Connecticut Yankees Court the Yorks
Sorry to bring the bad news, but if you haven’t already received your invitation to meet the Duke and Duchess of York (Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson) during their visit this week to moneyed Greenwich, Conn., you’re probably not on the guest list. (We know, we know. You had plans and couldn’t have made it anyway.) The Yorks’ quickie trip—she’s expected to stay for five days, he’ll be here for two—is their first visit to the U.S. as husband and wife and is being labeled “private” by Buckingham Palace. Fergie will be spending time with her mother, Susan, and polo-playing stepfather Hector Barrantes, who are fixtures on Greenwich’s summer social scene. But Fergie and Andrew will also go public: For a day and a half, they’ll be on display at polo festivities and charity fund raisers, where they will glad-hand society swells who have paid dearly for the privilege. “The phone is ringing right off the wall,” says Greenwich socialite Jorie Kent, one of the Yorks’ hostesses. “But we can’t accommodate any more people.”
How did Jorie and Geoffrey Kent and co-hosts Peter and Sandy Brant (he’s the 40-year-old founder of the Greenwich Polo Club) snare the coveted Yorks? They simply appealed to Fergie’s love of art, polo and Mummy. The Kents belong to the American fund-raising arm of the Tate Gallery in London, and Fergie is royal patron of the Tate Gallery Foundation. So Jorie asked Maj. Ronald Ferguson, Fergie’s dad (see following story) and a pal of Geoffrey’s from their cavalry days together 20 years ago, to put in a good word to his daughter. “She told him that she’d love to do something for us,” says Jorie, who attended the royal wedding last year. “The Duchess’s love of polo is very, very deep.”
Fergie and Andrew will get in some family time when they stay at the Barrantes summer house on the grounds of the polo club, albeit under heavy security mapped out by Scotland Yard, the State Department and the Greenwich police. (Major Ferguson, who is also making the trip, will bunk with the Kents.) Fergie has visited the U.S. several times as a civilian; Andrew has logged five visits. With his wife at his side, he is expected to behave better than he did in 1984 while touring a housing project in L.A.’s Watts section. Given a paint sprayer to test, he turned and blasted reporters who had been stalking him throughout the trip.
Members of the international polo set, the Kents and the Brants have impeccable credentials. A native of England, Kent, 45, is a longtime player on the circuit. He owns Abercrombie & Kent International, a travel firm specializing in deluxe African safaris and other exotic escapes. Wife Jorie, in her mid-50s, is an heiress to the Butler Aviation fortune; her older brother, Michael Butler, produced Broadway’s Hair in the late ’60s. Brant is a real estate mogul who developed 1,500 acres of prime Greenwich land and constructed two world-class polo fields and a 500-seat stadium. He also owns a newsprint corporation and publishes Art in America and Antiques magazines, coffee-table staples of the rich and famous.
The hosts have drawn up a tight schedule for the Duke and Duchess, beginning with a private dinner at the Kents’ Colonial-style home. On Saturday they are booked for a noon luncheon at the club to benefit the World Wildlife Fund and Friends of the Masai Mara Project, a group working to preserve Kenya’s famous game reserve. For the 200 guests (including Stephanie Powers and Knot’s Landing’s William Devane, an avid polo player), the main attraction is a talk by Wild Kingdom host Jim Fowler, along with some diverting props: an African elephant, African serpent eagle, black leopard and dromedary, animals that are not indigenous to Greenwich. “We hope to ask the royal couple to interact with the animals,” says Mark Shafir, a spokesman for Rolex, which is sponsoring the event. After lunch comes a polo match between England’s Windsor Park team (Prince Charles plays with this group at home; but Fergie’s dad, who is Charles’s polo manager, will sub for him) and the Greenwich home team.
Just as jet lag sets in, Fergie and Andrew will have to begin dressing for Saturday evening’s black-tie Polo Ball, to be held under a tent in front of the Brants’ home. Some 300 guests—society types, polo hangers-on and art groupies—will pay up to $500 per person to rumba to Peter Duchin’s orchestra and stare at real artists such as Jasper Johns, Roy Lichtenstein, Brice Marden and Robert Rauschenberg. (The tab rises to $1,000 per head to rub elbows with the royals before dinner.) Andrew will return to England Sunday, but Fergie will stay on for girl talk with Mum.
The Duchess will certainly have a lot to say about her hectic, occasionally controversial summer. After returning from a triumphant three-week visit to Canada, Fergie found herself the target of Fleet Street once again. During the Windsor clan’s annual August vacation at Balmoral in Scotland, Fergie gashed her forehead on the telescopic sight of her rifle while stalking deer. A statement was issued saying the cut “wasn’t considered bad enough for stitches,” but if the palace was looking for sympathy, it didn’t find any. Wrote Sunday Mirror columnist Muriel Gray: “I’m deeply distressed to hear that the Duchess of York hurt herself on that nasty sharp telescopic gun sight while pursuing the innocent girlish pleasure of murdering a large mammal for sport.” The incident generated more invective from the nation’s anti-blood-sports forces. Said a spokesman for the League Against Cruel Sports: “We are against stupid women charging around the countryside with guns simply because they are bored.” Ouch!
Adding insult to injury, the press took Fergie and other young Windsors to task for excessive vacationing. “Holiday fun has become a growth industry” for the young royals, complained the Daily Express. The newspaper pointed out that when Fergie returns from the U.S. next week, she and Andrew will fly off within days for an official five-day visit to tropical Mauritius, a lush island in the Indian Ocean; that will be followed by a week’s vacation, courtesy of the island’s government, at a luxury seaside hotel.
Greenwich’s swingers (of mallets, that is) couldn’t be more delighted with the Yorks’ globe-trotting ways. But for a few residents, the royal visit to their hometown hasn’t exactly set their (blue) blood racing. For natives like John Margenot, the town’s First Selectman, who has yet to be invited to the galas, life goes on. “I’m already booked that weekend,” says Margenot. “Re-elections are coming up.”