“In London, love and scandal are considered the best sweeteners of tea.” - John Osbourne
Photos by Denise Avalos
We headed to England to soak up a slice of history and document the celebrations surrounding the passing of the crown as an official end to her majesty’s epic 70-year reign. I was there last summer, if you recall, for the convivial Platinum Jubilee, and saw the streets of London transformed into a vibrant tapestry of celebration and the city come alive with pride. The kind of pomp and grandeur only the Brits (collectively) can pull off in a dazzling display of decorated horses, storefronts outfitted with banners and flags fluttering overhead, confetti scattered on pub tabletops, jolly drunks in bars toasting pints, and skirted bagpipe players on random street corners. Elizabeth's face, variations of her stoic aging profile, adorned every windowpane. Patriotism, for the occasion, was overdone and unapologetic. The kind of thing we've lost touch with here in the States, where even putting a flag at your home entrance invites judgment about your politics and character. People from all walks of life united in reverence that weekend to honor the remarkable reign of a beloved monarch familiar to all living generations. Even her royal critics admitted a strange comfort in her steady presence and longevity.
Charles doesn’t have that.
Brits are not invested on an emotional level, whatsoever. His representation - flimsy as it stands now - poses the greatest threat to the monarchy. The Queen knew it. He breeds indifference. Allegiance is frail. No one is rushing to add an eco friendly Charles cup to their royal mug collection. Trust me, as a collector, I struggle with this apathy. As a secondary figure, waiting in the wings for 70-some years, his ascension doesn't make up for the fact that he comes off boorish, detached, out of touch, a bit cranky, and overall, a man lacking any gripping charisma. More interested in pleasing PR angles than inspiring his people.
In stark contrast to his mother, it’s an unfortunate change of tide.
London, during coronation weekend had little to do with a new King and everything to do with taking full advantage of a grand excuse to draw people in festive spirits together. Notes collected below detail the connections made and gossip elicited when a historic celebration offers good reason to raise a glass and toast the future of a new chapter.
London, whatever the occasion, never disappoints.
- LAX Monday -
I am always late to the airport. And usually last to board. I am a dreadful planner and chronically unaffected stressor who tends to trust that “everything will work out.” So when we arrive at the airport an hour 1/2 before an international flight, we take deep breaths and hope for the best. On this particular morning, however, the line at the international bag check had come to an unexplained halt. An hour ticked by with little movement. At a dead stop, Denise and I started to worry that missing our flight was a real possibility. That stress - combined with the fact that neither of us had eaten all day - invited volatile tendencies. The woman in front of us must have picked up on it, noticed our stress, and decided (despite obvious anxiety conveyed in mumbled curse words) that it was a good opportunity to unravel her life’s purpose to two starving strangers fretting over their bags and boarding. She introduced herself as a Spanish singer (in her mid-fifties, fit, with perfectly feathered highlights curled around her face) destined to make it big overseas with this debut album she was recording. She dropped exotic names of producers we’d never heard of, and told us she was trying to establish a vibrant presence on social media because “they” believed she had “viral” potential as an artist, but needed TikTok to propel her image. Her confidence, paired with such inflated goals, amused me enough to make me (almost) forget how hungry I was.
“When I record these songs, if they go viral - and I know they will - I have to be ready for it,” she warned us.
“This always happens when I’m with you,” Denise whispered, over her shoulder, alluding to this cycled situation: a rambling stranger emptying their backstory without any prompting that finds us anytime we travel together. “People tell you everything,” She said years ago, when she first noticed the trend.
After learning this woman's entire life story, including the details of her strict dietary habits that keep her looking slim and youthful, she happily announced she had snacks to share with us and handed over a scoop of almonds and string cheese from her backpack as rewards for our strained attentiveness, just as the man in front of us started to address his own ailments. He was worried about the security check. He could not remove his shoes on his own. He might need some help doing so.
We looked down at his filthy sneakers.
“Please don’t let it be us.”
Once we made it to the counter, the woman in charge failed to locate proof of Denise’s ticket. After 15 minutes of frantic search and deliberations she discovered it booked under the wrong last name. Neither of us legally changed our names after marriage, so these booking mixups happen. Finally, we were pushed through and ran to the gate with the intensity you see typically exaggerated in movies. Thankfully, once we arrived, sweaty and breathless, boarding had been pushed forward giving us enough time to drain two margaritas and split a cheeseburger served by a disgruntled bartender who wanted to empty current life frustrations on us, too.
Note another tradition: always a fed-up bartender at the airport bar, harboring resentment for coworkers who aren’t pulling their weight, that sees us off.
Coffee with Common Sense Society
- Tuesday -
After an uneventful flight (aided by CBD gummies, British snacks, and cheap canned wine) we arrived mid-morning and made it to our hotel jet lagged and exhausted with just enough time to freshen up before meeting, Emma Alberta Webb, the director of Common Sense Society, for coffee. She turned out to be the ideal person to kick off the trip — overflowing with information, recommendations, contacts, and suggestions. We talked about politics, free speech, personal (post-Covid) transformations, and random Royal musings. She explained the divide in the Uk over the monarchy, and kindly offered to connect me with Harry’s biographer, who knew him “in close quarters” before he met Meghan. A fate that apparently changed her opinion of them both, drastically.
“She might be of interest to you,” she wrote in a follow-up email.
“Most definitely,” I replied.
We missed her invitation to appear on GMB later that week. But probably for the best. Neither of us are polished enough for primetime.
Bacchanalia with Gina Deuters
- Tuesday -
Back at our hotel, after a few hours exploring downtown, I took a long bath and prepared to retire for the night to set my schedule on London time.
After six, I was relaxing with a face mask under covers, about to fall asleep when Denise asked about our plans for the week. As I lay there counting lunch & dinner dates on the calendar, I realized dinner reservations with Gina Deuters had gone overlooked! We had 30 minutes to pull ourselves together, shake off the weight of exhaustion, and make it to the restaurant to avoid the tragic scenario where a beautiful woman is left sitting alone at a booth (with hard-to-snag reservations) wondering what went wrong, with me at fault.
In other words, a complete disaster.
Can you imagine?
We arrived on time full of anxious apologies, me with wet hair, and crooked eyeliner, Denise, radiant with little effort as always. Luckily, Gina is a fabulous dinner date with a good sense of humor and took no offense when we explained the oversight. The last time I saw her (outside of a televised trial scope) she was curled up in a red velvet seat in a dark booth alone at the Royal Albert Music Hall watching Johnny and Jeff Beck on stage. I wandered in, looking for Lady Victoria, and stumbled upon Gina instead, giving her a quick hug before rushing out to find my friend and my seat.
Bacchanalia’s gorgeous gothic decor was a lavish surprise. Like a proper haunt for a vampire to unwind over happy hour in old town London. The atmosphere, so stunning it’s hard to focus on the food. We choose fish, a bottle of red, fried squid, salads, and a cheese plate to share (per suggestion on the website.) “Set in the heart of Mayfair, Bacchanalia takes inspiration from the muses of old. Our singular mission is to provide abundant pleasure. Everything here is created to be shared. The wine you drink, the music you hear, the food on the table – but also the vibe. Be curious, and share. This is the essence of Bacchanalia.”
We talked about the trial, living in the wild vortex of it, and Johnny finding his way afterward with new roles, revived inspiration, and time stretched between residences in London, Paris, and LA. I asked what her job duties entail (different all the time, depending on what’s going on in Johnny’s schedule) and what preparations for Cannes look like. She indulged us with details about her wardrobe selections — mentioning The Vampire’s Wife gown she planned to wear on the red carpet (popping up in photos on her feed this week) for the films’ premier that would kick off the festival with fresh controversy.
On that topic: The film’s director, who also stars as Depp’s love interest, Maïwenn, comes with controversies all her own, having been very vocal in her “unorthodox” views on the #MeToo movement. Maïwenn lashed out at feminists and those making accusations, early on. “I recognize that women abused by men are often fragile women,” she told French weekly news magazine Paris Match in 2020. “Now, me, if I agree to go to a man’s room at 1 a.m., I suspect that it is not to talk about a role.”
There are also confirmed reports that she had spit on Edwy Plenel, the editor-in-chief and founder of Mediapart, an independent French investigative news media, while he was eating in a restaurant. The journalist filed a complaint accusing her of aggression.
Maïwenn admitted to the spitting.
“She’s outspokenly anti-#MeToo and she made a gesture to please her world, and that’s why she bragged about it on TV. We could see a sort of pride that echoed that world,” journalist Edwy Plenel tells Variety in his first interview since the spitting incident. Plenel was referring to Maiwenn’s comments published by Paris Match in 2020, saying “It’s crazy how many stupidities they say these days! These women don’t like men, that’s clear, and they’re causing very serious collateral damage.” In that same interview she said “When I hear women complaining that men are only interested in their bottom, I tell them, ‘Enjoy it because it won’t last!'”
Her backstory is ripe with scandal: A child actress, pushed by an aggressive stage mom, Maiwenn met film director Luc Besson when she was 12 and he was 29. They began dating when she was 15. At 16 she gave birth to their daughter, Shanna. Léon: The Professional, which he directed, is said to be based on his love affair with Maiwenn.Benson went on to marry Milla Jovovich.
Plenel told Variety he believes Maiwenn spit on him because she was upset about an investigation that Mediapart published into rape and sexual assault allegations against Luc Besson. He was accused by actress Sand Van Roy in 2018 of repeatedly raping her over two years. Prosecutors dropped the case in early 2019, citing a lack of evidence, but re-opened inquiries later that year when Ms. Van Roy made new allegations.
Gina’s husband, Steven, apparently played a hand in convincing Maïwenn on Depp for the role.
“Director Maïwenn revealed in an interview that she decided to approach Johnny Depp for the role after the French actor for whom she had originally written the script revealed that he was no longer interested in playing King Louis XV. She claimed she sent a four-line email to his agent, not expecting a response, but a few days later, she received a message from producer Pascal Caucheteux informing her that Depp wanted to meet and talk about the project in London.”
The person who knew him best, Stephen Deuters, had read the script and thought that Johnny Depp could portray Louis XV in the film. The actor who was shunned by Hollywood, after his nasty divorce and accusations of domestic abuse made against him by his ex-wife Amber Heard were made public, has now found comfort in French cinema. The director revealed that after Johnny Depp lost his UK trial, she contacted Deuters and asked him if he still wanted to be a part of the film, to which he responded “The real question is: do you still want it?” and she did.”
We also spent a lot of time taking photos in the bathroom, which is understandable if you are ever fortunate enough to venture down and see it in all it’s muted peach mosaic glory.
Dry Epstein & Ghislaine Gin in Belgravia
- Wednesday -
Mid-morning on Wednesday, we headed to Belgravia. The quaint cobblestone area in London where Ghislaine Maxwell’s infamous flat is situated. A pretty strip lined with historic mews originally used as stables and coach houses on the ground floor, the first floor as house haylofts, with a couple of rooms for the coach driver and ostlers to sleep. Our intended destination: Nag’s Head Pub, directly across the street from her flat. I wanted to show Denise what I count now as a favorite bar in London. It’s a musty old haunt, one of the oldest bars in town, that we took Arlo to after bike rides around town last year and let him order his first (legal) beer, figuring the oldest bar in town, with records as soundtrack and ancient memorabilia tacked to the ceiling would be a memorable moment for a 16-year-old to share his first pint with his parents.
Kevin Moran, an ex-stuntman with a thick accent and a notoriously brooding presence owns and mans the bar daily. During our visit last year he was as intimidating and standoffish as we’d been warned, glaring at everyone who wandered in like a new suspect instead of a thirsty customer, surrounded by signs forbidding cell phones.
But on this afternoon, he was something else. Something delightfully unexpected: candid, unguarded, friendly even.
After a drink, because he seemed engaged, I grew brave and decided to bring up his old neighbor. He responded with enthusiasm offering only flattering remarks about Maxwell, and more specifically, her mother, Betty.
“She was not running a whorehouse out of it!” he shouted abruptly from behind the bar, causing the women in the corner booth window to stop conversation and lean in to listen. He adored Betty. The only Maxwell which no one I’ve ever talked to has anything negative to say. He described her as French, well-educated, and one of the last known calligraphy experts which he found admirable. “A lost art,” he sighed.
The two formed a friendship while she was living across the street preparing the property for Ghislaine to move into. “She was getting it ready for her lovely daughter to live in,” he explained.
When I mentioned that I was in NY for the trial, and had anticipated him as a witness, he explained how that all fell apart. Ghislaine’s brother, Kevin, had come in a few times and convinced him to testify. He was willing and ready to appear in his military uniform (traditional camouflage & red beret) and say “no comment” to the press “like they do in the movies” as he entered, but the judge abruptly “shut it down.” His family he said resented him for offering to aid her in her defense. When he agreed to testify that she was not living there during the Andrew / Virginia encounter, his sons and wife stopped speaking to him because “they all read the Daily Mail and believe everything in it.” But it was “not a party house,” he insisted. The area, a rugged haven for quiet wealth, has never been known for hosting wild antics but it certainly doesn’t make it impossible given the history of its owner.
For many years he acted as Ghislaine’s trusted key holder — handing over keys to out-of-town guests, as she was known to liberally lend her properties out to friends and family whenever she was away.
When Nancy and Lady Victoria arrived, he was amused at first but later scolded Victoria (twice) for taking a phone call in his bar.
“Nobody cares what Susie has to say!” he barked, pointing her outward. The rest of us laughed.
After a lesson in tap pouring we were getting up to leave when Kevin casually mentioned that he met Epstein, too. Neither of them were “big drinkers,” he added. Epstein didn’t drink at all at the bar. Ghislaine, occasionally enjoyed a dry martini but often left her glass half full.
When asked about his opinion on their relationship, he described her as “silly, stupidly in love with him.”
“If he told her to slide down the banisters and hang from the chandeliers, she would have! She would have done anything for him.”
In a dramatic shift, he grew suddenly serious and reflective, “she thought she could change him. She always had that hope,” he added, pulling down the tap to fill two pints for the women eavesdropping in the corner, “what do we have if we don’t have hope?”
A couple of days later when we made a second visit to meet for a car pickup for the coronation concert, he was back to himself, far less engaging. He made his way down the stairs from his loft above the bar just after 11 sober and grumpy, turning on old cowboy songs on a record player and pouring a liberal amount of whiskey into his coffeecup, cursing the “fucking silly American” tourists who had been wandering in asking for gelato or chocolate.
“It’s a fucking pub!” he shouted, at no one in particular. “We fucking drink here!”
He laughed at us when we asked if he planned on watching the coronation. He mocked our interest in it but revealed that Prince Harry had come into the pub “2 or 3 times” in the past with his military buddies in tow. According to Kevin, Harry loved the bar and had a grand time until William found and dragged him out of it. Kevin said Will was appalled that his brother would be drinking and mingling “with peasants.”
He described Harry as a perfect gentleman. He had less kind words for William.
When asked what drink we’d like to send us on our way, Denise decided on two dry gin martinis, which were awful. We choked down two sips before sneaking the glasses upstairs separately to the bathroom to pour them down the sink before our exit.
There is a reason Ghislaine left hers half full.
Who is Nancy Pall?
A damn good time. A dynamic force with an infectious manner, great hair, a memorable laugh, and an overly generous spirit. Also a woman who loves any excuse for themed souvenirs. She gifted us all tiny gold-crowned keychains with coronation details engraved. Mind you, I had only met her when she walked into that pub with Victoria, but took to her right away because of how she instantly enlivened our traffic-clogged cab rides. Nancy formally worked her way up at Coca-Cola as a fierce 80s career woman with the grit and tenacity required for that era. She loves Trump, refers to him as “Trumpy,” is a member at Mar A Lago, and has a putting bag with his face (and fuzzy hair) adorned on it. She told us when she showed it to him, he got a kick out of it (of course, he did.) She owns properties in England and Florida, and wears a ring on her finger given to her by a man she planned to marry but died tragically (unexpectedly) just before their big day. A detail she revealed on our last night in her hotel lobby over chocolate croissants at midnight. One I won’t forget.
“A bad day in London is still better than a good day anywhere else.” - Unknown.
Washington Pub Cocktail Party
- Wednesday -
When I asked Instagram for a pub suggestion to host a pre-coronation meet-up I ended up with the loveliest offer from, Antonia, the owner of the Washington Pub in Primrose Hill, and could not have scored a more perfect setting.
I envisioned flat hair for the night but we didn’t have adaptors for our accessories, so my hair was forced to surrender to high humidity levels where it grew big, and then bigger, with no choice but to embrace it. The only other option — suggested by Denise, was to use an actual iron to iron it flat “like our moms did,” but I don’t have that kind of patience for vanity, so big hair won every day.
When I arrived I was worried about how full the bar was. I wondered how my people would fit with it being so crowded. It took me a second to realize these WERE my people! A lovely mix of supportive Brits & American stragglers on travel who stopped in to say hello. Part of what turned out to be a memorable evening thanks to the refreshing variety of people who gathered, all connected by Instagram.
See. There is still beauty in that dumb app.
In another corner Lady V held court of her own, my ever dashing UK sidekick.
A group of handsome siblings who explained the nature of their follows came thanks to a pushy sister who insisted they all jump on board.
A woman who informed me that she and her girlfriends hosted a “House Inhabit” chat group once a month to discuss topics unearthed.
A retired couple, whose daughter turned them on to my feed. “You made me rethink my whole take on Tucker Carlson,” the husband confessed (We made plans to meet with them again at Sundance)
Journalism students, PR executives, two barristers, a woman with a red-cheeked baby on her hip that was relieved to find this bar (and its people) welcomed infants.
A young man who had recently lost his mother, and showed us the freshly inked tattoo of her signature on his leg.
A sharply dressed blonde who tapped me on the shoulder to say that her friend in finance (a gray haired man at the table behind us) had briefly dated Ghislaine, but when asked to share details, clammed up. “A great ass,” he answered with a laugh. When pressed for more context, he declined. “She had a wicked appeal. In a corner alone with her, you couldn't tell if she wanted to fuck or kill you, and for a man with a healthy libido, it can be quite a thrilling thing.” When told I would quote him on it, he waved his hand signaling his approval, but refused his name attached to it.
A song serenade by James, a cute recording artist from LA. “Aint No Sunshine When She’s Gone,” — sung acapella, at the end of the night, after many drinks.
A toast to the new King (because it’s the right thing to do.)
Molly, from America, in a black beret and rented wool coat pulled specifically for the occasion.
The sweetest Christmas ornaments given to me by a young woman and her mother from their shop in England.
A gifted handmade wooden spoon.
Late night, after the crowd had gone, talking with Antonia and her finance, laughing over haughty bar tales. One, involving the banning of Ned Stark (Sean Beans) highlighted by the Daily Mail months after the ordeal.
The pub draws quite a crowd. Story of Sean Bean’s banning, via Daily Mail
“At the time of his injury, the Yorkshireman's altercation developed because of a row over glamour model April Summers who is 30 years younger.
And the reported aggressive behaviour doesn't stop there, for last year Bean was arrested over allegations he harassed his ex-wife Georgina Sutcliffe, 35.
But after police questioning, the charges against the father-of-three were dropped.
Sean Bean isn't the only famous face to visit the Belsize Park watering hole.
David Beckham and his comedian mate James Corden enjoyed a tipple at The Washington in 2012, and the pub is a favourite of Secret Diary Of A Call Girl star Billie Piper, with Tim Burton and Helena Bonham Carter, Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin, Sadie Frost and Kate Moss all living locally.”
“The best bribe which London offers to-day to the imagination, is, that, in such a vast variety of people and conditions, one can believe there is room for persons of romantic character to exist, and that the poet, the mystic, and the hero may hope to confront their counterparts.” - Ralph Waldo Emerson.
Soho House with Africa Brooke
- Thursday -
Lunch with an idol.
This woman’s intellect, insight, and eloquence kept my sanity intact during covid. I was desperately craving an alternative to the growing mob and she provided that for me. I admired her fearlessness as writer. She is someone who inspired me to move forward in bolder expression, and pulled the spotlight back on common sense with a grace that is hard to compete with.
If you don’t know her, you should.
“A London based consultant, accredited coach, strategist, and international speaker who specialises in helping public figures, established entrepreneurs, teams, and individuals with personal or professional challenges related to self-censorship and self-sabotage.”
We met at Soho House and bonded over minetstone soup and tea. In person, she has an intoxicating allure about her. A lightness that radiates intellect and good intentions. I confessed to her that I am tempted, anytime she writes me, to print out her words as reminders to myself to keep my sights straight. Her gift is effortless wisdom stripped of any cluttered references. She is concise and passionate about evading labels and escaping expectations that constrict the path of the evolving self. She writes specifically in defiance of self censorship and sabotage with the kind of clarity that cuts straight to the point. From her perspective, she sees a major shift happening in social media and believes people are moving towards long form content again after a decade of being shovel fed shrunken information and clipped narratives in scrolling blurbs. She is also finishing up her book — a completed feat she envisions on bookshelves in bookstores whenever she goes to write. She plans on setting up shop soon on Substack, too, where she can expand longer prose, and encouraged me to maybe shift how my own content is served so that I deliver the bulk of these stories here, instead of IG, like I’m prone to. A tip I’ve been mulling over about since.
Africa is kind of woman who leaves you in lingering contemplation. I was grateful to catch a flash of her on this jaunt, vibrant optimism dressed in a statement coat on her way to write.
“Never forget that you have every right to question any individual, system, movement or group that only tolerates you when you think and behave like them.” - Africa Brookes
Dinner with Joelle
- Thursday -
Perhaps you recognize Joelle as the stylish silent figure in black seated directly behind Johnny Depp in court last year. Later revealed to be romantically involved with him, and the reason he pulled his hair back after that first week where he went from disheveled to dapper all thanks to a hair tie. She kept the big black bag that housed his quirky courtroom arts and craft, remember?
Also a partner at Schillings Law with some impressive accolades under her belt.
“Often acting for her clients in times of crisis, Joelle works to defend their reputations against false and defamatory allegations in print, online, and on social media,” it reads. “She has particular expertise in protecting individuals’ privacy from unwarranted intrusion and media attention.”
In addition to representing Depp, Rich also was one of the partners, through Schillings, to work on Meghan Markle and Prince Harry’s 2018 case against the Mail on Sunday, which they ultimately won. Schillings has also taken on other notable clients including Ryan Giggs and J.K. Rowling.
Rich also has several accolades under her belt. According to the site, Rich received the award for ‘Future Leader Initiative of the Year’ in 2021 as part of the Citywealth Future Leaders awards.
We talked about post trial life and the invasion of privacy that came with news of her relationship to Johnny, what it was like for her family, who were not anticipating such a frenzy, and what it was like to be on the “other” side of a media circus when her job requires her to help others in this situation. Photographers showed up at her daughters school, press camped outside her suburban home, trolls harassed her incessantly online, but she took it all in stride. Our dinner was a slow unraveling of everything that happened then and since, with some details not publishable, but the thing about trials is no matter your stake in it the experience tends to cement an odd bond between those involved. I count Joelle now as a real friend even though it was a wild viral sensation that tied us together initially.
Currently, she is working towards building awareness in her industry on how to combat cancel culture in both legal and social arenas. We convinced her to sit for a few flash photos after dinner because anyone that photogenic owes it to us.