when I met the king of Greece
June 22, 2011
… was the most expensive piece of clothing I ever bought with my own money, a dark blue Domingo Rodriguez dress with long sleeves and a severe notched collar. It had the formal, trussed-up look of a gown in a Velasquez painting, stiff and soberly grand.
I met King Constantine through work. I was creative director at a public relations agency in London and I had to produce a documentary about him. It was for Canadian TV. Apparently, Canada has a large Greek population and the king had a message for them. Unexcitingly, it concerned his tax status.
The agency I worked for dealt mainly with corporate clients. Banks and brokerage houses. Food and beverage manufacturers. Oil companies. If a tanker hit a reef off the coast of Australia, a rep from my agency would be second on the scene, advising the CEO of the oil company to act humble and concerned, to let his five o’clock shadow sprout and to get himself photographed cleaning the slick off a sea tern.
But there were also a handful of what I called vanity clients, that is, clients we took on to flatter the vanity of our CEO, who was hoping for a knighthood. Prince Charles’ charity was one of them. I had just moved to Britain and the idea of working with the Prince of Wales seemed appealing, the sort of thing you’d cross an ocean for. I thought it might lead to tea at Buckingham Palace. It didn’t. I never even saw the Prince. The project with Constantine was different. As producer, I would be spending the day with him and the film crew I had yet to hire. The King and I were to have lunch together at the big table in the conference room.
I’d never met a royal before. I barely knew any Brits, let alone a Greek king. I had never produced a documentary before either and I wasn’t sure what a producer did. (I’ve since come to see that it’s a lot like being a party planner.) Eventually, I found a director. To my relief, he said he’d bring his own crew. Things seemed to be sorting themselves out.
Then I had a visit from the protocol person.
The protocol person was a female in a grey suit who went around telling people how to behave in the presence of royalty. This seemed like a great job to have. She said that when I met the King I was to curtsy and address him as ‘your majesty’. After that, it was ‘sir’. I had to wait for him to speak first. Most importantly – for some reason this was the big no-no – I was to never, ever show him my back. If I had to leave the room, I was supposed to shuffle out in reverse. (This reminded me of a boyfriend I used to have who would pounce and then say, “Don’t you know never turn your back on a country boy?”)
I called the director to relay this information to him (excluding the boyfriend detail). When I finished, there was a snort at the other end of the line, which I interpreted to mean that he could not believe an American was lecturing him, an Englishman, on royal etiquette.
On the day, the CEO and I waited for King Constantine in reception. He arrived. I curtseyed, a cross between a crouch and a bob. The king took my hand. “How delightful,” he said. I don’t know if he meant me, the curtsy or the occasion but it was very effective. I felt swooney. I wasn’t the only one; as we were filing out, the receptionist grabbed my sleeve and mouthed, Wow.
I once saw Robert Redford at a bar in Utah. He was never one of my crushes, and he was already getting on in years, but when he walked in, time seemed to stop. He was golden, he actually radiated a golden aura. It was amazing, the ‘it’ factor in action – that indefinable combination of charisma and an accumulation of everyone’s fantasies. Constantine had it as well. He’s a king without a country – the family was booted out of Greece ages ago –a monarch without power or wealth. Nonetheless, the air around him was charged.
In the afternoon, we gathered around the screen to review the morning’s footage. Constantine removed his jacket. He slid down on to the floor to get comfortable. He bummed a cigarette off the lighting guy.
The make-up girl looked stunned.
She was a pro, someone who had worked for years in movies and theatre, but when she leant over to light the king’s Marlboro, her hands were shaking.