The Eye of the Beholder - Valerie Mendes
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The Eye of the Beholder

The look, tone and content of the best websites race to keep up with our changing times. Technology develops daily. Fashions sweep the board and wither away in weeks. But the basic rules of taking a brilliant photograph, designing a secret garden, maintaining a decent complexion and presenting your own image to the public world remain under one single word:


To produce an image that looks this good is the result of many pairs of extraordinary eyes using their individual expertise. I shall be 82 in October. This photograph is not of a beautiful woman, but of an author who works meticulously around the clock at everything she does, says and writes.

I’m wearing an old T-shirt and a pair of even older jeans, but turquoise is the colour I cannot live without. My special trainers are made by Vionic: without them I can barely walk an inch without screaming in agony. My daily diet and lifestyle were mapped out for me fourteen years ago by The Food Doctor, Ian Marber. Five very small but very regular protein-based meals every day,
no alcohol, chocolate in tiny quantities and keep mobile. Work with your body and listen to it.

The older you get, the more closely you must listen. Don’t bake your skin in the sun and only drink water if it’s been filtered or boiled. But drink it, every hour, on the hour, in small quantities.

Above all: don’t burn the candle at both ends and expect to live to tell your tale. Sleep matters.

My Undying Gratitude Goes To

Chris Challis Photographer, whose patient and visionary work makes the ordinary look luminous, who can see the shape and colours of the human being against the shades and nuances of landscape, and who can put them together to create an image that will survive the cruel test of time

Dominic Hare, Blenheim’s Chief Executive, under whose leadership the Palace and Estate in all its rainbow-faceted expansions is making a real difference to thousands of local inhabitants, who has brilliantly negotiated the pandemic, and who is planting more than trees for our children’s future

Heather Carter, outstanding Director of Operations at Blenheim Palace, for giving Chris and me the freedom to roam in Blenheim’s gardens, for being the first woman to hold this prestigious post, and for remaining slim, glamorous, sympathetic, practical and human under challenging conditions

Avtar Ghataura, for hopping into a Blenheim Buggy at a moment’s notice and chugging us around five miles of dampening pathways, waiting with never a hint of grumble while we danced in and out of the fields under a windy sky, hung on to gate posts, bridges and tree trunks, and generally disturbed the peace

All the Searcy’s Staff in The Orangery, that most beautiful of Palace Rooms, for giving us a much-needed lunch just as the rain began to show her colours, for cooking fish to perfection and inventing puddings that melt on the tongue and steady the heart for yet another day slaving over Chapter Six

All the Blenheim Gardeners who know exactly how much to cut and prune, and when to leave everything else alone, for handling complicated, noisy machinery with tact and discretion, and for somehow ensuring that, miraculously, there are no nasty pot-holes and the paths are always safe

Nevrus of Woodstock for cutting my hair, and Laura for disappearing into her cupboard and mixing secret brews to create colours of any and every description in the blink of an eye

Judy Bendall, brilliant and tireless Manager of Blenheim’s wonderful Shop, for my Hat and Scarf

Jaeger @ Marks & Spencer Online for my linen coat and Hermes who delivered it in person

Estée Lauder for their make-up, and getting it through the delivery lanes in spite of Brexit

L’Oreal Revitalift for feeding an elderly skin in exactly the right quantities

Simple Cleansing and Toning Lotions for doing exactly what it says on the bottles, and

Chanel for their Verde Pastello nail polish which dries in less than an impatient minute.

And Finally

To Team Mendes, without whom I should have disappeared to the seaside years ago:

Steve Cole, brilliant children’s science-fiction author, and my first and only real Editor

Paul Downes, Creative Director of GD Associates, website and cover designer

Andrew Chapman, Director of Preparetopublish, typesetter and publishing consultant

Colin Paice, Director of Paice Solutions, IT Consultancy and essential problem solver, and

Antonia Keaney, Blenheim Palace’s distinguished author, historian and video creator.