A blazing summer sun ricocheted off the rainbow of sails tacking back and forth across Narragansett Bay. In the salt-sprayed air was the heady spirit of competition. True, despite some dark talk in Newport’s jam-packed bars that the Aussies will mount a mighty challenge, few seriously think that in this, its 25th defense (in 132 years) of the America’s Cup, the United States will lose.
Of less historic import on this perfect July weekend was another sport with bracing challenges of its own. Koo Stark was rumored to be in port on tiny Block Island, 10 miles off the Rhode Island shore. Boats bearing intrepid newsmen were launched to check the story out, but no Koo. Her sometime sidekick Prince Andrew, it seems, had descended on the Colonies alone as Her Majesty’s representative at the trials for the cup (entries from England, Italy, Australia, France and Canada are competing for the chance to challenge the U.S.) and as guest of honor at the British America’s Cup Challenge Ball.
Throughout his royal sojourn in the U.S., the prince, 23, was obviously careful to prove that Andy isn’t always randy. Brooke Shields, who was reportedly invited to the ball as the prince’s date, was partying in Los Angeles. Andrew’s unofficial date for the ball was 19-year-old Lady Kate Townshend, reported to be a future lady-in-waiting to the Princess of Wales. Currently, Townshend is serving as one of three cooks at Victory House, Newport headquarters for the Victory Syndicate, sponsors for Britain’s entry in the trials.
Despite Andrew’s efforts to do a tiptop job for his mum, he could not escape the noisome British press. “Sir, sir! Do you have a date?” bellowed a correspondent from the London’s Sun. “I’m sorry, no,” said Andrew politely. The Sun pressed onward. “Sir, sir, what about a blonde, a brunette?” Andrew smiled gamely but said nothing. “Not a blonde? Then I’ll get you a redhead,” volunteered the reporter. Other brazen Fleet Streeters were spreading the word that, yes, they had it on good authority that His Royal Highness had lost his virginity to a former beauty queen at the 1978 Commonwealth Games in Canada.
Andrew, meanwhile, did his royal best to show a sincere interest in the most celebrated sporting match at sea. (Though a sublieutenant helicopter pilot in the Royal Navy, Andrew is said to be less interested in nautical matters than his father or his brother, Charles.) The prince’s invitation to attend the festivities at Newport came from Peter de Savary, chairman of the Victory Syndicate. A multimillionaire oil and real estate magnate, de Savary, 39, put up $8 million of the $12 million Syndicate fund. He also brought over a team of 90 to crew, service the boats, clean and cook. (To the Newport natives, this constituted a near invasion. “But they didn’t hire any local people,” complained John Majewsky, a local store owner. “They brought their own cooks, maids, everything.”)
With de Savary constantly at his side (not to mention his equerry, detective and traveling companions, Lord and Lady Westbury), Andy was ferried about town in a Rolls Royce Silver Shadow and at sea aboard a 147-foot iron-hulled yacht, Kalizma. Elegantly appointed with antiques and British paintings and photographs, Kalizma was once owned by Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, who named it after daughters Kate, Liza and Maria. The current owner is de Savary, who offered the boat to the prince as a floating hotel and reportedly loosened his usual no-footwear-on-board rule for his guest.
From his quarters on the Kalizma, Andrew sallied forth. First stop was a call on Rhode Island Governor J. Joseph Garrahy at Newport’s Old Colony House, where Andrew politely accepted a crystal paperweight with the state seal. The prince then presented the governor with a snapshot of himself in a blue leather frame with an “A” lettered in gold at the top. (Buckingham Palace as a rule discourages lavish gift exchanges.)
Leaving the governor’s wife, Margherite, to gush over how “dashing and devastating” he was, Andrew then motored to the Breakers, a limestone mansion built for Cornelius Vanderbilt II in 1895. The Breakers is the grandest of the Newport “cottages,” palatial estates which served as summer homes for America’s gentry in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. (A few mansions away is a Newport landmark of a different ilk, Clarendon Court, the former home of Sunny and Claus von Bülow.) After touring the 70-room Breakers, Andrew, who is used to rambling around the 600 or so rooms of Buckingham Palace, pronounced it “quite cozy.” When his tour guide, Countess Sylvia Szapary, Vanderbilt’s granddaughter, told him how she used to slide down the marble banister as a child, Andrew chimed in: “Oh, I used to do the same thing at home!”
The highlight of the royal visit was the 10:30 p.m. Challenge Ball (billed as a typical British “champagne breakfast”) at Beechwood, a 27-room cottage once owned by Lady Astor. “It will be as spectacular as anything we’ve had now or in the Gilded Age,” Mrs. Eileen Slocum, an organizer of the event, had promised. De Savary himself kicked in a reported $100,000 to help defray costs of Peter Duchin’s Band and a menu that included lime and Cointreau cocktails (most guests took one sip and slipped them back on the waitresses trays), deviled kidneys, smoked haddock, kippers and other British fare.
Meanwhile, the guest of honor sat primly in one of seven pink-and-white striped tents, sipping Perrier and lime and fidgeting with the signet ring on his pinky. He stood military straight while the Regimental Band of the Irish Guards (de Savary reportedly paid thousands to bring them over for the soiree) played military ditties. Only twice did the prince take rather stiffly to the dance floor—once with de Savary’s girlfriend, 29-year-old South Carolinian Lana Paton, and once with Lady Townshend. The local dowagers, resplendent in rustling taffeta, sidled as close as protocol and security guards allowed.
Before his Newport weekend was over, Andrew, accompanied by two unnamed bikini-clad young ladies and his omnipresent chaperones, the Westburys, had picnicked on hamburgers on board de Savary’s motor launch, the Lisanola. The prince also attended a private barbecue, cricket match and Sunday morning services at Newport’s Trinity Church. Lord Westbury, it was said, offered the Reverend Canon D. Lorne Coyle a pound in the collection box for every minute he was able to keep the service under an hour (His Lordship was presumably relieved of £20—around $30).
Besides filling local coffers, the royal visit buoyed spirits and left the resort’s matrons clucking over “that marvelous boy.” The prestige of the Victory Syndicate was also enhanced, even though the British have little hope of getting far enough in the summer-long trials to compete against the Americans in the final series, beginning Sept. 13. As for Andrew, he departed Newport to hike and canoe in the Canadian wilderness. With or without Koo Stark.