The Blagger's Guide To...Books by Prime Ministers' spouses
When Lego men posed a threat to world peace
Sunday 06 March 2011
*Launched on Thursday, Sarah Brown's Behind the Black Door (Ebury Press, £18.99) does indeed tell the avid Downing Street-watcher something that we never knew: namely that Gordon Brown is emotionally intelligent, fun, "lovely" and "gorgeous".
We also learn that he is rubbish in the kitchen and so untidy that when his student flat was burgled, police told him it had been "ransacked". (Most of it actually hadn't been touched.) But where Mrs Brown really is revealing is on the weird juxtaposition of family life and political power: a near-diplomatic incident when President Karzai met little Fraser's Lego men; being woken up by Baroness Vadera... We also learn that the Queen is a good driver, that George Bush is a fan of British historians, and "the first rule of being egged: look down so that the television cameras don't get a clear shot of your horrified face".
*Cherie Blair had already discussed No 10's privacy issues in her 2004 book The Goldfish Bowl (Vintage). "Officials can and do come in and out...at all hours of the night," she wrote. She was rather more revealing (rather too revealing) in her 2008 autobiography, Speaking for Myself (Little, Brown), which revealed that her son Leo was conceived at Balmoral, where she was too embarrassed to have her contraceptives go through a security search. "To be honest, I think [Tony] skipped over quite a lot of those [sex] bits," she later opined. "It's not his scene, is it? He's a man. I don't think you'll be finding much about those type of things in his book." If only...
*Norma Major's Chequers: The Prime Minister's Country House and Its History (Little, Brown) was the first book to mention that, from the First World War until early in Tony Blair's term, a golliwog had pride of place. "Chequers does not belong to the Government," said a spokesman. "It is run by Chequers' trustees. The golliwog is a matter for them."
*Contrary to popular opinion, Denis Thatcher did not actually write the "Dear Bill" letters that appeared in Private Eye under his name. However, Carol Thatcher's Below the Parapet: The Biography of Denis Thatcher (Harper Collins, £8.99) claimed the spoof letters often got it spot on – particularly regarding the gin.
*Another successful Private Eye parody was Mrs Wilson's Diary, purportedly by Mary Wilson. But her own Selected Poems (Hutchinson, 1970) did even better. The hardback edition sold 75,000 copies, at 12 shillings each, in an era when only three living poets (Wilson, Marc Bolan and Bob Dylan) had mass-market success. She even wrote about the Cold War in "After the Bomb". She also replied to John Betjeman's poem "A Mind's Journey to Diss", writing in her own poem: "Dear John, Yes it is perfect bliss To go with you by train to Diss!"
*Described by the historian Andrew Roberts as "the last great British autobiography of the pre-war and wartime era", the memoir of Eden's wife and Churchill's niece Clarissa Eden, From Churchill to Eden (Phoenix, 2007), reads like an Evelyn Waugh novel as she shimmers through café society, dropping names such as Sackville-West, Mitford, Beaton, Pinter and Waugh himself. Eden's bitchy asides make Mrs Brown's furious comments about her husband's detractors look positively friendly. Meeting her uncle's wife, who had just had an early facelift, she wrote: "The wax had run down her cheeks so she looked like one of Leonardo's anatomical drawings."
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