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

 

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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

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