Updated: Jun 16, 2022
They say luck favors the prepared. I would add: ‘kindness favors the grateful.’
Here’s my story - it is a long and detailed story - of meeting the delightful India Hicks recently and receiving a kind and witty shout-out on her Instagram story. Grab a cup of tea, maybe a scone, and settle in…
I bought a ticket to a fundraiser for MoCA, the Museum of Contemporary Art, a new museum here in Westport, Connecticut.
The fundraiser centered around a member of the British royal family – India Hicks. When I first saw this advertised, I did not know who she was, so I did a bit of research. I watched bits of an interview with her and read a few snippets of her history. I realized she’s a bit of a rebel, she had been a tomboy as a kid, and was a mother (to five!) and a businesswoman with a wicked sense of humor.
I liked her. I bought a ticket. And I prepared a gift basket of my stationery for her.
I enjoyed the appetizers, sipped a banana daquari and a rosemary lemon drink, and looked at the show on the walls about Punk Rock. MoCA is a gem in our town! I set my gift basket on a chair in the front row. As I thought about how the evening would unfold, I thought perhaps the museum hosts would escort India away from the talk and I would not have a chance to present my basket to her, so I brought it to a staff member and asked them to bring it to her green room, which they did.
I sat in the front row with an empty chair on either side of me, which felt like a second-grader’s missing teeth, so I asked the two women chatting amiably next to me if I could move to sit by them.I told them my goal was to free up a pair of chairs next to each other which would then be more likely to be filled. They said yes. They were two friends from Wilton who met through their youngest children ten years ago and became fast friends. Both are huge fans of India. ‘I’m such a fangirl right now!’ said one.
India was introduced and interviewed by DJ Carey, Editorial Director of Connecticut Cottages and Gardens Magazine.
India was wearing an ivory dress with a V-neck, a bow right above her waist, delicate gold jewelry, and high-heeled shoes with clear plastic straps. She struck me as athletic, elegant, and a bit restless.
Her cheekbones and her eyes caught my attention. India has an alert intelligence and a quick wit that bring her audience in yet also creates a bemused distance. Very British.
DJ began by asking questions about India’s family, particularly her father, who was a known interior designer. India quickly established that she felt her father was a genius designer and a very difficult dad. This candor made me lean in for more since, obviously, I respect vulnerability.
DJ asked India to choose, of the different places she has lived, what was her favorite room? India mentioned a Wedgewood room in her extended family’s home. She said the place is managed now by the National Trust but it really was a treat as a young girl to know it as simply a place to have tea.
She described her father’s design genius – there is a swimming pool painted entirely black, for example. He was known for bold choices.
DJ asked about her place in London. There is an American-style kitchen. India told a story about how her family simply doesn’t use kitchens. Her father redesigned a flat years ago. When her mother, who had seen the ‘before’ arrived for the reveal, she said, “How did you make it so large? I don’t remember it being so large!” Her father had eliminated the kitchen entirely! In fact, there was just a spot in a cabinet for a kettle – above a sculpture from the British Museum…
DJ mentioned India was a bridesmaid for Diana in her wedding. India told us her godfather, Prince Charles, included her because he always looks out for her, as he does for all his godchildren. India had gorgeous long hair at that age, but just three weeks before the wedding she chopped it all off and had what she referred to as ‘a hideous mop’ in the wedding pictures.
India met her now-husband at a young age and they wound up choosing the Bahamas as their home base, which has added genuine adventure to their lives. It’s a tiny island – three miles long and ¾ of a mile wide. They’ve gone through hurricanes, they lose power often, and Covid was one of the most isolating experiences of her life due to that remote location.
She mentioned a brilliant cook who works for her family whom they affectionately refer to as Top Banana. Early on she was asked to make a chocolate souffle as part of a meal to please a guest. The cook did not realize it was ‘a pudding – what you call dessert’ and brought it out proudly, right at the start of the meal. Everyone had to start dinner with chocolate souffle since you simply must eat it immediately.
India told another story about preparing to host the King of Spain, who is a close relative on her mother’s side, on a Tuesday. India invited a couple friends, and Top Banana prepared fish. The evening wore late, and the King did not show, so India called him. “I’m looking forward to next Tuesday’s dinner,’ he said. They had somehow messed up the dates! Fish cannot be held, so the dinner continued.
When asked by DJ who she would most enjoy inviting to a dinner party, India thought for a bit and said, ‘My grandmother. She had the most remarkable life. She was quite a beauty, and had many interesting lovers.’ I could feel the eyebrows raised all around me. ‘Truly, fascinating lovers. The premier of India was one – she insists it was platonic – but it made things difficult for my grandfather because he was trying to separate Britain from India at that time. Then the war came and my grandmother had a complete transformation. She went to Japan after the surrender because there were prisoner of war camps deep in the forest who did not yet hear the news the war was over. She dedicated her life to service from that point on. In fact, she died at 59 from hard work in Borneo. I would love nothing more than to have dinner with my grandmother, to finally meet her, and hear her stories. She was a remarkable, brave, heroic woman.’
I loved that answer.
I leaned in even more.
Then DJ asked what dinner companion she had found most memorable. India said, ‘These are tough questions! I wasn’t sent these in advance, you know, which is not fair…’ She thought a bit and said, “Mick Jagger. Mick was fun…’ with a knowing look.
Any time her five children came up, she tossed aside remarks referring to them as ‘impossible! I’m giving them away! Monsters!’ She told the story of adopting the 12-year-old son of a waitress on the island she’d known for years who died of breast cancer. At first, the boy was just staying with the family because he’d grown up with her kids. Her husband said, “It’s just for a few months, right?” Right, nodded India. ‘Now he’s our adopted son…’ she shared.
I loved that answer.
My heart leaned in completely.
India’s next stop on her journey after being here in America will be visiting Poland and Ukraine, as part of her philanthropic work.
She had mentioned earlier a business she’d run for six years. It broke her heart when the business ultimately failed (or was bought out? I don’t remember what she said.) She mentioned she’d had 6,000 associates working with her in the US. What was the nature of that business? I’ll look into that…
As a new businesswoman myself, to hear a royal have regrets about the ending of her own business made me perk up. If a person with such astonishing connections had struggles, it’s something for me to have on my radar, too.
There was a decorated table in the midst of the audience there at MoCA, put together by Bespoke Design here in Westport with virtual collaboration by India. DJ pointed to it and asked India to walk her through the design choices she had made.
“Oh dear, this is the first I’m seeing it, I’m afraid. It’s a lovely table! Whoever put it together is brilliant!”
As they talked a bit more, and the woman from Bespoke stood up, India did remember selecting the bird-themed plates. But she also said, “Tapered candles were a ‘no’ for my father. But they look bold and wonderful here. He also would not like the way the napkins are rolled – but I think it looks like a delightful table.”
She does speak her mind and is very forthright!
While it was refreshing for us as an audience, I bet it was a bit of an awkward moment for the Bespoke woman and DJ…
India mentioned being in Ireland with her grandfather when his boat was blown up by the IRA. At age 12, she had never heard of political assassination before. “That ended the holiday immediately,” she put wryly. I suddenly remembered watching that bit in The Crown, and I was struck by India’s proximity to major historical people and events.
There is a nearby Bahamian island where her father had built a home based on an Egyptian mausoleum, of all things. “My parents had gone to Egypt on their honeymoon – but right at that same time he had contracted shingles. The doctor told him absolutely no exercise or exertion of any kind. You can imagine what that did to a honeymoon. He became obsessed with Egyptian architecture and design and created this house.” She rolled her eyes a bit. “It’s quite something. It’s got a flat roof, which, if you know anything about island weather, is a terrible idea. It rains quite a bit, you see, and the water collects on the roof – not good.”
Early on, India mentioned that she’s been dyslexic her whole life. Her spelling is atrocious, but she absolutely loves to write, and is grateful for her editors. She said her schooling was a tough and dreary school in Scotland where Prince Charles and Prince Philip had also attended. ‘You learn to survive and be tough, but it was certainly not an academic school, and I feel woefully less educated. But I loved that school!’
Now I began to understand her tough, tomboy character. She has run marathons. And she’s got a fiercely independent spirit.
DJ asked her about planning seating for guests. She replied, ‘In India, Gandhi tried to break with the tradition of carefully seating everyone according to hierarchy. It was understood that the most prestigious would be seated to the right of the prime minister. But he wanted people to mix a bit. Unfortunately, it was a complete disaster. People felt so insulted! Also – there are so many dialects in India that people seated couldn’t talk to each other. They quickly went back to the hierarchy system.”
“At my own tables, I do try to put people where they will be comfortable, but also allow for some variety. By pudding, we should have had a chance to talk to a few different people.”
DJ mentioned the large leather-trimmed bag that India had brought to the stage. India has partnered with Tusting leather design company to create an original line. She chose denim as the base fabric, and mentioned these are limited edition with excellent craftsmanship. The company has been in the same family for four generations. Unfortunately for that evening’s guests, the shipment that was supposed to have arrived specifically for them had been re-directed to England.
Well, the interview ended. I felt the time had flown by, I was so engaged!
People were mingling, and I headed over toward the exit. I noticed India had seated herself by a table with books on it, so I came by and introduced myself. “I’m the person who gave you the basket of stationery that I make.” She agreed to a selfie and I was quite content with a wonderful evening.
A couple days later, I got a message on Instagram - from India Hicks!
I was surprised and elated!
Her sweet dog, Stretch, is in a photo with his paw on one of my Vivid Cottage greeting cards.
It was such a fun and witty shout-out - I felt appreciated and special.
Above all, I felt grateful.
Now do you see why I like the mantra ‘Kindness favors the grateful’?
Thank you, India, for being witty, smart, savvy, stylish, full of unexpected stories, and for your generous heart.