Anne Glenconner remains ready for anything. She has been an inveterate and venturesome traveller for 60 years and never goes anywhere without a bottle of vodka for emergencies. Her eloquence is simple and unadorned. She does not pity herself or repine; whenever possible, she gives thanks. Her humour is crisp, but she is devoid of malice. Lady in Waiting is gentle, wise, unpretentious, but above all inspiring. It will make all but hard and selfish readers remember their own mistakes, and count their blessings.
To be more generous, the author, aged 87 and completely untutored in book-writing, has produced a candid, witty and stylish memoir. It is as richly spiced with malice — I doubt if Bianca Jagger will relish the put-down of her own princessy ways, or Jerry Hall the spiky comments on her lack of social grace — as it is darkened by the tragedies that befell the author’s three sons, two of whom predeceased her. But the glory of this book — a banquet of imperious egos — derives from her reports from the front on life with Princess Margaret and life with, and quite often, without, her own late husband. In picking prizes for selfish awfulness of the kind that turns a disrespectful reader’s mind to guillotines, it’s hard to know which of these two entertaining monsters would merit first place in the tumbril.
Early interest in the book has focused on the author’s long friendship with Princess Margaret. They first met at the age of two or three, because Lady Anne’s childhood home at Holkham Hall, Norfolk, was only half an hour from Sandringham. They played practical jokes together, springing out at footmen as they passed with heavy silver trays (and were told off by sensible Princess Elizabeth).
Margaret, who died in 2002, is often portrayed as selfish and difficult, but a much warmer picture emerges here. She certainly had what are referred to as “royal moments”. When the Glenconners marked out land for Margaret on Mustique, she moved the boundary posts to make it larger. However, she was also happy to pitch in with household chores: washing the car was a particular favourite.