Auctioning the royal remnants of a wasted life

Allan Fotheringham March 2 1998

Auctioning the royal remnants of a wasted life

Allan Fotheringham March 2 1998

Auctioning the royal remnants of a wasted life

Allan Fotheringham

It is a sad, pathetic scene. Leftover clothes. Leftover tableware. Leftover sheets. Faded books, faded letters. Leftover memories.

This is at York and 72nd on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. The entire three floors of Sotheby’s, the world’s most famous auction house, now the home for nine days of the detritus of a wasted life, the weak Duke of Windsor and his destructive wife, late of Blue Ridge Summit, Pa.

It is, for historical reasons, the cause of the tragedy now unfolding at Buckingham Palace, an aging Queen wanting to will the crown to her confused and underemployed son, but unable to do so because of the precedent set by her charming relative who put pleasure above work.

It is a reminder, to this weak-willed country called Canada, why it is long past time to get rid of the tired relic called monarchy, as a much younger Australia is doing.

At Sotheby’s, there are 40,000 items that spell out decadence— and the worm that still eats through an outdated Royal Family who can cry for the death of the official yacht but not for a dead princess.

They are put up for auction here by the loathsome Mohamed Al Fayed, who bought all the Paris possessions of the Duke of Windsor in hopes of sucking up to the British Establishment, which denies him a passport even as he owns Harrods. Mainly because a British government commission ruled he is a liar and, well, he’s not really a gentleman.

In an artifice so transparent as to be sickening, he is donating the proceeds of this necrophilia to a charitable foundation set up in the name of his son Dodi, who, as we know, expired with the Princess of Wales last August because he was so stupid as to hire a drunk as a chauffeur.

In the library, there is the biography of George S. Patton, the egomaniacal American general. Hmmm. There is a book on Neville Chamberlain. Hmmm. There is a book on Fidel Castro. Interesting. There is Germany at War—rather intriguing in light of the long-muttered gossip about the charming one’s flirtation with appeasement—resulting in his being shipped in exile to a fake role in the Bahamas after he fled the throne.

There is Don Quixote, Vol. II. Quite appropriate. And, best of all, The Agony & the Ecstasy—a barometer of his life.

On the first night of the auction, one Benjamin Yim paid $26,000 (U.S.) for a seven-centimetre-square piece of the wedding cake. That was $25,000 more than Sotheby’s guess for the cake and its silk-covered box. The box, if you must know, was rather dirty— understandable one supposes, since it is 61 years old.

The Australians, who have more balls than Canadians do, have just gone through a constitutional convention where they have recommended to the government a national referendum on dumping this dysfunctional family that knows—itself—that it is doomed.

The Aussies, a majority now making its views known, are determined that at the opening of the Olympic Games in Sydney in 2000 a real citizen of the country will stand on the podium on opening day and declare the Games under way—not some lady, as nice as she is, who lives in a castle a world away.

Once they do that, chicken Canada will follow.

It will, in fact, embolden the good Queen Bess, who wants out of it as much as we do. She is 71, and tired, and feels for her son who—thanks to 97-year-old Queen Mum’s genes— will be 75 before he ever gets the throne. And the poor kid Wills will be on a cane, crippled from rugby, before he ever sees the purple.

The second Queen Bess, as her royal courtiers tell her, must hang in there until death because her weak uncle set a precedent that cannot be repeated—if you get tired or bored with the job, you junk it. Which destroys the whole myth of the monarchy. The king is dead; long live the king!

The weak charmer almost succeeded in destroying the chain of mythology. Born in 1894, he was 42 before he married—a sure sign of a ditherer, who dazzled and bedded around the world. His niece must curse him on her pillow, knowing he tossed the crown to her insecure, stuttering father, who won the hearts of Londoners when he stubbornly stuck in Buckingham Palace when Hitler tried to bomb the East End populace of London into submission and he would tour their wrecked tenements in the morning.

This is truly a pathetic exhibition. There are the gloves of Wallis Simpson on display, perhaps 500 or so. There are her sunglasses, 1930s-era arrogant Riviera style, that are very close to the glam stuff you see in the stores today for the trendy teenagers.

It is really necrophilia. The wanna-be Brit who can’t make it into English society trying to get some credibility by flogging off these sad remnants of another era to, as one sniffy Sotheby’s type said, “a bunch of Anglophiles with more money than brains.”

It’s about time Canada got out of this nonsense. Too bad we don’t have leaders who have the guts to do so.