There are fascinating lives and then there are Lady Anne Glenconner levels of fascinating lives. In her memoir, Lady in Waiting she tells us about her 30-years working as a Lady in Waiting to Princess Margaret (Queen Elizabeth II’s younger sister), and that is just a small part of the incredible things that have happened in her life.
Opening sentence: One morning at the beginning of 2019, when I was in my London flat, the telephone rang.
Lady in Waiting was an unexpected roller-coaster of a read. Every page seemed to reveal a new snippet or story of celebrity, royalty or excess that had me engrossed and thinking, ‘whaaat?‘ and then her personal tragedies had me crying as I read.
Who is Anne Glenconner?
Anne Coke was born into an aristocratic family – her father was the 5th Earl of Leicester – and she grew up in the stunning Holkham Hall in North Norfolk. She was also childhood friends with Queen Elizabeth II and Princess Margaret.
However, she didn’t necessarily do things you would expect – for example, she took to the road as a travelling pottery sales-woman and didn’t just marry the first man her father wanted her to. There were echoes of Pride & Prejudice when she talks about her ‘coming out’ ball and the pressure to find a husband – it’s nuts that not much changed in those circles! (At least in the 1950s when Anne was husband-hunting.)
To say that Anne Glenconner has been through a lot in her life is an understatement. She’s seen and experienced things that many other people haven’t and never will: whether that’s the inner workings of the Royal Family, owning an island in the West Indies (her husband somewhat-questionably bought Mustique in 1958) or the true horror of having to bury two of her five children, her life story is enthralling.
What is a Lady-in-Waiting? Well, you are essentially a PA to a Princess (or female member of the Royal Family). Rather than hiring a random person, they hire a friend who is from aristocratic circles, a very well-bred assistant.
Before becoming her Lady-in-Waiting in 1971 (a role she remained in until Princess Margaret died in 2002), Anne was great friends with Princess Margaret, so gives us tantalising insights into life with a Royal and confirms my suspicions that Princess Margaret is my favourite Royal (followed closely by Prince Harry, then the Queen).
A strange marriage
Anne’s marriage was confusing to read about. In 1956 she married Colin Tennant, 3rd Baron Glenconner and although enraptured by her eccentric husband when they got married, love features less and less in her commitment to him through the years.
By the end, they live in different parts of the world, Colin with a younger ‘right hand man’ that did everything for him… This is also the man Colin left everything to in his will, completely cutting out his loyal wife and family.
There are also multiple stories of Colin’s famed temper tantrums; Anne really did put up with so much. Divorce, however, just really wasn’t an option for her. This all made me feel so sad for her.
The eighty-seven years I’ve lived on this earth have been many things, good and bad, but above all, extraordinary.
Anne’s thoughts on motherhood were interesting too – she acknowledges the mistakes she made due to convention and not being around as much as she should have been for her older boys, but she is dedicated and loving mother, who was always there when her children needed her.
Another thing I loved was Anne’s super-resilient outlook on life. Something she acknowledges carried her through the rough times, it is very ‘British upper lip, show no emotion’ but at the same time, it’s what worked for her:
My mother taught me many things, above all that I should stay strong for my family, reminding me always to give an air of absolute resolve, just as she had done.
Now in her 80s, Anne is living the life she wants, just for her. For a glimpse into a whole different world – an aristocratic life full of incredible stories and a woman whose take-things-head-on attitude got her through everything life threw at her, Lady in Waiting is a must-read.