#2136 The dinner game

Photo: Katherine Lowe

“You mean, you’re not gay?” He asked me with surprise, as if a young straight man was not something he’d ever encountered before. “Nope,” I said. We approached a painting depicting an engorged male member. “Well I hope you’re not shocked by…” he gestured at the art. “I’m sure I’ll survive,” I said.

My first invitation to His stately home came a couple of nights after I’d met him at Michael Lett’s gallery opening. I received an email from his assistant to say that a guest had cancelled at the last minute and that I was welcome to eat with the man should I wish. Having other plans, I politely declined but said any other time I’d be keen. A few days later, the assistant emailed me again inviting me to a dinner party that He was throwing for some friends. The day arrived, and as instructed, I parked my car on the main road then walked down the private lane to His gate, which I buzzed, and was let in.

The house, flanked by a circular driveway and an overgrown jungle garden, rests on the side of a hill in Epsom overlooking the motorway. The garden is as famous as the house itself, and contains enormous sculptures by some of New Zealand’s most noteworthy artists.

I was escorted into a sitting room and introduced to the other guests, all of whom were male and under the age of 25. One was an opera singer, another was a contemporary dancer, one was a student, one was a flight attendant, and then there was me. We all sat making polite, if nervous conversation, while the assistant poured drinks. If you’ve ever read an Agatha Christie novel, this was a similar scenario – none of us knew each other, none of us knew our host, none of us knew why we’d been invited and none of us knew what to expect.

He appeared about 30 minutes later and stood in the middle of the room. He told us to follow him for a tour of the works. From the outset, it was obvious he was in his element. He cited facts about the artists, many of whom he’d started collecting while they were still at school, recalled anecdotes and discussed the importance of each work. He also took the time to talk to each of his guests. When he came to me, he questioned me about my job, my family and my background, and seemed very surprised to learn that I had a girlfriend. Every so often over the next couple of hours he’d return to me and once again question my sexuality, with the disclaimer that he hoped I wasn’t offended by anything that evening. I assured him that I was fine.

After dinner was served (a Papua New Guinean curry, cooked by a surfer-artist whose work He had bought extensively), we were given another tour, this time of the basement collection. Oh look, more penises.

Then things took an interesting turn.

He told the dancer that he should perform for us. “Oh, I couldn’t,” he said very modestly. “No, you must,” He said. “Oh, but I don’t have my music,” said the dancer. “We have plenty of music here, young man,” He said. “But I don’t have my costume,” he said. “I’m sure what you’re wearing will be fine,” He said.

“No, but it won’t be,” said the dancer. “I only dance in white, and I’m not wearing any white.” (He was wearing head to toe black.) “Well in that case,” He said, “You’re going to have to dance naked.”

The room went quiet.

“You see, after dinner there must be entertainment,” He said. The dancer thought for a moment, and smiled. “Okay, I guess I’d better get out of these clothes.”

At this point, I thought to myself, ‘One of these days the story of how I sat and watched a strapping 23 year old gay man dance naked at a wealthy elderly man’s dinner party is going to make a great blog post.’ But I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. So I stood up, thanked JHim for his hospitality and walked out without a backward glance.

And that was the last time I was ever invited to dinner at His stately home.


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  1. backstage photographer says

    I think you have issues with your sexuality.
    I love girls, I’m straight, love the female form/body. And I certainly would  not have walked out, just because a gay man, who is probably an amazing dancer, to get the chance for an impromptu dance, even naked, would not bother me. He’s a human being like all of us, his sexuality should not affect other people, so it does not effect me, his dance will, and you just missed out on that experience. Anything else that happens after that, be it James sexuality starting to affect you, then you are excused, but not before the boy does his dance, shame on you Isaac, it sounds almost like you are sexually discriminating ( I know you’re not ) but that’s how it reads.
    I think you have issues, and you need to sort them out

  2. KiwiGayBoi says

    Sir James would not be amused at your indiscretion in publicizing what went on behind closed doors. Next time you would be well advised to do a little research as to whether or not accepting a similar invitation may offend your puritanical beliefs.

  3. Leroy says

     He’s not ‘publicising what went on behind closed doors’ – it was a semi-public event – strangers invited to an art-showing and dinner. Isaac is reporting what occurred. What I get from your comment is hetero-phobia. If you’re embarrassed by truth then don’t read the blog. Prejudice swings both ways, brother.

  4. KarlofHonor says

    So, let me get this straight (so to speak)… when you were first invited to this dinner party did you ask whether your girlfriend might be welcome too? was she busy that night?… and when things got a bit drunk and bit much for you you walk out and write about it? it makes me wonder a little what you initially thought you stood to gain from this situation… it’s a classy outcome that’s for sure… 

  5. Meghan Matthews says

    Well. that was weird. Glad you haven’t been invited since. He sounds like a looney taking advantage of people. Wonder what he would have asked you to do. write blog posts naked, perhaps? haha!

  6. Blah says

    This is awesome. And I know this is completely beside the point but, I’m shocked that you’re not a homo too, Isaac. You should probably not promote your heterosexuality too openly because it could work to your detriment in the fashion industry. haha

  7. Mexico says

    Hilarious. Nothing new though, as one commentator alluded to. Mostly harmless, though James Wallace’s biggest fear is being publicly outed (so I believe), despite the wealth, power, and now the title, I believe the man is constantly worried by Public Opinion, though he doesn’t seem to mind flaunting his obvious interest in younger males. 

  8. Scott Gardiner says

    Just a couple of quick comments regarding your post……Firstly, I was at this dinner (blond surfer guy) and am actually 37, secondly the curries were Sri Lankan not New Guinean. Thirdly, I am also not gay and am actually happily married, this fact has not, however, stopped James and myself being very good friends for many years. It seems to me that your prudish behaviour may have more to do with a little latent homophobia than the actual goings on of this particular evening. James is an extremely gracious host and a very generous man who invited you into his home, fed you and offered you drinks with no hidden agenda. He actually has a very good sense of humour and was probably just egging you on when he noticed you were a little uncomfortable.
    The art world in New Zealand would be a lot poorer without a wonderful patron and passionate advocate like James, you were very fortunate to have been invited to dinner at his home and could have had a great deal more respect for him and his generosity……..and yes I am sure it will be the last time you are invited for dinner ‘at his stately home’.

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