Janet Street-Porter: Jackie Kennedy is one of history’s glamorous enigmas — it’s a shame modern stars don’t follow her lead

The emergence of Jackie’s letters reminds us that letter-writing is dying fast

 

Share

In a week when a widely-derided film about one glamorous woman who married a head of state opened the Cannes Film Festival, we are offered a rare glimpse into the persona of another. Critics deemed Nicole Kidman’s portrayal of Grace Kelly competent, but let down by a risible script based on conjecture and rumour.

Jacqueline Kennedy is equally enigmatic. Just as photogenic, just as secretive – determined not to become public property. How very different to “stars” today – Beyonce, Rihanna and co – who pose 24/7 and employ vast teams of image-managers and publicists who ensure a constant stream of carefully manicured and controlled images of their bosses keep their brand hot.

Jackie Kennedy epitomised an era when well-bred women kept their mouth shut and didn’t complain. Dumping her stockbroker fiance, she married an ambitious charismatic man who became President of the United States and after his horrific death went to on to marry a Greek billionaire. She never discussed her marriages or her private life, banned any friends who blabbed, and went to her grave as mysterious as Greta Garbo.

But now we know that she did confide her innermost thoughts, hopes and fears to someone – a cache of letters has been discovered written to a priest she met on a visit to Dublin aged 21 – he took her to the theatre and dinner at a fancy restaurant. They seem to have struck up an immediate rapport, because for over 14 years (until he died in 1964) Jackie and Father Joseph Leonard regularly corressponded and she felt completely uninhibited, using him as her confessor.

These letters were due to be auctioned until a legal dispute broke out over them, but if they are ever sold, they could fetch over £1m. In a way, it’s sad that the public (if the letters are bought by publishers and turned into a book) will get to read stuff that a devout Catholic wrote to a man of the cloth believing her thoughts would remain confidential. She talks of her bitterness to towards God (“He will have a bit of explaining to do if I ever see Him”) after her husband’s assasination, and about her doubts about marrying into such a powerful dynasty and whether she would find it fulfilling.

The emergence of Jackie’s letters reminds us that letter-writing is dying fast. I still write thank-you notes, and letters of condolence. I write postcards, and over the years have written letters of love and disgust, even a few apologies – not always sincere.

If there’s one thing I love receiving – above jewellery and flowers, chocolates and a bottle of wine – it’s a hand-written letter. I have carefully kept all the best in boxes. Believe me, they’ll never be sold. Letters are so beautiful, and I reply to all the hand-written letters I get from readers.

As for telling the truth, one of the best letters I’ve ever received was written by friends telling me I was becoming a pain in the backside, too big for my boots, a champion moaner. What a wake-up call! I’ve still got it, a treasured piece of solid gold. Whenever I get a bit grand or whingey, I read it again. That’s the power of the letter over the email.

These days, we offer condolences on Twitter (yuk), we chat on Facebook, we text and email. But none of these pseudo-communications will ever beat the letter, ever be able to convey our most private thoughts, aspirations and dreams in any depth. Writing a letter takes time, and involves creating a personal image on a sheet of paper. In 20 years’ time, personal letter-writing will probably have vanished, and along with it, an art form that’s lasted centuries.

A racket with a brain won’t solve my tennis problems

Andy Murray was 27 last week, and already murmurs about his chances at Wimbledon have started. He’s changed coach, but will he change his racket?

A new hi-tech “intelligent” racket has been developed by Babolat, and is being tried out by some of the world’s top players. It has sensors in the handle which send messages to smartphones or tablets so that players and their coaches can analyse their performance and compare data online.

The rackets have just gone on sale for £325. Should I buy one? Tennis and I have a tortured relationship, nurtured by a succession of coaches since I left school. Kev, the current incumbent, is a droll fellow with a lot of patience. But we both know I don’t need a racket with a brain. I just need to think less – which anyone who has read The Inner Game of Tennis by Timothy Gallwey knows only too well.

This brilliant little book sets out how we underachieve by overburdening ourselves with unnecessary considerations and self-doubt. We need to cultivate instinctiveness. Actually, this book is a fantastic guide to life itself. Maybe someone should tell Rihanna before she pays out for another life coach to help her open a shopping centre.

Women are making money but losing patience

New figures show that more women than ever (14 million) are working, two-thirds of us aged up to 64. That’s a huge increase from 1971 when the proportion was just 50 per cent. Add the 424,000 women over 65 who have jobs, and it’s clear that we wield a lot of economic power. Half of all women are in full-time employment, and an increasing number are breadwinners – a new dynamic which brings all sorts of new stresses into the home.

Mothers with children have to balance their needs and support systems. Working women have to tread carefully around their partner’s ego. When you earn the most, how do you divide up the tasks? All the women I know who are breadwinners – quite a few – get exasperated.

Men can never be housewives, can never do things just the way you want. But we have to learn to chill out, to relax and unbend a bit. We got so good at multitasking we lost a bit of tolerance. I’m as guilty as anyone. Control is my mantra. So being a breadwinner brings a load of grief, quite frankly, and we shouldn’t get annoyed that men find it difficult to adapt. They have had zero training at their new roles – and no support systems.

Mantel’s masterpiece turns into a theatrical cartoon

I went to see the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of Wolf Hall last week – sadly a depressing experience. Whatever you think about the book, it is a work of depth and insight. To my mind it could have done with a spot of judicious editing, but it delivers a thoroughly engrossing portrait of life in Tudor England, and the rise to power of a complicated man, an outsider who loved the good life.

But this production is nothing more than a panto. Hilary Mantel’s characterisations have been reduced to soundbites, to cartoon characters. Cardinal Wolsey reminds me of David Jason, Henry VIII of Liza Minnelli’s ex-husband David Gest. Cromwell himself is like Lee Evans the way he suffers from a succession of physical twitches and expressions.

Snatches of dialogue lifted from the book and cobbled together don’t add up to a work of any weight. For history turned into psychological drama, give me Friedrich Schiller any day. If you enjoyed the brilliant productions of Mary Stuart and Don Carlos that have been on in London in the past few years, don’t bother with this lightweight fare.

Twitter: @The_Real_JSP

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Experienced Bookkeeper - German Speaking - Part Time

£23000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This firm of accountants based ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£30000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are a financial services c...

Ashdown Group: Field Service Engineer

£30000 - £32000 per annum + car allowance and on call: Ashdown Group: A succes...

Recruitment Genius: Sales & Marketing Co-Ordinator

£15000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Well established small company ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A woman runs down the street  

Should wolf-whistling be reported to the Police? If you're Poppy Smart, then yes

Jane Merrick
 

Voices in Danger: How can we prevent journalists from being sexually assaulted in conflict zones?

Heather Blake
Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence