It had been one of those weeks. Monday I got the news that I would not be landing the juicy new account repping the Emirate of Matar. Matar was trying to improve its image in the United States, which needed some buffing because six of its citizens had been apprehended trying to set off that radioactive device in the New York subway. That was Monday.
Wednesday I arrived in the office to the marvelous news that a pilot for an airline I represent had tried to fly a jumbo jet from Chicago to Paris while drunk. The air-traffic controllers ordered him back to the gate after he started singing "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" as the plane taxied for takeoff. I issued a statement highlighting the fact that the co-pilot was a Mormon and would have been able to land the plane safely. In public relations you live with the reality that not every disaster can be made to look like a misunderstood triumph.
So I wasn't in an excellent mood when my secretary told me there was someone with a pronounced English accent on the phone who wouldn't give his name but was "most insistent" that he speak with me. Frankly, I almost didn't take the call. I don't want to give the impression that I'm one of those snooty types who stand on ceremony. On the contrary. Ask around and they'll tell you that Renard Strategic Communications is a "people" firm. To us, a client is not just a source of endless billable hours (though he is also that) but a soul in need, whether it's a soul who has just been charged with insider trading or one whose product has poisoned some watershed and made an entire species extinct (usually some type of frog that really no one aside from biologists with too much time on their hands is going to miss). Anyway, I took the call.
The accent identified itself as a Lord Sir Knatchbull Fogg-Smythers. Hard not to feel a bit inadequate after that. Still, I managed to make "Rick Renard" sound like it has passed down through the generations from the first Rick Renard, Richard le Renard, who performed an incredibly valiant deed during some twelfth-century battle. We're not clear on the details, but apparently he was quite a guy.
"I'm calling on rather a delicate matter," he said.
"Mr. Figg-Smothers," I said, "Smogg-Fithers ..." Those hyphenated British names can be murder if you're a bit dyslexic.
"Fogg-Smythers," he said, frosting my phone with a coat of ice.
"How may I be of assistance, Sir Lord?" I said.
"Your name has come up. I'm calling by way of preliminary enquiry to see if you might come over to London. I believe you will find it quite worth your while."
"May I ask, Lord Sir, what this concerns?"
"The survival of the British monarchy."
You can't just say "I guess I could squeeze you in next Wednesday between three and four." I said I could be there tomorrow. He then asked if I would be flying "privately or commercially." Before I knew it, I was telling him that—"of course"—I would be flying in "my own plane," though the closest I've ever come to that was a balsa-wood glider when I was eleven.
Sir Lord didn't sound the least bit impressed. He just sniffed, "Much easier all round," as though I'd spared him the indignity of having someone meet me at the baggage claim. He said to have my pilot land at Brightfarthing RAF Base, in Wallopshire. "I'll arrange it so they don't shoot you down."
I hung up thinking, Well done, Renard—you've just spent $25,000 of your own money trying to impress someone named Knatchbull.
I summoned LaMoyne. LaMoyne is my executive assistant. I gloomily instructed him to arrange for the cheapest fractional-ownership jet he could find that stood a sporting chance of making it from here to England. When I told him who'd summoned me, his eyes bugged out of their sockets and his bow tie twirled like a pinwheel.
"The Lord Sir Knatchbull Fogg-Smythers?" he gasped.
"No, the other Lord Sir Knatchbull Fogg-Smythers. Who the hell is he, anyway? He sounds like he sat on his sword at some coronation ceremony and never had it removed."
His voice dropped to a whisper. "He's the private secretary to the Prince of Wales."
"Well, whoop-de-do," I said, still fuming over the plane.
LaMoyne reads that British magazine Hello!, the one that chronicles royal happenings like they were Second Comings. One issue I saw open on his desk had a twelve-page color spread under the headline "THE COUNTESS OF PUDDINGTON SPENDS AN EXHILARATING AFTERNOON JUDGING HENS AT AN AGRICULTURAL FAIR AND AFTERWARD ENJOYS TEA WITH HER COUSIN THE MARCHIONESS OF WOOLHAMPTON AT HER 152-ROOM ANCESTRAL HOME, GLAND MANOR."
I could hardly put it down. LaMoyne can't get enough of this sort of stuff. He memorizes royal-family trees. He can tell you how the King of Romania's uncle was related to Queen Victoria's aunt and what kind of hemophilia he had. LaMoyne grew up in Indiana. His father managed a cement factory; his mother taught high school English. People like LaMoyne tend to leave Indiana as soon as they attain legal age, and head west or east until they reach the continental shelf. I suppose you can't blame them.
I told him what the subject of the meeting with Lord Sir was. He sniffed, "The monarchy could use some saving."
I wasn't really up on the latest royal catastrophe. There seemed to be at least one a week. Something was always going wrong with that dynasty. I read somewhere that a Hungarian monk two centuries ago put a curse on it. You're not off to a good start as a dynasty when you have monks putting curses on you unto the tenth generation.
While not a royal-watcher myself, I was aware that the Prince of Wales had recently shot a beater accidentally during a driven-pheasant shoot. The man survived, and as soon as he could walk, or limp, out of the emergency room, he made a beeline for the nearest tabloid newspaper, where he sold a Homeric account of the peppering of his hindquarters for £200,000. (Headline: "DOES HE LOOK LIKE A BLOODY PHEASANT, SIR?") If I'd been handling His Royal Highness's affairs at the time, I'd have put out the word that the man practically hurled himself in front of the Prince so that he could cash in. Sometimes, in PR, you have to take off the old gloves.
I told LaMoyne he could brief me on royalty on the way over. Needless to say, he was beside himself with excitement to be coming along. When, that evening, we boarded the jet, a hideously expensive six-seater that would have to put down in Iceland to refuel, he had three suitcases with him.
"Those are going to cost me an extra thousand dollars in fuel."
"They're not for me," he said. "They're for you." He'd apparently gone out and bought me a trousseau.
"What's that?" I pointed to a white box with a see-through lid.
"It's a boutonniere," he said.
"LaMoyne, I'm not going to a prom, for God's sake."