I have never been so embarrassed in my entire life.
It was a hard task by any measure to unwittingly silence eighty guests at a wedding engagement party at a restaurant in the Old Brompton Road in London.
Every one of them seated at a long trestle table was gob-smacked for several minutes – most of all the groom-to-be who sat next to her at the head of the table, whom I had never met before.
You see I had met Emma in Ireland a year or so before at a Sunday luncheon party in the Wicklow Mountains. It was at the home of a girl-friend of mine – the two had been to boarding school together when they were younger and were the very best of friends. Both were in their mid-forties then and equally beautiful.
Emma and I got on very well that weekend and she gave me her telephone number and said if you come to London please call and come to see me at my flat in Queen’s Park Road. So that is what I did and we both enjoyed our reunion just as friends.
She looked just like the last time we met in Ireland – short brown hair with brilliant blue eyes – she was dressed in a khaki safari suit with a worn suede-leather patch on her right shoulder and bangles on her wrists. She had been a wildlife photographer, adventurer and travel journalist for many years.
We talked for hours on end and she told me about the crash in Canada with her husband when he was killed in their Cessna air-plane. She survived for three days on her own before she was rescued by the Canadian Mounted Police.
I admit that after a bottle of red together we had a hug or two, but nothing more.
She also told me that she had just become engaged to the new love of her life, and invited me to her engagement party the following week.
At the time I had a real girlfriend named Annabel (who I always called Bella) who had a double-barrelled surname which I have now forgotten. She was a stunning tall blonde and we did have some fun together though she was rather frigid – but she was chasing after the son of a Scottish Earl then, and it was becoming increasingly clear that as I did not own a castle and 50,000 acres of grouse moors in the highlands, our relationship was not going anywhere.
I once went to stay with her and her parents for the weekend and got on very well with them. They were lovely people – her father was a retired army General and her mother was a famous romantic novelist. Of course, Bella was no-where to be seen most of the weekend.
When Emma invited me to her engagement party I asked if I could take Bella, and she replied ‘Of course, we would love to meet her!’
So, I ‘phoned her to remind her about the party but she said that her mother had become ill and she had to go to her parent’s house in the Cotswold’s for the weekend to care for her (a lie as I later found out, but it didn’t surprise me).
So, as last-minute things go I went to Emma’s party on my own.
It was in a huge dining room on the first floor of the restaurant and I arrived a bit late due to the Bella fiasco and my procrastination about whether to go or not sans partner.
The party was in full swing at the table when I arrived so the first thing I did was to go straight to Emma and give her a peck on the cheek; explaining quietly in her ear that Bella was unable to come. That is when an awful silence came over everyone, and I realised that something was badly amiss.
Her husband-to-be got up from his seat and asked me to meet him in the bar on the ground floor, so I did just that.
Frankly, I thought he was a cocky plum-mouthed idiot and not worth the ground that Emma stood on, although I did not say that to his face. I did think for a moment that he was going to punch me, but instantly rubbed out that thought as I sensed he was a coward.
I explained to him over a drink that I had never had an affair with his bride-to-be – that she was just a friend I met in Ireland, and that my Bella had let me down, so I attended on my own. Actually, I should have done – she was a beautiful girl who needed a lot of TLC.
Bella wrote me a long letter about a year later which she posted to my parent’s address in Majorca (I was working in Saudi Arabia then and didn’t read it on its arrival – my mother did of course . . . !).
She asked if I would like to visit her again at her parent’s house as her marriage to the then new Earl had broken down. I do not regret to say that I never replied to her.
I have no idea if Emma married the man in the end, as I left London for Australia shortly after that episode in my life – I sincerely hope not.