A Portrait of Indiscretion; the Roy Strong Diaries for the 20 Years That He Was at the Heart of Britain's Establishment, He Kept a Diary of His Dealings with the Royals, the Rich and the Powerful. Utterly Indiscreet, Scathingly Honest and Gloriously Waspish It Is One of the Most Intimate Chronicles of an Era Ever Published. ONLY IN THE MAIL, STARTING MONDAY
Byline: ANNE DE COURCY
WILL Lord Gowrie, Roddy Llewellyn or Princess Michael of Kent ever speak to Sir Roy Strong again? Out pour their unbuttoned comments in his forthcoming diaries - diaries which drip with riveting gossip and glittering indiscretion garnered from 20 years at the pulsing heart of the Establishment.
For whenever Strong attended a banquet, dinner, lunch or private reception at Kensington Palace, back he came and wrote it all down. The pages seethe with Raine Spencer (`hair like an exploded balloon'), Diana as the young Princess of Wales (`her accent is really rather awful, considering she is an Earl's daughter'), the writer and critic Marina Warner, famed for her high-minded intellect (`all Marina could think of was that Prince Charles was 22 and had he been to bed with anyone?').
There, too, is his own first encounter with Princess Margaret. `I'd never sat next to her before and she ignored me until it came to the pudding. Then she wiped her plate slowly with her napkin, at which point Beatrix (Miller, editor of Vogue) leaned over and said: `The food here's great but let's face it, the washing up's rotten.' '
Writer, historian, critic, the man who, as its director from 1967-73, put the National Portrait Gallery firmly on the media map, ditto during his stint as director of the Victoria and Albert Museum 1974-87; Ferens Professor of Fine Art at the University of Hull 1972; winner of innumerable prizes, lectureships, awards, with dozens of books to his credit - behold Sir Roy Strong, risen like a phoenix from the ashes of a poor, unhappy childhood in a North London suburb.
For decades Strong was the visible face of the Arts. With his epicene, flamboyant clothes, lugubrious face with its long hair, luxuriant down-drooping moustache and small circular specs, he became a Sixties icon.
No gathering was complete without Strong's presence, while his own receptions for the glamorous and successful exhibitions he organised, packed with the great, the good and the royal, were renowned.
Few have leapt so nimbly to the highest social pinnacles. A Spectator cartoon of the time (printed in his book) shows him remarking: `What I always say is: beauty is in the eye of the reader of Debrett.'
`It may sound snobbish to say so,' he says now, `but when I made that leap into another world, I felt completely at home. It was as though this was where I should always have been.
`It sounds an awful creeping-up remark, but people spoke the language and had the attitudes I felt completely at home with. I took to the way of life at once. I just felt that this was the world I belonged to. As though I'd previously been speaking a foreign tongue and suddenly found myself in a country where the language was familiar.'
Indeed, his own voice is what one would call `smart', his wife is the distinguished theatre designer Julia Trevelyan Oman - daughter of the scholarly Charles Oman, one of the world's great experts on antique silver, and historian Joan Trevelyan - while The Laskett, their home in Herefordshire, is crammed with the sort of pictures, objects and furniture that could have come from some wonderful country house.
Books line the walls of the sitting room in the pink-washed guest cottage at one end of the three-and-a-half-acre garden, the Strongs' passion for the past 20-odd years.
Difficult as it is to believe of anyone who heads the second chapter of his book A Star Is Born, Strong's early life was crippled by shyness. His parents' marriage was bitterly unhappy, his commercial traveller father icy and aloof towards his three sons, vicious and taunting towards his wife who, seeking happiness in her children, became desperately over-possessive. Roy, as the youngest, bore the full brunt of this appalling burden.
`When my father died in 1984 I was deeply upset that I couldn't feel anything. But how could it be otherwise? …