Magazine article The Spectator

Wise Words

Magazine article The Spectator

Wise Words

Article excerpt

When I was a child I remember some song from the radio called `Nobody Loves A Fairy When She's Forty'. It was supposed to be funny but every time I heard it I felt so sorry for this poor unloved fairy that tears pricked my eyes.

I had forgotten that song completely until the news that Princess Margaret had died. Commentators have pointed to the ambiguity shown by the public at her death, comparing the sad sparseness of floral tributes to the thousand gardens that bloomed when Diana, Princess of Wales was killed in a car crash with her lover.

Well, nobody loves a Princess when she is 71. She is too old to be glamorous and too young to be the `nation's favourite granny' especially as that role is already filled by the last Empress of India.

The impression of Margaret is of someone who was bitter, imperious and demanding. Robin Day once told me a story of a night when he was forced to drive the Princess back home to Kensington Palace from a dinner party. It was 2 a.m. and Day longed to leave as he had an early call at the television studio. But the Princess kept him in the kitchen for two hours. He did not dare even to ask to sit down as the Princess remained standing. He recalled how she fixed him with a rheumy eye and poured out her loneliness. For one awful moment Day thought he was expected to sacrifice his body for his country but eventually she allowed him to return home.

There were many such tales as these, and when, aged 14, I found myself in the same box as her at a racecourse, I hoped very much to be ignored - though obviously not for the same reasons as Day. But my father was obdurate. `Princess Margaret wants to meet you,' he boomed in a voice that brooked no dissent, especially as the whole room had heard it.

In those days she was still described as glamorous but the woman who stood before me seemed anything but. She was small and plump and her costume - for this is the only adequate word to describe it - added to the peculiar spectacle. A large green hat with an enormous feather obscured the upper half of her face. I remember being struck by how large her nose was. She appeared all nose, in fact. `Hello, Ma'am,' I said, apprehensively, hobbling about in some absurd un-racecourse-- like shoes. …

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