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See how the British establishment -- and old Etonians, such as David Cameron, make their way in this world.

Piers Gaveston (1273?-1312) was the "good buddy" of King Edward II of England. "When Edward returned with his new bride Isabella, Gaveston met them toting so much jewelry he "quite eclipsed the king, The king ditched his bride and ran to Gaveston, embracing him tightly, crying, "Brother, brother!" Isabella's father, King Philip IV of France, had given Edward some fancy jewelry which was found to be hanging on Gaveston's neck the very next day. Not to be judgmental, but it's simply bad form when your homosexual lover shows up wearing your wedding presents a few days after the ceremony."

Oh, and what happened to Edward II? After the "head job" on his buddy, he remained the King for a few years, but continued to have PR problems with the nobles. "On September 21 Edward was killed in prison, likely with a nod from the Queen. The only account was published some thirty years after his death, but it's spectacular. It reads, "Cum veru ignito inter celanda confossus ignominiose peremptus est," which means, "He was ignominiously slain with a red-hot spit thrust into the anus. (An alternate translation offered by Hutchison is, "with a hoote broche putte thro the secret place posterialle". It probably goes without mentioning that this account may be apocryphal, but it's all we've got to go on.) "

Piers Gaveston Society

2008 09 28

The Piers Gaveston Society is a highly exclusive secret dining club at the University of Oxford with membership limited to 12 undergraduates. It is named in honour of Piers Gaveston, favourite and supposed lover of King Edward II of England. Its members have a reputation for indulging in bizarre entertainments and sexual excess. Traditionally the society will organise very secret bacchanalian parties for hundreds of friends, who are whisked away to secret locations (usually grand country mansions) to enjoy a night of Bollinger champagne, beluga caviar, multitudinous illegal drugs, and public copulation. Words most often associated with this society are "decadence" and "debauchery."

Curse of the count
Profile: Hugh Grant
Tom Parker Bowles
See also

Past members
Actor Hugh Grant - former member of the Piers Gaveston SocietyHugh Grant

British Actor, infamously charged with indecent conduct after being caught with prostitute Divine Brown  in Los Angeles
Darius Guppy - a former member of the Piers Gaveston Society
Darius Guppy
Convicted of fraud in 1993, he was best man at the wedding of his friend Charles Spencer, the brother of Diana, Princess of Wales
Gottfried von Bismarck - former member of the Piers Gaveston Society
Count Gottfried von Bismarck
Descendent of Otto von Bismarck who died of a cocaine overdose
Tom Parker-Bowles - former member of the Piers Gaveston Society
Tom Parker Bowles
Stepson of Prince Charles

Curse of the count
Stuart Wavell August 2006

Count von Bismarck, a direct descendent of the Iron Chancellor, became infamous when a minister's daughter was found dead in his bed 20 years ago. Last week tragedy struck again. Whether attired in fishnet stockings or lederhosen, Count Gottfried von Bismarck was always the centre of attention at Oxford. At his lavish parties, severed pigs’ heads were served and guests toasted each other in blood. Life was a ball, until the night in 1986 when the music stopped and the heiress Olivia Channon was found dead of a heroin overdose on his bed.

Last week a second tragedy struck the 43-year-old great-great-grandson of Germany’s Iron Chancellor, when a man fell 60ft to his death from von Bismarck’s flat in Chelsea, west London. Neighbours were awoken by the sound of a crash, then heard police and paramedics arrive. The facts carry all the horror of the count’s calamity 20 years ago. The dead man, who was named as Anthony Casey, 38, is thought to have fallen from the window of the top-floor flat in which von Bismarck was holding a party with four men. Casey lived locally and was gay, said neighbours. A 41-year-old man who fled the building was arrested and released on bail. Police are keeping an open mind over the death. For von Bismarck, who was not arrested and in whose flat no drugs were found, the sense of malediction must be palpable. In 1986 he was holding another party, at his rooms in Christ Church, to celebrate the end of exams. The death of Channon, daughter of the millionaire trade minister Paul Channon, created a furore that marked him for life. He left Oxford and returned to Germany in an effort to rebuild his life.

Nicholas Monson, author of The Palace Diaries and a distant relative of von Bismarck, said yesterday: “He is still being blamed for the Channon death, which I think is unjust, and now he is getting a huge amount of flak for this. It’s infernal bad luck just because someone falls off the roof at your party.”

The count was born with a silver spoon in his mouth, if not his nose. It was said that his principal problem at Oxford was alcohol, not drugs. He would feel so bad after a night’s drinking that he would take amphetamine sulphate or “speed” to help him to concentrate on his history studies. This was the substance he was fined £80 for possessing after Channon’s death. His drinking and decadent parties were legendary. A sparkling wit and bon vivant, he could summon the crème de la crème of Oxford’s racy set, including Viscount Althorp, brother of Diana, Princess of Wales, Darius Guppy, Sebastian Guinness and the latter’s fated cousin, Channon, to his revelries. “After his pigs’ heads party I met him in various incarnations on the party circuit,” recalled one university friend. “Whether dressed up in lederhosen or fishnet stockings, he was charm personified and scintillating company.”

Intent on living up to Christ Church’s reputation for binge drinking, he took his place alongside the sozzled toffs at the notorious Bullingdon and Loders clubs. He entered energetically into the spirit of the Piers Gaveston Society, noted for its predilection for rubber wear and whips, which he embellished with his androgynous apparel and lipstick. No one could ignore his lineage and he let no one forget it. He later boasted of his name’s influence: “If I apply for a job and the list says Meyer, Muller, Schmidt and von Bismarck, I think I’d get the job.”

Perhaps he felt the precedent of his illustrious ancestor, the great Bismarck, excused his excesses. The Iron Chancellor loved good food and drink, with a tendency to overindulge in both. He was also a celebrated entertainer, fluent in English and appreciated funny stories.  The Iron Chancellor’s great legacy was to unite Germany, but equally important for the young German undergraduate at Oxford, his family had emerged from the second world war as “good” Germans. His grandfather Otto served in the London embassy until a feud with Hitler’s foreign secretary, Joachim von Ribbentrop, ended his career. Otto’s younger brother Gottfried was arrested for his involvement in the July plot to kill Hitler. Although the family’s appeals saved him from execution, he was repeatedly tortured.

At Oxford the young count was popular, respected and seemed destined for higher things. “Under his veneer of being a wild party animal there is a very steely German sense of purpose ingrained into his soul,” said a friend. Years later he confessed that he had felt like a fish out of water at Oxford. “I had been to school in Switzerland and worked on the New York stock exchange before I went to Oxford. I felt as out of place as a northern chemist,” he said in 1991. He claimed that he fled at weekends to “the most elegant squat in London” with other heirs and heiresses from the university. Then the carousel came to a shuddering halt. To outward appearances, Channon was a young lady of wealth, talent and impeccable background. She took holidays on the island of Mustique and mixed with royalty. But beneath the facade she lived a twilight existence. Away from her parents she drank excessively and snorted cocaine. Once a week she went up to London to spend £100 on drugs. But in the last week of her life she was too busy studying for her history finals at St Hilda’s so she sent a female friend instead.

Channon took some of the drug straight away, but saved the rest for a post-exam champagne party in von Bismarck’s rooms. As the drink flowed she and her friends “chased the dragon” by heating heroin on silver foil and inhaling the fumes. At one point she downed a pint of sherry. She then crashed out on a bed with Nicholas Vincent, a postgraduate who had been coaching her in history. The next day she was found dead, killed by respiratory failure caused by an overdose of heroin and drink. Von Bismarck claimed that he did not see Channon take heroin and would have objected if it had happened in his room. But he was aware that she had taken drugs, which did not surprise him.

At von Bismarck’s trial for drug possession, Robin Grey QC, for the defence, said: “This girl’s death is going to be a shadow over the head of Gottfried von Bismarck, probably for the rest of his life, although it cannot be said that he was in any way responsible. But she was in his room.” Leaving the court, von Bismarck expressed his remorse: “I feel incredibly sad and sorry for Olivia’s family. I must say it has changed my life totally.” At her funeral at the country church in Kelvedon Hatch, Essex, he was said to have “wept like a child”. Hours later he was ordered home by his father, Prince Ferdinand, who sent a servant with a chequebook to settle unpaid bills in Oxford. Based at the family castle near Hamburg, he was sent for a drying-out course at a private clinic and told to complete his studies at a German university. Even in Germany he was not allowed to forget Channon’s death. In 1991 he said: “There are still people who will not speak to my parents because of it, who said to my mother, ‘What a rotten son you have, he has disgraced the name of Bismarck’.”

In the 1990s he re-emerged as a diligent executive who, armed with a doctoral thesis on the East German telephone system, oversaw the sale of firms formerly owned by communist East Germany to the private sector. It gave him a chance to visit the family’s original eastern estate of Schönhausen, where in a church crypt he found ancestors going back to the 14th century. “I felt an ancient binding connection with a part of the world I had never known,” he recalled. “Some villagers came up to us and said, ‘We’ve been waiting for you all these years. It’s about time you showed up here’.” By the end of the decade he was linked with Telemonde, Kevin Maxwell’s troubled US-based telecoms company, responsible for developing the company’s business in Germany. It collapsed in 2002 owing £105m.

Since settling in London he has pursued enthusiasms such as promoting holidays in Uzbekistan to film production and is now chairman of AIM Partners. His Chelsea neighbours appear fond of him. “He is a good neighbour,” said one. “I wouldn’t say he has wild parties.” Another neighbour said: “Although he is a quiet man, he has never made any secret of the fact that he is gay. I see him in the street often and he is fairly effeminate.”

Mangal Kapoor, who knows von Bismarck socially, characterised him as a nice man who looks eccentric: “He wears long, tall top hats. At parties he wears wild designer frock coats with matching trousers and big logos. It’s as if he can’t throw off the trappings of aristocracy by wanting to show he is someone special.” Von Bismarck favours London’s fashionable clubs, such as Pangaea, Tramp and Chinawhite’s. “He is elusive: he will sit at one table for a while and then dart across to another. He has great charisma and great magnetism,” Kapoor said.

Equally at home among rich Eurotrash parties and black tie occasions, the count is said to have impeccable manners and cuts an attractive figure. Yet it seems his life has come full circle and that fate has caught up with him again.


Profile: Hugh Grant
Oliver Marre April 2007

 On screen, his persona is firmly established. But away from it, as his latest fracas shows, the actor is a more complicated character who claims he's increasingly fed up with the one-dimensional role he finds himself playing. If Hugh Grant had deliberately chosen the weapon most in keeping with the hapless character he plays so often in successful British comedies, he couldn't have done better than a tub of cold baked beans. Coupled with the amusingly wild kicks, straight out of his winningly ungainly fighting style as Daniel Cleaver in the Bridget Jones films, his attack on a paparazzo last Wednesday was a perfect Grant moment. What's more, the photographer claims he was not even waiting on the west London street for Grant, but because Grant's ex-girlfriend of 14 years, the recently married Elizabeth Hurley, lives there as well and he hoped to ambush her. That Grant was wearing a pair of shorts, his gym gear, only added to the comic tableau.

But what is eating Hugh Grant? Why is he so quick to boil over these days? Grant portrays himself variously as a naughty schoolboy with a crude sense of humour, a tortured artist who spends his time at work on novels and screenplays, and a demanding actor who makes life on set awkward for other people. On Friday, just as the papers were really getting going on the 'baked bean affair', he was soberly accepting damages from the Daily Mail and the Mail on Sunday for alleging falsely that his relationship with Jemima Khan had ended because of a flirtation with another woman.

There is truth in all these sides to the Grant. There is also, lest we forget, a skilful actor lurking beneath the headlines. He might have said he has 'no particular interest in doing serious dramatic films', but he is undoubtedly one of Britain's most successful cinematic exports. Eric Fellner, co-chief of Working Title Films, a long-time friend and collaborator who has produced several of Grant's hits, claims he is 'one of the best comic actors this country has ever produced. His range hasn't been fully tested, but each performance is unique'.

Not everyone agrees. Grant has been accused of playing the same part over and again since he came to international fame in 1994, with Four Weddings and a Funeral. According to The Observer's film critic Philip French, his favourite character in fact predates even this: 'He's always been the same role: the sexy, smugly diffident Englishman,' he says. 'From his first appearance, in Privileged, when he was still an undergraduate, through the period movies he's done with Merchant Ivory, to the Richard Curtis pictures. His range is as narrow as a cigarette paper.'

French, however, concedes that Grant is very accomplished within that range and agrees with Fellner that the actor's timing elevates him above many peers. Colin Firth, who has played opposite him several times, says: 'Very, very few people have his lightness of touch and his relaxed irony on screen.' And all are agreed that Grant is able to throw a certain amount of nastiness into his playing and dispense with the indecision, as seen in his portrayal of the charismatic love rat Daniel Cleaver or his recent turn as a ruthless talent-show judge in American Dreamz. According to Grant, this innovation was welcome. 'I'm sick of playing Mr Nice Guy and I think everyone else is sick of it too,' he said when Bridget Jones's Diary was released. And he has a point. His nice/nasty routine certainly makes for an exciting saga. On and off screen, Grant mixes the hopeless chap with the high-profile playboy, throwing in the occasional moment of bad boy behaviour.

Throughout it all, however, the actor maintains that he doesn't really like acting. While Fellner writes this off as 'a period of disillusionment' and insists that 'Hugh is an actor and will always act', Grant has a habit of telling interviewers that he's struggling with a novel or screenplay and then that he doesn't really expect to finish it. After university, he wrote and performed comedy, one example being the birth of Christ reimagined as an Ealing Comedy, and says 'the laughs were 60 times more delicious' because the lines came from his own pen. Fellner says he hopes Grant will one day complete a screenplay and perhaps turn his hand to directing, too. 'He's immensely talented and could contribute to any stage of the film-making process,' he says.

Hugh Grant was born in Hammersmith, west London, in September 1960, to James Murray Grant, the boss of a carpet company and former soldier, and Fynvola, a teacher who died in 2001 of cancer. He was sent to Wetherby, the prep school later attended by Princes William and Harry, and then Latymer, a local private school, where he won a scholarship to New College, Oxford, where he continued to flourish academically. It was reported on Friday that he has recently offered to fund one pupil per year, who could otherwise not afford it, through this same education up to university.

Former Gaveston Society member Hugh Grant and prostitute Divine Brown after being charged in Los AngelesAt Oxford, he joined the Piers Gaveston Society, indulging in vaguely debauched behaviour, sometimes in drag.

Not too much should be read into this. As a former member of the same club, I can report that while adventurous dress codes were encouraged at parties, it was done more to portray members as extrovert thespians than for any more biographically illuminating reason. It does, however, signal Grant's attempts, so typical of university years, to move away from his solidly middle-class background into a more exciting realm.

And so he appeared in his first film, Privileged, while still at college - then still billed as Hughie, the name used by family and friends throughout his childhood - portraying an invalid aristocrat. The film is, according to Philip French in a reference to the 1938 film A Yank at Oxford, 'fairly well-made wank at Oxford', but Grant's performance caught the eye of talent scouts from the William Morris Agency and he was persuaded to abandon plans for a doctorate in art history at the Courtauld Institute in London. Instead, he set about earning his Equity card as the third peasant in a touring production of Coriolanus.

In 1987, he was cast in the Merchant/Ivory film Maurice, his first break. There followed a portrayal of Chopin in Impromptu (1991) and the part of a young English cruise passenger in Bitter Moon (1992), directed by Roman Polanski. But it wasn't until 1994, when he starred in Four Weddings and a Funeral that he became a huge star, rehearsing the diffident yet charming character which would become, to many, the embodiment of Grant himself.

As his fame has grown, so have the parallels drawn between the parts he takes and his own life, culminating in his comments about his similarity to the washed up, middle-aged star of his latest outing, Music and Lyrics. In playful mode, he does little to dispel these perceived parallels, loving to appear in interviews as one of his characters. He repeatedly proclaims himself 'ashamed' of his love of golf, for example, while often talking about it.

Of all the characters he's played, Grant says he feels most affinity with Will in About a Boy, based on Nick Hornby's book about a man being forced to grow up after befriending a child. 'I have lived so much of my life as a London slacker... I did a lot of the stuff Will does in the movie,' he has said. 'I played snooker, I divided my day into half hours. I can tell you everything that is on afternoon TV.'

In his relationships with women, he also likes to suggest extremes at play, lurching between steady commitment and something more complicated. For 14 years, between 1986 and 2000, he dated Elizabeth Hurley, but in 1995, he was arrested in Los Angeles for indecent conduct with prostitute Divine Brown.

He went on US television to apologise. His performance, at once reckless and apologetic, witty yet self-deprecating, was Grant playing the part of 'Hugh Grant' beautifully. He went on to patch up his relationship with Hurley, whom he now describes as his 'best friend'. In 2004, he got together with Jemima Khan, daughter of the late plutocrat Sir James Goldsmith. They split some months ago, allegedly because she wanted to marry and he didn't, but have reportedly been spending more time together recently.

It is in his relationship with the press that his more prickly side most often shines through. Showbiz writer Kiki King, who has met him on several occasions, describes him as 'the least friendly and most unappealing celebrity I've ever met'. Happy to turn his back on reporters, Grant is often unwilling to play the game. Fellner suggests he's simply 'too clever' to deal with inane questions and that the pressure of being followed every day - 'more than Julia Roberts at the height of her fame' - takes its toll.

Grant thought he'd solved this local difficulty. At the time of the Divine Brown arrest, he told an interviewer: 'I think I've learned how to deal with the British press. Attacking them with my mother's umbrella was not a cool thing to do.'

Evidently, he still has his relapses, as witnessed last week. Yet we should be generous to Grant. Perhaps he finds the world slightly absurd because he is clever and witty and rather wishes that he was writing - not acting - the story of his life. And so he loses the detachment he is so famed for on screen and flips. And it is then that the baked beans, if not the umbrellas, come in to play.

The Grant lowdown
Born: 9 September 1960, London. Mother, Fynvola, a teacher; father James, a businessman. Studied English at Oxford. Single; long-term relationships with Elizabeth Hurley and Jemima Khan.

Best of times: His big breakthrough in Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994), the Mike Newell film with a Richard Curtis script in which he first showed us his now trademark befuddled, charming Englishman. His reinvention as something of a cad in the two Bridget Jones films.

Worst of times: In 1995, he was arrested in Los Angeles for 'indecent conduct' with prostitute Divine Brown (though his disarming television interviews post-arrest won him rave notices).

What he says: 'The difference between a good film and real life is that in real life, there's the next day, the next year, the next lifetime to contemplate the ruinous consequences of easy applause.'

'I don't particularly like babies. I don't mind them for about four minutes. That's my max. After that, I can't quite see what everyone's fussing about.'

What others say: 'He is that rare thing - a true film star who doesn't take himself too seriously. I've made four films with him and I would be very upset if he gave up [acting].' Emma Thompson


Tom Parker Bowles

Thomas Henry Charles "Tom" Parker Bowles (born 18 December 1974 in London, England) is the son of Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall (formerly Camilla Parker Bowles) and Andrew Parker Bowles. His stepfather and godfather is HRH Prince Charles, Prince of Wales. His younger sister is Laura Lopes and his stepbrothers are Prince William and Prince Harry of Wales. He is a food columnist and television presenter, as well as the author of two books about food.

Parker Bowles was educated at Summer Fields prep school in Oxford. He then attended Eton College and Worcester College, Oxford, where he was a member of the exclusive and notorious Piers Gaveston Society. Between 1997 and 2000, Parker Bowles was a junior publicist for Dennis Davidson Associates, a public relations firm. He is currently a food writer for the Mail on Sunday and the magazine Tatler. His first book, published in 2004, was E Is For Eating - An Alphabet of Greed. His next, The Year of Eating Dangerously, was published by Ebury in October 2006. Writing about his prized recipes appears to be his current focus, but in the late 1990s and into the 21st Century, Parker Bowles was one of a group of Old Etonians who found success in business. He and his cousin Ben Elliot, for example, founded Quintessentially in 2000 along with Luca del Bono and Aaron Simpson. He currently co-presents Market Kitchen for UKTV Food; his first appearance was on 23 April 2007.

His life has been scrutinised by the media because of his mother's long on-off relationship with Prince Charles. In 1999, he was exposed by a tabloid newspaper for taking cocaine at a West End party, and for supplying cocaine to a lady at the Cannes Film Festival. He has claimed he was set up, and it has been reported that it was an undercover journalist, from the Sunday Times or News of the World, who approached him to ask where she could acquire cocaine. The Fleet Street press made much ado about the reality of Parker Bowles being a close friend to Prince William and Prince Harry, even calling Parker Bowles a "mentor" or "role model" for the former.

On 10 September 2005, Parker Bowles married Sara G. Buys, a fashion features editor at Harpers & Queen, daughter of William Buys and ex-wife Caroline, in St. Nicholas' Church, Rotherfield Grey, Oxfordshire, an Anglican church, although Parker Bowles and his sister, Laura, were raised as Roman Catholics, as their father, and particularly their paternal grandmother, the late Dame Ann Parker Bowles (née de Trafford), were Roman Catholics. The wedding was attended by Andrew and Rosemary Parker Bowles (his father and stepmother), his mother and Princes Charles, William and Harry. Ben Elliot (his cousin and business collaborator) was the best man to the groom.

On 18 March 2007, Parker Bowles and his wife announced to the Daily Mail that they were expecting a child, due in September 2007. The Duchess of Cornwall was said to be "absolutely over the moon". Sara gave birth to a daughter, Lola Rosalind, on 9 October 2007 at Queen Charlotte's Hospital in Hammersmith just after 5pm. Lola was christened like a royal in a private ceremony in the Chapel Royal at St James's Palace, where monarchs including Kings Charles II of England and James II of England were baptised.

See also
Darius Guppy
Boris Johnston
DC's Bullingdon cronies
Cameron's School picture is pulled 

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