The former lady-in-waitings memoir is a surprise bestseller. She discusses pedigree misfortune and why Princess Margaret was more fun than people think

Since it came out five months ago, a introduction production by an 87 -year-old has become a publishing phenomenon. Lady in Waiting: My Extraordinary Life in the Shadow of the Crown by Anne Glenconner has sold more than 200,000 simulates in the UK and retains a steadfast hold on the bestseller lists. Written by the former lady-in-waiting to Princess Margaret, its broad appeal might seem surprising , not least because Margaret was hardly the most popular royal. But Lady Glenconner’s book has two things going for it: the first is that it is not what it seems; it is definitely not” a lavender sort of scented memoir”, as Glenconner introduced it when she appeared on The Graham Norton Show last-place November. And its other great fortitude is Glenconner herself.

” Are you actually tired after your journey? Did you find a taxi when you got off the set ?” she asks when I arrived here her residence on the Norfolk coast. She has the accent of the Queen- “really” becomes “rill-eh”, ” off” is “orff”- and is “re dressed like” her more, in a blouse, cardigan, pleated knee span skirt, tights and loafers. It is easy to envision her striding various regions of the world, stirring small talk with Imelda Marcos, which is what she used to do with Princess Margaret. I bend in to kiss her, but then ask if she’s refraining because of the coronavirus. Glenconner looks at me as if I’ve left my marbles on the set:” I’ve been through world war ii and lived with someone with Aids at the beginning[ of the Aids crisis ]. I’m not scared of a little virus , you know ,” she says. She turns on her end and processions down her long hallway, and I have to scoot to keep up with her.

Glenconner,
Glenconner, then Lady Anne Coke, at the Queen’s coronation. Photograph: ITV Archive

Glenconner was born Anne Coke( declared Cook ), the daughter of an earl.” So I married down somewhat ,” she says with a satisfied smile, as her husband, Colin Tennant, was merely the Baron Glenconner. In her book, Glenconner describes her current residence as” a cottage” but these the situation is relative: compared to the nearby Holkham Hall where she grew up, and Glen, the enormous estate in Scotland belonging to her late husband’s family, I guess it is a cottage. To me, it looks like a sizable mansion, with a warren of areas filled with family likeness and antique dolls that are now kept for her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. She takes me to the pretty front room, where we sit on either side of the flame.” When Princess Margaret would visit the two of us would sit just like this ,” she says.” One day she came with her boiler and said:’ I’m going to be independent, Anne, all you need to do is give me some milk .’ I was a bit questionable and I was right because suddenly one morning it was’ Anne! Anne !” Yes, ma’am, what is it ?” I ponder the kettle’s broken !’ Of route, she hadn’t turned it on. But she did want to help …” Prince Charles, another ” proper friend”, stops by often:” And parties are really fond of him now, you are aware. All that talking to weeds and his green things, it’s all is true. People don’t laugh at it .”

I tell her that even the most republican of my friends adore the book.

” You know, I’ve never written anything in my life at all, and I envisioned:’ Well, beings like me might buy it .’ But it’s gone acces beyond that. I certainly didn’t think the Guardian would be interested in my volume. I know you’re a very leftwing newspaper and somebody like me is not quite your cup of tea, so that’s spurring .” On a table nearby, a Daily Telegraph is tucked discreetly under a cushion.

Glenconner composed the book in this room, dictating her life story into a recorder.” Somebody said:’ Do you get writer’s block ?’ I said:’ No, writer’s diarrhoea !’ I only talked and talked ,” she says. Glenconner’s distinctive articulation has a no-nonsense briskness to it, weakened with a wry but heated sense of humour. She manages to laugh at things others might find little droll: the patriarchal noble method that meant she couldn’t inherit her family home (” I tried mighty hard to be a boy, even weighing 11 lb at birth, but I was a girl and there was nothing to be done about it “); her husband taking her to a” perfectly outraging” live sex see during their honeymoon; even her son Henry’s funeral when he died from Aids-” I couldn’t help a minuscule smile because, as is Buddhist custom, his coffin was covered with pineapples and other tropical return, so it looked like a monstrous fruit salad as it came into the crematorium .”

” It’s no fun for anyone if you’re sitting around being a hardship. I’m no snowflake, probably a battle-axe. I was brought up by my mother to get on with things ,” she says. Her family crest is an ostrich withdraw a horseshoe, symbolizing the family’s ability to digest anything.

With
With her husband Colin Tennant, Baron Glenconner, in Mustique, 1973. Photograph: Slim Aarons/ Getty Images

Glenconner’s pedigree has a long relationship with the royal family: her paternal grandmother was Edward VIII’s mistress and her father was equerry to George VI. Glenconner was Princess Margaret’s devoted lady-in-waiting for more than 30 times, and this is what stimulated her into writing her journal, as she was shocked by a recent account about the princess, which she describes as” that gruesome work, we won’t mention the name of the somebody who wrote it. I don’t know why people want to rot her like that .” When I ask if she entails Craig Brown’s book, Ma’am Darling , she gives a anguished, succinct nod.

Determined to rectify the common taste of the princess as spoil and vindictive, Glenconner writes about Margaret’s many goodness to her. They were, she says, real friends, even though it is one called the other ” Ma’am” and the other didn’t.” I would have felt quite unpleasant yell her anything else. But she was so funny, that’s what beings don’t get ,” she says. After the princess died, the Queen thanked Glenconner for her sister with many of the happiest instants in her life.

I’d been warned beforehand not to ask about Meghan Markle so I ask instead if, having spent so much time with Margaret, she has extra empathy for the other saves, Sovereigns Andrew and Harry. But Glenconner knows what I’m up to:” You’re edging closer to asking me about Meghan Markle ,” she tuts.” I’m going to throw another log on the fervor before I answer questions !”

Markle’s mistake, she says, was to not understand that all the imperials, even the saves, working very hard:” I thoughts she felt she could drive around in a golden tutor. But it’s actually quite boring. Princess Margaret did so much charity run, and without any photographers, unlike the Princess of Wales .”( Glenconner is a staunch royalist, but her commiserations are with the more traditional branches of the family; even Prince William and Harry, she says,” go on about their mother the whole time. I think it’s a little much .”)

With
With Princess Margaret, in Mustique. Photograph: Hal Shinnie/ Hodder& Stoughton

Coverage of Glenconner’s book has focused on the imperials, but it’s the descriptions of her own life that gripped me. First, her wedding to Colin, who had frequent brain breakdowns and was a bully; when Glenconner asked him why he screamed at beings so frequently, he replied:” I like acquiring them squirm .” He insisted on telling her about his holidays with his many girlfriends (” I said,’ Can we talk about something else ?'”), but Glenconner got her own back, and obliges one fleeting citation in her book to having a ” dear friend “. This is the one subject she won’t be drawn on:” I’ll tell you absolutely nothing at all, except that he made my life possible. We had lunch formerly a few weeks and the occasional weekend for nearly 40 years, and that’s all I’ll say .”

Despite everything, Glenconner painstakingly emphasises her husband’s good qualities in the book, such as his appreciation of enjoyable and curiosity- partly, she says, for the sake of their children, but likewise because it was true. He turned Mustique from unpromising scrubland into a luminary please island, where Mick Jagger would contribute singalongs in a beach barroom. Colin’s parties were legendary for their loucheness, such as the Golden Ball, which was photographed by Robert Mapplethorpe, when Bianca Jagger was carried in by a troupe of boys covered alone in gold and wearing exclusively” a coconut strategically targeted below “. The celebrities enjoyed in personal privacy from the media: on one vacation, Glenconner exquisitely pointed out to Princess Margaret that her bathing suit was transparent. “‘ Oh Anne ,’ she said, rather enraged.’ I don’t care. If[ parties] want to look, they can look .’ And that was that .” Colin died in 2010 but, Glenconner says, he would be ” glad about that” that Mustique is still cause scandals, with questions over who paid for Boris Johnson’s recent vacation there.

The couple had five children: Charlie, Henry, Christopher and twins May and Amy. Glenconner adored being a mother, but, despite not having been entirely happy with aspects of her childhood- absent mothers, nannies, boarding school- she reproduced it with her own children, leaving them behind as she facilitated her husband in Mustique.” It’s just what you did, what all our friends did, the shooting defendants all winter we went off to- we didn’t think. I didn’t even want them to go to boarding school …” she trails off.

The three youngest children had the same nanny throughout their childhood, but the two eldest, Charlie and Henry, had many different ones, their papa sacking their favourites on a impulse. By the age of eight Charlie had severe OCD. As a teenager, he got into drugs. Henry married and had a son, but in the late 80 s he was just out as gay and within 18 months he had Aids, at a time when the diagnosis turned you into a pariah.” I would take Henry to A& E, and it was full when we arrived and within half an hour everybody left open and I was alone with him. He was so ill that we would sit on the storey, with his head in my lap. That was quite hard to write about .”

At
At the Christening of her son Charles, 1957. Photograph: Henry Bush/ ANL/ REX/ Shutterstock

Meanwhile her youngest son, Christopher, suffered a disastrous top hurt while on a spread time in Belize. He was in a lethargy and medical doctors told Glenconner that she should forget about him. Instead, she nursed him and when he woke up four months later she took him residence and cared for him for the next five years. He was left with life-changing injuries, but he has married twice and has two children.

After Henry died and Christopher recovered, Charlie too seemed to be recovering from his addictions. But it was too late: he died from hepatitis, and Glenconner hid her second child.” Often people don’t talk to me about the children, perhaps because they’re interested in the second thing. But I like talking about them, and perhaps the book has given me a acces to do so ,” she says.

Her book’s success has stimulated her:” Aren’t I lucky ?” She is planning a journey to New York, where Tina Brown will throw a party for the US launch. She is also working on her first fiction, Murder in Mustique :” I’m the new Miss Marple !” she says delightedly.

Glenconner talks me through their own families photos that surround us: Charlie as a handsome teenager, Henry’s son and his children, one of the twinneds is married. A photo of Glenconner comprising Charlie and Henry as newborns is so bittersweet I can hardly look at it.” Oh I know ,” she says when she sees me wince. As I’m about to leave, she strokes my joint gently.” I’m glad you asked me about the children, it was kind of you ,” she says.” Because the book really is about them, you are aware .”

* Lady in Waiting by Anne Glenconner is published by Hodder& Stoughton( RRP PS20 ). To ordering a transcript go to guardianbookshop.com. Free UK p& p over PS15.

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