Lord Gilbey Sips A Tio PepeSunday, January 14, 2007
Sometime in early 1986 I arrived early to the billiard room of the Mandarin Hotel, the most luxurious hotel in Vancouver at the time. It is now the Metropolitan Hotel on Howe Street. I was there to take a portrait of:
The Honourable John Hugh Philip Gilbey, Lord Vaux of Harrowden. But he was also the unnoficial Ambassador of Gin.
I set up my light on one side of the billiard table and my large camera on the tripod. I was ready for the man. When he arrived he looked at me and said, "Alex you have everything ready, I see, but you did not take into consideration that I am a southpaw." I did not see myself putting my light stand on the billiard table to light Sir John from his left. I thought about it for a few seconds; I removed my Hudson's Bay Harris Tweed jacket, placed it on the table and then the light stand on it. I took ten exposures. Sir John gave me a bottle of gin which he autographed first. I have never opened it.
In his talk with writer Garry Marchant, Sir John told Marchant that his favourite gin drink was as a summer drink, a gin and tonic. He called it a long drink. But he said that his favourite drink of all was a fine claret or a bottle of vintage port "If I was in a condemned cell and they said I could have a jolly nice bottle of wine with my last meal, I'd choose a bottle of vintage port."
During the interview, in his room, I noticed a bottle of Tio Pepe on his private bar. I asked him why he had it. I found out that Sir John was related by marriage to the Spanish Gonzalez Byass company that makes the very pale and very dry sherry, my favourite soup improver ( a shot in consommé is divine). I asked him if he had concoted some sort of drink that included Gilbey's Gin and Tio Pepe. With a big smile in his face (after having sung the Gilbey's Gin Song while accompanying himself on the piano, he had a piano in his room) he said, "Yes, it's called Primos Hermanos (first cousins) and you substitute Tio Pepe for the vermouth in a martini.
I decided to try the drink in the downstairs bar. I ordered it and the bartender put a disgusting look on his face. Without going into details I told him, "I have it from the horse's mouth that this is a fine drink." Since I am not much of a connoisseur, all I can say is that it adequately suited my needs for that afternoon.
In 1995, the hotel was no longer the Mandarin Hotel and the library had lost the billiard table. I was present during a long interview with Evelyn Hart. Like most men I fell for the swan.
After the interview and my photos I asked Evelyn if she would accompany me for a drink dowstairs. She did. We had a couple of Primos Hermanos and I told her the story. She looked at me and said, "It's all right."