Graydon Carter insists that he is not an Anglophile, but he does, he says, absolutely adore spending time in England. He loves the fact that you can still smoke in public places (unlike in New York, where he was fined recently for having an unused ashtray on his desk at the office). He loves, too, the way people drink at lunchtime. "I remember being invited to lunch with Steven Spielberg at Amblin [Spielberg's production company] and being asked what I wanted to drink," he recalls. "I said, what I'd really love is a martini, and they ended up having to send a van out to get the vodka."
It is 10 a.m. and we are sitting in a suite at the Dorchester where Mr. Carter, 55, the editor of Vanity Fair magazine, is staying while in London. Despite claiming that he "felt like Vivienne Westwood" when he woke up this morning, he looks as much the titan as ever in his navy blazer, Nantucket reds, and sweep of gray hair. A big man with a hint of paunch - "Do I go to the gym? Ha! I make cameo appearances" - he has a languid, expansive presence that is only slightly betrayed by his darting and defensive eyes.
Mr. Carter is in England to promote his book, "What We've Lost," which details what he sees as the failings of the Bush administration.
To readers of Vanity Fair, the book might seem a little like an elongated editor's letter - Mr. Carter has been using that slot in his magazine to bash President Bush on everything from health care to military spending. His detractors, who see his magazine as a repository for fawning articles on celebrities, say he is merely acting as a mouthpiece for his Bush-hating friends in Hollywood.
So is the book part of Mr. Carter's political agenda? Is he, as Toby Young (the journalist who was hired and fired spectacularly by Mr. Carter and who turned the experience into a book, "How to Lose Friends and Alienate People") recently theorized, planning to oust Mayor Bloomberg and bring back smoking to the city?
"Oh, God, that's the most asinine thing I ever heard," he says, wearily. "And Toby Young is just the most asinine person. Look, the book comes out of a passion to get Bush out of government. I'm no polemicist; in fact, I've always thought of myself as a pretty middle-of-the-road person when it comes to politics, but I do think there is a line, and that this administration has stepped over that line.
"We have got ourselves into an appalling mess. I mean, if you hire a security guard and you get a break-in, you fire the security guard, right? I've got a platform and I'm going to use it as best as I can."
Born in 1949, in a suburb of Ottawa, Canada, Edward Graydon Carter always dreamt of becoming a big shot. Though he has described both his parents as rather "Barbara Pym-ish, the sort of people who wore tartan jackets for cocktails," he paints a wonderfully anarchic portrait of his father, a pilot in the Royal Canadian Air Force, who died in 1991.
"There was this small movie theatre in Toronto, where they were courting back in the early '40s," he says. "One night, the movie hadn't quite started and, suddenly, my father farted. It was so loud - he was, like, the Toscanini of farting. So he stood up, turned to my mother and said, 'Oh, Margaret, how could you?' and started moving away from her. It was the cruelest, funniest thing. It was a miracle they ever got married."
After a series of jobs, including grave-digging, working as a lineman on the railroad, and stocking shelves at a department store - and also a brief marriage to a pretty French-Canadian museum worker - a 28-year-old Mr. Carter moved to New York in 1978. With not one useful contact, save "an uncle in Buffalo," he spent a month wandering the streets, scrabbling for change for the subway, and marveling at the skyscrapers. Eventually, he managed to get a job at Time magazine and got "invited to all these parties where nobody would talk to us, but where we could eat and drink for free".
Four years later, he met Cynthia Williamson, a legal assistant at a law firm, and, within three weeks, had proposed. They separated in the summer of 2000 when Cynthia and their children - Ash, Max, Spike, and Bronwen, to whom Mr. Carter has dedicated his book - moved to South Carolina, and were amicably divorced soon after.
His big break came in 1986 when he was invited to edit Spy magazine. He remembers with fondness one of the magazine's most popular stunts - mailing out 64-cent checks to the wealthiest people in New York to find out who would cash them. "To the people who did cash them, we then sent out checks for 32 cents. To the people who cashed those, we sent out checks for 16 cents. Two of the people who cashed those checks were Adnan Khashoggi and Donald Trump."
Things have changed. Indeed, Mr. Carter and "the short-fingered vulgarian," as Spy nicknamed Mr. Trump, are now on such friendly terms that the latter invited the former to his recent wedding.
"Oh, God, I can't even remember which wedding that was," protests Mr. Carter, with a dismissive wave of his Camel Light. "There were, like, 10 million other people there. I had no idea why I'd been invited. He tried to sue me a year or two before."
Mr. Carter has been accused of kowtowing to the people he used to send up so mercilessly, and for not being quite transparent enough. In May, the Los Angeles Times revealed that he was paid a "finder's fee" of $100,000 by Universal Pictures for suggesting that Sylvia Nasar's book, "A Beautiful Mind," the story of the troubled mathematician John Nash, be made into a film.
But he is not one to apologize. He once offended Robert Evans, the Hollywood producer whose life was chronicled in Mr. Carter's feature-length documentary, "The Kid Stays in the Picture." "I called him puffy and he didn't talk to me for two years," chuckles Mr. Carter.
As a waiter wheels in his breakfast - boiled eggs and a silver pot of coffee, a telephone rings. By the affectionate tone of his voice and the way he addresses the caller as "Sweets," one must assume this is Anna Byng Scott, 36, his British fiancee. He and Ms. Byng Scott, daughter of the Queen's former deputy private secretary, Sir Kenneth Scott, met several years ago when she worked in the PR department at Vanity Fair.
Mr. Carter insists that although he has plenty of glamorous friends, he lives a low-key existence, dining three nights a week at the same restaurant, a little place down the street from his townhouse in the West Village called San Ambroeus. He says that nobody ever knows who he is "except lunatics outside TV studios," that whenever he stands outside a hotel entrance, someone will inevitably hand him their car keys. "Something about my comportment, I know not what, says valet parker."
The man who, every Oscars night, throws the world's most glittering party, says he hates crowds and gets a sinking feeling every time his annual bash at Morton's rolls around.
"The fun is in the planning," he says. "Honestly, you should see the way they do it: They have this war room and Sarah Marks, the woman in charge of the crew - who, by the way, are all English - is like a field marshal. If I sent that crew out to Iraq, right now, I swear they could do a better job than the administration."
His hobbies are fishing, canoeing, and - according to one acquaintance - puppeteering. "Well, I used to buy these hand puppets for the kids when they were younger. I think if I tried bringing them home now they'd think I was John Wayne Gacy."
Although he loves New York, he and Ms. Byng Scott spend as much time as possible out at his beach house in Connecticut, where he likes to poke fun at water skiers. "It's the most vainglorious sport. The one sport in the world where you have to be watched by someone!"
Ms. Byng Scott, he says, is passionate about the environment, and has, he sweetly admits, fired him up on the issue. "I mean, I've always recycled fanatically," he murmurs, while trying to locate a spoon for his egg. "When the kids were young, we always got the cloth diapers as opposed to the disposable ones, but you could say my fiancee's involvement has made me much more concerned about things."
He says he wouldn't mind having more children, "although I guess that would mean I'd have to work nights, too," he says, a little nervously.
It is past my allotted time; there is a television crew pacing outside and a photographer is eager to take Mr. Carter's picture. Mr. Carter frowns slightly as he rolls down a white screen over the far window to use as a backdrop. "Wait a second, I don't know if I really like being photographed that way," he says. "Whenever they do that, I always end up looking like Barbara Bush, minus the silk shirt and pearls."
Obediently, the photographer agrees to shoot him in natural light, but Mr. Carter is still not entirely satisfied. "Nuh-uh," he says, with a warning smile. "I think you're trying to do that Barbara Bush thing again. I'm telling you, trust me on this one, I've been doing it a lot longer than you."