On Saturday, I had a lesson in culture and geography. Do you know all the islands which surround Manhattan? There’s Ellis Island, Staten Island, the mysterious Roosevelt Island (ever met anyone who lives there?); there’s also Wards Island (doesn’t sound tourist-friendly), and to the south of the city, Governor’s Island, just an Olympic stone’s throw from Battery Park. You get great views of the city, and every year, Governor’s turns into a little bit of Bridgehampton. Britain’s Prince Harry was on the island on Saturday to play polo against Nacho Figueras for charity’s sake. Since the officially released guest list only includes some of the attendees, as guests started arriving, rumors were already swirling (don’t they always?) about who would be coming. Is Madonna here? She’s not on the guest list. Someone spotted her with her son, I think.
Being a member of the press is the same as being a private dick. You wait around a lot, and you do a lot of gawking at strangers. Guest arrivals were spread over an excruciatingly long three hours. People had to be driven to the grounds in trolleys after landing at the island by ferry, likely making transport logistics quite a nightmare for the event’s staff. Among the guests I noticed Kate Hudson, a smiling LL Cool J in an earth-colored three-button suit and hat, and Donna Karan and her daughter sporting matching tans. When asked where her solar hat was (de rigueur among polo match guests) Donna Karan was taken aback a little by the question and said “I made a boo-boo.”
Maybe the real star of the day was New York City herself, the Manhattan skyline in the distance providing a glorious backdrop for the event. There hadn’t been a game here in 70 years, except for last year’s inaugural game. No wonder I couldn’t remember the last time a polo game was held here — can you? By the way, people in my inner circle have been asserting that Governor’s Island doesn’t count as New York City, but I disagree — different discussion, perhaps.
Veuve Clicquot did a fine job of organizing the guests under large tents and provided all amenities. One thing I noticed, however, was that the media entrance was not even carpeted (for next time, organizers, add black flooring to your to-do list; it will go great with the Clicquot orange). Guests paid $500 for admission (this is a charitable cause, remember) and were treated to lunch, champagne, and afternoon tea by the St. Regis. The public could watch from across the grounds and help themselves to cash counters located nearby. The weather could not have been better for this occasion. Large, downy clouds anchored a silvery-blue sky closely above, and there was even a slight breeze.
This was meant to be an exhibition game for Britain’s Prince Harry’s charity. I suppose running foundations and visiting schools are some of the things a member of the royal family has to do from time to time. Lingering on yachts and ducking shutterbugs has got to get so yesterday so quickly. Prince Harry visited a school in Harlem and made a stop by Ground Zero. The high-profile event was Saturday’s game, however, which was played for the benefit of the Sentebale Foundation, set up by Prince Harry to help Lesotho’s orphans.
I often learn something new and strange about people at these social events. The Sudanese model Alek Wek showed up on the island with her arm in a cast. Well, she should probably not be allowed into your kitchen, as it turns out. Apparently she was preparing dinner and there was an incident involving a large kitchen knife and some shallots (and possibly, a bottle of ultra-rare grappa, Alek?). Wek downplayed the whole thing, commenting that she looked forward to “everyone coming together and celebrating his cause.” Referring to Prince Harry, she said, “this young man giving back, it’s wonderful.”
As befits tradition, many of the guests did not come through the press entrance. But we did get to see Chloe Sevigny, Marc Jacobs and his Brazilian boyfriend (the two kept rehearsing for the best on-screen kiss award, but in front of the cameras), and polo champion Ignacio “Nacho” Figueras, looking godly and bronzed. About playing Governor’s Island, he commented that, “the Manhattan skyline is the perfect backdrop for a polo match.”
For those of us living in caves, Nacho Figueras is from Argentina and is also the captain of Team Black Watch, who played against HRH Harry’s Sentebale team that day. Oh, and he is also the face of Ralph Lauren’s Black Label collection, thanks to Bruce Weber playing matchmaker for the Page 6 hottie and the couturier. Although this was an exhibition match (Governor Island’s polo grounds are smaller than regulation size, and the match lasted less than an officially sanctioned game), Figueras was intent on defending his prize won at last year’s tournament. This year, in deference to his blue-blooded opponent, Figueras graciously conceded the trophy to Team Sentebale. Since this was billed as a state visit, the British press corps was here en masse, all wearing diplomatic press badges and jockeying for position to snap the money shot. The game itself started right on schedule, in fact, just minutes before 3pm; it lasted just over an hour, and a trophy was awarded in a ceremony held afterward on the grounds.
Photo: Sacha Berkman