Review: Ninety-Nine Glimpses of Princess Margaret by Craig Brown


When it comes to chosing a cover photo some people just nail it. That’s the case wit this book. See the horrified woman behind “Ma’am Darling”? That eye says it all.

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A little sisterly side-eye from Queen Elizabeth

Princess Margaret, Queen Elizabeth’s only sibling, could have been the first Real Housewife of Kennsington Palace, the model for Bridezilla and the Chairman of the Board of the First Wives Club. She could also according to some, have been a remarkable cabarete singer and piano player.

She had a seemingly unending need for deference, booze and the beaches of Mustique. She is credited by some for starting the 1960’s upperclass “too posh to push” school of child birth. Easy to understand why.

She had a cringe-inducing, well-publicised romp with a Toyboy and yet retained the nerve to cut Sarah, Duchess of York, dead for having her toes sucked on the front page of the tabloids in the late 1980’s. All of this made her both hated, revield, loved, and adored. And mocked–oh how often was she mocked? In recent times by Tracey Ullman, previously by the Spitting Image puppets and before that by witty magazines.

Her life, though, ended on a very sad note. Not used to checking anything for herself, she badly burnt her feet stepping into a scalding bath–the water was always “just right” for Ma’am. Then her horrendous smoking and drinking caught up with her and she suffered several stroked.

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Margaret near the end of her life outside her mother’s home, Clarence House

The Book

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Thorpe and second wife, the former Countess of Harewood–former wife of Princess Margaret’s cousin.

This book could be sutbtitled: An Anthonlogy of Horrific Royal Behavior. As the title suggests it is a collection of antedotes on “Margot” and her very regal behavior intetrspersed with biographical sound-bytes.  Many of these I’ve read elsewhere as you would expect in an anthology.  I was especially fascinated by one “new” bit–that Margaret’s husband, the then Anthony Armstong-Jones, a child of divorced parents who endured polio, was a classmate and friend of scandal-plagued Liberal politician Jeremy Thorpe.

The story is that Thorpe, in addition to giving school chums an eerily prescient performance of the speech he planned to give when standing down as Prime Minister, Thorpe hoped and planned to marry Princess Margaret! Instead she married his friend, Tony. Since Thorpe was a homosexual in a UK that still considered that an offense resulting in prison, Margaret would have been the most protective beard a man ever had. But, there’s an interesting end to that story beyond Thorpe’s scandals. He married the woman Margaret’s paternal first cousin, Lord Harewood, dumped!

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The Mitford sisters

Another new-to-me-story concerns Jessica Mitford–the liberal end of the famous six Mitford sisters. By then middle aged, an radical in America and married to the Black Panthers attorney, she unexpectly found herself seated next to Princess Margaret at a party. After a bit of nervous chat, Jessica’s husband arrived and she introduced him. He did not know or did not admit to knowing H.R.H.

Decca [Jessica’s nickname] please present your husband to me,” the Princess says.

“I can’t think why you can’t just say your name,” Decca says back.

Margot called over a flunkey and had him make the required “presentation.”

My Verdict

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For those who think Prince Harry’s naked game of pool or turning up at a party in a Nazi unform was the utmost in royal boorishness, this book will open your eyes to just how awful the “Spare” heir can be.

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Margaret and her children, the current Lord Snowdon and Lady Sarah Chatto

To close, one GOOD antecdote I’ve used in my own life. When asked about taking her children to museums, Margaret recalled the endless tours and lectures with her grandmother, Queen Mary [the loathed each other, by the way]. Margaret said something all parents should follow. She took her children to see one, maybe two pictures in a museum. Better that they beg for one more than be bored into hating it all.

4 Stars

Ninety-Nine Glimpses of Princess Margaret byt Craig Brown

2 thoughts on “Review: Ninety-Nine Glimpses of Princess Margaret by Craig Brown

  1. Oh my — Margaret does sound like a mess! What a sad photo of her when she was older, although she was still ‘dressed up.’ I do like the anecdote you related about her kids and museums. How have her kids turned out? I guess they’re about our age — wasn’t the girl in Charles/Diana’s wedding? I hope their lives are less momentous than their mom’s.


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