To hear the 14th Lord Fairfax tell it, the privileges of British aristocracy aren't all they used to be.
Especially in England, where he has no castle and lives in more modest surroundings in London. People call him "Nick."
Such impertinence, however, was not to be suffered in Fairfax County yesterday as the dapper 30-year-old baron toured his namesake, leaving high public officials and the common classes alike swooning over his accent, breezy wit and impressive credentials.
Such deference seemed to come easily to Northern Virginians in the presence of Lord Nicholas John Albert Fairfax of Cameron, a descendant of the county's founding family, as he made his first official visit to the area.
His lordship's tour comes 196 years after the Virginia authorities confiscated the family's landholdings, a blow from which Lord Fairfax said his family's fortunes have never fully recovered.
"That's all water under the bridge now," Lord Fairfax said, insistent that no hard feelings remain. Yesterday they didn't.
"Robert Redford wouldn't be this popular in Fairfax today," said Rosalie A. Small, director of the Fairfax County Bar Association, which sponsored a lunch for the baron with Fairfax County Circuit Court judges. "You can't help get excited about the aristocracy. We're all beside ourselves."
Lord Fairfax agreed that his title holds a certain magnetism to residents of the former colony. "I suppose it's only natural," he said. "I'm pleased to come visit my subjects."
Later, apparently fearful that his remarks could spark a new round of antiroyalist sentiment, His lordship recanted: "That was tongue-in-cheek. Don't you dare print that."
Lord Fairfax will be the guest of honor at the Fairfax County Fair this weekend. Yesterday's schedule included tours of the county courthouse and government center, a visit to George Mason University, a helicopter flight over the county, and an evening of opera at Wolf Trap Farm Park.
Even Northern Virginia's elected officials, who under other circumstances might be scornful of inherited position, lost all reserve before Lord Fairfax.
"It's a fairy tale kind of thing. It's the mystique, the charisma associated with royalty," said Sheriff M. Wayne Huggins. "I'm easily impressed by this type of thing. I'm a common-type person."
Chief Circuit Judge Barnard F. Jennings shared in the enthusiasm. "Growing up in Virginia we've always heard about Lord Fairfax," he said in welcoming remarks. "The family is almost as much a part of our history as George Washington."
Some people at the courthouse yesterday, however, said the adulation rubbed their democratic instincts the wrong way. "I really don't see what the big deal is," snipped one woman, insisting that she not be named, as Lord Fairfax made his rounds. "He looks like an ordinary person to me."
In person, however, Lord Fairfax, who is married and has a son, never failed to set hearts aflutter. "I'm trying to be blase but I just can't," said Small, as she posed for a picture with the overseas visitor.
Lord Fairfax's charisma had some politicians envious.
"I'm making sure that his return reservations are paid for," joked Fairfax County Board Chairman John F. Herrity, musing that Lord Fairfax might stay and run for office.
"Of course, I've been crowned myself quite a few times," by political opponents, said Herrity, who read Lord Fairfax an Irish prayer at an arrival ceremony Tuesday night.
Lord Fairfax, whose transatlantic flight was paid for by Pan American World Airways, expressed displeasure with only one aspect of his reception yesterday: the helicopter tour of Fairfax County.
"I really hate to fly in those things," said the grim-faced peer. "I'm trying to keep a British, stiff-upper lip about it.