The Queen’s Ice Club in Bayswater, London, was a fabulous place to work for Ron Barnett in the 1950s.
“I was very exclusive, with crystal chandelier lighting, the real McCoy,” Barnett said. “I made 14 shillings (25 cents) per lesson, and I had to give 40 percent of that to the rink. But it was an honor to be there.”
Barnett, 88, is a lifelong ice-skating coach who retired fully from the business in Sun Valley eight years ago. He and his wife, Julie Barnett, 64, skated in the Sun Valley On Ice shows years ago.
Julie switched to ski instructing 15 years ago, logging hundreds of hours of lessons on the slopes last year.
“I am bachelor in the winter now,” Barnett said. “I don’t have good knees, but I wake up early and make sure Julie’s windshield is scraped and the car warmed up before she goes off to work.”
During the blitz of World War II, Barnett took his pillow from his bed and went to sleep underground in London with the other families, to hide from German bombs.
“In the morning, we would go outside to see which homes were still standing,” Barnett said.
Barnett learned to play the clarinet before shipping out for compulsory military duty at Tell El Kabir, a remote post in Egypt. He and a friend named Kenny Ball (who would become a famous English jazz man) were given the task of arranging entertainment for the soldiers.
“At one point, I ordered in 200 women for a dance performance. It was wonderful. But when I got out of the army, I found that I still needed a job.”
That job would inevitably involve skating. His father was a professional skater. His mother was a wardrobe mistress at the rink.
“Figure skating started in England and evolved out of ballroom dancing,” Barnett said. “Skating is a very exacting sport with a lot of tradition. The respect you show a lady is a big part of the British tradition.”
In 1960, Barnett took to the ice in Nottingham, England, to compete in the Imperial Professional Skating Association’s world championships. He and his ice-dance partner June Markham won second place. He quickly dropped a contract his father had arranged for him in an ice show, went professional as a coach, and never looked back.
The British royal family were the patrons of ice skating in England, so when Sir Edwin Hardy Amies, Barnett’s skating buddy and dress designer for Queen Elizabeth, threw a party at the Queen’s Ice Club, Barnett was hired to help out.
“There were footmen in scarlet tunics and silver breeches serving champagne from trays on the ice,” he recalled. “I skated with the Duchess of Devonshire. The actress Vivien Leigh threw off her fur coat and had on these black pants that you could nearly see through. I was completely embarrassed. She said ‘Whoopie, this is fun, Ron. … I think I need another pink gin.’”
As a kid, Barnett pocketed the money his grandmother gave him to go to the movies to instead spend at the ice rink. He would walk five miles to school instead of spending money on the bus.
“I spent it all at the rink because I loved to skate,” he said.
Now, he was spending time in the royal entourage, including time with royal composer Sir William Wharton, and Lady Wharton, who helped him pay for an eye surgery.
“The Whartons had a private island off the coast. Sir Wharton would have his Mercedes shipped over every summer. Lady Wharton did yoga handstands and was a talented dancer and skater.”
Barnett skated for films and did some modeling over the years, teaching actors James Mason and Clair Bloom how to skate for the 1958 film “The Man Between.” He worked at rinks in Princeton, N.J., and in Chicago, training hundreds of skaters into top form.
“More than I can count,” he said.
“When Mary Chapin Carpenter (a recording artist) played in Sun Valley last year, she saw me in the audience and said hello. She was once a very good skater. I had not seen her in 40 years.”
About 40 years ago, Barnett first came to Sun Valley, eventually working for ice-skating legend Herman Maricich, standing up as best man at his wedding. Maricich returned the favor when Barnett married Julie, 39 years ago.
“Herman was quite a character and we had a lot of fun,” Barnett said.
Today, the Barnetts live in a home at The Meadows trailer park, south of Ketchum.
“I used to make a good living and I have been very happy. I have had a very good life, but these days I basically live on my social security,” Barnett said.
“Our ground rent has gone up $100 in the past year, to $750. Affordable housing around here is a thing of the past.”
Barnett said he is happy to the do the housework, now that his dear wife is bringing in the paychecks.
“I knew when I met her that she was the cat’s whiskers,” he said.