Dining with Royalty can be awkward.
Not that I have too much experience, but I certainly have some memories and these reflections. Whatever they might be or try to be, the Royals are different and very cautious. They occasionally allow us to peek under their bonnets.
I had been asked to try and get to know the Prince. My bank in Bahrain where I worked was allowed to join him on a marketing project in the Middle East. I was to follow him on his visit the Ruler of Dubai in the vague hope that the bank might gain some business.
So in 1996, I found myself about to dine alone with Prince Michael in Dubai. I had chosen the Dubai Grande Hotel that had an Italian outlet. It had been cleared to a great extent of ‘ordinary folk!’ His policeman or as Hugh Grant calls them, his copper, was on another table. He appeared rather cross at the lack of action, the babysitting and no doubt being denied alcohol. He was staring vacantly at a novel. It is difficult to read and eat spaghetti with aplomb I think!
So, I waited in the marbled lobby, of course, he was late.
PMOK, as he liked to be called, had told the Sheikh that he was a keen collector of stamps. That meant that the official convoy bringing him to dinner had to stop by the Guest Palace, where the Sheikh had no doubt squirrelled away a couple of dusty albums from his father. But protocol demanded that whatever PMOK desired or even hinted at an interest, that had to be satisfied. I was glad that it was only stamps that excited him.
The restaurant was fully open, though our table was in the middle of what seemed like a quarantine zone around us. Diners peered, muttering ‘Oh look, I saw him on the telly’ and ‘he looks just like that Russian bloke!’
We had been briefed by some Embassy fellow that PMOK liked a drink, and champagne would always be acceptable. So my expense account was hit with bottles of all sorts, vodka to wine, brandy to fizz.
Finally, he arrived and we nimbly went upstairs to eat. The silence was awkward at first, but I had hoped that alcohol would solve that problem.
‘Do you want to hear a joke?’ Prince Michael said, at last encouraging some conversation.
‘Of course sir,’ I replied, eager to hear this Royal story.
‘Well, a fellow (yes PMOK uses that word) had a puncture outside an asylum and in changing the wheel, lost the four nuts in the grass, what was he to do?’
‘Sir, I guess that…’ I said and was interrupted by PMOK.
‘Well, the fellow looked and searched everywhere. But the nuts were nowhere to be found. Then he noticed that an inmate had been looking at him from an upstairs window. A gnarled face leant out and said, why don’t you take a nut from each wheel and then you have three on each of the other wheels, which will work!’
Prince Michael at this stage was grinning, and I waited for the punch line, my wine glass poised.
‘Golly you are clever, pray tell me, why are you in this mad house?’ said Prince Michael.
‘Well I may be crazy, but I am not stupid!’ At this Prince Michael’s face erupted into the most gigantic grin, like a benevolent Father Christmas. The ice had been broken.
At this Prince Michael’s face erupted into the most gigantic grin, like a benevolent Father Christmas. The ice had been broken.
Later, and staggering back to the waiting motorcade I had to tell him that I bought his drawing the previous night at the charity auction in Bahrain. Every table had been asked to draw something for the David Shepherd Foundation. Of course many did not get into the spirit of the occasion, but PMOK did.
‘Did you pay much?’ he enquired, hoping that his art work would be kept for posterity.
‘About £600’ I said and saw that his face fell. Perhaps I should have said that the bank was paying, the bank that was paying him a fee.
‘But at least I did not buy the drawing David Shepherd made on the napkin!’
‘Why, I thought that was a better one?’ In fact, it probably was, he is a better artist in any case.
‘Well,’ I said, ‘my friend who bought it, stuffed it into his pocket and on getting home his wife put what she a dirty and stolen napkin into the wash!’
HRH roared with laughter,
‘Good night Kelly’ he said, ‘Good joke.’
And that is how this bird got its name!