Magazine article The Spectator

Birds of a Feather

Magazine article The Spectator

Birds of a Feather

Article excerpt

Peregrine Worsthorne



Weidenfeld, L14.99, pp. 149, ISBN 0297829408

Do we really need yet another book commemorating - rather belatedly, in this instance - the 50th anniversary of the Queen's coronation? Other things being equal, my answer would be a resounding 'no'. But other things are not equal, since in the author of this particular commemoration the monarch has at last found someone who can tackle that subject with natural sympathy and understanding; someone, that is, who not only comes from the same generation as the Queen but also, and much more important, from the only rank or class in society which at least approximates in altitude to, and is in calling distance of, the one to which the Queen herself belongs. At any rate she and the author speak roughly the same language, are vaguely on the same wavelength.

This is a great advantage. For like it or not, the Queen is upper-class, and so is the author, Nigel Nicolson, son of Sir Harold Nicolson, the official biographer of George V, and, more to the point, of Vita Sackville West, of the illustrious family which owns Knowle, one of England's most historic stately homes. So to a degree that is very rare nowadays they are birds of a feather, an affinity which lends to the book a unique quality of authenticity. 'In person', Nicolson writes, 'the Queen speaks as members of the upper class have always spoken: "What? Three sausages! Don't be greedy. But one owes oneself a treat from time to time"'. The book has perfect pitch all through and does not need to rely on court gossip or revelations by royal servants for one to know what is going on, since the author himself is part of what is going on, and has been so all his life.

For example, on the eve of the announcement of the future Queen's engagement to Prince Philip on 8 July 1947, he was one of the Grenadier officers whom she invited to dance with her at a ball in Apsley House, the London seat of the dukes of Wellington. 'We talked,' he writes, but no mention of her engagement was yet possible. 'I fear I do not dance very well,' I said. 'Nor do I,' she replied untruthfully, 'because I was never allowed to ski. …

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