The women (and dog) in the ‘discreet’ world of Kevin Spacey by Paul Palmer
In suitably ironic twist, Kevin Spacey’s converted block of flats on the south bank of the Thames housed spies from MI5 in the Cold War era. Rather appropriate, you might think, for a Hollywood star who himself leads an invisible, even pathologically low-key, existence in London. Spacey doesn’t entertain much at his £1 million three-bedroom flat, with its open-plan kitchen, cathedral-high dining room (“which doesn’t look as if anyone’s actually sat around the table,” one friend said) and two expansive balconies with hypnotic views of St Paul’s Cathedral and the City.
At night, Spacey plays a game with himself of learning by rote the landmarks he can see from across the Thames. “But few of his closest friends have even set foot in the flat,” one social acquaintance maintained yesterday. “Kevin is that discreet.” It is a studied privacy that was cruelly – and not a touch laughably – demolished this week. Spacey, 45, was involved in a violent incident in the early hours last Saturday night at a park near his home. The Oscar-winning star, who is living in London in his role as artistic director of the Old Vic Theatre in Waterloo, was walking his dog at 4:30am when he was, depending on which version you believe, either mugged by a youth or, in Spacey’s amended version, robbed of his mobile phone when he charitably but foolishly allowed the youth to make a call on it.
However embarrassing and curious the incident – and Spacey deflected questions at a press conference at the Old Vic this week – what has not been written is that the American Beauty star can be assured of one thing: the support and patronage of four very powerful and well-connected women in London, his own social and professional “harem”. They include a princess, a New Labour groupie, an American friend of presidents and statesmen, and an English socialite whose lifestyle, and support, Spacey has enjoyed for years. They are relationships which have, behind closed doors, established Spacey as what one leading hostess described this week “a prize dinner-party catch”.
In the fall-out from his PR difficulties, it is to this support network that Spacey is now turning in his hour of need. At its heart is the intriguing figure of art historian Sarah St George, a lifelong friend of Spacey. She is the daughter of Edward St George, multi-millionaire racehorse owner and industrialist, whose third wife, Lady Henrietta, is a daughter of the Duke of Grafton. Sarah, who is in her late forties, is a publicity-shy but prominent social figure in London and the Bahamas, where her family has a sprawling estate. It is through her, say friends, that Spacey’s love affair with Britain and London first began. “Sarah is almost like Kevin’s sister,” a friend said yesterday. “When he was a penniless actor, she was the one who supported him, encouraged him and helped him become what he is today. He fell in love with everything that was “posh” about Britain because of Sarah. Don’t forget: when she first knew him, he was a boy out of nowhere.”
This beguiling pair – both of whom are unmarried but enjoy a strictly platonic relationship – first met in New York more than 20 years ago when Spacey had finished at the Juilliard acting school in Manhattan. Sarah was part of the arty crowd in New York and the pair instantly hit it off. “Kevin literally slept on the floor of her apartment,” the friend went on, “because he was that broke.” Such is Sarah’s closeness to Spacey that she defended him against tirades from her father, a blunt man who takes no prisoners.
In one incident, which Sarah enjoys re-telling, Spacey borrowed her father’s treasured overcoat from the apartment on a bitter winter’s day. Sarah’s father is said to have frequently wondered why his daughter was being so kind to this impoverished “nobody” whose name he always got wrong. On discovering Spacey had borrowed his expensive hand-made coat, Edward was said to have exclaimed: “That **** Casey has done it again!”
It is precisely this sort of connection which has allowed Spacey, shrewdly, to establish an incestuous, circles-within-circles clique in London: the St Georges are great friends with another powerful woman, Princess Michael of Kent, who has become something of a Spacey fan. “Marie-Christine, let’s be honest, rather loves that trendy Hollywood world, and Kevin’s social links mean she can dip into it through him,” one London hostess said.
Indeed, it is said the Princess was instrumental in helping to arrange a recent benefit dinner for the Old Vic at Windsor Castle. It is precisely this eclectic – and deeply protective – social mix that Spacey relishes about London. He sees himself as an aesthete – a “serious” cultural figure – and London’s social players are themselves enamoured of a bit of LA glamour along with their Laurent-Perrier. One party last summer was, Spacey has told friends, the highlight of his time in London – Sir Tom Stoppard’s intensely private affair at the Chelsea Physic Garden.
“Gwyneth Paltrow was there,” one guest recalled, “and it was a lavish party with a caviar bar, very over-the-top, but Kevin hung around with what you might call the ‘intelligent’ crowd, writers like Harold Pinter. Gwyneth and he were up to the same thing: being very arch and British and deep. Spacey and his crowd were a bit earnest and cliquey.” Which brings us to politics and yet another of Spacey’s social connections, the grand figure of Lynn Forrester de Rothschild.
She and Spacey share a rather impressive Christmas card list: both are great friends of Bill and Hillary Clinton, among other luminaries. It is difficult to think of a heavier social hitter than Lynn: her husband is banking heir Sir Evelyn de Rothschild, and her involvement in left-of-centre think-tanks has taken her into the heart of Downing Street. “They both enjoy mixing in that power-couple kind of world,” one mutual friend said of Lynn’s friendship with Spacey. And, circles-within-circles again, New Labour is very much on Spacey’s social list.
Mileage has been made of his friendship with the former Cabinet minister Peter Mandelson, who was notoriously “outed” a few years ago. When Spacey accompanied Clinton to the Labour Party conference in 2002, it was Mandelson who took much of the reflected glory. The truth is that Spacey, a lifelong Democrat, and Mandelson are social friends, but their connection has lessened in recent months. One New Labour figure who remains pivotal in his life is the ultimate champagne liberal Sally Greene, the wife of Labour donor and property tycoon Robert Bourne and owner of the Old Vic. Greene knows the Clintons, who know the Rothschilds, who know the St Georges, who know the Kents, neatly completing a formidable retinue. “Sally squires him about town,” one friend said. “She’s almost like Washington’s Pamela Harriman: she knows everybody and Kevin is happy to prop himself up on her mantelpiece.”
The late Harriman, once married to Churchill’s son, Randolph, was a remarkably successful networker in Washington. Spacey certainly enjoys the company of glamorous women: his knack is to focus exclusively on the woman he is talking to, a device famously employed by his friend, Bill Clinton. “They are very much alike,” a woman who has met them both told me. “For the half-hour or however long you are in his company, the spotlight shines on you alone.”
As for the so-called “gay mafia”, there’s no doubt that many of Spacey’s circle are gay, but that hardly comes as a surprise: Sir Elton John is a very close friend – the Old Vic is to stage Elton’s musical version of Billy Elliot – and Pet Shop Boy Neil Tennant frequently dines with Spacey at the actor’s favourite restaurant, The Ivy. Equally, there is no doubt that Spacey is a mild-mannered and unquestionably engaging man. “Kevin likes anonymity,” a close friend in the theatre world said yesterday. “He has a normal life here he couldn’t possibly have in LA. His greatest pleasure is going to a restaurant and not being recognised.”
Which brings us back to the curious incident in the South London park. This week’s publicity – and its undertones – is said to have deeply embarrassed him. It is a version of events which has also left many who know him bewildered. The man who first “outed” Spacey in a hugely controversial American magazine article seven years ago was bemused by the incident. “It’s difficult to understand,” says Tom Junod, a writer for Esquire magazine in New York. “What happened leaves me surprised because Kevin is the most studied, controlled person I have ever come across. He doesn’t raise an eyebrow without knowing he is raising that eyebrow. I’ve never known him not to be in control of events, and his image.”
After the article appeared, Spacey’s management team virtually called for a boycott of Esquire and Junod. The one woman still keeping her own counsel after the recent reports is Diane Dryer, Spacey’s LA-based companion frequently referred to as “his girlfriend”, but who is also said simply to be his PA. Spacey has said his closest female companion in London is his Jack Russell terrier, Mimi, whom he rescued from Battersea Dogs’ Homes. “She’s my British bitch,” he has told friends. He has also, repeatedly, spoken of his desire to be a husband and father. “I’d treasure the prospect of becoming a father and settling down,” he once said. For now, his London women are there to protect him. As for his private life, Spacey returns each night to his former House of Spies, guardian of his own secrets.
April 24, 2004
* Not long after this article appeared, an article debunking many of the things said appeared in another publication.