10 Apr 2011

Review: "Princess Margaret - A Life Unravelled"

While reading "Past Imperfect" by Julian Fellowes, I was intrigued by the narrator telling how the youth of the 1960s aristo milieu would flock to a nightclub if Princess Margaret was known to be there on the night. In this day and age "hunting" royalty and celebs clubbing is something the tabloid press (no names mentioned, none forgotten) seems to spend an exceptional amount of time on, however, I somehow hadn't imagined that that was already done in the 1960s. So in my curiosity I picked up Tim Heald's "Princess Margaret - A Life Unravelled" to learn more about this modern party princess, the sister of HRH Queen Elizabeth II.

First thing first: I love the cover. The look in her eyes, the crossed arms. Taking by the amazing Cecil Beaton - apparently in the loos in Kensington Palace... - the cover tells a story in itself and only encouraged me to read the biography.

Princess Margaret was born in Scotland between the wars and her father was brother to the future king. However, as you know Wallis Simpson then showed up on stage and an abdication meant that Margaret was now daughter of the king and sister of the future queen. This meant that growing up in the austere Britain during the WWII years, she was a very special girl but what Heald seeks to uncover in this book is how Margaret reacted and developed as she grew from being the spoiled daughter of a king to being on the outskirts of the royal family. Princess Margaret's life seems to have been no dance on roses - she fell in love with a man she could not marry and went on to marry and divorce Lord Snowdon. They are both alleged to have had several lovers both during and after the marriage and what I really really like about this biography is that Heald seems to pay no heed to gossip. He sometimes refers to rumours and gossip but always makes sure to underline that this is just rumours.
The biography could so easily have focussed more on the rumours and the gossip about Margaret but instead the author keeps a sober tone and distinguishes between known facts and rumour. He could probably have written a much more colourful biography but the focus is on being true to the subject of the book - Princess Margaret - and what the people around her remember about her and who includes lots of excerpts from letters and other written sources. It is a really fine biography that made me interested in reading about some of the princesses contemporaries such as John Betjeman and which gave me a glimpse into the past.


  1. She looks so much like the queen did when she was young. I'm not really one for royal biographies myself, but I do respect this one for not getting into gossip too much.

  2. Yes there is a lot of resemblance! I was surprised by the sober tone - suprised in a good way.