She has only two speeds, flat-out and stop,” says Britain’s Lord Harlech, 59, of his American-born wife, Pamela, 42. Harlech, before becoming the fifth baron in 1964, was Sir David Ormsby Gore, British ambassador in Washington during the ’60s, when he was a JFK crony and later a frequent Jackie escort.
Lady Harlech was Pamela Colin, a much-photographed beauty, daughter of a top Manhattan corporation lawyer and a Vogue editor. When the two married in London in 1969, they marched down the aisle to the fanfare of Handel’s Solomon heralding the arrival of the Queen of Sheba, an in-joke to friends who josh Pamela about her Nefertiti-like profile. “We were determined,” says Pamela, “to avoid Here Comes the Bride at all costs.”
Sent by Vogue in 1964 to be its first resident London editor, Pamela had quickly become one of the British capital’s more stylish hostesses, counting Princess Margaret and Lord Snowdon among the dinner guests at her bachelor-girl flat. Another frequent visitor became Harlech, whose first wife, Sylvia, had died in a 1967 car crash, leaving him a widower with five children. “The first time I knew he was serious was when he gave me a case of 1961 Gruaud-Larose,” Pamela recalls. “I figured he’d want to stay around to drink it.”
Today in London society an invitation from the Harlechs is much prized, and one reason is Pamela’s knack of transforming ordinary foods with the imaginative use of herbs and spices (see below). Her collection of gourmet recipes, many of them culled from celebrity pals, has just been published as Feast without Fuss (Atheneum, $12.95). “It’s for people like me,” says Pamela, “who fancy unusual dishes that don’t take too long. Its main point,” she adds, “is that you can have good food without getting hysterical.”
Pamela found that putting together the book, which started with her British Vogue food columns, was in fact not all that simple. Beginning as a nine-month project, it wound up taking four and a half years; the intrusions included the birth of a daughter, Pandora, now 5, and in 1974 a family tragedy, the suicide of Julian, Harlech’s eldest son by his first marriage.
The Harlechs’ annual summer break, running into September, is spent at their 17th-century Welsh retreat, a house with 11-foot-thick walls, located three miles from the forbidding ruins of Harlech Castle. The six-week hiatus seems like anything but a vacation for Pamela. “The more I have to do, the more I get done,” she claims. As the fruit and vegetables come in, she busies herself readying and freezing the purees, puddings and soup bases for the season ahead. “I get ready for Christmas in August,” she explains. “That way, when the time comes, I can see my guests.”
London friends who come to Wales know enough not to expect white-gloved service. If they can peel a tomato, they are put to work. Others are shunted off to the village to fetch groceries. Still, Pamela does not spare herself as a hostess, adding personal touches like sachets of homegrown lavender in dresser drawers. The women are treated to breakfast in bed (“the ultimate luxury,” sighs Pamela); men get kippers or Philadelphia scrapple from the kitchen. “My guests are cosseted,” Pamela feels. “Everybody should get the best, so they feel wanted. If you don’t really want guests, there’s no point in asking them.”
Lord Harlech, who runs one of Britain’s commercial TV services and is president of the British Board of Film Censors, is Pamela’s ever-ready guinea pig. “He’s eaten his way right through that book,” she vouches. But not always on the first try. Once, because of a translation snafu, Pamela (who calls her kitchen “my chemistry lab”) sprinkled 10 times too much hot cayenne on a Spanish chicken dish. “The steam was coming out of the tops of our heads,” Harlech recounts. “We cut it by three-quarters the second time, and it was still uneatable. We were getting ready for a dinner of 60, so it’s just as well we had those trials.”
Overlooking the occasional lapse, Harlech has unbounded admiration for his wife as a cook and hostess. “She has,” says Harlech, “an inquiring mind, a professional approach to whatever she does.” His appreciation is not unappreciated. “I could never have married someone,” Pamela avows, “who just wanted hamburgers and a fried egg.”