There could scarcely be a better illustration of how the different narratives of Britain’s two royal princes are playing lately. Days after his older brother flew out on a grueling 24-hour flight to the far-flung Falkland Islands on a controversial posting serving the nation, Prince Harry, the “Playboy Prince,” was pictured living it up again Friday night in London, partying at the Arts Club in Mayfair with David Beckham until 3 a.m. Next month he is being sent by the queen on a Jubilee tour of the sovereign realms of Jamaica, Belize, and the Bahamas before heading to Brazil, where his official commitments will include playing a game of volleyball on the beach at Ipanema.
Prince William, living on canned food on a rocky outcrop just a few hundred miles from the edge of the Antarctic, must be wondering what he did wrong. But in fact it’s Harry who looks as if he could use some vitamin D, judging by his pale appearance last night. Sporting a mystery wound on his nose, Harry arrived at the London club, which he and Beckham last visited together before Christmas, shortly before 10 p.m. Beckham joined him after taping an appearance for a British chat show, in which he revealed that he and his wife, Victoria, are thinking about adding to their family of four children, saying, “We might have one more or two more, you never know.”
The Arts Club, which was cofounded by British writers Dickens and Trollope 149 years ago, has apparently become Prince Harry’s London nightspot of choice. And while this may be good news for the owners and the “advisory committee”—which includes Gwyneth Paltrow, Stella McCartney, and Thandie Newton, who oversaw the club’s relaunch in September 2011—veteran members have been dismayed at its transformation.
A Most Agreeable Society: A Hundred and Twenty-Five Years of the Arts Club is the title of the official history of the club, published in 1994, which gives some idea of the general vibe until recently. The once fusty and dusty gentleman’s club, where the work of members was hung on the walls and periodically auctioned off to help them pay their slates, has been reinvented as a brash and exclusive playground for the nation’s privileged party people, taking on the likes of London nightclubs like the Embassy. Drink prices have more than doubled, the old leather armchairs have been thrown out, the shabby wallpaper has been torn down, and, horror of horrors, amplified music is now played in the newly installed nightclub downstairs.
In its quest to become the go-to venue for the Prince Harrys and David Beckhams of this world, the Arts Club, the old-timers say, is no longer the genteel place it was when the club’s long-term official patron, Harry’s grandfather Prince Philip, would feel at home. One impecunious artist member was aghast when he went to the bar and, after ordering two whiskies and one red wine, was presented with a bill for £72 sterling.
“It was a rather large, dilapidated room with big brown-leather armchairs and a great library of art books,” says another former honorary member who was stripped of his free membership under the new regime. “It was an eccentric, jolly place. I used to throw my birthday parties there because they would let you use the place for free. I enjoyed it very much, particularly because they never played any music, unless one of the members struck up on the old piano in one corner of the room. I would go after the opera, and sometimes the opera singers would come there with me afterwards and sing for their supper. Last time I went there they were playing the most ghastly rhythmic pop. I asked them to turn it down, and they turned it up. I haven’t been back.”
But it seems the new Arts Club suits Harry down to the ground. One fellow clubgoer last night tweeted that Harry was an “absolute gentleman,” while nightlife impressario Jonny Dodge tweeted, “Rocked Arts Club last night great fun! Prince Harry and David Beckham partying hard!”