- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 23, 2004

Tall and majestic, with perfect posture, a long blond mane and the sort of jewels that get noticed but aren’t too “flash,” Princess Michael of Kent had little difficulty putting royalty-shy guests at ease during a private book party in her honor Saturday night.

“That’s a picture of me. Do you like it?” she teased a twentysomething couple staring at the nude allegorical portrait of Diane de Poitiers (as “Diana the Huntress”) that graced the blown-up cover of her latest literary effort, “The Serpent and the Moon,” on a nearby table.

“Just kidding,” she quickly interjected to all-‘round giggles as she inscribed their copy with a flourish.

“Yes, she is naked,” she announced later, “but you don’t see everything.”

The historian wife of Queen Elizabeth II’s first cousin likes to start her talks by clarifying any audience confusion about her name, and that was the case at the reception given by decorator Anthony Browne and Victoria and Joseph Mele at the home of Mrs. Mele’s mother, Georgetown and Newport, R.I., grande dame Oatsie Charles.

“‘Princess’ is a title just like any other. If you are married to John Smith, you are ‘Mrs. John Smith’. I am married to Prince Michael, so I am ‘Princess Michael,’ she explained with the patient sigh of a thousand repetitions.

“Royals,” she noted, “legally sign only with their Christian names.

“So when I sign ‘Marie Christine’ in your books,” she added with a coy smile, “I am not trying to be over-familiar.”

“Absolutely charming,” “delightful” and “so intelligent and interesting” were among the compliments paid to the guest of honor that night, and the next as well during a larger Cosmos Club affair hosted by the princess’s local pals Maximo and Sedi Flugelman and Nash Schott and Aniko Gaal Schott.

Princess Michael demonstrated her considerable storytelling talents on both occasions with abbreviated versions of her tale of “the greatest romance in French royal history.”

A complicated story of love, war, intrigue, ambition, betrayal and death, it centers on the long affair of Henri II of France with de Poitiers, his much older (by 19 years) mistress. The third major character is the unattractive, rich and extremely jealous Catherine de Medici, who married and fell in love with Henri when both were 14 but could never win his heart.

“Diane and Henri had an enormous, wonderful affair despite their great difference in age,” she told Friday night’s group. “He was absolutely gorgeous, a Renaissance toy boy, what you Americans might call a ‘hunk,’” she said to much amusement before mock-confiding a recent admission to her husband that she would have been unable to resist a similar liaison — “if I were a widow.”

Her famously quick, glib tongue landed Princess Michael in hot water in May when she was accused of racially insulting black patrons in a New York restaurant. The princess, 59, supposedly flew into a rage while telling a group of rowdy diners they should quiet down or “go back to the colonies.”

In her version of the story, which quickly became tabloid fodder on both continents, the princess claimed the group rudely rebuffed her “super polite” request to quiet down so that she could order. When her dining companions offered to relocate to a table in a less desirable location (“Siberia”), she replied she would be “happy to go back to the colonies.”

Princess Michael termed the accusation “preposterous” at the Flugelmans’ post-reception dinner Sunday night.

“I’m not so rude or stupid to confront a group of people in a public place,” she declared.

The princess, who spent much of her youth among African peoples in Mozambique and South Africa, has absolutely denied the racism charge, calling it a “knife in the heart.”

“That hurt the most,” she said. “But how can you prove you’re not something? … It was all a misunderstanding. I’m sorry.”

The controversy couldn’t have come at a worse time, mere months before her book was scheduled for publication in the United States.

In New York, the reaction was swift and brutal. The Botanical Garden and Metropolitan Museum canceled lectures. Interview dates suddenly didn’t materialize.

But friends and contacts elsewhere around the country came through. Her 11-city book tour is chockablock with public and media appearances and the inevitable roster of social engagements.

In Washington, her four-day stay also included a lecture at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, a book party hosted by Jack Valenti, and a number of private lunches and dinners.

“No one turned down an invitation to meet her, as far as I can tell,” one guest noted as she pointed to the crowd at the Cosmos Club, which included Lucky Roosevelt; Philip and Nina Pillsbury; Bill Nitze; Joan and Maurice Tobin; Mike and Pamela Peabody; Dr. William Haseltine and Gale Hayman; Rima al-Sabah; Mel and Sue Ellen Estrin; John and JoAnn Mason; Marc and Jacqueline Leland#; and the ambassadors of Morocco, Colombia and the Netherlands.

“People heard what they wanted to hear” in New York, Mrs. Tobin said. “It was blown way out of proportion.”

Ms. Hayman reminded another guest that the controversy would soon pass.

“New York gossip is forgotten,” she said. “Her book will be remembered.”

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