Thursday, June 28, 2007

Royal gossip

Sarah Bradford is the pre-eminent biographer of the British royal family. She isn't the richest and most famous of such writers -- Kitty Kelley claims those titles with The Royals -- but Sara B is the biographer who is respected by serious historians. Her books will last, whereas Kitty Kelley's book, with its cavalier approach to evidence, is already dismissed as something of a joke.

Among Ms Bradford's books are biographies of George VI, the present Queen, and, of course, the unavoidable Diana. It was inevitable, therefore, that some newspaper or magazine should commission Sarah Bradford to review Tina Brown's new book about that icon of the late twentieth century.

The journal in question turned out to be the Spectator. But behold: when the review was submitted, the Speccie refused to print it. So the Guardian printed it instead. But -- and it's a fairly big but -- the Grauniad only printed an 'abridged and edited' version. Presumably the lawyers took a long hard look at it, and, the English libel laws being what they are, set about carving it up.

The resulting review, what's left of it, is not too catty, but you won't be surprised to hear that Ms Bradford is not all that impressed with the Brown opus.

While we're on the subject of royal gossip, the Times last week made a very mealy-mouthed reference to the fact that the Queen Mother (who died in 2002 at the age of 101) had a colostomy. Apparently someone who should have known better made a joke about it at a dinner. Later the joker was forced to apologise.

The interesting thing about this colostomy business is that some sources seem to regard the Queen Mother's surgical operation as an unconfirmed rumour. However, my memory is rather different, though I can't give chapter and verse.

As I recall, the Queen Mother was obliged to undergo that surgical procedure several decades before she actually died. At the time it was probably a closely guarded secret. However, when she was about eighty or so, the QM decided (perhaps on advice from friends) that it might be helpful to other elderly people if she let it be known that she had led a very full life for a good many years, despite this inconvenience. Accordingly there came a time when she allowed one of her many biographers to include a reference to it, deep in the boring details of chapter 39, or wherever. It was a matter that she was quite prepared to have in the public domain, so to speak, without it being overemphasised.

To my mind this was a brave and worthy thing to do. I'm sure that many a surgeon, when faced with a frightened old lady, needing to undergo an operation for cancer, has been very pleased to be able to quote the QM as an example of a great survivor. And I'm sure that many a patient, when struggling to get used to the situation afterwards, has been very proud to whisper to her friends, 'Of course, no one is supposed to know, but actually the Queen Mother's got one too.'


SusanHill said...

My mother was just one such and she wore her colostomy bag with pride to the end, always quoting the QM in a proud sort of way. You`re right, it was a generous thing to do and especially from someone of her generation to whom such personal disclosure did not come naturally.

(blogger will not recognise my log in)

Anonymous said...

What's the world coming to when the critics start ripping the critics? Every author should be so lucky.

Even here in the colonies, most of us greatly admired the Queen Mom.

Suzan Abrams, email: said...

"...that the Queen Mother (who died in 2002 at the age of 101) had a colostomy. Apparently someone who should have known better made a joke about it at a dinner."

Oh dear...

gih said...

I like that too.

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