Finding a Career Among the Royal Jewelry

November 27, 1987|ROSE-MARIE TURK | Times Staff Writer

There are certain matters Leslie Field will not discuss. She will not, for example, say how many times she and the queen of England have talked shop.

Field, a 43-year-old American who lives in London, recently wound up four years of royal snooping for "The Queen's Jewels." The coffeetable tome (Harry N. Abrams, $30) is purportedly the first book of its kind prepared with the full cooperation of Buckingham Palace.

In return for the cooperation, Field, former editor of the Tatler and former fashion editor of the London Sunday Times, says she plays by the rules: "There are restrictions on what I'm allowed to say. In a way, I'm a representative of England and the royal household."

Seated at the Regency Club in Westwood, she anxiously waited for members (who had paid $85 for dinner and an autographed copy of her book) to put down their flatware: "The problem is, I never talk when people are eating. I can't compete with knives and forks."

The author confided that as usual she had prepared only her opening line. "I love making speeches. I've spent years on my subject, and I give a different speech every time. When I sit down," she warned gaily, "I won't remember a word I've said."

She proceeded to weave a captivating inside account of her third book, which follows "Look Like a Million" (the typical first book by a former fashion editor, she says) and a biography, "Bendor, the Golden Duke of Westminster."

During her recent American promotional tour, she was feted in New York by Cartier and Estee Lauder. She also gave a slide show at the Smithsonian Institution, and, in Los Angeles, she spent four hours with a national magazine trying to ensure she was snapped "in a dignified manner. The things I said I wouldn't do is be photographed in my bedroom, in my bathroom, near the hotel pool or curtsying."

Field's volume, which traces jewelry worn by seven generations of queens, has led to a permanent palace position for her. (No comment on the amount, if any, to be paid for her services.) "For the rest of my life," she says, she will be updating 12 jewelry catalogues she started on female members of the royal family. Her technique is to clip any magazine or newspaper photograph showing English royalty with their jewels on.

Along with the luggage in her hotel room was a suitcase "filled with nothing but the things I read," Field explained. It contained two weeks' worth of English newspapers (about 100 in all) and three months of English magazines (from 50 to 75). There had also been two pairs of scissors, now reduced to one because Field lost a pair to the magazine crew. "I know it sounds obsessive," she said apologetically, "but I'm never off duty."

Now that her saga of Elizabeth II's personal jewelry collection is finished, Field says she will never write another book. She plans to read some of the estimated 10,000 volumes she owns and think back fondly on her palace workplaces, such as a small peach-satin guest bedroom and the "enormous" Edward I Billards Room.

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