Hugo Vickers, 44, is a leading expert on the Royal family. He has written biographies of Greta Garbo and Vivien Leigh, as well as of the Windsors. He lives with his wife between London and a Jacobean manor in Hampshire. Philip Hoare (real name Patrick Moore) had his own record label by the age of 22. He has written lives of Stephen Tennant and Noel Coward. Aged 37, he lives between a Shoreditch council flat and his mother's Southampton home

Richard Rosenfeld
Sunday 03 December 1995 00:02 GMT

HUGO VICKERS: I first met Philip in 1986, when he reviewed my Cecil Beaton book in Blitz magazine, a magazine with which I was not familiar. Afterwards, he wrote to me, asking whether he could see me about writing a book on Stephen Tennant.

My secretary opened the door, and I saw a man with bleached blond hair and earrings. I wasn't in the least taken aback, because all kinds of people come and see one. It was nice knowing that someone wanted to know what I had to say, for a change - that I was the source. Straight away, I liked his enthusiasm. I told him not to waste a day reading about Stephen, who was very old: people don't last forever.

The next time I saw Philip, I was having my portrait painted in my flat. I was sitting down, and he came in and was running round the room playing us his tape of Stephen. Like any journalist who's got his story, he was ex-cited. I thought: here's someone who's going to be a good person to write a book on Stephen. The difference between us is that in my books I'm a great believer in presenting the facts without intervening too much. Philip likes his subtext - I'm not into that.

We come from different worlds. I went round to his flat once. He lives in a sort of council block; the lift, I think, had been been used for other purposes - graffiti, that kind of thing - but behind his door is your average council flat adorned with Stephen Tennant memorabilia. It was extraordinary.

Philip wears unconventional clothes: Paul Smith suits with black polo necks. He's told me about "surfing the net" and acid house parties. Living in the country, all these things pass me by; they're not my scene. I don't like drugs and parties with plastic cups and miscellaneous drinks. But Philip dips in and out of all sorts of worlds. I've met his friends - trendy rock people - and I once had a very good time talking to Neil Tennant of the Pet Shop Boys.

Sheridan Morley once said the NHS could never afford the service that we biographers provide for our sources, who are often elderly. We go round and hang their pictures and listen to them reading their poems before they finally get round to answering our questions. At times, biographers such as Philip and I have to deal with sources who waste our time, who turn out to have nothing to say about the person. Like the rest of us, Philip can get angry, but usually he's patient and charming with them; he gets the story.

Although Philip is always saying how beautiful my house in the country is, he wouldn't relish my lifestyle. He wouldn't like the administration that goes with looking after a country home.

Philip will certainly be very successful, though; he's always able to bounce into some newspaper office, giving them terrific ideas - he's very good at getting people on his side. He's also braver than me. Everyone says he's my disciple - but when I needed to speak to Marlene Dietrich about a biography, I didn't have the courage, so I gave him the number and asked him to do it. He's got a wonderful tape of her biting his head off. She started off pretending to be the maid, saying "Keep away", and then pretending to be someone else, saying: "Would you mind telling me exactly who's calling?" Even Philip gave up at that point.

Now that all my family have died, who do you ring when you come home from somewhere, telling them everything that's happened? For me, one of those people is Philip. The thing is, he understands. He gets the point. I really enjoy his company.

PHILIP HOARE: I met Hugo nine years ago - I knew he'd be very "nobby". I'd become interested in this outrageous Twenties eccentric called Stephen Tennant. I wanted to write about him. And I wanted to meet Hugo, who'd met him.

I went round to Hugo's very genteel flat in Kensington. I was very cheeky: I had four earrings and blond peroxide hair. Hugo opened the door; he's incredibly soft-spoken, and he was wearing spectacles and Burlington Arcade- type clothes. I didn't consciously set out to woo him, but I did. For me, he was an entree into that world; like something out of a Nancy Mitford novel.

We've got totally different lifestyles. Hugo lives in a magnificent house in the country, which has about 170 acres of these wonderful manicured gardens, and a moat and a wood. He loves Mrs Thatcher, and he is known to the royals. I live on the 9th floor of a council block in Shoreditch, on the edge of a criminally poor area; my lift is usually stained with urine.

We get on extremely well. We might speak three times a day. He's very traditional and proper, very retentive, very Eton. Nobody knows about his emotional life. Everyone assumes he doesn't have one, but he does. He's been as active as anyone. Women really go for him, because of that little-boyness and softness. Women's eyes watch him. You can see it; they want to see inside. Then, suddenly, his wife Liz appeared on the scene. I thought, I can't be that good a friend, because I hadn't heard anything about it, but at the wedding, his cousins said: "When did you hear?" It turned out they'd been more in the dark than me.

I've only seen Hugo be nervous once, and cry once. The first was at a launch party at the Ritz. Ex-prime ministers were there, as well as loads of titles. Then Hugo made a very grand entrance with Liz, who was wearing Chanel. It was the first time I'd seen him bring a girlfriend into society, and make an obvious statement. Later, at their wedding in Bordeaux, he cried late in the evening, when everyone was making their speeches. There were tears on his face; he couldn't face the fact that everyone really loves him.

I'm always being called "sub-Hugo Vickers", or the "Hugo Vickers with earrings", and I am, kind of. Except that I'd put more sex in his books, and he cuts it out of mine. Whenever I went on about Noel Coward's homosexuality, Hugo would draw a face in the margin being sick.

We don't talk about our private lives. I don't, because he's the elder, and he kind of sets the tone, and with me he simply doesn't. He thinks I'm decadent, mixing with transvestites and taking drugs (which is largely untrue). He loves it when I tell him about deviancy, a world he knows nothing about.

Hugo taught me everything. He encouraged me to write the Stephen Tennant book, and spent two or three months editing it. He taught me about how to follow up the minor characters, the ones who give a book a lift; especially the ones who've never been consulted before - who are the ones who'll give you a new story or angle. He put me in touch with Christopher Sinclair- Stevenson, my publisher, and my agent, Gillon Aitken, who is an incredibly grand man, and who thought I was an absolute barrow boy.

Hugo loves Blind Date and breakfast TV, and he reads the Times and the Telegraph. He has recently had a bad time; he lost both his parents and two very close aunts. The most eccentric thing about him is that he's always on guard, always aware of tradition and manners, the right way of doing things. But he's also one of the kindest people. You'd think I would find it awkward at his home in the country, but he isn't at all pretentious. He doesn't play on his background. !

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