It’s a brisk September afternoon in London, but as Nicholas Haslam makes his entrance into the Wolseley, a fashionable café, he is still golden brown, a vestige of his holiday the month before on the Greek island of Corfu. A house party that included cabinet ministers, billionaires, movie stars and aristocrats, his vacation received banner coverage in the British press.
Haslam, a celebrated English interior decorator and bon vivant, is one of those people who always seem to be at the center of the action. This much is obvious after one reads his highly entertaining new memoir, Redeeming Features (Knopf), brimful as it is with tales of his famous friends. The list is endless and stretches from the Duchess of Windsor and Cole Porter to Mick Jagger and Paris Hilton. Thus it seems only fair to open the interview by asking Nicky, which is what everyone calls him, how he feels about being labeled “the star-f---er to end all star- f---ers”—an oft-repeated description first applied to him years ago by his best friend, Min Hogg, the founding editor of The World of Interiors. Haslam—a trim, energetic 70-year-old with a shock of white hair, who is wearing skinny jeans tucked into boots, a loosely constructed gray jacket, and green beads around his neck—becomes slightly indignant. “I’m absolutely not a star-f---er,” he protests. “I could care less if it’s Mick Jagger or the man on the street. I just like interesting people, and I happen to know a lot of stars. But if you want to know the truth, most stars f--- me.
“A lot of stars can be ghastly!” he continues. As proof, he cites a recent introduction to “one of the most unpleasant men I’ve ever met in my life. He’s called Sacha Baron Cohen. He was so horrible. I hated him. Wretched mind, with dirty hair and dirty new clothes.”
The encounter took place on Corfu in August, during Haslam’s vacation at the estate of financiers Lord Rothschild and his son, Nat. A media firestorm erupted in the UK when word leaked that the Rothschilds’ guests also included cabinet minister Lord Mandelson, whom some see as the Lord Voldemort of British politics due to his coolly calculated power brokering, as well as billionaire David Geffen, who pulled up on the Rising Sun, the world’s seventh-largest yacht. The Sunday Times of London had all the details on the gathering—thanks, it seems, to Haslam. “We had a very nice evening, the food was delicious,” the decorator told a Times reporter before disclosing that “Peter [Mandelson] was up all night…. He’s always on the phone.” The confluence of political power, big money and upper-class privilege set the press speculating about the deals Mandelson might be hatching, though nothing, in the end, seems to have transpired.