The princess and the pique

Susan Jeffreys wonders why an acid-tongued royal does her duty with so little grace

Princess Margaret: a biography by Theo Aronson, Michael O'Mara, pounds 16.99

Princess Margaret is the royal you least want when you've got something to launch or open or commemorate. She has a reputation for turning sullen and whizzing through the whole thing in indecent haste. And, reading this life, I found myself wishing for one of Theo Aronson's other royal biographies - in particular, the late-Victorian scandals of his Prince Eddy and the Homosexual Underworld. Sadly, there are no games of Slap- Bum Poker here. For despite the love affairs and the rumours of wit and sophistication (based mainly on her use of a long cigarette holder), Princess Margaret makes a dull read.

Things got off to an odd start for the princess. She was born in the tapestry room of Glamis Castle in the middle of a thunderstorm. Glamis Castle is where, so legend has it, a curious egg-like creature lives. While the Queen Mother-to-be was in the throes of labour, Labour MP J R Clynes hovered outside. As Home Secretary, one of his jobs was to hang around royal births, making sure back-up babies aren't smuggled in via warming pans. The royal family are thought to have form on this sort of thing.

A jolly, gigglish, extrovert child, Margaret grew (though not by very much) into a good-looking young woman. Aronson's claim that she was like the young Audrey Hepburn has to be taken with some salt, though. Others have been less complimentary - Nancy Mitford, enraged by the Princess's rude behaviour, called her "a huge ball of fur on two well developed legs". Anthony Armstrong-Jones, in the heat of domestic battle, likened her to an overweight Jewish manicurist.

Life might have stayed jolly for Margaret if Edward VIII's abdication had not moved her close enough to the throne to darken her life. Aronson gives a cosy picture of the Yorks pre-abdication: larks and pillow fights with mummy, daddy and the gels, lots of games and not too much messing around in books. Then Edward's shy, stuttering but doggedly noble brother George became king. He and his daughter Elizabeth worked diligently at their duty. Margaret, for all her faults, has always been loyal to her worthy sister.

She doesn't get enough credit for this loyalty. She gets far too much for her supposed wit. Aronson quotes many of her one-liners. They are often acid, rarely funny. Rather, it's the bon mots of others that liven up the text. The Queen asks, on seeing Barbara Cartland, "Who's that? Danny La Rue?" An anonymous wit, hearing that the petit Armstrong Jones had become Earl of Snowdon, said: "They're making a mountain out of a molehill." And, on a visit to Tanganyika, a throne last sat on by Margaret's Uncle Edward is dragged out for a tribal gathering. Stored in a thatched hut, it had all but crumbled away. "People who live in grass houses," comments Sir Edward Twining, "shouldn't stow thrones."

Whether her reputation for wit is deserved, her reputation for sulleness is. I've seen a room full of people upset and deflated by her rudeness. Her lack of graciousness is hard to forgive. The excuse of her thwarted love affair with Peter Townsend is now worn too thin. Forced to choose between marriage to Townsend - in exile, without rank or money - or life without him as a princess, she chose the latter. Look at life chez Simpson in all its footling detail and you can see her point. Consider also, that life in exile would have meant abandoning her sister at a moment of great need. Her father's life was ruined when his brother abandoned him and, for all her faults, Princess Margaret has always been a loyal sister to the queen.

Margaret is tetchy on matters of protocol, turning her back on anyone she considers to have slighted her. But she keeps people waiting, cuts short appointments and often has a brisk and dismissive way with her. She is meant to be an absolute hoot with her own set and is fiercely loyal to them. So what? Most of us can manage that on a fraction of the pay.

The book details the usual round of affairs: Robin Douglas-Home, Roddy Llewellyn, Peter Sellers. The poor woman has had little luck with her partners. One hopes she gets a few more larks than this flaky bunch of lads could supply. Aronson makes vague remarks about Ma'am's Hanoverian appetites, but we don't get any picture of what these might be.

There's talk that Margaret will be more in the public eye over the next few years. It would add a bit of much-needed support for her beleagured sister if Margaret emerged sunny and gracious to see out the last part of this reign. It's all hands to the Royal pump at the moment. Somewhere in the corridors of Glamis, they could even be polishing up the egg man.

Arts and Entertainment

Film Leonardo DiCaprio hunts Tom Hardy

Arts and Entertainment
And now for something completely different: the ‘Sin City’ episode of ‘Casualty’
TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

    US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

    Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

    'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
    The male menopause and intimations of mortality

    Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

    So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
    Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

    'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

    Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
    Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

    Bettany Hughes interview

    The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
    Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

    Art of the state

    Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
    Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

    Vegetarian food gets a makeover

    Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
    The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

    The haunting of Shirley Jackson

    Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
    Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

    Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

    These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
    Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

    Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

    A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
    Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

    Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

    Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
    HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

    The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

    Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
    Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

    'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

    Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
    Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

    The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

    Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen