Cleverer Than We All Knew, the Queen of Romance in a Froth of Pink

Daily Mail (London), May 22, 2000 | Go to article overview

Cleverer Than We All Knew, the Queen of Romance in a Froth of Pink


Byline: TIM HEALD

SHE would have been cross not to have made 100 and cross not to have outlived the Queen Mother. Cross would have been the operative word. She would have been exasperated by the Almighty's poor timing but she would have shrugged her shoulders and accepted it with British-blitz stoicism as just another example of what's gone wrong with this once great country ours.

Cross, definitely, but nothing as uncontrollable rage, let alone distress or dismay. Once in Heaven she will certainly be having a word with dear Saint Peter to get all these mistakes sorted out. And she would have pronounced the word 'crawss' just as she pronounced girl 'gel' and affected to think most of the rest us unspeakably 'common'.

Barbara Cartland, who died yesterday aged 98, was step-grandmother to Princess Diana and author of more than 650 novels of unsullied love. Sales of her books are said to have topped 750million worldwide.

liked Dame Barbara but we had a terminal falling-out a few years ago after which - to my regret we never spoke again. She took exception to my biography of her and I refused to change anything unless she could prove I was wrong.

On the whole couldn't, so I didn't. She was not amused.

Her retaliation, which characteristically she got in first, was to lie down on her chaise-longue and spend a fortnight dictating an autobiography of her own. She then told everyone that she had never met me, never read my book but that it sounded 'dreadful'.

My first 'mistake' was over her ancestry which she wanted everyone to believe was incredibly grand and aristocratic.

In fact her antecedents were solidly middle class.

Her Brummie grandfather, James, lost a fortune buying shares in an unsuccessful railway scheme and shot himself one Sunday morning leaving his family in poverty.

Her father, Bertie Cartland, tried to gamble his way back to prosperity without much success and had to make do on the modest salary of Provincial Secretary of the Conservative group the Primrose League. He was killed in the Great War leaving his widow, Polly, poor as a church mouse, with Barbara and her two younger brothers to bring up.

Luckily Polly who, like her daughter, also lived on into her nineties, was almost as indomitable and somehow ends were met. 'Poor I may be, but common I am not,' she once remarked.

Barbara was born on July 9, 1901, at her grandparents' house in Edgbaston - though there was confusion about the exact date owing, she said, to a secretarial error in compiling her entry to Who's Who. Unkind critics alleged deliberate falsification.

She was educated at Worcester High School and Malvern - she hated both - and then boarded with families in and around Bath where shared governesses before going to a finishing school the Solent called Netley Abbey.

BARBARA was a bit of a prude in public and in her writing but sitting on the sofa at Camfield Place, her Hertfordshire mansion, she could make a trooper blush with her descriptions of the sexual anatomy of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor.

Her own first real life sexual adventure seems to have been the Bath period when a retired major invited her to bedroom to show her 'how revolver worked'.

Then, in 1919, on holiday on Isle of Wight, she discovered the thrill of male company and claimed to have received three proposals of marriage that fortnight alone.

time this rose to around 50 though some were sceptical - particularly when she included Earl Mountbatten of Burma among her unsuccessful suitors. He enjoyed her company but had no sexual interest in her.

So that Barbara could be a from reluctant debutante, mother moved her family a rented house in South Kensington from which the two of them conducted the London season as if it were a military campaign. Barbara told her much loved brother, Ronald, that she wanted to 'get to know everybody in London' and set about doing exactly that. …

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