The Lady Guide to Modern Manners: 8 August

No one wants to be haunted by guilty secrets when on holiday with friends – make sure everything’s out in the open, advises Thomas Blaikie
Dear Thomas,
Some friends have very kindly invited us to a villa party in Italy this summer. We were rather surprised when two of the other guests asked us if we’d like to stay on and spend a few days touring in the region with them. The awkward thing is, they haven’t included the hosts, who have already told us what flights they’re going back on. Even if we say ‘No’, which we’re inclined to do, we’ll still be party to a guilty secret, won’t we – oh dear!
Helen Lox-Brown, Loughborough

Dear Helen,
I quite see the problem. If the hosts were staying on in their villa for another week, no difficulty would arise. It would be perfectly natural to delay your return for a day or two after your stay with them and see more of the area, even accompanied by others from the original villa group.

Those lucky enough to have been invited to Balmoral this summer might well extend the trip and go on either to shooting parties in baronial shooting lodges or a simple tour of the lochs. There would be no need to ask the Queen if she’d like to come too. I feel that these other guests who have made the suggestion have been rather thoughtless and put you in a difficult position, as you say.

It’s never a good idea to have a dark secret, especially in a seething hotbed of intrigue and factionalism such as a villa party. Why not have it all out in the open? Say to these people: isn’t it going to be embarrassing in the villa if we have to conceal our plans from the hosts for the entire time we’re there? Won’t it come out anyway? Won’t it be horribly clear on the last day that we don’t plan to go to the airport? They might say: ‘Oh, we hadn’t thought of that, you’re absolutely right.’ Or they might take the line: ‘But they’ve already booked their flights home, there’s no point in asking them.’ In which case say very firmly that they should be asked as a courtesy and in order not to look as if you’re hiding something or don’t want to include them. In any case, if they’re rich enough to fund a villa party they might well think nothing of changing their flights.

If it turns out that these other guests have deliberately excluded the hosts, then they are quite in the wrong and shouldn’t have accepted to be their guests at the villa. Is poison to seep into your party even before it has begun? It’s also more difficult if you’re unable to take the extra days for other reasons, nothing to do with the embarrassing situation. Even so, you need to find a pleasant way to point out that things haven’t been considered properly.

Please send your questions to or write to him at The Lady, 39-40 Bedford Street, London WC2E 9ER


One reader asks: I’ve heard of a titled lady whose title was acquired through marriage, but now she is divorced. To complicate matters, she has become a doctor of the academic kind. How should she style herself? Many are similarly multi-titled. Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, for example, was once a Lord Justice of Appeal but I was wrong, when sent to a railway station to fetch her and not knowing what she looked like, to inquire, ‘Excuse me, are you Lord Justice Butler-Sloss?’

A divorced lady is entitled to retain her ex-husband’s title, but she must put her first name first, as in ‘Diana, Princess of Wales’ or ‘Margaret, Duchess of Argyll’. Some hang on, improperly, to a ladyship even after they have re-married. An ordinary, divorced Mrs should also include her first name, as someone tartly points out in Muriel Spark’s A Far Cry From Kensington: ‘You’re not Mrs Tims. You’re Doris, Mrs Tims’. But neither men nor women are allowed to call themselves ‘Doctor Mr’ or ‘Doctor Lady’ or any other combination of titles: ‘General Lady Colindale.’

They have to choose. It’s not fair.