"Daughter of Empire: Life as a Mountbatten" by Pamela Hicks (2012)
The fascinating (and often hilarious) memoirs of Prince Philip's 1st cousin, Lady Pamela Hicks
Daughter of Empire: Life as a Mountbatten by Pamela Hicks (Review) | Carolyn Harris: Royal Historian
I've seen this book and was wondering if anyone has read it?
I have finished it about two weeks ago and it's really brilliant. In a way, it was rather like The Final Curtsey by Margaret Rhodes (full of behind-the-scenes stories and new perspectives) but a bit wittier and slighly less personal.
If you are interested in the history of the British Empire and especially India with occasional personal titbits about the royals, you really should go for this book.
"Daughter of Empire: Life as a Mountbatten"
by [Lady] Pamela Hicks
ISBN 13: 9780297864837 ISBN 10: 0297864831
Publisher: Weidenfeld & Nicolson
Hardback, Paperback and Kindle editions
Pamela Mountbatten was born at the end of the Twenties into one of Britain's grandest families. The daughter of Lord Louis Mountbatten and his glamorous wife Edwina Ashley, she was bought up by nannies and governesses as she was often parted from her parents as they dutifully carried out their public roles. A solitary child, she learned to occupy her days lost in a book, riding or playing with the family's animals (which included at different times a honey bear, chameleons, a bush baby, two wallabies, a lion, a mongoose and a coati mundi). Her parents' vast social circle included royalty, film stars, senior service officers, politicians and celebrities. Noel Coward invited Pamela to watch him filming; Douglas Fairbanks Jr. dropped in for tea and Churchill would call for 'a word with Dickie'. After the war, Pamela truly came of age in India, while her parents were the Last Viceroy and Vicereine. This introduction to the country would start a life-long love affair with the people and the place.
Pamela Hicks's memoir, 'Daughter of Empire' offers a glimpse into a vanished era and a unique marriage. When Lord Louis Mountbatten first fell in love with Edwina Ashley, on the Vanderbilts’ yacht, she was “an effortlessly glamorous heiress, who had recently learned to stand with her hips pushed slightly forward, the very image of beau-monde chic”. She was fashionably slender, and he was smitten.
The Mountbattens’ home, Brook House, in Park Lane, was large, but not always large enough for all mummy’s boyfriends. “When my mother returned from shopping one day she was met with, 'Mr Larry Gray is in the drawing room, Mr Sandford is in the library, Mr Ted Philips is in the boudoir, Seńor Portago [is] in the anteroom and I don’t know what to do with Mr Molyneux’.” It was her father’s lack of jealousy “and total desire for my mother’s happiness” that made their marriage work, Pamela remarks. Soon the addition of Lord Mountbatten’s French lover Yola ensured matrimonial bliss.
Pamela did not discuss anything emotional, it seems, with her mother, who she says was “never open to any conversation about relationships or feelings and had trained herself as a child to be self-sufficient”...However exasperating she was, Edwina Mountbatten had an impressive ability to rise to the occasion when bombs were falling or massacres taking place.
...Pamela observed the developing relationship between her mother and Jawaharlal Nehru, who made Edwina happy and saved Pamela’s beloved father from the “long string of accusations that he did not understand” from this highly-strung woman, who would nightly present her husband with a list of slights and shortcomings.
One of the joys of Daughter of Empire is the largely vanished world of luxury: shoes hand-made in Paris, pink satin sheets and a swan’s-down quilt; a miniature train set of solid silver; and Pammy’s menagerie of exotic pets.There are also some touching behind-the-scenes glimpses of the Queen, to whom the writer was lady-in-waiting both before and after her coronation.
Fun and games - except with mother
...Lady Pamela tells [anecdotes] well, especially those about her ancestors. The best-crafted character in the tale is her grandmother, Princess Victoria of Hesse, who was capable of carrying on three conversations in three languages at the same time. Another intriguing lady was her great aunt, who was murdered as a Russian grand duchess by the Bolsheviks but was subsequently resurrected by the Orthodox church as St Elizabeth of Romanova; there is a sculpture of her as a 20th-century martyr above the west door of Westminster Abbey.
...The most interesting parts of the book, however, are Lady Pamela’s memories of her parents. Her father gets off pretty lightly, his viceroyalty exalted, his vanity unpunctured and his conduct as a sailor unexamined. The author’s mother Edwina is treated with less leniency. We are informed early on about her neglect of her children (‘I rarely saw my mother’), her pursuit of pleasure (‘she couldn’t stop herself indulging in this hedonistic way’) and her insensate jealousy when, after years of betrayal, her poor husband found himself a lover of his own. Page after page recounts how Edwina would go off with ‘Bunny’ Phillips for yet another six-month holiday to China or Africa or the Pacific — journeys her daughter can reconstruct from the album in which she stuck endless postcards from Bangkok and Borneo, Hawaii and Sarawak.
Edwina missed birthdays and Christmases; she left her husband alone in Malta, his Christmas dinner consisting of ‘leftovers from the staff lunch’; she abandoned her young daughters with a nanny but no money in a Hungarian mountain hotel and then managed to lose its address. Even when she came home, she was ‘sulky’, ‘brittle’ and ‘very prickly’ unless ‘beloved Bunny’ was at her side. Although her later work in India was a form of redemption for herself, it evidently did little to erase her daughter’s memories of comprehensive neglect.
reproduced for promotional purposes
Pamela Hicks: 'I admired my mother, but I never liked her'
We’re trying to work out if Lady Pamela Hicks is the only living witness to the behind-the-scenes dramas of Indian Independence Day in 1948, which she observed as the 18-year-old daughter of Lord Mountbatten, the last Viceroy. “Well, I was speaking on the telephone recently to Gandhiji’s granddaughter,” she confides. “She seems to think she saw everything, too, but she was only nine at the time. I don’t count that.”
...That connection with the Windsors has meant that Lady Pamela – “Pammy” to friends and family – has been there, or thereabouts, at some of the key moments in 20th century history. As well as her handmaiden role at the end of empire in India, she was one of the tiny group with Princess Elizabeth in Kenya in 1952 on the morning the princess heard that her father, George VI, had died and that she was now Queen. “I’m pretty sure,” she says, running through the others in her mind, “that I’m the only one left.”She was a bridesmaid at the royal wedding in 1947, too.
...There are also witty pen portraits of the assembled European royals – most of them distant relatives of Lady Pamela’s. Crown Princess Juliana of the Netherlands “causes a stir” by bemoaning that “everyone’s jewellery is so dirty”. “It was typical of Princess Juliana to say such a thing, for she was very down to earth.” So what does Lady Pamela think of the more relaxed style of today’s Dutch and Scandinavian royal families? “Everybody talks about how they spend their time bicycling around their capital cities,” she says, “but I can tell you that the Stockholm palace is infinitely bigger than Buckingham Palace, and they still have plenty of flunkeys.”
Lady Pamela’s own domestic set-up is more modest. She lives in a beautiful manor house in the south Oxfordshire countryside. The influence of David Hicks is all about us. A designer who made his name in the Swinging Sixties, he and Lady Pamela married at the start of that decade – “an unorthodox match”, she writes in her memoir, but a happy one right up to his death in 1998... There have been biographies of David Hicks, including one, she recounts with horror, “which described me as having led a very sheltered life in the countryside before my marriage. That is why I felt obliged to mention in my book that I had 10 proposals of marriage before I met David.”
If her own marriage was blessed, Lady Pamela writes candidly about the strains on her parents’ union. “My mother had at least 18 lovers,” she says as if describing pairs of shoes, “but my father, to my knowledge, only had one other. The saving grace was that he wasn’t jealous.” Among Edwina Mountbatten’s reported love affairs was one with “Panditji” Nehru, the first Indian Prime Minister, which is said to have played out while her husband was bringing an end to British rule. While accepting that the two were very close, Lady Pamela disagrees with those biographers who claim that a physical relationship took place between the two. She does so not to protect her mother’s reputation, but because she doubts they ever had the opportunity to be alone, with so many servants and officials always in attendance.
“I never liked her,” she says unflinchingly of her mother. “She had no idea of how to play with children, unlike my father. She was a woman who could never have a personal conversation with you, and who needed constant flattery. If she didn’t have that, she became lonely and miserable.
...Lady Pamela and her sister [who became Countess Mountbatten after their father was murdered by the IRA in 1979] attended the wedding of William and Kate – “they were kind enough to invite us” – but her days playing any part in the royal set-up are over, she says. “There comes a moment, when you have as large a family as the Queen does, when you just have to have a cull and cut out all the people over 80.”
Trond Noren Isaksen
The memoirs of the children of famous parents and of former courtiers have in common that they are frequently rather dull, dreary and over-careful not to say anything that is not already known. The autobiography of Lady Pamela Hicks...is an exception to this rule...Lady Pamela Hicks tells the story of her early years with humour and a sharp eye for the telling detail.
...The portrayal of her paternal grandmother, Victoria, Marchioness of Milford Haven, stands out as one of the most memorable aspects of the book, along with her loving depiction of the time she spent in India with her parents during that country’s transition from colonial status to independence.
...There had been marital approaches made by Prince Georg of Denmark, who was turned down by Lord Mountbatten without Lady Pamela having been consulted. There was a romance with a Lebanese man and, we are told, ten proposals of marriage.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. In fact, once I started, it was hard to put down.
Of course, it covers material in which I am interested plus Pamela Hicks has a lovely writing style. Recommended! :flowers:
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