Today Haslam elaborates on the guest list. “Qaddafi’s son was there too,” he says nonchalantly. “He’s called Saif. He’s a big bruiser of a boy, quite good-looking, in a way.”
Haslam proceeds to swoon over Agnelli heir John Elkann, who was also in attendance. “He’s the most adorable boy I ever met in my life,” he says. “Exquisite, unbelievably sweet, the most beautiful clothes and manners. And he adored me, I rather think.”
Growing up in a stately 17th-century manor house in rural Buckinghamshire, where he spent three years immobilized in bed due to polio, Haslam was privileged as a young man but at a far remove from the glitzy milieu he would later inhabit. His father, heir to an industrial fortune, and his aristocratic mother, a granddaughter of the Earl of Bessborough, were Victorians, “but they were very forward-looking,” their son says today.
As a student at Eton, he managed to befriend such luminaries as Cecil Beaton and Lady Diana Cooper. As is demonstrated repeatedly in Redeeming Features, celebrities just come to him, at least by his telling. In 1953, when a then 14-year-old Haslam went on holiday to New York with his mother, he picked up a handsome boy on the subway, who, after a few days’ acquaintance, invited Haslam to spend the weekend in the country with Tallulah Bankhead. (“Of course you must go,” his mother said when he asked permission.)
In the late Fifties he befriended budding photographer David Bailey and supermodel-to-be Jean Shrimpton. One evening, Shrimpton’s sister brought along her housecleaner, “a skinny young lad,” writes Haslam in his book, who wore a tight suit with a T-shirt and exuded magnetism. “‘What’s his name?’ we whispered,” Haslam recounts. “‘Mick,’ she said. ‘Funny surname—Jagger.’” The future rock star became one of Haslam’s closest friends.
Within a fortnight of his second visit to New York, in 1962, Haslam had moved in with Philip Johnson (“who appeared to find me irresistible,” Haslam writes) and landed an interview with Condé Nast editorial czar Alexander Liberman, who gave him a job as assistant art director at Vogue.
In those days the Vogue office housed an astounding cast of characters, ranging from grand aristocrats such as Baron Nicky de Gunzburg to an odd young illustrator named Andy Warhol. The junior staff included copywriter Joan Didion. “She was wonderful-looking, in this waiflike way. She was always coming in in the morning crying, after some disastrous evening. Then during the day she would gradually remake herself and then go out for another evening,” Haslam recalls.
Haslam scored a major coup when he passed along to editor Diana Vreeland a newspaper clipping his father had sent about a fledgling pop group from Liverpool. “They’re too adorable, get them photographed immediately,” she ordered. He’d soon produced the first photo of the Beatles in an American magazine.