I am fascinated by royal women of years gone by, but not massively fussed by the modern royals. Sure, I like Meghan- everyone does- but Kate’s boring, which I guess you have to be if you’re being groomed to be a queen and the various granddaughters are just a bit… meh. Also, the royals aren’t going to allow a repeat of Diana and Fergie, who in turn had their paths smoothed (although also massively disapproved of) by Princess Margaret.
This book is not *quite* biography, rather more a series of snippets from diaries, the whole transcript of her Desert Island Discs interview (written in very posh dialect), interviews and slightly odd ‘what-if’ articles about Princess Margaret’s paths had she married Peter Townsend and/or the very unlikely Jeremy Thorpe. It’s a funny, often catty and informal look at a life which, in the words of the author, peaked when the subject was six.
Margaret was never meant to be so close to the throne and was a bit of a spare part once her sister became queen; modern, yet bound by a love of the deferential, wanting to be friends with famous people during the Swinging Sixties, but also wanting them to remember their place. She was bound by old-fashioned ideas about marriage and rebelled against the duties so carefully undertaken by her sibling. She was absolutely beautiful, but could be an utter monster. (I asked my grandma, who was born the year after Margaret if it was well-known generally she was a nightmare. Grandma answered in the affirmative.) I get the impression that Princess Margaret was bored and trapped in a gilded cage she was never quite sure she wanted to escape from; the idea was fun, but the reality was a bit different.
This was a woman who snubbed Elizabeth Taylor but left a party when George Harrison told her he was hungry but no-one could eat whilst she was present. She escaped to the island of Mustique, where the formal informality suited her (there’s a very good two-part documentary on iPlayer at the moment about Princess Margaret that I recommend watching if you’re interested. Craig Brown features quite heavily and it was good to ‘see’ some of the things I’d read about, as well as see some sociological analysis of how she was portrayed in the media.)
I think I came away from reading this book thinking that the princess was a beautiful, monstrous woman- but one who had been dealt a rubbish hand when it came to men and society’s expectations of how she should behave. It is a very funny book about a very interesting woman.