I was a kid, a half-generation younger than the two English
princesses, Elizabeth and Margaret Rose, a
biography written in the form of a memoir by their nanny
(a woman named Marion Crawford) was popular reading
for American schoolchildren. In memory, the book was
little more than a fairy tale about the two English children
who lived in palaces. However, it was more than frowned
upon by her former royal employers. Because it dissolved
the agreed upon wall around Royal privacy. Forever, as
it turned out.
was then. And the Now wasnt far behind. Because,
beginning with the coming of age of Princess Margaret,
those walls not only came down but the lights and cameras
came up. To stay. Princess Margaret was the great international
celebrity royal after her uncle, the Duke of Windsor.
She was portrayed as the girl in the ivory tower. She could not marry Capt.
Peter Townsend, the man she loved, because of his divorce and her relationship
to the throne in which she was second and then third and then fourth, etc. in
line. Whether or not she ever put much weight in the possibility of becoming
queen, the public was told that it influenced her decision not to marry the man.
She later married a very nice man, Antony Armstrong-Jones, a fashion photographer
whose context was adequate for bearing children, if not princely (he was later
made Earl of Snowdon), and they remained married for seventeen years.
When I was no longer a kid, and living in the great big world also inhabited
by people like Princess Margaret (whom I never met), I came to know a lot of
people who knew her, socialized with her, dined with her, listened to her play
the piano and sing on into the night; people who shared cocktail hours, and yachting
trips, people who waited on her, kept her company, cajoled her, put up with her
and at long last lamented her physical disintegration.
for the British royals is an odd way of life when you think of
it in modern terms. Human beings accorded a social privilege
based on a completely defunct political notion, decorated in
priceless heirlooms and antiquities. Margaret likened it to living
in a goldfish bowl. It was probably more like a gilded cage.
She played the royal card to the hilt with all those around her. On Britannia,
my dear. There was the business of addressing her at all times as Maam, a
now peculiar custom. There was the royal we, for whom others were
expected, assumed to automatically delay lunch, dinner, and even departure until
she deigned to partake or depart as the royal first, we-myself-and-I.
PM, as she was often referred to publicly and privately, liked being the center.
In real life, she liked her whiskey, her cigs. She loved to play the piano and
sing her Cole Porter, and she liked to be amused. In the late 70s on a trip to
Los Angeles, visiting an old family friend, Lady Sarah Churchill, then
living in Beverly Hills, she only wanted to meet John Travolta who
was the hottest male star in the world at the time.
After her divorce from Snowdon and later romance with an English
landscape designer named Roddy Llewellyn, her existence was not unlike
that of a lot of women in middle age who are rich and single. Her position and
the responsibilities required of her kept her out in the world and
allowed her the luxury of meeting new people, although being a single woman of
a certain age, living in a gilded cage, curtailed a lot of freedoms.
However, the Royal households of PM and the Queen Mother, have long been
favored with a band of loyal footmen. This is to the credit of the QM, who is
beloved by her staff. A former footman, now a major domo in a prominent American
businessmans household, told me that there was no one who was kinder and
more caring than the Queen Mum when it came to staff. She treated them like family,
always concerned about their health, welfare and their state of mind. She also
was in the habit of enjoying and sharing their jolly camaraderie during cocktail
hour and, in the days gone by, at the hour of the nightcap.
The Royal Household
staff is a relatively small number of men who devote their youth to the Royal
Family. They are brilliantly trained, and many stay, although many often go on
to very high paying positions all over the world. Like any household staff, they
know their employers on a domestic level of intimacy. Many are single men (known
as footmen), and many will probably never know the bonds of matrimony (unless
its a same sex marriage).
Margaret, left, the Queen Mother and the Queen on the balcony
of Buckingham Palace during the celebration for the Queen Mother's
100th birthday. Photo: Kent Gavin/PA.
A number of years ago, one of PMs staff went out one night to a gay club
in London and picked up a lorry driver, whom he took home only to be rolled and
robbed. The story hit the front page of the tabloids. PMs Footman
Rolled in Sex Romp With Lorry Driver. Something scandalous like that. PM
was hardly scandalized, however. Her sole concern was for the well-being of her
devoted footman. He recovered, and remained on staff.
In the later years, it was not unusual for PM and the Queen Mother to go up to
the Royal Lodge at Windsor for the weekend with some of the boys from the staff.
There the royal mum and daughter could kick back. PM could entertain the royal
crew with her not-so pianissimo pianoforte, and songs with a style that reminded
some of the late great Ethel Merman. There, with whiskey, gin, cigs and
jokes, and some of the best party mates a crown can buy (or command), she could
have fun. And she did.