JFK’s yacht pitched forward suddenly and my hand, reaching for another Scotch, instead whacked the unsuspecting backside of the 13th Duke of Argyll. I quickly turned away and studied a Kennedy family portrait as the British royal looked around in search of the culprit. Three hours in Palm Beach and I’d already molested a peer of the realm. Luckily we had enough booze on board to fill the Croton Reservoir at least twice.
The occasion was a charity polo match and dinner gala taking place the following day to be presided over by Prince Harry, fifth in line for the throne of England, former British army officer serving in Afghanistan, perennial tabloid target and all round stand-up chap. The sort of man you’d want in your combat squad or on your side in cricket, full of noblesse oblige but also handy with the champagne and a bit of posh totty when the occasion arises.
It was the Sentebale Royal Salute Polo Cup, to be precise, highlight of the social season in Palm Beach, played at the private polo club of a sporty multimillionaire and sponsored by Royal Salute, the regal Scotch whisky aged a minimum of 21 years that was created in 1953 by Chivas Brothers in honor of Queen Elizabeth II on her coronation day. Serious Scotch drinkers have been celebrating ever since.
The cruise aboard Honey Fitz, the classic wooden steamer built in 1931 which served as JFK’s presidential yacht during his all-too-brief tenure, was merely the prelude to a weekend of gentlemanly debauchery culminating in the polo match at which Prince Harry would rather dashingly score a last minute goal to win the trophy for his Sentebale team, named after the African children’s charity he founded in 2006.
On the day following the cruise and a private dinner on Peanut Island, the 80-acre preserve which houses a nuclear blast shelter built in secret for Kennedy shortly after his election (above), we would be given a lesson in polo so that, in theory at least, we too could join the Prince and his ilk on the manicured fields of multimillionaires at future charity matches.
Our tutors proved to be rather overqualified for the task. They included Nacho Figueras, Argentine international polo star and Ralph Lauren model; Malcolm Borwick, Royal Salute World Polo Ambassador and close Prince Harry pal; and Jodie Kidd, British model, polo player and race car driver. Something of an imposing trio early in the morning following the elegant if somewhat stormy booze cruise.
As it happens we turned out to have a natural affinity for the sport, insofar as being led around on a fairly docile pony while trying to whack the ball and not injure the horse in the process goes. By the end of the session the steed was licking his shins and looking at me in a decidedly unpleasant manner. There may well have been some eye-rolling between the pros watching from the sidelines but they were good enough not to let on.
Scrubbing up for the main event we convoyed to the Valiente Polo Farm where the rain insisted on turning the field into mud and the spectator stands into impromptu steam showers.
Again the organizers had thoughtfully stocked up not only on oceans of Royal Salute in its natty blue ceramic flagons but also an almost insurmountable quantity of Perrier-Jouët. Almost.
By the time the match got underway we were feeling like JFK at a Palm Beach bachelor party with a blonde on each arm and Jackie safely back in Washington. With much more Royal Salute to follow at the gala dinner where Prince Harry took the podium and proceeded to raise an impressive sum for Sentebale.
Polo matches are rather brief and remarkably well-mannered affairs even during rainstorms, though no-one seemed to be treating the Prince with undue deference when it came to running down the ball or heading off an opponent.
Nonetheless he managed to score a last-minute goal to win the cup, which was duly presented by the aristocratic figure of the 13th Duke of Argyll, representative of the Queen in Scotland – who seemed to be suffering from some sort of injury to the hindquarters.
We have no idea why….