Petra-X's Reviews > Lady in Waiting: My Extraordinary Life in the Shadow of the Crown

Lady in Waiting by Anne Glenconner
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really liked it
bookshelves: 2020-100-reviews, 2020-read, biography-true-story, caribbean, history, reviewed

I take exception to Anne Glenconner asserting that the local mixer for rum on her husband's island, Mustique was a 'revolting pink liquid' made from hibiscus and called sorrel. It is actually a really delicious drink made from the sepals of roselle. They are boiled up with water, sugar, orange peel, sometimes cloves and cinnamon served hot or cold, with or without rum.(view spoiler)

So anyway, Anne doesn't like the local bevvy. There are a lot of things Anne doesn't like, but nothing like as many as Princess Margaret about whom I read the hilarious book, Ma’am Darling: 99 Glimpses of Princess Margaret. I thought she couldn't have been that bad in real life, but actually she was much worse and Anne was her childhood friend and for 25 years her lady in waiting which is what royalty call a combined servant and friend that they don't have to pay and come from the non-working, aristocratic class.

The author said she wrote the book because, "I was so fed up with people writing such horrible things about Princess Margaret." I can't say I got any better impression of PM from her book than the other, "horrible" one.

Despite their friendship as children and PM calling her 'Anne' she always had to address her as 'Ma'am'. Once when 'Ma'am' got sick in a house not her own palace, she said that she didn't know the servants in the house so none were allowed to come into her room. Anne had to sleep next to her, help with her hygiene, clean the room, bring the food, and keep her amused for an entire week. When she escaped to have a swim, within minutes 'Ma'am' would be asking for her. How can anyone be that spoiled and that self-indulgent, or in common parlance, up her own arse?

And why did Anne not actually resign from the position? She couldn't have been that enamoured and awed by royalty, that was her social circle. Couldn't have been the foreign travel, she could afford to do anything she wanted (and did). Couldn't have been the friendship. You can't be real friends with anyone who can order you to clean the room and you have to address as 'Ma'am', how could you ever speak the truth if it was something that would upset her? A mystery to me.

Anne had troubles in her life that her money and connections often helped mitigate. A son desperately injured in a third-world tropical place was instantly helicoptered out to a hospital with a quick call to the embassy. Another son a heroin addict was helped so he didn't end up living on the streets or in prison like ordinary folk (He died of hepatitis C after recovering from his addiction). Her third son died of AIDS. She also has twin daughters to whom nothing bad seems to have misfallen so hopefully they bring her joy.

Possibly her worst tribulation was her husband. I couldn't make up my mind if he was extremely neurotic and thought throwing tantrums like a 2 year old actually on the floor and screaming was perfectly fine for him as an eccentric aristocrat (he adored being eccentric). Or if he was genuinely quite mad and if he had not been so wealthy but lived on an ordinary life, working for a living, people not kow-towing to him, would have ended up sectioned? He had as was said of "Ma'am's" husband, Tony Armstrong-Jones, only a 'loose acquaintance' with monogamy. But that's all right because Anne (and Margaret) both had their special friends themselves.

When her husband, Colin, died, he had changed his Will and left his vast fortune to his manservant and best friend of 30 years, Kent Adonai, leaving the family with "only" the Scottish estate, The Glen. This is a 22 bedroom house on 5,000 acres built next to the Queen's holiday home of Balmoral. The family, outraged by this, contested the will and won back half of it after 7 years in court. I'm glad Kent got some of it, about £11M though! Actually Colin was a generous soul, who did treat the islanders on Mustique very well, helped with the school, businesses, health care. A decent man, if crazy - he once bought an elephant for a pet (which Kent looked after) and kept it in St Lucia. (view spoiler)

The book was fascinating in the way documentaries on the royals often are. They are like us, kind of, but not really. The royals have money and privilege. But money alone, enough of it will buy you privilege too, as it did Anne and her family. It made me think back to this last summer with the billionaire racing car driver. I was in the kitchen of his beautiful house and he said I needed to drink more. I said I didn't like water. He opened a fridge that had nothing in but splits of French champagne, and asked me which of the many brands was my favourite? Like I am on quaffing terms with a dozen brands of champagne?
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Notes on reading (view spoiler)

The book is a good read because it is a weird look at a tiny portion of society that is entirely insular. If you aren't an aristocrat, your relationship with them is probably as a supplier of some service or product. You won't be invited to have lunch with them, you won't be considered as a potential love-interest, you wn't go to school with them, and you won't be on first name terms with members of the royal family. What you will do is be ruled by these out-of-touch people since they sit in the House of Lords! Time that went.

""The real art of conversation is not only to say the right thing at the right place, but to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the most tempting moment." Dorothy Neville-Rolfe, owner of the The Story Of The House Of Citizenship, one of the finishing schools the author attended."

16/2020
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Reading Progress

February 1, 2020 – Started Reading
February 1, 2020 – Shelved
February 11, 2020 – Shelved as: 2020-100-reviews
February 11, 2020 – Shelved as: 2020-read
February 11, 2020 – Shelved as: biography-true-story
February 11, 2020 – Shelved as: caribbean
February 11, 2020 – Shelved as: history
February 11, 2020 – Shelved as: reviewed
February 11, 2020 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-16 of 16 (16 new)

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message 1: by Caroline (new)

Caroline Good grief, what a bonkers life & lifestyle.....


message 2: by Peter (new)

Peter A wonderful review with great insights. I enjoyed your thoughts on the insular aristocracy ruling the nation for those they're out of touch with. :):)


Petra-X Caroline wrote: "Good grief, what a bonkers life & lifestyle....."

Pretty wonderful for those that live it. No one can touch them except perhaps the media!


message 4: by Petra-X (last edited Feb 12, 2020 05:36AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Petra-X Peter wrote: "A wonderful review with great insights. I enjoyed your thoughts on the insular aristocracy ruling the nation for those they're out of touch with. :):)"

The House of Lords is a mixture of three types. Aristocracy, (hereditary peers) many of who got their titles by being privateers (or other criminals) and sharing their booty with the crown. These all male as the aristocrats still subscribe to primogeniture and women don't inherit even one single penny. Out of touch, right?

Political appointees (life peers) like Baroness Chakrabarti "who authored the eponymous whitewash report claiming that “The Labour Party is not overrun by antisemitism" and got rewarded by elevation to the House of Lords so she could represent Labour there. And thirdly are the people who have bought their titles by being "captains of industry" and donating lots of money to the ruling party of the day plus bishops and anyone else the government of the day feels like rewarding.

Since none of them are elected


message 5: by J.K. (new)

J.K. Grice Very fine review, Petra!


message 6: by Cecily (new)

Cecily Petra-X wrote: "The House of Lords is a mixture of three types. ..."

In its present form, I think it's even worse than when it was purely hereditary peers plus a few bishops. It was not remotely democratic, but neither could the government fill it with partisan appointees.

The Lords needed reforming, but it should have been debated and rethought from scratch, before tinkering and implementing changes that only make it worse. Imo.


Petra-X J.K. wrote: "Very fine review, Petra!"

Thank you :-)


Petra-X Cecily wrote: "In its present form, I think it's even worse than when it was purely hereditary peers plus a few bishops...."

Since that was 100% male (or close) and 27% (207) of the present make up of the House of Lords is female, I am going to disagree with you because of that alone. Otherwise I agree with you 100%.


message 9: by Cecily (new)

Cecily Petra-X wrote: "Since that was 100% male (or close) and 27% (207) of the present make up of the House of Lords is female,..."

Good point. And important.
Nevertheless, if there had been a total overhaul of the upper house way back whenever it was changed to remove some hereditaries and allow packing of political appointees, maybe we would have a decent proportion of women now, but in a less partisan way?


Petra-X Cecily wrote: "if there had been a total overhaul of the upper house way back whenever it was changed to remove some hereditaries and allow packing of political appointees..."

I would be unhappy with anything other than an elected upper house. As long as people are rewarded with peerages we perpetuate the myth that the aristocracy are above us, better than us, at the zenith of humanity in the UK. The truth is that their ancestors did something or other for the crown and got rewarded with lands and a title, that's all.


message 11: by Cecily (new)

Cecily Sounds good to me. And if elected, it would no longer be automatically for life (a ludicrous feature that the changes didn't fix).


message 12: by Petra-X (last edited Feb 12, 2020 10:11PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Petra-X Cecily wrote: "Sounds good to me. And if elected, it would no longer be automatically for life (a ludicrous feature that the changes didn't fix)."

There is a balance between giving someone the freedom to not have to think of the electorate and being able to be guided by moral purpose. Because of that I'm not necessarily in favour of elections to the Upper House every four years. But election for life seems a bit too much.


message 13: by Cecily (new)

Cecily It's quite common in other countries for terms in the upper house to be longer than for the lower, I think. It makes sense for the reason you give.


Petra-X Cecily wrote: "It makes sense for the reason you give."

Except I had real difficulty writing "moral purpose" together with anything implying 'politician'. I couldn't think of anything better though.


message 15: by Jaidee (new)

Jaidee I so enjoyed this review. O to be minor royalty !


Petra-X Jaidee wrote: "I so enjoyed this review. O to be minor royalty !"

Thank you. It must have been pretty hard on Princess Margaret being 2nd in line to the throne for years, and then with the birth of every child dropping down one further. Perhaps that's why she insisted on being called "Ma'am"?


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