Prince Harry And The Golden Dog Bowl

Or in cauda venenum

A fairytale*

By Elena Vassilieva

“O tempora! O mores!” – Cicero. Image is by Elena Vassilieva

“The night was well advanced, when he reached his own house, having met no interruption on the way, proud of his well-planned stratagem, elated by success, and flattered by the hope that he had extricated himself by his own energy from all the perils which had of late appeared so dark and difficult to shun. Duri magno sed amore dolores Pollute, Notumque furens quid faemina possit [Virgil].” – Henry William Herbert, the old Etonian, in The Roman Traitor (1846).

Once upon a time, Harry was a dashing British prince. He must have caught Meghan Markle’s eye on May 9, 2013, when the Prince was warmly welcomed by the First Lady, Michelle Obama, at the Mother’s Day tea party, at the White House. One needn’t be present there to feel the pleasant atmosphere and all the waves of fascination for the guest of honour, since all the TV channels seemed to be wrapped in a cloud of giddiness while broadcasting the event. Mrs Obama herself looked very jolly and lovely, clad in a romantic floral dress that matched her mood and hairdo. Enjoying the Prince’s company, the First Lady kindly invited children to the party, and the British Prince didn’t fail to charm them. Harry’s team’s win at the charity polo match, at the Greenwich Polo Club in Connecticut, only added to his success on this week-long visit to America. Prince Harry was also well received at the Russel Senate Office Building. The flock of giggling girls were delighted to be in such close proximity to the prominent guest. In fact, the young ladies were over the moon and, of course, they wanted to take home a souvenir that would mark the occasion. They photographed the Prince, who was sent on the Warrior Games mission to America, from all angles, but they also were eager to take a selfie with Harry. At that precise moment, the Prince had caught my eye as well because he happened to say to the girls, disapprovingly, that he was very much anti-selfie. He believed the quality of selfies was very low, and that one would get much better results if one asked someone for help. Not only was his remark reasonable, I thought, but he also made clear that he wasn’t afraid not to confirm to the fancies of contemporary fashion.

Meanwhile, Meghan Markle, about whose existence the world happily knew nothing, must have desperately wished she were at the tea party and most certainly envied Mrs Obama for being such an elegant First Lady who was to receive the Prince. Moreover, Ms Markle might have produced sigh after sigh after sigh, after all, Harry was out of reach at the time, the Prince was in a relationship with the beautiful and levelheaded Cressida Bonas, with whom the unknown American actress stood no chance to compete. Nonetheless, Prince Harry’s charming and smart manners at the White House inspired Ms Markle and boosted her aspirational power to get what she wanted. Precisely then, she must have started making her plans and tedious preparations for the future. Her notes on logistics would begin with the elementary, such as how to make herself visible to the Prince and how to meet the most eligible bachelor in person, how to present herself to him right after, and, finally and most importantly, how to dazzle him. She pondered what type of woman she would rather be and what she would rather not be for the Prince, dismissing the Duchess of Cambridge as a paragon of virtue resolutely and absolutely, but seriously considering Diana, the Princess of Wales, as a helpful book to study from cover to cover, so she decided. Also, she found in Wallis Simpson’s predatory brazenness an invaluable source of inspiration.

Ms Markle’s own hunting instincts dictated to her that, in the beginning, it would suffice to be perceived simply as American as apple pie: sweet and funny, outgoing and poised, practical and unceremonious, and, like a teenager, flashily in love with her Prince, clinging on to him as if he were about to be grabbed by an invisible other woman, the villain. But she’d better be in good standing, too, with as many good deeds on her resume as possible, even if the deeds would be done in a hurry and one time only, so she thought. Later on, however, she might want to shed the image of the cute and awesome American apple-pie-like woman, replacing it with that of the flamboyant femme fatale, who is capricious and demanding, ambitious and desirous of power and attention to such a degree that she would dare seriously think she could dismantle good old House of Windsor in a trice.

To everyone’s amazement, she showcased her inexhaustible stratagemical energy par excellence, when she had deployed every means available to her to reach the unreachable. She, somehow, connected with the right people who knew the Prince. She arranged an engagement at the UN (there weren’t too many details about it in the Netflix docuseries, just a photo of her at the UN headquarters was shown for a second so that we would know she set a foot there to corroborate that instance on her Curriculum Vitae). She also didn’t shy away from less credible enterprises that might have helped her get closer to her goal. Thus, she paid a visit to one wizard who emboldened her by predicting a grand wedding in the near future. It certainly makes one wonder whether the wizard’s job hadn’t ended with his prediction? Perhaps, he did more than that, who knows? Naturally, these are pure speculations of my silly mind, and for now, let us follow the Shakespearean logic of all is well that ends well.

Time will tell sooner or later what really happened. A love potion or not that might or might not have been prepared for the Prince, it shouldn’t matter at all, especially when people genuinely fall in love with each other, one reckons. But one thing that matters is how utterly busy Ms Markle must have kept herself before our Prince came to visit America for the second time, in 2015. President Obama was exuberant to have Harry as a guest of honour in October of 2015, in the Oval Office: “It is a great pleasure to welcome His Royal Highness Prince Harry to the Oval Office. I’ve had an opportunity to spend a lot of time with so many of his family members, but this is the first time we had a chance to talk directly. He has gotten to know Michelle very well, for a range of reasons, but in particular, he’s here to talk about the Invictus Games, an initiative that is bringing together the wounded warriors around the world, under the leadership of Prince Harry and others, to make sure that we see not simply the sacrifices they’ve made, but also the incredible contributions, strength, and courage they continue to display.” (President Obama’s speech is quoted as in the USMagazine, October 28, 2015)

Again, Meghan Markle must have been quite envious of the delightful Mrs Obama who visited the USO Warrior and Family Center at the Fort Belvoir military base in Fairfax County, VA with the Prince and seemed to have had a good rapport with His Royal Highness, as the President himself jokingly noted. During that visit, President Obama and Prince Harry had a private conversation about the 2016 Invictus Games, which were going to be played in America. Ms Markle must have realised precisely then that she ought to act, and fast, because Harry, then single and free as a bird, was publicly expressing his despair and concern whether he was, perhaps, doomed to carry on as an eternal bachelor, as there seemed to be no woman on this planet who would be willing to marry the poor thing. And to order and fetch a bride from another planet had still proved quite difficult, albeit the engineering genius, Elon Musk, had already, no later than since 2012, been sleepless while working on his beloved Spaceship-project. But Harry had no patience at all to walk on this planet as a lonesome bachelor till the day the Spaceship would be built and equipped to make interplanetary bride deliveries. Searching and waiting for the right woman, even for two years, seemed to Harry unbearably long. As it turned out, the Prince had a far more complicated task than Mr Musk. Little wonder that this period of bleak solitude quietly drove poor Prince if not to insanity, then definitely to desperation.

Now, in the circumstances, one would think nearly any woman would appear to a man as sweet and delicious as Turkish delight, no? So when, one day, out of the blue, Ms Markle had landed on Harry’s screen, disguised as a dog (sic! Cave canem!), our Prince couldn’t help but think she was heaven-sent. Despite the disguise, the dog-woman intrigued him at once and took his breath and sleep away. Hence, he didn’t hesitate to ask the friend through whom the dog-woman’s image flew to him: “Who on earth is this?” Not quite extraterrestrial, no, but rather appealing in her own trivial and bold way, he reasoned. He already imagined her being the incarnation of the promised bliss, not knowing that later, he would learn firsthand that ‘what Meghan wants Meghan gets,’ and that he himself would soon make not a very soft landing on the dog bowl in Nottingham Cottage, when his sensible brother would try to dispel the dense fog that had enveloped Harold’s impressionable mind. Prince William also hoped to shake off Harold’s naivety and gullibility, for the good of Harry himself, alas, to no avail.

This account comes from the Prince’s book, Spare (2023), so we can’t fully rely on it. The scene might have been dramatised by Harry’s ghostwriter, J.R. Moehringer, for the sake of the Shakespearean tension, which the melodramatic and gossipy book would have lacked completely, despite the Prince’s quite intolerable tendency to overshare. But if there had been any other purpose of that histrionic, blood-and-thunder scene, such as exposing his brother as a steadfast man who doesn’t suffer fools gladly, Prince Harry succeeded in doing so, but he also, embarrassingly, placed himself into the dog bowl, not only making a laughing stock of himself but also presenting himself to his reader as a distrustful and immature man who, clearly, is in discord not only with his Royal relations, but also with his conscience and reality.

Prince William, on the contrary, if the wrangle occurred indeed, earns respect and even admiration from the reader like myself, because he chooses to stand up for all those who were callously reduced to tears by Harry’s wife, whereas Harry adamantly refuses to believe it. The argument should have been left behind the scenes, of course, but the book needed some sensationalism, after all, what was Harry paid for? Definitely not for his Hamlet-musings in the Frogmore gardens. “Good money can make one say anything at all, regardless of whether certain events happened or not, if the one is desperate enough and doesn’t play by the rules,” was the conclusion of the majority of Britons and a good deal of Americans, too. But if Harry just entertained his newfound home, America, with his opus, the prodigal son slapped his good old motherland, Great Britain, on the face, leaving their relationship at daggers drawn. By all accounts, not a very wise chess move. “Check, Harry!”

When the two Princes had disagreed at Nottingham Cottage in 2019, Prince Harry must have already been going through a rapid transformation from the Prince everyone used to be fond of into someone entirely different. The old Harry had been vanishing into thin air by the day. The dog bowl, metaphorically speaking, was turning into a gold-making machine and as well a trap for him into which he lured himself because of his poor judgement and estrangement from his brother who had dutifully looked after him ever since they were children, even if Harry diminishes his significance now, although, ironically, still looks up to William. Who would forget that moment when Prince William, while volunteering in Southern Chile during his gap year, in 2000, had Harry on his mind all the time? He said to the journalist that, after he had been done with his chores (at the moment of the interview, he was cooking and then cleaning a toilet), he would write a letter to Harry. Prince William has cared for his brother, probably no less than their mother, who was as strict as loving, not rarely at all scolding Harry for his naughtiness.

The Princess Diana’s reflection in the Prince William’s behaviour towards Harry is hard to miss. To this day, William handsomely resembles her looks, and that is, of course, merely a genetic coincidence, which, by no means, should be emphasised by Prince Harry, as if it were the wormwood and the gall to him. Harry allowed this rather fatuous comparison to see the light, but he blundered again, showing his own rough corners, not his brother’s. It might be that his ghostwriter either insisted on the passage or didn’t think it was awkward. I certainly thought it was maladroit. But, again, maybe those aren’t Harry’s own remarks? Has Harry been really that jealous of his brother’s looks? And if so, how preposterous! Didn’t Princess Diana joked once that William is destined to be a king, whereas Harry has more freedom of choice, and, besides, all the girls would be his?

But Harry didn’t want all the girls or any girl, he wanted ‘the List,’ ‘the love of his life.’ Fair enough, it’s his choice, but how could this love of his possibly dare to demand from the Royal Family to change their traditions for the sake of her vulgar caprices? Aside to being Harry’s wife, who is she, anyway? The book would’ve been more attractive, had it not contained various comments about Harry’s relatives, who, understandably, would dread any invasion of their privacy and intrusion into their personal space. And who wouldn’t? It does sound a trifle as if the Sussexes might have even resorted to chantage to negotiate the Megxit deal. They even expect the Royal Family to offer them an apology now. Most believe, however, that it should be the other way round. But the Sussexes, I daresay, have been debilitated by their wondrous gold-making dog-bowl-machine so much that they have completely forgotten which one is the left foot and which one is the right foot.     

Unfortunately, that wasn’t the only instance in the book when Harry’s candid verbosity was hardly endearing but very much repugnant, despite some truly touching moments of self-reflective contemplation, e.g., in the preface-essay in Spare. There, he is sharing his emotions and thoughts from the gardens at Frogmore, on April 17, 2021, right after the funeral of Prince Philip. He is conflicted with Hamlet in himself. Oddly, he doesn’t pay enough attention to Prince Philip, given the circumstances, while waiting for his brother and father. I think it is as sad as the fact that Harry’s memory seems to deceive him, and his recollections are often truly equivocal. It’s unlikely, therefore, he would remember the care and love he received from his brother and father. Not now, after he had married not only ‘his List,’ his ideal woman, that is, but also, as some braved to utter, his ‘mother.’ I disagree with this point of view. Harry didn’t ‘marry his mother,’ he married an impostor with excellent calculating skills and with an ardent desire to reincarnate Princess Diana for Harry, in order to open the doors for them to everything they had been denied before.

But who said Diana wouldn’t disapprove of it and would support Harry’s wife’s demeanor? That’s very unlikely for a number of reasons. And it’s a great pity that Harry’s wife has misconstrued Princess Diana’s personality so grossly, and Harry allowed it. Despite her rebellious nature and just one or two public incautious moves, which by no means imperiled anyone’s life, Princess Diana was a conservative enough woman. She knew how not to cross the line and what was good and what wasn’t, unlike Harry and especially his wife, who sees the world through a very peculiar lens, that of her looking-glass self, which isn’t her true or authentic self at all. If one saw the Netflix documentary, one might have noticed how she is (re)imagining herself all the time, here she is the wannabe Gwyneth Paltrow, there the wannabe Julia Roberts, but rarely if ever her own self. Princess Diana didn’t have such a conflicting personality at all, she might have had a self-deprecating humour, but she knew who she was, and she fearlessly, to the heart’s core, defended her true original self, Lady Diana Spencer, not permitting others to influence her self-perception and identity. Harry’s wife wants to be this and that, and that’s fine, not fine is the means she chooses to achieve her personal goals. Hysteria and blackmail are favourite devices used by those who want, consciously or unconsciously, to harm others and make them suffer. The consequences thus from Meghan Markle’s actions are dire for others, but even more so for Harry and Meghan themselves. By the way, when one derives enormous pleasure from cruelty, what is one called, then?

Harry’s identity as a prince began to crumble the minute he met Meghan Markle. He, all of a sudden, became an enthusiastic selfie-taker, as the Netflix documentary paraded a bunch of selfies taken with his wife. Of course, it’s too miniscule a thing to mention even, compared to the fact that he abdicated himself as a prince, thus distancing from his blood relations, which Diana would’ve never done. She was proud of being Lady Diana Spencer, but she was also very proud and honoured to be part of the Royal Family. “I’ll never let you down,” she said to Her Majesty The Queen Elizabeth II. Her divorce from Prince Charles was a crushing moment for her, but not for her identity; she stood up bravely for herself, resisting negative emotions as much as she could, cultivating and elevating her kindness to the highest degree possible. And, as time tells us now, she didn’t cause any damage to the Royal Family at all. Also, it’s very unlikely that Princess Diana wouldn’t have noticed right away how manipulative Meghan Markle is. Would she have accepted it? I think not. There would’ve been an inevitable confrontation between the two women. Then, Harry would’ve faced the Hamletian dilemma of ‘to be or not to be,’ indeed.

Moreover, given that Princess Diana is not only Harry’s mother, but also Prince William’s, and that she is a beloved historical figure, it’s a Gargantuan carnivorousness not only to usurp Harry but also Princess Diana’s persona, commodifying her figure for their only benefit. But at the same time, Harry’s wife depreciates Diana’s significance (read: ‘unconscious bias’!), degrading her publicly to the role of Harry’s mother and their children’s grandmother exclusively, choosing to disregard that Princess Diana is a cultural phenomenon, an icon and an inspiration for others, and has been that for decades. I’m thinking of the moment in the Netflix documentary when Meghan Markel is holding their baby in her arms and looking at the portrait of the Princess in their Montecito house, cooing to the baby: “It’s your Grandma. Yes, it’s your Grandma.” She is enticing herself through this pseudo-mother construct into Harry’s personal space in the hope of replacing Harry’s memories of his mother with her own daily self, making him depend on her (not positively!), instead of his mother, the ideal-like, dream-like, mythical almost, human being, who had been, in fact, quintessential to Harry’s existence and personality, for Princess Diana could also be viewed as his conscience. He said it himself in the preface of Spare that she is to him like the Morning Star that has been guiding him. And attempting to take it away from Harry completely, is very dangerous for him, it would mean that part of his personality would suffer tremendously from this loss, a second time round, which he shall regret later. Of course, this gives Meghan Markle the opportunity to exercise her power over Harry, enslaving and even colonising him this way. She would prevent any other person to enter that space, where Meghan is striving to replace Diana for Harry, so that she could never lose control over him. And if that makes Harry happy, why not, after all, it’s his life? The problem is that the new guiding star of Harry’s, despite some good qualities, has serious shortcomings, most of them are of ethical nature.

It appears to be an attack with a vengeance on all levels of Meghan’s consciousness on nearly everyone whom Harry had known prior to meeting her. And bringing the class shifts into their relationship this way, she imagines herself and acts as Harry’s quasi-Empress, while publicly denigrating him and disregarding nearly every single one of his relatives, never mind their rank or historical and cultural significance. Harry, the slave, becomes a mere source of fame and material enrichment for her and that of notoriety and scandals for his Royal Family. The late Queen Elizabeth II is just Harry’s Grandmother to her, Prince William – ‘your brother,’ as she barks indignantly in the documentary, after Harry had showed her a text message from Prince William. One might forgive it if it’s done in a private conversation, but she does it publicly, as if she wanted to prove her superiority to the Royal Family. What would give her the right for such an unheard impertinence, many wonder? And what would ever justify such an insolent conduct?

However, it’s time for a flashback. When the Prince had found out that the dog-woman had also an interest in meeting him, he was oblivious of festina lente, alas, and rushed to hold on Fortuna’s hair as tight as possible, in order not to let the chance slip by. And if the wizard provided Ms Markle with a certain love potion (a rhetorical figure here only, God forbid!), the latter seemed to work like a magic wand. Prince Harry didn’t think twice, he just seemed to know instantaneously that she was that woman who knew how to charm him, and, sadly, she also knew how to mislead him, and, eventually, to destroy him as a prince, lowering him to her own level of incessant ruthlessness and never-ending acquisitiveness. Besides, she also knew how to stir the pot, out of jealousy, malice, Schadenfreude, fun, and what not, while trying tirelessly to glamourise and popularise her own image, making it a household name. One isn’t surprised at all, then, why Ms Markle was a professional social media influencer. And I object to this a great deal, because she happens to undermine the cultural and social values I had been introduced to as a child.

But then, in 2016, Harry found himself under her spell, having encountered ‘the love of his life,’ at last. To confirm his feelings, Harry took out of the drawer the list of all the traits he wished to see in his dream-woman and thoroughly went through it, making sure that the woman was not going to end up a mere mirage for him any minute. After studying the list carefully, he ticked all the boxes on the list and decided that the American actress happened to fulfill all his requirements, besides, she appeared to remind him of his mother, he said. The awesome American, apple-pie-like, woman was shortly offered the Prince’s heart and a ring that he designed for her by himself, the lavish wedding followed, the bride, yesterday’s divorcée, was even given permission by the ever gracious Queen Elizabeth II to wear a white dress and a veil, after all, Harry had never been married before. The couple seemed to have the endless train of all kinds of stories and demands surrounding their wedding preparations: the wrong tiara, the ill-fitting bridesmaids’ dresses and missing stockings, the bride’s father’s overjoyed heart that suddenly commanded him into hospital, the bride’s stolen letter to her father, her niece that was abruptly uninvited from the wedding, etc., etc. (One wonders what Shakespeare would have thought about this eventful Windsor wedding?) Our newlyweds started their married life at the historical Nottingham Cottage in the grounds of Kensington Palace, and at this point, the fairytale should have ended with the usual ‘And they all lived happily ever after,’ not this time, however.

‘Love wins,’ triumphed their supporters. ‘Harry is ruined,’ sighed their adversaries. ‘She’s a manipulative gold-digger!’ cried one half of the world. ‘No, she is Harry’s saviour!’ cried the other half. And all this time, with the poor Royal Family in the middle! One can rest assured that the Royal Family haven’t seen anything of the sort ever since the King Edward VIII’s abdication. Only it has turned out to be a much worse saga that seems to have no end. Neither its historicity nor the splendid entourage of roses around Nottingham Cottage were good enough for Harry’s wife, and like all nouveaux riches, she wanted more, much more, something that is larger than life, something that is colossal and ostentatious, something that would have her name on the deed to the house. Did it matter to her that good old Nott Cott is probably one of the very few properties in London that is still sui generis and has the original bones? Of course, not. Why would she care about that? Especially after the brash remarks of her dear friend, Madame Oprah, who, after visiting the Cottage, surprised by its modest size, exclaimed: “No one would believe it!” “No one would believe it!” repeated our heroes in tandem in their Netflix documentary shortly before Christmas 2022.

But the most likely truth is that, in a century or two, no one is going to believe how on earth such a petty individual with such low ethical standards became a British Duchess who wrapped the prince around her little finger, disrupted all his relations, and took him away from his country, blaming the British media and the Royal Family for all the sins of the world. And while Prince Harry and his wife try continuously to invalidate the Royal Family’s mantra, ‘Never complain, never explain,’ their own mantra seems to be ‘Stir the pot and cash in as much as you can’ at the expense of those whose credibility, nobility and kindness they are shamelessly exploiting. Responsibility of being a historical figure that had been instilled into Prince Harry’s mind ever since he was a little boy has been overturned by irresponsibility of his wife’s irreverent attitudes towards History. Somehow, they convinced themselves that, despite their scurrilous conduct, History would still grant them a privileged place when the time comes, forgetting that History can be as ruthless and unforgiving as they are themselves, when it comes to settling accounts with the historical figures. They also seem to be oblivious of the fact that glory, which may be gold and roses for them now, will eventually turn into historical soot and dust. Thus, they have already reserved a place for themselves in the chronicles of Time, and it’s not the most prominent or pretty one, in the Perifereia of History, thanks to all the noise they are making today. Also, the Hamletian dilemma of ‘to be or not to be’ has never been a matter of crucial importance for Harry, except on the first pages of Spare, because Harry’s new guiding star, his material girl, thought he’d rather be consumed by the conundrum of to have or not to have. And he chose ‘to have,’ of course, to Meghan Markles,’ great satisfaction.  

*This postmodern fairytale is a work of fiction. All the characters, events, incidents, and discourses are fruit of imagination and under no circumstances should be perceived as real. Any resemblance to actual events, places, names, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

(Written on the rainy night of January 14, 2023, in the Sky Control Room, on Cape Cod.)

Copyright © 2023 by Elena Vassilieva. All rights reserved.


La chevelure de Bérénice

Or the eternally inspiring power of Brigitte Bardot.

By Elena Vassilieva

“Approchez, que je vous embrasse.” – C’est ici que l’espérance nourrit l’amour. Image (the photo of Brigitte Bardot used in the readymade is by © Douglas Kirkland; the Cheetah fur is fake!) and words by Elena Vassilieva.

Recently, when I had been on the hunt for documentaries on Brigitte Bardot at the local library, the search engine delivered me a curious title that caught my eye at once. The book was called In an Elevator with Brigitte Bardot (2007) and was written by a Cape Codder, Michael Lee. Once, as a teenager, by the greatest stroke of luck, he rode with the French actress in an elevator at the Plaza Hotel in NYC. He doesn’t say when exactly, but he mentions that Brigitte Bardot was wearing a leopard coat then. So maybe it was in the 60s when leopard print coats became very popular? The memory of that brief (25 floors!) encounter hadn’t been revealed by him to the public for 40 years until one day, at the neighbourhood cocktail party in his house, while joining a company of the New Year’s resolutionists, he hesitatingly declared: “Well, ah, I’m going to give up Brigitte Bardot”. Naturally, his neighbours had a puzzled look on their faces, the minute he said that, as if he were a lunatic: “Give up on Brigitte Bardot?” One hardly has to be a madman or a stalker who finally came to his senses to say something like this, as the force of her aesthetic powers has been superior and ubiquitous throughout the years. Not only male minds and hearts she has held captive, but also those of women, children, and the elderly.

Many cinema appreciators would probably recall the film “Dear Brigitte” (1965) with James Stewart, Brigitte Bardot playing a cameo role there, and a child actor Billy Mumy, who was left in awe of the actress saying that he will never forget the lucky occasion of meeting her and seeing first-hand how not only otherworldly beautiful she was, but also very kind and warm. I have never met Brigitte Bardot in person, but I remember how my Grandmother took me to a department store on my 6th birthday, and there I saw one doll that took my fancy at once. Made in Germany and named Brigitte, she looked just like Brigitte Bardot about whom I had little knowledge at the time, but my Grandmother was overjoyed to buy this doll for me. I still have Brigitte, and she gladdens my heart every time I catch a glimpse of her. Another grandmother, a relative of my friends, was over the moon when her granddaughter of the kindergarten age resembled the French star with her long blond hair and her irresistible loveliness so much that she could have easily been Brigitte Bardot’s twin. “This is our little Brigitte Bardot,” the girl’s grandmother playfully introduced her to others. Alas, to her huge disappointment, later, when the granddaughter grew up, Brigitte Bardot seemed to have left her for good, the girl’s appearance was taken over by her own nature instead. But even if she had retained Brigitte Bardot’s striking looks, she would have lacked the singularity and the very essence of Bardot’s personality. If her animals could talk human languages, they would reveal to us too that their dueña has charmed every single one of them in the Animal Kingdom. Especially now, since she has been for decades such a fearless and persistent advocate of the animals’ rights. Hugh Lofting’s Dr Dolittle-series is a must-read in my household, and every time I read it to one of my very young relatives, Brigitte Bardot comes to mind, surrounded by her family of animals.

In his essay, Michael Lee reminds us that his fondness for the French actress was by no means such an out of the ordinary thing, because utter obsession with her was more than just a personal circumstance of one particular man, it was a cultural trend, if not craze, that had universal quality to it, sort of “a generational secret”: every American [and not American!] man who was born between 1943 and 1955, he writes, “has at one time or another been locked into a mental affaire d’amour with Brigitte Bardot”. And while he doesn’t disclose many details of the conversation with his guests that day, he shares, self-deprecatingly, his feelings with the reader how Brigitte Bardot, the Golden Goddess, in his words, had been burning his heart and occupying his thoughts for decades. Although based on strong and intense emotions, infatuation is a fleeting thing that lasts only a short period of time, particularly if one thinks of male preoccupation and adoration of woman’s flesh. What precisely was it, then? His wife thinks his “teenage crush with Brigitte Bardot is cute”, but he disagrees with her firmly: “Puppies are cute, not my relationship with Ms. Bardot”. Of course, it’s very audacious to call one’s obsession a relationship without quotation marks, if there is only one person in this game, as any relationship, by definition, presupposes the other, who exists not only on an imaginary level, but who also communicates with that other person in real life. However, it’s forgivable, since he implies it himself that it’s only his flights of fancy which aren’t transgressive or harmful, on the contrary, he finds them very satisfying, otherwise his feelings wouldn’t have lasted for 40 (!) years. As for his wife’s choice of words, the adjective ‘cute’ is a very tricky one, in the American social and cultural context at least, it may often contain pejorative undertones of judgementalism or even hypocrisy, according to my personal observations.

Obviously, it must have been much more than just an obsessive desire for Brigitte Bardot’s physique. It wouldn’t be completely wrong to assert that although he idolises and worships her persona, to his credit, he manages not to objectify her at all. His unceasing admiration for her had given him much more than only aesthetic pleasure and the phantasmagoria of the erotic dreamscape. And it’s hard to explain, why an ordinary person, who might have been in the same physical space with him, had been unable to do the same. Brigitte Bardot had been influencing him, a perfect stranger, so powerfully from a distance, from her unreachable to others space that was perceived by her admirers as sacred, untouchable, and hopeful, which was absolutely essential to them in order to feed their imagination and love, whatever love is, speaking with Prince Charles. That space was observed by them through the cultural lens of her movies, posters, and photographs. To most, that was the only way to get a glimpse of this alluring space of hers. The first row at the St George college’s movie theatre seemed to bring him closer to his heroine’s space, yet the physical obstacle of the movie screen made Brigitte Bardot an unattainable love aim, but simultaneously a highly desirable ideal. And even when, finally, he decided to abandon his idee fixe, surprisingly, he gave the impression of being not quite ready to part with it. Moreover, his own resolution saddened him a great deal, as if he were about to lose something very important, which had become a significant and necessary part of his existence. Even if the short accidental meeting in the elevator didn’t entirely change his life, and despite its randomness, it most likely made him feel special and chosen, the very sensation might have kept him afloat, above the monotonous greyness and tediousness of the everyday. It might have even given him indeed the strength to overcome difficulties in life. And, best of all, it inspired him to write the collection of essays.

La beauté qui le captive. Brigitte Bardot in Cannes, 1956. The photo by © Edward Quinn from his book “Stars, Stars, Stars off the Screen” (1997).

Brigitte Bardot had interested him prior to that momentous ‘togetherness’ in the elevator, since he was eagerly following all her artistic endeavours. Although her image depended on a movie role she was playing, there isn’t a single film where she would come across as false, vulgar or uninspiring, even when she had to play anti-heroines, such as Dominique Marceau in La Vérité (1960) by Henri-Georges Clouzot and Jeanne in Don Juan ou Si Don Juan était une femme… (1973) by Roger Vadim. And she played them superbly, without sacrificing her personal space. But the fact that he didn’t expect, let alone plan, to see her in person at the moment when the elevator door opened must have had a tremendously large effect on his teenage self. The sudden appearance of his idol out of nowhere neared a dreamlike experience, which transferred him into a state of spellbinding and disorienting trance to the point that he lost his ability to speak or to think for the entire ride. Brigitte Bardot blinded him with her smile and deafened him with her warm and kind ‘Hello’, and those were the only things she explicitly and deliberately did. He, on the other hand, was unable to return civility and politeness in the elevator until they were brought down to the lobby, and when the actress was about to step out of the elevator and disappear, in the last moment, he dared to transgress that sacred space of hers by timidly touching the sleeve of her coat, but found a way to rehabilitate himself discursively: “Ms. Bardot. Thanks. Thanks for everything. Everything. Thanks for everything.” Brigitte Bardot didn’t say a thing to this, she just smiled at him and left. He didn’t follow her, but returned to the confinement of the elevator space instead and, thinking she might have given him wings, was transposed straight back to heaven, figuratively speaking, of course. I wouldn’t be surprised if the brevity of this memorable elevator ride equaled timelessness to Mr Lee. Isn’t it truly amazing what two polite, but very sincere smiles and one ‘Hello’, uttered by the Golden Goddess, can do to the mere mortal?  

Brigitte Bardot’s inspirational powers will always be forceful: men will sigh and groan and fantasise the wildest things known and unknown on Earth, aside to writing songs about her and dreaming about encountering someone who would have at least her hair; women will always envy her and her hair, some lovingly, some rancorously, but everyone would agree that as a cultural icon she is par excellence, unmatchable and unreachable. She will always be longed equally as much by men as by women. Men will make their women have her hairdo, women will be desperate for the Brigitte Bardot look. But there will always be the one and only Brigitte Bardot, no matter how hard women continue their efforts to emulate her. She herself has never tried to imitate anyone, and she has never envied anyone, speaking only well of the men and women with whom she worked in the past. She will always lure and seduce people with her most exquisite beauty that has the power to melt the stars, along with the brilliance of her authentic persona, and with the straightforwardness of her strong and bright personality.

Brigitte Bardot’s hair, just like la chevelure de Bérénice, has become the entity in its own right, destined to be as legendary as her whole artistic persona. That topic deserves another round of musings, which I shall pursue in the future. Besides having Brigitte the doll, given to me by my dearest Grandmother, I have the Brigitte Bardot boots, almost identical to the ones she wore when she was performing the Harley-Davidson song, and I must say they are awfully unsuitable for a motorcycle ride. I also own a similar fake cheetah jacket from the Moon landing epoch when she wore her cheetah print coat, but neither the boots nor the coat will ever make me look like she does, not in the slightest degree, and that isn’t tragic at all. But in case I must ever make a New Year’s resolution using Mr Lee’s exact words, it would sound only like this: Well, I’m not going to give up Brigitte Bardot! Why should I, if she inspires me so much for the good of mankind? And I’m endlessly grateful to her for this.  

(Written on Cape Cod, in the Sky Control Room on the windy night/morning of Tuesday, September 28, 2021.)

Copyright © 2021 by Elena Vassilieva. All Rights Reserved.