Lady in Waiting: My Extraordinary Life in the Shadow of the Crown by Anne Glenconner. New York, Hachette Books, 2020, 325 pp.
This title is the immensely entertaining story of the life of aristocrat and royal cohort Anne Glenconner, and a scintillating look into the private life of British aristocracy. Be prepared to set aside your preconceived notions of prim and proper dukes and duchesses, princes and princesses. Glenconner and her circle performed their roles as standard bearers for the public eye, but out of the limelight they partied right alongside the rest of the glitterati throughout the 1960s, 70s, and 80s.
Being Lady in Waiting to Princess Margaret was only one fascinating aspect of the author’s life, and though she does dedicate a good portion of the book to her duties with the Princess, much of the book is about her personal life, which is just as engrossing. Born Anne Coke in 1932 to the Earl of Leicester, she grew up at Holkham Hall, next door to the Royal Family’s country estate, and was playmates with Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret, and later Maid of Honor at the Queen’s coronation. After making her debut, Anne met and married Colin Tennant, Lord Glenconner, a handsome, creative, and immensely charming man defined by his eccentricities and flamboyance, but also by his infantile and furious temper. He once bit a taxi driver on the arm, typical of the tantrums he would throw when angered.
A large part of Glenconner’s adult life was spent on the small Caribbean island of Mustique which her husband bought in 1958. At the time, Mustique (named for the French word for mosquito) was primitive with no running water or electricity. After plans for a thriving cotton industry failed, Colin turned towards developing the island as a get-away for the privileged, eventually succeeding with the help of notoriety gained from having Princess Margaret as a homeowner.
Mustique became notorious for wild parties with renown people in attendance such as Mick and Bianca Jagger (and later Jerry Hall), Robert Mapplethorpe, and Raquel Welch. One of the grandest parties was thrown for Colin’s fiftieth birthday in 1976. Known as the Golden Ball, it was “the one that secured Mustique the label of being the hedonistic paradise for the rich and famous.” The night was capped off by local young men with their scantily clad bodies painted in gold dancing around Princess Margaret.
Anne Glenconner and Princess Margaret were good friends until the Princess’s death, and chapters are dedicated to reliving their relationship, thus delivering a satisfying peek into the Princess’s life and personality, as well as her final days. The author also does not hold back in sharing the troubles in her own family, issues with Colin’s behavior and infidelity, and her children’s problems with mental illness, drugs, and HIV/AIDs.
The author says it best in her prologue to the book, “Only now do I see how extraordinary the nine decades of my life have really been, full of extreme contrasts. I have found myself in a great many odd circumstances, both hilarious and awful, many of which seem, even to me, unbelievable.” Lady in Waiting begs the question of why bother with fiction when fascinating true tales like Anne Glenconner’s are out there to devour.
Katherine Arends is the Collection Development Librarian at Alamance County Public Libraries. She can be reached at email@example.com.