November 16, 2013 - 10:16 am
Patrick Littlejohn was 22 when he accidentally went swimming with Princess Diana and her kids.
At the time, he was leisure manager of the Craigendarroch Hotel and Country Club in Scotland. One day, he was in the hotel pool when someone tapped his shoulder.
“Excuse me, can I ask a favor?” Diana asked.
Littlejohn turned and was startled to be face to face with the princess of Wales.
“Yeah, sure,” he said.
Diana told him she was having trouble swimming, because her children kept swarming in front of her. But she noticed they steered clear of Littlejohn’s path, so she needed him to be a sort of blocking escort.
“Can you swim in front of me? Because the kids seem to get out of your way,” Diana asked.
They swam 20-some lengths, chitchatting along the way.
“Paparazzi were hanging out of the trees, trying to look into the club,” he says. “All I could think was, ‘Oh, the paparazzi is seeing me with Princess Diana. I’m going to get fired.’ ”
Littlejohn was not sacked. A few years later, he received a call.
“We would like you to come to London for an interview?” a voice said.
“Can’t tell you.”
“Where is it?”
“Can’t tell you.”
Littlejohn was intrigued by this cloak-and-dagger business. After being vetted by the CIA and MI5, his secretive interviewers hired him to run food and beverage in three royal palaces for the king and queen of Jordan.
“My first day, they flew me down to Aqaba, and the royal family were having a dinner on top of the highest mountain — Wadi Rum. They had flown everything up by helicopter, the tents, the toilets and cooking equipment for 10 people.”
On that first day, the king shook his hand and said, “Welcome to my family.”
“I was going, just, ‘Wow, what am I doing here?’ ”
Every day was extravagant in Jordan.
“On the king’s 60th birthday, we had a room of five kings, and four queens, and 20-odd princes and princesses, from the king and queen of Spain to Princess Margaret of England, the king of Belgium and his wife.
“You said, ‘Your Majesty, Your Majesty, Your Highness, Your Highness …’ ”
The royal family was lovely, but after four years, Littlejohn wished to ascend a corporate ladder.
“I couldn’t really go any further where I was, because the king’s job was taken,” he said.
Littlejohn moved to New York and worked his way up to managing at the Plaza Hotel, where Robert De Niro and Al Pacino and mobsters dined.
It was at the Plaza that Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones married.
“Meg Ryan was quite under the weather with alcohol,” Littlejohn says. “She was blond and drunk and a mess on the floor. She had to be escorted to her room.”
A decade ago, Littlejohn, 44, came to Vegas to be general manager of Il Mulino New York in the Forum Shops at Caesars Palace.
Famous people eat there: Sylvester Stallone, Nicolas Cage, Jessica Biel, Mariah Carey, Paris Hilton, Michelle Pfeiffer, Celine Dion, Shania Twain.
“Bill Clinton loves coming here. We do takeout for his plane,” he says. “He’s a vegan. We give him our very plain tomato basil sauce with no butter, and we make it totally from scratch, and gluten-free pasta.”
Littlejohn knows terrific stories about royals and actors and singers.
“There are funny ones” about people who have changed the world, but he will not divulge them on the record.
For his discretion, I may never forgive him.
Doug Elfman’s column appears on Page 3A in the main section on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. He also writes for Neon on Fridays. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He blogs at reviewjournal.com/elfman.