A Society Songster Who (gently) Bites the Hands That Feed
03/06/1989 at 01:00 AM EST
Barbara's not elitist
The New England WASP look
Is a much lower-cost look
It's great style at its neatest.
And unlike the Reagan years with all the glitz we've seen
Barbara may borrow her Inauguration dress—from L.L. Bean!
Impeccably turned out in a Savile Row suit, signature pink-silk vest, striped shirt and ubiquitous bow tie, high society chanteur Christopher Mason bangs away at the baby grand piano in the sitting room of the magnificent apartment on Manhattan's Upper East Side where he lives. In a pure tenor, he delivers the lyrics above just as he did at the Jefferson Hotel in Washington, D.C., in January. There, at a private gathering for the Bush clan, the 27-year-old Mason serenaded the First-Lady-to-be the night before her husband's inauguration. A delighted Mrs. Bush later pronounced this typical bit of Masonry "adorable."
It's all in an afternoon's work for the flamboyant, expatriate Englishman who has become the toast of Manhattan's caviar set. Described in one article as "a New Age Noel Coward," he has cheekily tweaked the likes of David Rockefeller, William Paley and Ivana Trump. Last summer Mason gave Ivana the business at a swank luncheon held on the 282-foot, $30 million Trump Princess.
Ivana, dear, we barely are acquainted
But you know that I admire you such a lot.
I tell everyone I see
Just how much you mean to me
And you know that I am crazy for your yacht...
Oh, do let me borrow
I'll bring it back tomorrow
Oh, do let me borrow your yacht.
You know how sweet of you I'd think it.
I'll really try hard not to sink it.
Please can I borrow your yacht?...
"Ivana loved it," Mason gleefully recalls. "She was shrieking with laughter. Everyone was hooting and laughing like mad." He sang three more original songs, the last of which was also about his hostess, and pocketed $1,000 for his labors.
Mason has always been musically inclined; his mother is an English opera singer and his father a now-retired civil servant. Mason had two musicals he wrote recorded by the BBC before he was 18. At Cambridge University he studied English and art history and was a hyper-active member of the drama group. "I did drama, comedies, musicals and occasional songs," he says, "but in a very light-hearted way."
After graduating in 1983, Mason was in a quandary. "I had this horror of spending my whole life going to dinner parties in London, seeing the same people night after night," he says with a shudder. "I couldn't bear that. It's too cozy. By coming to New York, I would force myself to succeed. But I had no sense whatsoever of what I wanted to do when I got here."
Mason came to New York with savings of $2,000, which he changed entirely into $20 bills and kept in a suitcase. One morning, he recalls, "I put my hand into the suitcase, and there wasn't anything there." As luck would have it, that was the day he got a job in public relations raising money for various New York charities and helping to arrange such events as the weddings of Caroline Kennedy and Maria Shriver. Then, at the request of a friend, he wrote a song on the occasion of social lioness Brooke Astor's surprise birthday party at the New York Public Library in 1987.
Within a year he had quit his PR job and was "working like mad trying to write funny songs." Songs for designer Mario the "Prince of Chintz" Buatta were followed by another accolade for Astor, as well as one for socialite Annette Reed. That led to three performances aboard the Trump Princess.
Since the Trump affair, things have only gotten better. Mason has acquired an agent, so the performance fees are even steeper. He now gets as much as $3,000 per appearance. Between society gigs, Mason stays home in the spacious 14-room duplex of his godmother, Barbara Sutro Ziegler, and works on the musical score for a Broadway musical tentatively titled How to Bag a Billionaire. "Hopefully it will be killingly funny," he says. "It's about life in New York today and women fiercely determined to marry well."
By floating like a social butterfly and singing like a bad boy bee, Christopher Mason has won the beneficence of big name benefactors, even as he pokes fun at them. According to Mason, this phenomenon is easy to explain: "People look good if they can show that they have a sense of humor about themselves."
—Ned Geeslin, and Veronica Burns in New York