Ma’am Darling: 99 Glimpses of Princess Margaret
by Craig Brown
She made John Lennon blush and Marlon Brando clam up. She cold-shouldered Princess Diana and humiliated Elizabeth Taylor.
Andy Warhol photographed her. Jack Nicholson offered her cocaine. Gore Vidal revered her. John Fowles hoped to keep her as his sex-slave. Dudley Moore propositioned her. Francis Bacon heckled her. Peter Sellers was in love with her.
For Pablo Picasso, she was the object of sexual fantasy. “If they knew what I had done in my dreams with your royal ladies” he confided to a friend, “they would take me to the Tower of London and chop off my head!”
Princess Margaret aroused passion and indignation in equal measures. To her friends, she was witty and regal. To her enemies, she was rude and demanding.
In her 1950’s heyday, she was seen as one of the most glamorous and desirable women in the world. By the time of her death, she had come to personify disappointment. One friend said he had never known an unhappier woman.
The tale of Princess Margaret is pantomime as tragedy, and tragedy as pantomime. It is Cinderella in reverse: hope dashed, happiness mislaid, life mishandled.
Combining interviews, parodies, dreams, parallel lives, diaries, announcements, lists, catalogues and essays, Ma’am Darling is a kaleidoscopic experiment in biography, and a witty meditation on fame and art, snobbery and deference, bohemia and high society.
I received “Ma’am Darling” in my August Reading in Heels Subscription Box and as I big fan of “The Crown”, I was really excited to read this one. Princess Margaret isn’t someone I’ve ever really known much about, but her firey character portrayed by Vanessa Kirby in the series is so interesting that I had to learn more about her.
And I really did learn more in this book. Told through 99 short chapters, Brown explores Princess Margaret’s life from a variety of views and directions. Every day I came home with a new fact about the Princess: did you know that horoscopes were basically invented just for her?! It was mind-boggling.
Princess Margaret was born with every advantage she could possibly have. She’s wealthy, she’s beautiful and she’s important. People fall at her feet and meet her every demand. Yet despite this, she was disliked by so many people. She’s mean, with a cruel tongue and a bad attitude. She does the bare minimum and has little care for anyone but herself.
The style of this book is not that of your typical biography; it’s gossipy and it’s bitchy. Of course the author includes some important dates and places, but it doesn’t get bogged down in the tiny details and mostly focuses on what’s most important.
I did find that I got a little bored in parts. Some parts of this Royal’s history just weren’t that interesting to me. There were also a couple of chapters where the author considered what might have been which I really wasn’t a fan of. There was a whole chapter about her imaginary marriage to Picasso. This baffled me and made me quite angry, I just don’t understand why would you invent whole chapters in a biography! I’d have enjoyed the book so much more if it were half the size; a quick 200-250 pages would have been just right for this style and would hopefully have avoided these strange additions.
By the end of the book, I actually felt quite sorry for Princess Margaret. When you look back at her life, a lot of what she went through was so sad. After the death of her father at an early age, she was pushed into the background of family life when her sister became Queen. Later in life she was poorly treated by her husband, highly criticised by the press and laughed at behind her back by those she believed to be her close friends. It felt that, despite her own negative traits, things became a bit too cruel and endless pages of gossip in this book made me feel quite sad about it. Money certainly can’t buy you happiness and it’s clear that behind her tough exterior was a unhappy woman.
“The luxuries, of course, and privilege – the money, houses, holidays, the lot; all there were real, and all these drove a wedge between your life and ours.”
Overall rating: A fascinating glimpse into the life of a Royal we don’t really talk about much these days. I don’t think I had ever heard of Princess Margaret before watching “The Crown” and that really is a shame as she certainly was an interesting woman! This book was a little long for my tastes as there is only so much gossip you can take before it starts to feel mean, yet I’d still recommend this for fans of the Royal Family. These “99 Glimpses of Princess Margaret” get 3 stars from me.