By Michael Aushenker
Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York — better known as “Fergie” this side of the pond — brought a bit of royalty to Santa Monica last Friday as keynote speaker for the British-American Business Council of Los Angeles’ 54th annual holiday luncheon at the Fairmont Miramar.
A transatlantic business organization with nearly 4,000 member companies in 25 major cities throughout North America and the U.K., the British-American Business Council (BABC) fits in well with the landscape of Santa Monica.
The beachside town is home to a cluster of British-themed businesses and a hub for British ex-pats in Southern California, creating a unique synergy between the two cultures, said Paul Wright, president of the Los Angeles-area branch.
“That’s really what the BABC is all about — creating synergies across the pond, promoting friendship and commerce between the two countries,” said Wright.
Helping prove the point, the event drew some 500 local and international business leaders and a few celebrities, including actress Viveka A. Fox as well as KISS bassist Gene Simmons and wife Shannon Tweed.
The program commenced with British Consul General in Los Angeles Chris O’Connor raising a toast to President Obama and Wright toasting Queen Elizabeth II. Television news anchor Carlos Amezcua emceed the event, which also featured BBC chat show host Patrick Kielty and songstress Quinn Archer.
Ferguson took the podium at the Fairmont Miramar ballroom after a dessert call of “Bring on the pudding!”
“I’ve never had an introduction like that before,” quipped Ferguson, who went on to speak of encounters with Nelson Mandela — the subject of a video tribute during the event — and her love for America.
Borrowing lyrics from Archer’s song “Walk Through Fire,” Ferguson also alluded to overcoming past peccadilloes, including a cash for royal access scandal, financial problems and trouble with the Turkish government over covert filming of an orphanage in Turkey.
“My marriage really did change me from a redhead to a princess all in one night,” said Ferguson, adding that she has reconciled with ex-husband Prince Andrew, Duke of York, and that the two are now cohabitating again.
Geoffrey Evans, a native of England who operates the Santa Monica travel agency Geoffrey’s Tours and Cruises, chalked up the British infatuation with the city to its beaches and warm weather.
That, and “We have a lot in common with the people and the pubs here,” he said.
British pubs in Santa Monica include Ye Olde King’s Head and Britannia Pub, both on Santa Monica Boulevard, and Cock ‘n’ Bull Pub on Lincoln Boulevard.
“There’s a lot of life here,” added Gary Miller, an English musician and record producer who has worked with Elton John, David Bowie and George Michael. “You don’t often get that in America, and [some places] you can’t even get draft beer.”
But not all British-American business ventures can be measured by the pint.
Wright said the Century City group, once based in Santa Monica, is “energized and growing” as California gradually emerges from the recession.
The council, he said, plans to deliver on the promise of 2011’s Variety New Media Venture Capital Summit (which included the visiting Duke and Duchess of Cambridge) with both a manufacturing conference and an angel investment conference pairing Silicon Beach players with those in their East London equivalent, “Tech City.”
“Hopefully, they’ll appreciate the vitamin D,” quipped Fox of sun-deprived visitors from across the Atlantic.
“It’s a beautiful thing that we are all mingling,” Fox said. “If they bring a bit of royalty to Santa Monica, why not?”