In 1923, during the West End run of his musical revue London Calling, the 24 year-old Noël Coward encountered another young man, who was to play a significant role in his life. With sexual relations between men remaining a criminal offence in Britain, until 1967, the truth about their relationship could never become public knowledge in either of their lifetimes. The dashing fellow who had caught Coward’s eye was none other than His Royal Highness Prince George, the fourth son of the reigning monarch, King George V.
A voracious bisexual who dabbled in the use of both cocaine and morphine, the Prince was instantly drawn to the urbane playwright, who had already made a name for himself through such credits as The Better Half and The Queen Was in the Parlour. They began a clandestine affair, one which resumed intermittently over the two decades which followed their first meeting.
While Prince George maintained a career in the Royal Navy until 1929, Coward became an international celebrity, his popular songs and light-hearted comic plays like Hay Fever and Easy Virtue, as well as more serious works such as The Vortex, which touched upon the taboo subjects of drug-use and repressed homosexuality, earning him the title ‘The Master,’ from his many adoring fans. At the same time, both men continued to have other lovers.
Coward was linked to several young actors including Louis Hayward and Alan Webb, and Prince George to numerous women including the cabaret star Florence Mills, who died of tuberculosis in 1927 at the age of 32, banking heiress Poppy Baring, and American socialite Kiki Preston, the latter such a heavy drug user that that she was dubbed the ‘girl with the silver syringe.’ Rumours abounded that the prince also fathered an illegitimate son with the daughter of a Canadian coal-merchant. By 1932, Prince George’s indiscretions had caught up with him, forcing his elder brother the Prince of Wales to deal with a blackmail plot hatched against his sibling, by a French architect with whom he was engaged in an affair. Continue reading