Minda Feliciano Lonsdale
Mark Nilo Odiaman
Minda Feliciano on Michael Caine, Tony Bennett, helping Roger Moore get James Bond role, Trump and Imelda
WILL SOON FLOURISH - Wilson Lee Flores (The Philippine Star) - February 16, 2020 - 12:00am

One of the most colorful jetsetters in the West is a Filipina of Kapampangan heritage, the 89-year-old Arminda “Minda” Feliciano Lonsdale. She’s been romantically linked to famous men like two-time Oscar-winning actor and British cultural icon Michael Caine, 19-Grammy and two-Emmy winner Tony Bennett, the late US politician Adlai Stevenson’s national presidential campaign manager Russell D. Hemenway (with whom she has a son, Brent Hemenway) and others.

Singer Elton John once played the piano on her 100-foot yacht called The Minda in the Mediterranean Sea, and her diverse celebrity friends included Liza Minnelli, Ringo Starr, Andy Williams, Elizabeth Taylor, Danny Kaye, Peter Sellers and Joan Collins.

Minda is the widow of the English nobleman and former boyfriend of Princess Margaret, the late Norman Lonsdale, who was a direct descendant of the Duke of Wellington (who defeated Napoleon Bonaparte in the Battle of Waterloo).

During her recent vacation in the Philippines, Minda granted the Philippine STAR an exclusive interview. She was accompanied by her friend, Gourmet Farms CEO Ernest L. Escaler, and her late husband’s former tennis coach, Argentinian Gustavo “Pancho” Giussani.

Excerpts:

Philippine Star: What are your health or youthfulness secrets? Any special diet,  foods that you avoid?

Minda Feliciano Lonsdale: I don’t do anything to make myself young, I just always think young. Don’t think old, I don’t notice the years. I eat everything, because I love all kinds of food. My friend, the late actor Danny Kaye, used to invite me to dinners that he cooked himself at his home in Beverly Hills. When we were in Hong Kong, he had a lot of wealthy Chinese friends and he’d bring me to the wet market where he would buy food and cook dishes like snakes.

How do you compare American guys to Europeans?

I think the more interesting ones are the Europeans, they have a different sense of humor from Americans, who are a little bit staid and not as interesting. Italians are fantastic.

Is Gustav your boyfriend?

No, he’s like my son. I’ve known Pancho since he was 22. He used to train my late husband and traveled with us on my yacht in the Mediterranean.

Of the many men romantically linked to you, who was the No. 1 love of your life?

(Laughs) It’s very hard to tell. My late husband Norman was my prince charming. He was the guy I was looking for all my life. He was a prince in every way, absolutely loved by all.

I read in a 2009 column by Richard Kay in the Daily Mail that before Norman met you, he was “the last of Princess Margaret’s lovers…But the romance ended when Norman met wealthy Filipina beauty Minda Feliciano in 1985.” Were Norman and Margaret engaged?

No, they weren’t really engaged. Princess Margaret became friendly with me in the end. Before, I told my husband, “Margaret’s your friend, if she invites you to functions, you don’t have to take me.” Once she invited us and my husband said, “As my wife, this time you have to go.” Before I left our home, I took three glasses of vodka on the rocks — my husband didn’t know that.

Whenever I met her on social occasions, I just shook her hand and never curtsied, but this time at her residence in Kensington Palace, I complimented her beautiful garden. She asked me what I wanted to drink, I replied, “Vodka on the rocks.” She ordered that drink and toured me through her gardens, explaining the names of various roses, how this was named after her great-grandmother and another after her grandmother, etc. We became friends for the first time.

You’ve lived in England for 48 years. What are your comments on Prince Harry and Meghan Markle?

I do sympathize with Meghan because when you’re with the royal family, you have to obey, do exactly what they say and observe protocol. Meghan is not used to all that. I can imagine that she feels alienated, especially since she’s an  outsider.

I saw your photo with Prince Charles, do you think he will ever be king?

I think Price Charles will be king and a good one.

Why have you attracted some of the most famous men in the West?

I anticipate their needs because I want to do it, I’m happy to do it for them. It comes naturally, maybe that’s the reason. I think they’re attracted not just to looks but the way I treat them. I take care of them very well, like cooking what they want. I’m a good cook because I’m Kapampangan.

What was your late husband’s favorite dish?

Ox tail, our kare-kare without bagoong. My version of kare-kare doesn’t need bagoong because of the way I cook it.

What about your former boyfriend Tony Bennett?

Tony was very easy to feed, he ate everything I cooked. He’s very kind and has a great sense of humor. I made pasta for him, Italian food, simple pasta with fresh tomatoes, garlic and anchovies.

A fellow Kapampangan woman who has become an international socialite like you is  Isabel Preysler Arrastía, and now with Nobel Prize-winning Peruvian writer and politician Mario Vargas Llosa. Your impressions of her?

I know her aunt, former Philippine Ambassador to the Vatican Mercy Arrastia Tuason; I’m close to Mercy’s sister Estrella Arrastia. I met Isabel when she was still very young, before she married Julio Iglesias. Isabel speaks languages well, she’s very beautiful and I heard she’s a very good hostess.

Another Filipina international socialite is Minnie Osmeña, your impressions of her?

Minnie knows me, she knows about me, but I don’t know her well. Before she became a jetsetter, I was already there. I really don’t know her that well.

What about the ultimate Filipina jetsetter before, former First Lady Imelda Romualdez Marcos, your impressions?

I know her. She’s close to my sister-in-law Becky Garcia, who was married to my late brother Ramon Feliciano. I’ve never had a chance to really talk to Imelda one-on-one, because when I’m with her, she’s always talking to everyone about all the wonderful things she’s done and all the important people she’s dealt with. She’s fascinating. I wish I could have a one-on-one conversation with her. I think Imelda is an elegant lady.

Is it true that you helped your good friend Roger Moore land the role of James Bond?

Yes, it started when I was then going out with Michael Caine and both of us would spend weekends with Cubby Broccoli at Harry Saltzman’s home, then we’d play poker. Cubby and his wife, Harry and his wife, Michael and I, we’d play cards and once Roger Moore’s name came up as a possible James Bond for film. But they said he was too connected to the British TV series The Saint and it was difficult to change his public image.

Once at a party I hosted, Roger’s Italian wife Luisa became close to me. It was at that party that Michael and Roger met for the first time, and we all got along very well. Then Luisa called, she asked if I could help have them invited to the Saltzman home for weekends, because we were there every weekend. I called Harry Saltzman’s wife Jackie, saying, “Can we invite Roger Moore and his wife Luisa over?” Jackie asked: “Are they nice?”

With that invitation, we all had lunch one weekend at the Saltzmans’ home. That was the beginning. They later became close friends. They worked very hard to get the James Bond role. Yes, I was responsible for him becoming James Bond.

[Writer’s note: Herschel “Harry” Saltzman and Albert “Cubby” R. Broccoli were co-producers of the James Bond movies, one of the longest continually running film series in history. Jackie was the nickname of Harry’s wife Jacqueline.]

How old were you when you were with Michael Caine? What was he like?

Michael is a wonderful man. I was 27, very young then. We always went out to eat. Due to my cooking, it was the first time he entertained in his house. Then he also bought a home in the country. Of course, we had a Filipina maid.

I heard your late husband Norman Lonsdale’s ancestor was the famous Duke of Wellington and that your 1997 wedding was held at the 12th-century church at Kingston Lisle in Oxfordshire, England.

Yes, his mother’s great-great-grandfather. Kingston Lisle had 4,000 acres of land with a stream full of fish, trouts. It was very, very beautiful. In that same old church was where we buried my late husband and that’s where I’m going to be buried, too.

Did you watch the recent movie Downton Abbey about a noble family’s country house in Yorkshire?

Yes, I saw that movie and it reminded me so much of Norman’s family. When I came into his life, he also had a butler. That used to be my husband’s world before.

How did you “take away” Princess Margaret’s boyfriend, your late husband Norman Lonsdale?

I didn’t know Norman and Princess Margaret were together the first time I met him. I had no idea who he was. We met in London at a friend’s house, the model Anoushka Hempel. She had earlier come to the south of France and wanted to buy the house of Greta Garbo, so she stayed on my boat. When I went to London, she hosted a party for me and Norman was there. We met, then I went to America. That was October 1982. We kept in touch.

When I came back in June, we met again at a party. The singer Andy Williams was also there and  I was sitting with Andy when Norman came looking for me. He invited me to dance and then all the paparazzi thought that I came to the party with him. That weekend, Princess Margaret had invited Norman to Windsor Castle, his father was sick so he had to go to their Kingston Lisle home, but the British newspapers thought it was because of me.

You have a son with your former boyfriend Russell Hemenway, how old were you both then? Why didn’t you marry him?

He was my first boyfriend, unfortunately we could not get married, because he was then separated from his wife but not divorced. Russell was 30 and I was 25. I fell in love with Russell, who was a well-known Democrat close to Gov. Adlai Stevenson. If Adlai had become US president, he would have been his chief of staff. Russell is an incredible man, he comes from a well-known family in Boston and he’s a descendant of one of the 102 passengers who arrived in America on the Mayflower ship in 1620.

How did you become romantically linked with the singer Tony Bennett?

I was with Tony Bennett at a time when he was famous but down in his career. He was working in Las Vegas but few people were watching him. I met him through the celebrity tailor Douglas Hayward, who brought Tony to my eight-bedroom house in Las Vegas beside a golf course. In 1981, we came to Manila together and we stayed at the Manila Hotel. I took care of Tony, then I went with him to Hong Kong, then to Tokyo for concerts where not many people watched. I felt so bad, even at Manila Hotel there were few people.

How did Tony Bennett’s family react to you?

When I went with him to their house in Beverly Hills, his children said to him, “Does your girlfriend have chopsticks in her hair?”

How troubled was Tony Bennett then and how did he recover?

Tony was stoned with marijuana in the morning, afternoon and evening; he was on pot all the time, he could never sing without it. When people said why could Frank Sinatra talk during his performances but Tony could not, it was because he was stoned. Tony would say: “I’m a singer, not a comedian.” Much later he eventually stopped. He was already married twice before. His wife was then trying to get money, he had to sell his house in Beverly Hills to give his wife money.

Have you ever met US President Donald Trump?

Yes, Trump and also his ex-wife Ivana, I met him in Palm Beach, Florida. He was very enterprising, a great conversationalist, very articulate and all the women were after him. He says it the way it is, very outspoken.

Lastly, what is your advice to women on how to be attractive to guys?

Feed them! (laughs) It’s true: The best way to a guy’s heart is through his stomach!

 

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Thanks for your feedback to willsoonflourish@gmail.com! Follow @wilsonleeflores on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook. Buy PhilSTAR’s Tagalog tabloid “Pilipino STAR Ngayon” every Friday and read my column “Kuwentong Panadero”. Read also https://investment.fwd.com.ph/experts/asia-s-business-leaders-and-what-we-can-learn-from-them

MINDA FELICIANO LONSDALE
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