Elly McDonald


The millionaire, the chiffon dress, the chauffeur, the lobster

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This blog site started with posts about my dating mishaps, an inexhaustible well of horror and humour.

Somehow, in six – six? – years I never posted my favourite party piece: the strange incident at Firecrest Drive.

If I leave it any longer, readers might think it a delusion of dementia.

Here’s how it happened:

When I first moved to London from Australia, I lived in a posh location in a slum flat. The heating didn’t work. My ceiling caved in when the flat above me used their shower. It was dark and dirty and dank and… enough with the alliteration.

I was cold and I was lonely. I didn’t fancy random hook-ups in Leicester Square. I did not want to stalk the man who had rejected me. I was determined to start A New Life.

So, I answered ads in the newspaper ‘Personals’ column. [Readers aged under 30: This was classified ads for dating. I know. Horror.] The first person I met was highly eligible: intelligent, handsome, single, an economic adviser for the EU. He had just one flaw. He asked me to accompany him jogging. I was never going to be that girl.

So then I joined an expensive dating agency. The photos I provided were a mere four years stale but I wasn’t that girl either. My bad.

After the usual misfires – the real estate developer, the aggro insulting entitled stalker, the playing-the-field salesman – I was phoned by the agency and advised they’d given my number to a somewhat unusual client. He seemed too good to be true. They asked if I could please report back after our date, to advise on how it went.

“Too good to be true” means he was (allegedly) 41, filthy rich, had an aristocratic French name, was CEO of his own successful international business, (allegedly) a business consultancy with employees throughout Europe and America.

The perfect man asked me to meet him on the steps at Claridge’s, the famous Mayfair hotel and restaurant. Meeting on the steps gave him the opportunity to demonstrate that the doormen knew him by name. We went through to the restaurant, where the waiters greeted him by name.

Dinner went well. I am blessed with some colourful characters in my family, and the lobster main course gave me an opportunity to tell tales on my ancient mariner/drunken sailor/sea-dog/semi-famous uncle. I am able to monologue and size up my audience simultaneously. This is what I observed:

The perfect man was relatively short – not a problem. He may have worn shoes with a built-up heel. He was certainly wearing a corset under his tailored black suit. He had a George Hamilton tan [Readers aged under 30: He was orange] and I’d lay money he’d had a face-lift, maybe a few other tweaks. His skin texture was waxen. He had white hair in a kind of a quiff… good god WHAT WAS I THINKING? Why did I not RUN?

Anyway. The perfect stuffed penguin dropped clanging great hints that he might hire me for his company if all went well. He invited me to dinner a few days hence in his penthouse apartment in prestigious Firecrest Drive, by the West Hampstead entrance to Hampstead Heath.

He sent a chauffeur driving a black Rolls Royce to collect me on the night.

I was impressed with the gated apartment tower. Impressed with the private lift. Impressed with the penthouse. It did seem a bit empty – I remember two chairs and the mounted head of a Thai Buddha, under museum lighting – but that’s how the cognoscenti roll. Elitist minimalism. All class. All cost.

The penguin had prepared the meal himself. Lobster again, as lobster had been a success at Claridge’s. Champagne cocktail. There’s the problem: I am a cheap drunk.

He started telling me about his business. The lines between “business consultancy”, “personal effectiveness programs”, “self-transformation courses” and ”cult fraud” began to blur. I had not so long since extricated myself from three years immersion in an international organisation that wore each of those labels. I began to suspect the penguin mistook me for an innocent abroad he could recruit to his greater aggrandisement.

“Yes,” I said, and he must have missed the snaky tone. ”I am familiar with est. I am familiar with Werner Erhard.”

WERNER!” exclaimed the bloke with the suspiciously aristocratic family name, with a warmth suggesting dear Werner was his best mate. As he may have been. “I KNOW Werner well!”

I turned my head stiffly, like a Thai Buddha come to life. “Werner is a snake,” I hissed. Impossible to miss the serpentine accent.

Things plummeted from there.  Before long he was leading my intoxicated, nasty self towards the private lift. He deposited me inside. The lift went down.

When the lift doors opened, I was in a Scandinavian light wood enclosed foyer. One golden timber door to my right. One golden door to my left. Which was the exit?

I turned left.

The door opened into a narrow courtyard garden. Sadly, it immediately closed behind me. Thanks to a security lock I was now shut within a tiled path with a tall wall one side, the apartments’ wall to the other, green oriental foliage at its base, and locked doors both ends.

I had a think about this, which was challenging, as I was drunk.

All I could think was: Star Wars.

Carrie Fisher. Princess Leia. The garbage chute. What if… what if I pressed my back against the external wall, pushed my feet against the building wall, inched my back up to the external wall’s top, then did a high jump flip to freedom?

I can do this.

Never mind that I am dressed as Cinderella in heels, with a long flowing faux chiffon skirt and a fine knit top. I can edge my shoulders up a wall and over the top.

And so I did.

It took some effort, and the faux chiffon skirt was never the same, but eventually I popped up over the crest of the wall and fell on the bonnet of the waiting Rolls Royce.

I did a tuck’n’roll off the Rolls, picked myself up, dusted myself off, and there was the chauffeur, standing silently, holding the backseat door open for me.

I would like to think I sang drunkenly on the drive home. For sure, we did not talk.


Next, I suppose I’ll feel obliged to write about The Antiquarian, The Campari and the Hungarian Banker.

Elly in Wigmore Street W1

Me then (1993). This dress was silk.

Author: Elly McDonald

Australian-born, with English mother, has lived in several Australian cities and in London. Travelled widely. Way way back when, published widely as a poet and short story writer. For the first 20 years of my working life I worked as an entertainment journalist, publicist, PR consultant and in advertising and media agencies. In the second 20 years, I worked in marketing roles at non-profit organisations then retrained as a teacher, primarily teaching English to non-English speaking, newly-arrived refugees. Also did miserable McJobs, and a long, happy stint at an art gallery.

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