Vickers’ biography of Beaton, published in 1985, was a triumph and led to many spin-offs. This is another; but the trouble is that Vickers assumes you will already be familiar with his biography and will therefore understand references to e.g. “the Ellesmere ball incident”, or “the Jewish row” – which are only passingly explored in footnotes. So Malice in Wonderland is not much help if you want to know about Cecil Beaton. On the other hand, if you are a young man just embarking on a career of social mountaineering, it will prove invaluable.
At the start of the lockdown year Vickers dug out the 51 private diaries he had kept during those years (1979–85). “In those . . . glorious weeks of summer 2020,” he writes, “I went back to a lost world and lived it once more.” This book is a luxuriant trawl through the recovered past. It’s an invigorating, if breathless, ride. Film stars and fascists, dukes and dinosaurs, beauties and monsters, aesthetes and queens — Audrey Hepburn, Roy Strong, Greta Garbo, Lord Weidenfeld, Truman Capote, Princess Margaret, Stephen Tennant, Diana Mosley, Lillian Gish, David Bailey, Grace Kelly — teem through these pages, offering Vickers their two penn’orth of opinions about his subject...
On page 44 of this extraordinary book, Vickers reveals (in a footnote): “I had spent much of my teenage years making models of living figures”. You may wonder if, in publishing these diary entries, he isn’t so much celebrating the monstres sacrés he met in the 1980s as cutting them down to the size of his figurines.
So, as you see, I got as caught up in these distant but strangely evocative events as Vickers did. He carries us along, name-dropping as he goes, and it’s all delicious in its way, recreating a lost world. At the final crowning moment in 1985 when Vickers is informed that his biography is No 1 in the Sunday Times bestseller list, he dives into the pool at the Cipriani Hotel in Venice and we share his intense relief.