Reviewed: A Prince Among the Stones by Prince Rupert Loewenstein

His satanic Majesty: the man who managed the Rolling Stones' money.

A Prince Among the Stones: That Business with the Rolling Stones and Other Adventures
Prince Rupert Loewenstein
Bloomsbury, 272pp, £20

One of the best things about being in the Rolling Stones was that you got to go out with posh girls. Marianne Faithfull had roots in the Habsburg dynasty. Anita Pallenberg was the daughter of an artist in Rome and spoke four languages. “The younger members of the aristocracy discovered a new career by dropping out,” writes Prince Rupert Loewenstein.

The 25-year-old Mick Jagger, concerned that the Stones still weren’t seeing a decent profit from their music in 1968, decided to get a member of the Establishment to manage his money. He chose a 35-year-old banker descended from Bavarian aristocrats, whose ancestors had been involved in repelling the Huns. Prince Rupert had never heard of the Rolling Stones: he devotes the epilogue of his book to exploring why, to this day, he doesn’t like their music. “It is comfort food . . . But it moves millions. Why?”

This is one of the funniest rock books I’ve read, fuelled, in the way only an aristocrat’s memoir could be, by a sense of cheery entitlement and the random pursuit of amusement for its own sake. “I found shopping for New York lawyers to be hilarious,” he recalls. Getting the band out of their contract with the slippery Alan Klein (whose clients included the Beatles) is likened to a game of chess.

Under Loewenstein’s care, the Stones became the most profitable rock act in the world. He was quite literally responsible for their “exile” (as in Exile on Main St): he got them out of the UK and into the Villa Nellcôte in the south of France, paying a negotiated income tax to the Alpes-Maritimes authorities. Everything you have come to associate with the “rock aristocracy” – the suits of armour, the Tatler society pages and compulsive gift-aiding – it all starts here.

The prince got into banking in the first place because his family had lost all its money. In one of the engrossing passages about his childhood, he describes his mother disposing of an emerald necklace out of the window; when he is 14, she sends him off to sell a Balthus painting for £40 and spends the money on lunch. Faced with any display of rock-star excess, he’d seen much worse at home.

Characters from the new and old worlds collide with farcical consequences. Loewenstein uses a lot of deadpan reported speech: one of the finest society ladies of New Orleans leaves a Stones concert after half an hour, saying, “They are five ugly and pointless young men and I loathe their music.”

Loewenstein may share her feelings on the band’s output but manifests a strong affection for the individuals. He is “Mick’s man” but remarks, “Keith is, in a way, the most intelligent mind . . . His aura to me was that of a generation of circus folk . . . entertainers but also with something of the pilgrim.” Of the relationship between the pair, he makes the kind of psychological observations rock journalists never quite understand: their rifts amount to “a form of divorce, enormously complicated by being between two men each fighting to prove his sexual dominance”. Relations generally worsen, he observes, when Mick and Keith are not playing enough music together. When they turn up drunk to a near-disastrous meeting with CBS, he notes that at least they’re “enjoying that old antiauthority, band of brothers spark again”.

Loewenstein’s greatest impact on the Stones can be seen in the 1970s and beyond, when he transformed their tours into highly profitable juggernauts. He cleaned up mercilessly on complimentary tickets, scalpers and corrupt promoters, audited the cost of their entourage to the last penny and developed a precise hierarchy backstage to cut down on freeloaders – it was “just like a court: rivals, whispering, grades of status granting access, with others being used to fetch and carry”. He copyrighted their tongue logo, licensed “Satisfaction” for a Snickers ad and “Start Me Up” to Microsoft Windows; and the Stones became the first band to have an entire tour sponsored by one company (General Electric). He claims that, if he met with resistance from them, he’d reply, “What do you care? You’re selling a business product.”

The prince parted ways with the band in 2008, when they rejected his plans for a “takeover” of the Rolling Stones by an unnamed organisation “on the fringes of the entertainment industry”. The proposed deal would have brought them a big pile of cash and allowed them, as Loewenstein puts it, “to come into harbour”: now 75, he was worried about their future – Keith had fallen off a palm tree, then a ladder, while Mick, his insurer advised him, “ought to be put on the Pavarotti pile” (ie, only covered for three performances at a time). After 40 years of saying “yes”, the Stones said “no” to Loewenstein’s proposal – perhaps simply because he was imagining the day when they’d have to stop.

The Rolling Stones in London in 1964. Photograph: Getty Images

Kate Mossman is the New Statesman's arts editor and pop critic.

This article first appeared in the 04 February 2013 issue of the New Statesman, The Intervention Trap

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Cake or Death: why The Great British Bake Off is the best thing on television

Those who are complaining that the show has “caved in to political correctness” have missed the point.

The Cake is a Lie. That’s what viewers of the Great British Bake Off, now in its fifth season, are complaining about in the run-up to this week’s final. Out of thousands of amateur bakers who applied, three have made it through the gruelling rounds of Mary Berry’s disapproving pucker and faced down blue-eyed Cake Fascist Paul Hollywood’s demands without a single underbaked layer or soggy bottom in sight - and two of them aren’t white. The subsequent crypto-racist whining from PC-gone-madattrons in the press - one paper suggested that perhaps poor Flora, who was sent home last week, should have baked a "chocolate mosque" - runs against the whole spirit of Bake Off.

The charge is that the competition is not merit-based, and the entire basis for this complaint seems to be that two out of the finalists are of Asian origin - which makes total sense, because everyone knows that white people are better than everyone else at everything, including baking, so obviously it’s political correctness gone mad. The fact that last week Nadiya Hussain, a homemaker from Luton who happens to wear a hijab, baked an entire fucking peacock out of chocolate biscuits had nothing to do with it.

For those of you who mysteriously have better things to do with your time than watch 12 British people prat about in a tent, let me tell you why all of this matters. The best way to explain what's so great about The Great British Bake Off is to compare it to how they do these things across the pond. In America, they have a show called Cupcake Wars, which I gamely tuned into last year whilst living abroad and missing my fix of Sue Perkins getting overexcited about Tart Week. 

Big mistake. Cupcake Wars is nothing at all like Bake Off. Cupcake Wars is a post-Fordian nightmare of overproduction and backstabbing filmed under pounding lights to a sugary version of the Jaws soundtrack. Contestants mutter and scheme over giant vats of violent orange frosting about how they're going to destroy the competition, and they all need the prize money because without it their small cupcake businesses might fold and their children will probably be fed to Donald Trump. Every week a different celebrity guest picks one winner to produce a thousand cupcakes - a thousand cupcakes! - for some fancy party or other, and it’s all just excessive and cutthroat and cruel. Cupcake Wars is Cake Or Death.

Bake Off is quite different. Bake Off is not about the money, or even really about the winning. Bake Off is a magical world of bunting and scones and dapper lesbian comedians making ridiculous puns about buns and gentle, worried people getting in a flap about pastry. There are very few hysterics. Legend has it that if anybody has a real breakdown in the middle of a signature bake, presenters Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins stand next to them repeating brand names and swear-words so the cameramen can’t use the footage, and don’t you dare disabuse me of that fact, because I want it to be true. The prize money, in a desperately British way, is almost never mentioned, nobody tries to sabotage anyone else’s puff pastry, and at the end whoever has to leave gives a brave little interview about how it’s a shame but they tried their best and they were just happy to be there and they’re definitely going to do some more baking almost as soon as they get home. 

Bake Off is the theatre of the humdrum, where fussy, nervous people get to be heroes, making macarons as the seas rise and the planet boils and the leaders of the world don't care that they've left the oven on. I’m always a little bit frightened by people who can bake, because I can’t even make a muffin out of a packet, although one danger of watching too much Bake Off is that you become convinced you ought to give it another try, and I apologise to my housemates for making them eat my savoury vegan chilli-chocolate cookies (don’t ask). They say that if you can bake a cake, you can make a bomb, and by that logic I should definitely be kept away from the explosives when the zombie revolution comes- but the Bake Off contestants are probably the sort of people who will be Britain’s last line of defence, quietly constructing landmines and apologising that the stitching on the flag of insurrection isn’t quite perfect. People with this specific and terrifying personality type are that are precisely the reason Britain once had an empire, as well as the reason we’re now rather embarrassed about it. 

For now, though, Bake Off is a gentle human drama about all the best bits of Britishness- and diversity is part of that. In fact, this isn’t even the first time that two out of three finalists have not been white - that was two years ago. But something seems to have changed in British society at large, such that the same scenario is now more enraging to the kind of people who get their jollies from spoiling everything lovely and gentle in this world with casual bigotry - they know who they are, and may their Victoria sponges never rise and all their flatbreads turn out disappointingly chewy.

Britain is getting harder and meaner, and even Bake Off is not immune. In the first season, it was more than enough to bake a half decent brioche. This season an affable fireman got sent home because the grass on his miniature edible Victorian tennis court was not the right shade of green, and I’m not even joking. In one of the challenges the bakers had to produce an arcane french dessert that looked like the turds of a robot angel, and most of them actually managed it. The music is getting more dramatic, the close-up shots of flaky chocolate pastry and oozing pie-lids more reminiscent of 1970s pornography. It’s all a bit much.

The human drama, though, is as perfectly baked as ever. Lovely Flora, the baby of the bunch who missed out on a spot in the final because her chocolate carousel centrepiece was slightly wonky, was actually one of my favourites because she's so deliciously millennial, with her pussy-bow collars and obsessive, Type-A attention to detail. Paul the Prison Officer was a delight, mainly because he looked so much like Paul Hollywood- cue six weeks of two enormous men called Paul having bro-offs over bread, nodding and trading gruff, dudely handshakes over the specific crunchiness of biscotti. One week, Prison Officer Paul produced a giant dough sculpture of a lion's head and Judge Paul gave him a special prize and then they probably went off into a gingerbread sweat lodge together and it was the manliest moment ever in Bake Off history.

This is what Bake Off is about, and that’s why the people who are complaining that something other than merit might have been involved in selecting the finalists have missed the point entirely. The point of Bake Off is not to determine the best amateur baker in the land. That's just the excuse for Bake Off. Even the gentlest TV show needs a vague narrative structure, and otherwise there'd be no tension when someone's blancmange collapses in a heap of eggy foam and broken dreams. But in the end, when all's said and done, it's just cake. If your ornamental biscuit windmill has a soggy bottom, well, nobody died, and you can probably still eat the pieces on your way home to have a cup of tea and a little cry. 

That's the point of Bake Off. None of it really matters, and yet it consistently made me smile during a long, weary summer of geopolitical doomwrangling when absolutely everything else on television was unremitting misery. I hope Nadiya wins, because she’s an adorable dork and I love her and she gets so worried about everything and I want nothing remotely distressing to happen to her, ever; I expect Tamal Ray, the gay doctor whose meat pie had me drooling, is the best baker overall, but I can’t be objective there, because I keep getting distracted by his lovely smile. Ian Cumming, the last white person in the tent (apart from both of the presenters and both of the judges) is a little bit dull, which is a problem, because of all the delicious treats produced on the show, Ian's are the ones I would probably eat the most. I want his tarragon cheesecake in my face immediately. I would just rather have a conversation with Nadiya while I'm doing it.

But at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter! And that’s the utter, unremitting joy of Bake Off. It’s possibly the last show on earth where in the end, it doesn’t matter who wins, as long as everyone gave it their best shot and had a laugh over a disastrous scrambled-egg chocolate tart or two, because ultimately, it’s just cake. And that’s marvellous. Now let’s all have a nice fat slice of perspective and calm down.


Now listen to a discussion of the Bake Off on the NS pop culture podcast:

Laurie Penny is a contributing editor to the New Statesman. She is the author of five books, most recently Unspeakable Things.