Chris Matthews with author Sally Bedell Smith. Photograph by Jeff Martin.
There are book parties—and then there are va-va-voom book parties fit for a queen. That’s what Sally Bedell Smith got this past weekend with the Washington celebration of her new biography, Elizabeth the Queen. I daresay even the Queen herself would have been gobsmacked.
Hosts Bernard and Joan Carl—he seriously rich with private equity money, together the owners of the French luxury linen company D. Porthault, and with homes in the Loire Valley, London, and Southampton—filled the rooms of their Kalorama mansion with the prettiest spring flowers, candles, and framed photos of the royal family at work and at play, and served a comforting Anglo menu. There was even a receiving line at the front door, as Joan Carl welcomed Washington’s version of aristocracy, high and low.
Smith, for her part, never budged from the library, where she sat near a fire signing copies of the book. Her husband, Washington Examiner executive editor Stephen Smith, worked the other rooms on her behalf. There were many rooms—even a carpeted tent—and many friends.
“She had tremendous access,” said Robert Higdon, who was with his partner, David Deckelbaum. “Way up.” Higdon would know. He was probably the only person in the room with a strong royal connection, having until only recently been the executive director of the DC-based Prince of Wales Foundation. He knows the ways of the Windsors and that there is no such thing as an “authorized” biography of Queen Elizabeth. Smith’s book comes about as close as an author—particularly an American one—can hope to get.
“No American journalist has ever had that kind of access,” he said. “She was in two traveling parties,” meaning she got to be among the Queen’s entourage, much like the throng of staff, media, and security who travel with an American president. “So she had good sources?” I asked. Higdon smiled with a twinkle in his eye. “The best.” That was all he would reveal.
There were two women at the party who are mentioned in the book. Ruth Buchanan, decked out in bright red and seated on a sofa, is quoted recalling the Queen’s memorable visit to Washington during the Eisenhower administration. The monarch stayed at the White House in the Rose Room, which forever after has been known as “the Queen’s Bedroom.” Lucky Roosevelt, who at the time was chief of protocol, recounts the Queen’s 1983 visit to America, which included trekking about the West Coast in epic rainfall.
In the Carl’s elegant and silken blond drawing room, Roosevelt hugged Kevin Chaffee, who said, “You’re in the book! I know because Sally sent me a copy of the galley.” In Washington, that remark is as ubiquitous, though not quite comparable to, “and then I told the President. . . .”
Waiters passed a variety of British foods that Susan Gage Caterers re-created in miniature: shepherd’s pie, rare roast beef on toast, and meat pies. There was a dessert buffet with lemon tarts, mini mincemeat pies, and frosted cookies shaped like flowers and gold crowns. There was also a huge wheel of Stilton for people to dig into, which is the way the cheese is eaten over in merry olde.
The party was from 6:30 to 8:30, and while on a Saturday night the end time is usually ignored and guests linger until whenever, on this night the crowd had thinned considerably by 8. What was that about? Football, of course. An unscientific survey of the guests indicated that many planned to get home in time to see the face-off between the New England Patriots and the Denver Broncos (better TV than a GOP debate, any day).
“That’s what I’ll be doing,” said Reverend Stuart Kenworthy of Georgetown’s Christ Church. “I’m not missing this game.” He lauded Denver quarterback Tim Tebow for his outspoken faith. Did he plan to mention the athlete in his sermon? “Not tomorrow,” Kenworthy said, “but eventually, I will.” What if the Broncos lose? “It won’t matter,” he said—Tebow’s influence is set.
Larry Lamade, who is with Akin Gump and is a legal advisor to major league football, was in an ebullient mood as he discussed the anticipated ratings bump of the Brady vs. Tebow drama. “It’s a great night for the NFL,” he said.
Back in the library, Smith did not seem to mind the football competition. Her book was selling as fast as possible, and even at kickoff time, there were still guests lined up for an autograph. Score one for the Queen!
Also among the guests: Jane Stanton Hitchcock, Jim Hoagland, Ken Kendall, Jack Davies, Christine and George Hill, Nancy Folger, Sidney Workman, Evelyn DiBona, David Goodman, Walter and Didi Cutler, Ann and Bill Nitze, Nina Pillsbury, Gerald Rafshoon, Amanda Downes, Francesca Craig, Amy Zantzinger, Kathleen and Chris Matthews, Fran Kenworthy, Bruce and Mary Lou Sanford, Ann McDaniel, Nini Ferguson, Eileen Shields West, Michael Kinsley, Margaret Carlson, Heidi and Whitney Debevoise, and Stan Cloud.
Check back later this week for our Q&A with Smith about the Queen and her relationship with Washington.