between Sophie and the Press.
Unlike the over-the-top 80’s confections worn by Diana and Sarah, Sophie wore a simple dress made of hand-dyed silk organza and silk crepe, with long sleeves and the detail consists of rows of pearls and crystal beading around the neck, sleeves and train, with further beading down the back and front of the dress-coat. 325,000 cut-glass and pearl beads were sewn on the dress, which was corseted, with a V-neck. To accompany the dress, the bride also wore a black-and-white pearl necklace, interspersed with white gold rondels, and a matching pair of black-and-white pearl drop earrings, designed by Prince Edward and made by Asprey and Garrard as a wedding gift from Edward. Sophie wore a diamond tiara, from the Queen's private collection, consisting of three open-work scroll motifs, designed and re-modeled by the Crown Jeweler, David Thomas, at Asprey and Garrard.
Her critics said a big “I told you so,” when in 2001, an undercover reporter for the tabloid News of the World, Mazher Mahmood, posing as an Arab sheikh, recorded Sophie making disparaging remarks about Cherie Blair as "absolutely horrid, horrid, horrid" and criticized the prime minister's leadership style as "too presidential". It was also claimed that she boasted that she was the Royal family’s savior and calling the Queen ‘the old dear.’ It also appeared that Sophie was using her royal connections to drum up business. The story was picked up by the Daily Mail and other media outlets, humiliating the Countess. Although Buckingham Palace issued a statement suggesting that the reported comments were ‘selective, distorted and in several cases, flatly untrue,’ the damage was done. Sophie herself issued a statement that read, that she regretted the embarrassment she had caused after being taken in by the reporter's scheme. “I am deeply distressed by the carrying-out of an entrapment operation on me and my business but I also very much regret my own misjudgment in succumbing to that subterfuge.” For a supposedly smart and savvy business woman, it never seems to have occurred to Sophie to check out her new potential client. Landing such a lucrative account seemed to outweigh her common sense. Unlike Fergie who could at least claim alcohol as an excuse, Sophie drank nothing but mineral water during the meeting.
Sophie, by all accounts, was devastated at having to give-up the business that she had worked so hard at developing for a life of ribbon-cutting and garden parties at Buckingham Palace. She had founded RJH in 1996 with her business partner Murray Harkin, and had been a dedicated career woman before her marriage. The company had a prestigious client list that included the Lanesborough Hotel in London, Boodles & Dunthorne, Thomas Goode China, DFS Furniture chain, Rover Cars, and the Banyan Tree Hotel in Phuket, Thailand. According to an article in London’s The Daily Mail, the company was in talks to sell the business for £3.5 million (8 years later the company folded owing £1.7 million). However devastated she might have been, she also seemed resigned that if she wanted her marriage to work, she would have to make a success of her life as a royal instead. There were some who took great delight in her downfall, who felt that Sophie had developed a case of ‘red carpet fever’ when she married the Queen’s youngest son, that she got caught up with being a member of the Royal Family. She’d once remarked that she was the ‘second lady of the land’ and apparently had the attitude that went along with it.
Friday, February 24, 2012
Author: Amy Thomas
Publication date: 2/1/2012
Synopsis: Forever a girl obsessed with all things French, sweet freak Amy Thomas landed a gig as rich as the purest dark chocolate: leave Manhattan for Paris to write ad copy for Louis Vuitton. Working on the Champs-Élysées, strolling the charming streets, and exploring the best patisseries and boulangeries, Amy marveled at the magnificence of the City of Light.
Wednesday, August 31, 2011
Wow, it's been a long time since I've had a hump day hottie, but I just had to share my new discovery, Ashley Cowie. I was scrolling through the TV guide on my DVR when the show Legend Quest popped otu at me. I've written about my love for the National Treasure movies, and this seemed like a unique combination of those movies and Dan Brown's novels. The first episode that I watched was about the Holy Grail. Sweet, I was eager to hear what he had to say compared to Dan Brown.
Well imagine my surprise when Ashley Cowie turned out to not only be a hottie but a Scottish hottie! Be still my heart. He's also a member of the Scottish Knights Templar. I'm not sure what that means but it sounds awesome. The TV show didn't disappoint, although I had the feeling that Dan Brown must be sitting in his house, counting his money, thinking 'Wow, that's even crazier than what I came up with!" Cowie's Quest tooks him from Rosslyn Chapel to Providencetown Massachussets, to Washington, DC and finally to the Statue of Liberty where he concluded that it was possible that the Freemasons (because Lord knows they have their hands in everything) melted down the Holy Grail and used the metal to forge the original torch of the Statue of Liberty. Are you with me?
You can read more about Mr. Cowie in this interview with The Morton Report.
Monday, August 29, 2011
William & Catherine: A Royal Romance chronicles the love story of Prince William (Dan Amboyer) and Kate Middleton (Alice St. Clair) that resulted in one of the most celebrated weddings in history. At a pivotal point in their courtship, William takes to heart the advice of his mother, the late Princess Diana (Lesley Harcourt), which she bestowed in an interview before her untimely death. The message she left for her son: hold on to the love of your life and protect it with all of your heart.
Stars Jane Alexander (Queen Elizabeth II), Victor Garber (Prince Charles), Jean Smart (Camilla Parker Bowles), Alice St. Clair (Kate Middleton), Dan Amboyer (Prince William).
Gotham Gal says - Well, you just knew that I was going to watch this didn't you? Especially with Hurricane Irene battering the East Coast, I really, truly had nothing better to watch this weekend apart from Dr. Who and several episodes of Millionaire Matchmaker (Patti really is a bitch isn't she?). This TV movie in many ways was even more laughable than the Lifetime TV movie that came out in April. I'm not even sure where to start with this one. The scene at Prince William's 21st birthday party, when Kate comes bouncing up to the Queen and introduces herself without even curtesying. The portrayal of the Middleton's as gauche, nouveau-riche idiots? Kate and the Queen playing WiFi tennis? Prince William breaking up with Kate over the telephone?The Queen trying to pronounce Kanye West? Or how about Prince Philip completely getting the Queen's genealogy wrong by calling Edward VII her great uncle? (He was her great grandfather).
The movie opens up with Prince William watching a videotape of his mother in the infamous interview with Martin Bashir (he watches this interview intermittently during the movie to show how close he was to his mother and how her death affected him). I had no problem with that. I did have a problem with them showing Prince William showing up at St. Andrew's University sans Prince Charles (which the previous movie at least managed to get right). Kate and William meet cute in the hallway when he bumps into her and she drops her laundry. Hysterical moment when he points out her knickers are still on the ground. This Kate Middleton is a barmaid at the local pub, where William drowns his sorrows trying to be normal bloke. There is the obligatory scene where Kate convinces him to stay at college which comes out of nowhere, and scenes of him dating some generic blonde named Cynthia. Of course we have the infamous fashion show, where for some reason Prince Harry shows up, looking older than William.
In this version Kate and William's relationship doesn't start until after his 21st birthday, he's too preoccupied with someone named Jenna (presumably Jecca Craig). Back at college, during their third year, he sets up a romantic dinner for two, which he burns. Kate comes to the rescue and she jumps him while they are watching a movie. The one thing I will give this movie credit for, is that at least you have some sense as to why William and Kate are attracted to each other, and why they fell in love, a huge failure of the Lifetime Movie. Where this movie fails is in their protrayal of the Middleton family. Kate comes off as completely clueless about royal etiquette as do her parents. There is no Pippa and James and no sense of how close the Middletons are, which is apparently what attracted William in the first place.
What gauls me about both these movies is that there are dozens of books and magazines that have been written about the royal couple, documenting at least the milestones in their relationship and both movies either fudge the details (because they have the cheapest budgets on the planet) or don't care. Kate didn't take the job at Jigsaw until almost a year after her graduation from college. Where was the scene of Prince William landing a helicopter on the Middleton's lawn? Kate and her family showing up at Prince William's graduation, and Carole Middleton getting slagged for chewing nicotine gum? The nights out at Bouji and Mahiki? Kate taking part in the charity race (the first movie at least got this right). The only sign of William feeling trapped is Kate pointing out a crib in a shop window. In the Hallmark movie, Kate and William get back together after they discover they are both watching the same concert in the park.
While the Hallmark movie has a more distinguished cast (Victor Garber, Jane Alexander and Jean Smart), Ben Cross was a much more believable Prince Charles than Victor Garber. Not sure what was the point of having scenes with Camilla since we never get a sense of her relationship with Prince William, Prince Harry or even the Queen. The Lifetime movie also gave you more of a sense of the time that Kate and William spent together, skiing, spending weekends at Highgrove. However, both films feature the generic friends of Prince William who don't really have names but are just filler.
I have to give this film an A for effort but a C+ for delivery.
Thursday, August 18, 2011
Author: Karen Wheeler
Pub. Date: August 2011
Publisher: Sourcebooks, Incorporated
Format: Paperback , 320pp
Synopsis: In her mid-thirties, fashion editor Karen has it all: a handsome boyfriend, a fab flat in west London, and an array of gorgeus shoes. But when her boyfriend, Eric, leaves she makes an unexpected decision: to hang up her Manolos and wave good-bye to her glamorous city lifestyle to go it alone in a run-down house in rural Poitou-Charentes, central western France.
Tout Sweet is the perfect read for anyone who dreams of chucking away their BlackBerry in favor of real blackberrying and downshifting to a romantic, alluring locale where new friendships–and new loves–are just some of the treasures to be found amongst life's simple pleasures.
About the Author: Karen Wheeler is a former fashion editor for the Mail on Sunday and current writer for the Financial Times 'How to Spend It' magazine and London's Daily Mail. Her work has appeared in the Evening Standard and You magazines, Sunday Times Style and numerous international publications. Visit Karen at www.toutsweet.net and Twitter @mimipompom1
Gotham Gal says: Sourcebooks asked me to review this book weeks ago, and due to work and putting together book proposals, I only managed to read the book this past weekend. It was just the palate cleanser that I needed after reading severa historical novels and non-fiction books in succession. This was a light, fun read that had surprising depth at times. On the surface, Wheeler has led a life that most of us would envy, she works as a beauty and fashion editor for a leading London magazine (which she does not name), filled with beautiful parties, countless shoes and dresses. When her plans to marry her handsome French boyfriend fall through, she decides at 35 to change her life. She buys a fixer-upper with no heat or hot water in a remote French village on impulse—"a long way from anyone's idea of the charming French house."
Although her relationship with her boyfriend is long over, Wheeler finds it hard to recover, especially after she finds out some devastating information that makes her question everything. What I found interesting about the book was how quickly Wheeler adapted to life in a small village where everyone knows your business. She quickly settles into a routine and makes friends incredibly easy. I was impressed by the fact that she took her time improving her French in twice weekly classes before she made the move, instead of just relying on some weird version of Franglais like some of the Europeans that she describes in the book. I found it rather strange that she lived on bread and cheese for months until she has a functioning kitchen, when she had new friends who were more than willing to feed her.
The book only became bogged down when it dealt with her dating life. It seemed like every man she met was either a heel or a loser. The book came to life when it chronicles the details of how she transformed an unloved and neglected house into a cozy home. The house in a sense serves as a metaphor for Wheeler's broken heart. As the house starts to become more like a home, Wheeler starts to heal and become more whole. Wheeler proves to have a sharp eye for social commentary, her views on the ways on which ex-pats either don't adapt to France or they try to make France more like Britain (which begs the question why some of them chose to retire in a foreign country in the first place) are priceless. Some of the scenes in the book were priceless, particularly when she makes a discovery about the hunky baker in town, and a fun weekend she spends with friends bunked down in suite at the Plaza Athenee. I almost began to envy her life, being able to breeze to London and Paris for work, and in between settled down into her cozy country village, even without a Marks and Spencer food hall (don't they one in Paris?).
This book certainly deserves a place on the shelf of any armchair traveler.
Friday, August 05, 2011
Synopsis: In Death Takes a Holiday, it's just after the first World War and the loneliest of souls arrives at an Italian villa disguised as a handsome young Prince, and for the first time experiences the joys and heartbreaks of life. But when he unexpectedly falls in love with a newly engaged young woman, the mysterious stranger discovers that love may in fact be stronger than death. Directed by Tony® winner Doug Hughes (Doubt), this soaring tale of love is adapted by Tony®-winning writers Peter Stone (1776) and Thomas Meehan (Annie, The Producers, Hairspray), and features lush, romantic songs by Tony® winner Maury Yeston (Nine, Titanic).
Last night I went to see the new off-Broadway show DEATH TAKES A HOLIDAY, produced by the Roundabout Theatre company. I absolutely adore the 1934 film with Frederic March (didn't even bother to watch the remake MEET BRAD PITT), so I was anxious to see how they adapted the story. The film is based on an Italian play that was written right after the first World War when so many young men lost their lives, so there is a poignancy to the story of Death coming to Earth to take a holiday and learning about love and loss, and how what he does affects people.
Unfortunately I was very disappointed in both the show and several of the performances. My first disappointment was discovering that the lead actor, Julian Ovenden (FOYLE'S WAR, THE FORSYTHE SAGA) had to leave the show because of vocal problems. Just from seeing the stills from the show, and a brief clip, I could tell just how right he would have been for the lead role. Death should be sexy, mysterious and a bit sinister. The actor who replaced him, Kevin Early while a fine singer, just didn't have the acting chops for the role. He also looks more like a Midwestern farmer than either the Russian Prince he impersonates or Death. Jill Paice, who plays his love interest, plays Grazia as a giddy, naive woman, who flutters her hands alot and babbles on about true love. I found it hard to believe that they fell in love at first sight or that they are soulmates.
It doesn't help that the score is also unmemorable. I can't remember a single melody from the show, nothing stuck. LOVE NEVER DIES was not a great show but the title tune sticks with you, even though its annoying. One song in DEATH TAKES A HOLIDAY sounded like something that was left on the cutting room floor by the creators of the 1920's pastiche musical THE BOYFRIEND. The biggest weakness in the show, however, is the denouement. Death has told Grazia's father that he has decided not to take her with him, he goes to tell her, but she's not frightened of him after he reveals his true nature, and they embrace. End of show. She never tells her parents of her decision, or why she's going. There needs to be a song when she explains to her family why she has made the decision that she's made, and how even though she's unhappy to leave them, she's fulfilling her destiny. The 1934 film has such a scene where Death and Grazia go off together, after she explains why.
The set was lovely and the costumes although generic 1920's were very pretty. I enjoyed some of the performances of the minor characters incuding Simon Jones and the butler, but all in all, it was a pretty dull evening.
Monday, July 11, 2011
Directed by: Jonathan English
Written by: Jonathan English
James Purefoy as Marshall
Paul Giamatti as King John
Brian Cox as Albany
Mackenzie Crook as Marks
Jason Flemyng as Beckett
Derek Jacobi as Cornhill
Kate Mara as Lady Isabel
Charles Dance - Archbishop Langton
Aneurin Barnard as Guy
Plot: A Templar knight and a ragtag band of warriors hold out for months against the hard-fought siege of Rochester Castle in 1215. Set just after King John's signing of the Magna Carta treaty, the group struggles against the King to defend the freedom iof their country.
Gotham Gal says: Well isn't that a tidy little plot summary from Wikipedia? But that basically is the entire plot of IRONCLAD. The film opens with King John signing the Magna Carta and a voice-over telling the audience that there was more to the story than previously known. IRONCLAD is what happened after the signing, when King John (Paul Giamatti relishing the chance to play a King), still pissed off at being forced to sign, decides to get back at all the barons in the kingdom because that's just the kind of douchebag that he is. He hires a band of Danish mercenaries, telling them that he will keep the Pope from Christianizing Denmark, if they help him. Oh, and he'll pay them a bunch of money as well, but apparently the whole keep the Pope out of Denmark is more important to them.
Meanwhile, Thomas Marshal (played by the delectable James Purefoy) has returned to England after many years fighting in the Holy Land. He stops at a castle belonging to the King, along with several priests. The King arrives, and because the chuch supported the barons, the priests are killed but Marshal manages to escape and make his way to Canterbury where he runs into Albany (Brian Cox) who has decided to continue the rebellion against the King. It seems that John has been killing off all the barons who signed Magna Carta and Albany is determined to stop him by taking Rochester Castle, which is located on the coast. Apparently, the French are also supposed to be making their way to England to help.
Albany manages to cobble together a group of about 6 guys along with Marshal to hold the castle. They make their way to Rochester where Cornhill is forced into helping them. From here on in, the film is one long battle scene interspersed with a few scenes of the men squabbling, learning to write their names, starving, and more squabbling. The battle scenes are incredibly bloody, body parts flying everywhere, blood spurting from every orifice. After awhile, I couldn't look at it any more, I just covered my eyes until they were over.
This is a film that requires you to check your brain at the door. Otherwise, you start wondering as I did, why Albany (D'Aubigny in real life) could only find like 6 men to help? Seriously, there had to have been more people pissed off at the king than that. Oh, and Thomas Marshal, the Knight Templar, is like a one man killing machine to the point of it being ridiculous. Although the way he wields his sword is incredibly sexy. I might have to start reading some medieval romances now after seeing this movie.
There is something of a love story, if you can call it that. Kate Mara (not to be confused with her sister Rooney) plays Lady Isabel, the wife of Cornhill (played by the great Derek Jacobi). According to Wikipedia, Megan Fox was attached at one point to play this role. Thank god she dropped out because she would have been terrible. Seriously, Megan Fox attempting an English accent? She can barely speak American English. Anywhoo, Lady Isabel is seriously horny because Cornhill who is much, much older has no interest in her other than telling her not to drink wine or do anything fun. So of course, the minute she spies Thomas Marshal, her hormones go into overdrive. See despite his vows of chastity, he just oozes testosterone what with all the killing he's been doing. Plus he's incredibly noble, he doesn't like killing, even in the name of God.
So of course, Lady Isabel has to get her some of that man candy. At first she creeps up on him while he's sharpening his sword (hint, hint). Of course, he's partially dressed, with his shirt artfully open to display one tantalizing man titty, lightly dusted with hair. While Lady Isabel salivated to reach out and touch him, so did every woman in the audience. I'm telling you it was nice to see a man objectified for a change. Of course, he tells her know, because he's a Templar and took vows and all. But Lady Isabel is not deterred, oh no. What with people dying left and right, she's determined to get some before they all get killed. This time, she decides to show him the goods by lifting up her dress. Apparently he liked what he saw because before you can say "Hail Mary," they're doing it in the barn. Not that the audience got to see anything, since nobody was getting killed. Instead, we just got a little bit of afterglow on Lady Isabel while Marshal glowered (James Purefoy gives very good glower and smoldering, man can he smolder) at her, calling what they did a sin.
Of course, all turns out well in the end, despite half the castle getting blown up (this actually happened). The French miraculously arrive in time (which didn't happen) and John is a sore loser. Again this didn't happen, in real life, the remaining occupants finally surrendered, and John died a year later, leaving his young son Henry III to continue his fight with the barons. I can't quarrel with the acting in this film. Paul Giamatti plays King John as a petty tyrant but who is very aware of the importance of the crown and wielding power. This is a King John who is not ready to give an inch or to compromise. James Purefoy has what the New York Times called an 'arresting screen presence.' He manages to say more without any words than any actor I have seen. And he's hot. Kate Mara has very little to do as Lady Isabel but be pretty and horny, which she does admirably. It was fun to see Derek Jacobi and Brian Cox together on film, particularly after having met Derek a few weeks ago. Was it worth the 'gulp' $13.00 I spent to see this film? No, not really, but it was fun nevertheless.
Gotham Gal verdict: 3 red apples.