It was at Windsor Castle. I was at the end of a queue to get into St George’s Chapel for the Garter Service. The men were all in morning coats and toppers, the women in their best hats.
I was joined in the queue by a scruffy man who shuffled up beside me. It was J Paul Getty. I felt that one of the world’s poorest must grasp the opportunity to speak to the richest. I made some platitude about the weather. He simply grunted – end of ‘conversation’.
Some years later I met him properly. My wife and I had been invited to lunch by the Sitwell family at Renishaw Hall, Derbyshire. There were two guests there, but no sign of the Sitwells. Our host and hostess had taken other guests to see the ruins of Sutton Scarsdale Hall, a few miles south.
While we four were being served drinks, I noticed an old man in a baseball cap coming unsteadily down the main staircase into the hall. It was Getty. He joined us but said little until Reresby and Penelope Sitwell appeared.
Sir Reresby was the life and soul of the party and we were soon ushered into the dining room. I noticed that Reresby treated Getty with scant respect.
‘Oh, Reresby, I wanna go see a stately home,’ said Getty.
‘Do shut up, Paul – you are in one!’
The enormous dining table was full of guests who had arrived after us and I was not near Getty.
After lunch, we sat about chatting in the hall. Evidently, Getty had offered to take the entire party to ‘go see a stately home’. I noticed that he was sitting alone with a book on his knees – a book of houses open to the public.
I sat next to him as he droned on: ‘Chatsworth House, seat of the Dook of Devonshire – admission four pounds.’
He then worked that out in his head in dollars and proceeded to the next house opening. Eventually he read out, ‘Kedleston Hall – seat of the Viscount Scarsdale.’
Then he did his sums about how many dollars the entry fee would be and suddenly and very loudly called out, ‘Reduction for parties – let’s go there, Reresby!’
My wife and I knew Kedleston; so we did not join the party but went home instead. A few days later, I was at Kedleston, chatting to the ticket-seller.
‘You’ll never guess who came here the other day,’ he said. ‘Mr Getty.’
‘Did you talk to him?’
‘Yes, but he wouldn’t buy a guidebook.’
Rosslyn St Clair