“There must be hundreds of them!” screeched Tatiana as the ground started to rumble under the weight of the herd of enormous bison that was charging towards them. She took cover in the lee of a sprawling, ancient oak and started to silently pray that she would get out of this rewilding mini-break alive.
“No, just 30 or so I’d say. Aren’t they magnificent?” boomed her newish beau Hugo, completely oblivious to her quite obvious distress. As she started to feel faint Tatiana plunged her head between her knees and took in deep breaths, just like the time she’d passed out when she came across a 1996 Tom Ford for Gucci white jersey cut-out dress – in “as new” condition – at an antiques fair in Surrey. “Be strong, be strong,” she repeated over and over as she closed her eyes and begged for it all to be over.
Later on, back at the Romanian shepherd’s hut, after two stiff whiskies and the calming effects of a campfire, Tatiana began to rue the night she’d set eyes on Hugo four weeks ago at a fundraiser in London. It was her best friend Rosie who’d persuaded her to go out on that fateful night – Tatiana had never even heard of the Beluga Crisis Fund, but the implied promise of caviar and a beautifully embossed invitation bearing the words “Kensington Palace” were enough to get her attention in a quiet week in the middle of summer.
When the girls arrived at the party in sky-high heels and microscopic Alaïa, they couldn’t help but notice this was not their usual crowd, or quite the event they were expecting. Instead of a dance floor there were tedious speeches, and in lieu of a VIP area there was a life-size whale decorated with flowers. But among it all was Hugo, ruggedly handsome with a deep tan, looking like he’d just come back from a wild adventure. Which he really had.
“You’re an actual explorer?” Tatiana asked, trying – and failing – to sound casual. “What’s the most dangerous place you’ve been?” she added, certain that he wouldn’t be able to come up with anything more terrifying than when she was separated from her girlfriends on an ill-advised night out in Hackney. “I’ve just come back from trekking the Himalayas. And this autumn I’m walking across sub-Saharan Africa.” Tatiana didn’t even know where that was, but it sounded awfully exotic.
After a few dates, in which Tatiana had to embellish her cosseted Chelsea life with completely fictitious tales of rainforest zip-lining in New South Wales and paragliding in Ecuador, and gloss over her appalling grasp of geography, Hugo invited her to Romania for a long weekend of rewilded bison watching.
“A safari. Oh, what fun!” Tatiana thought as she began to channel Katharine Hepburn in The African Queen and made a note of key looks, including her new high-collared Valentino silk and lace blouse, her Céline khakis and her favourite pair of YSL oversized tortoiseshell shades.
A few days later, Hugo looked a little shocked when he saw her bulging Vuitton wheelie case as he came to collect her en route to Heathrow. “You might struggle with those wheels Tatiana,” he said, with what could have been mistaken for a tinge of annoyance. But six hours on, crammed into the back of an ancient Land Rover winding its way from Transylvania airport into the Carpathian Mountains, she began to wonder whether he was right.
The following night, as all the camp guests sat by the fire, Tatiana re-enacted the harrowing “stampede” situation in her mind. It was clear that she and Hugo were poles apart. But how on earth was she going to get out of this mess? Then James, another young Londoner, arrived downcast by her side. “Bad news, I’m afraid,” he started. “Millie’s finding this all a bit much. Today brought back some traumatic memories of the time she was trampled by two Shetlands at the Frome gymkhana. She’s going to head back first thing tomorrow.”
With an unusual moment of clarity, Tatiana seized her opportunity. “Oh, she can’t possibly travel back alone,” she asserted as she looked down at her crumpled, dirty Céline khakis. “I’ll take her. It’s the least I can do.”
“But you’ll miss the bareback herding trek. It’s the highlight of the week,” said James.
“I can come back another time,” said Tatiana, who was already mentally checking in for a decompressing weekend at Soho Farmhouse, where the only bullish beasts would be served up medium rare for supper.