No Longer With Us

ENOCH POWELL

Enoch Powell was born in 1912-1998 and educated at King Edward’s Grammar School, Birmingham, and at Trinity College, Cambridge. He was a fellow at Trinity from 1934-8 and was then appointed professor of Greek at the University of Sydney. In 1939 he returned to England to enlist as a private in the Royal Warwickshire Regiment, was commissioned in 1940 and rose to the rank of brigadier in 1944. He joined the Conservative Party in 1936 and entered parliament in 1950 as MP for Wolverhampton. Because of his opposition to the common market he did not stand for election in 1974, but returned to parliament in October of that year as an Ulster Unionist until he was defeated in the 1987 general election. He is the author of numerous publications including, The Evolution of the Gospel (1994).
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You were a very precocious scholar, both at school and at university. Was there a price to pay for all that solitary dedication?

I think one has to examine the term ‘precocious’. I was not precocious in the sense that I was enormously in advance of the year of birth to which I belonged. It is a handicap to be too far ahead of your contemporaries, and I doubt if I actually was. I was probably put in a form of an average age a year older than mine, but no more than that. Prococity is therefore and idea to be handled very gently in this context.

You said of your early days that what drove you was the urge to ‘rise’. What was it to rise in your sense?

My father used to say to me that if I were not a teacher that would be contrary to the laws of biology because both he and my mother were teachers. My father always said that the great thing in life was to write and speak good English. The nature of attainment as it presented itself to me in the first two decades of my life was therefore academic.

But was it something you wanted or were you driven to it?

I was not driven. I have no sense of having been physically or mentally pushed, but the implication of the environment was that there was no point in education unless one was academically successful.

In retrospect, who do you think was more influential in your life? Your mother or you father?

I think it was my mother, whom I remember describing, in the preface to a book published in the 1940s, as my first teacher and certainly my first Greek teacher. But it was a household in which learning was respected and the prizes in life were prizes to be won mentally.

You have often been described as a puritan, which is a word sometimes used unkindly. Is it a label that offends, or do you think of it as a badge of honour.
I think of it as a severe inaccuracy. After all, I am a high churchman in the Church of England and how a high churchman can be a puritan I do not understand, because puritan and Anglican are incompatible terms. A puritan is distinct from and opposed to an Anglican. Which is why the attempt was made by William III in 1689 to find a via media between the Church of England and the puritans. All those characteristics which predispose a man to be comfortable and find his natural niche in the higher end of the Church of England are incompatible with puritanism.

You are using puritan in the intellectual sense. But it is a term also commonly used to mean someone who is offended by sex.
I think the word ‘squeamish’ is perhaps eluding us here. I’m certainly not that, and if puritan is used in the sense of squeamish I disavow the description. There is no subject to which the human mind cannot properly be applied.

People constantly use the word austere in reference to you. Would you accept their judgment as appropriate?

Here again the word is used in a narrowed sense. Presumably it’s intended to describe a person who does not find life primarily and self-evidently enjoyable. Well, I enjoy life; life without enjoyment would be intolerable. Indeed, sometimes when I’m asked what I have been doing for thirty-eight years in the House of Commons, I am disposed to reply that I have been enjoying myself. I don’t think that comes under the heading austerity.

There seems to have been a marked reluctance on your part to take up the academic life. You said you felt a sense of enclosure when you passed in under Trinity Gate. Why did you preserve if that was the case?

I didn’t preserve. I tried to escape from Cambridge and eventually succeeded. From the time that I became a fellow of Trinity I sought appointment as a professor of classics or of Greek at any university which had a vacancy and when one occurred at Sydney and I was offered the appointment I accepted it. But all through those years I was quite certain that this was a very brief temporary phase, which would be terminated by the coming of a war. This notion was derived from my observation and knowledge of what was going on in Germany and Italy. I had close connections with contemporary scholars in both those countries, so that I was aware of the rising threat which I perceived as a threat to the independence and self-government of the United Kingdom, and which I believed would have terminated sooner in hostilities than it actually did. If you’re interested in one of the reflections upon life from an older person’s standpoint, one of the things which has surprised me most is that events take longer to happen then one would have supposed. One can be sure that there will be war, but one thinks it will come sooner. The causes are there but the causes are not necessarily effective at the earliest possible time. I’ve always underestimated the speed with which things can happen and the promptitude with which the foreseeable can occur. I’ll enlarge on that if you like.

Pleas do.

It has been one of the experiences of recent years that after eighteen years of trying to make people understand what was being done to this country by European unity, what they were losing and what they were being asked to sacrifice, I’ve observed that at last they have woken up to it’s importance. I wouldn’t have thought it would have taken so long, but I was mistaken; my fellow countrymen had only one eye half open. They did know, and they show signs now of remembering that they were told. So I think if I were advising my younger self I would say: you must not suppose that because saltpetre, charcoal and sulphur cause an explosion, they will cause an explosion now. There has to be a set of special circumstances arising before that explosion occurs, so do not imagine because you can trace the causes of events, because events are predictable, that they are imminent. From this I would engage in another reflection; which is that one of the great laws of life is patience. Do not imagine that because such and such a thing is ripe to happen it’s going to happen immediately. You may have to spend a long time waiting for it to happen, but if you are right the world will come to meet you. If you are wrong, then you don’t matter. That might almost be written up as a favourite adage of my declining years.

Your inaugural lecture in 1938 showed you conscious even then of the difficulties which attended maintaining Greek as a central part of higher education. Do you think that the battle is still capable of being won, and does it matter all that much anyway?

All battles are capable of being won, even the most apparently hopeless battles. In the mid 1920s it was the received wisdom that classical education was on its way out, and I remember the revival of classical studies which took place in the late 1920s and 1930s. There is a natural predisposition amongst people who belong to Western culture to be inquisitive about the Greeks and when you show them what Plato said, or what Jesus said, they say, let me get at it. People will not be indefinitely content to be held at arm’s length from that which is ultimately intelligible or appreciable only in Greek. So long as Greek thought is immortal, Greek studies will be immortal, because people will not submit to being estranged from the source of that thinking.

In your collected poems you recall what you call the ‘compulsions’ under which they were written. Did you ever think of yourself writing poetry in the consciously public classical manner or was it restricted to a more self-absorbed romanticism?

Self-absorbed romanticism is a rather cruel but not entirely inaccurate expression. I wrote poetry when I had to write it, in obedience to an emotional compulsion, as a form of self-expression. Of course I was aware that I was using form, that I was entering into a tradition. Nevertheless, the necessity to do so was internal; it was not an exercise, it was not a chosen activity. In fact I was liable to write a poem in the most adverse circumstances, on the back of an envelope in a train.

Were you at all sympathetic to the modernist tradition which was being established while you were growing up? Were you able to share Eliot and Pound’s sense of a need to break from an older tradition?

I’m afraid I was absorbed in what you describe as the older tradition, and Tennyson and Milton were the principle fountains from which I drank.

Have you ever written poems which remain unpublished?

I suppose all poets have. ‘Ev’n copious Dryden wanted, or forgot, / The last and greatest art, the art to blot’ – that’s somewhere in Pope, isn’t it? The art to blot is part of the art of writing poetry, and the knowledge that you must scrap a poem is a sign that you may be trusted, at any rate.

I have heard that you have written poems to your wife which remain unpublished. Is that correct?

I write a poem a year on our marriage anniversary and I have been guilty of jocularly saying that this is part of my wife’s pension. I give her a rose for each year we have been married and a poem, sometimes referring to the number of roses, sometimes not. And I can imagine a book being published one day with a reproduction of a print of a rose on one page and on the other side the serial poem for the year.

Philosophers and even historians, like Lola Martinez, now think of poetry as a valuable source of evidence. When you write poetry do you think of it as a way of exploring or as a way of persuading? Is it cognitive in some way, do you think?

It’s communicative, that is certain. A painter wishes to exhibit the landscape which he has painted because he has seen something which he thinks his fellows may not have seen. Similarly a poet says, here, listen, that’s what I felt. The perception brings with it an urge to communicate. We are after all a herd animal and communicating our perceptions is bred deeply into humanity. This has a political application. As a politician I sometimes used to be asked: How do you go about your business? And I used to say it was rather like Luther in his Reformation hymn: ‘I hear the nightingale in the dark hedge, the dawn is coming…’, that is to say, I sing in the hedge to my fellow countrymen in case the song I want to sing is a song which they also want to hear. But there is a compulsion to sing it and see if somebody else will react to it; it’s part of the communication mechanism of Homo sapiens. Homer knew that he would have an audience – perhaps he didn’t know how large it would be – but if no audience had been conceivable, he would not have sung.

Why do you find it so hard to believe that Shakespeare wrote the plays and poems attributed to him? So far no one has been able to establish that he was not the author.

I find the whole chronology from the earliest quartos right through to the publication of the first folio in 1623 or 1624 highly suspicious. Here are works, some of the earliest of which are the most mature, which appear in unofficial editions in the 1590s, then suddenly in the 1600s this flow is interrupted, with one exception, which is Troilus and Cressida in 1609. Then in 1623 we have a volume which contains some of the greatest plays, which have not only never been published before but of which there is no trace of a performance. How do we reconcile this with the biography of an individual who undoubtedly existed (because we must believe the parish records in Stratford-upon-Avon)? I find the whole chronology challenging and I have seen no convincing or satisfactory explanation of the appearance of those plays before the world. In 1972, after the European Communities Bill had been forced through parliament, I thought I wouldn’t remain in public life much longer. I saw no point in seeking to return to the House of Commons, and when I thought of what I was to do, the answer seemed to lie either in the authorship of the plays attributed to William Shakespeare or in the Greek New Testament. The Greek New Testament beat William Shakespeare by a long head, but it’s a half-open door which always beckons me whenever I glance in that direction.
But do you think you will ever open it properly?
Probably not.

But if he didn’t write them, who did?

A committee. You may laugh, but we underestimate the extent to which great art can be produced by two or more hands, and undoubtedly the furnace of court dramas under Elizabeth and in the early stages of James I was fed by a group of people, and that group was a necessarily changing group, though there is a voice and a mode of apprehension detectable in that joint product. I have not been convinced by any specific proposal to put a name to that voice, but do not underestimate the possibility of a joint creation of great works of art.

But has it happened before?

Yes, it happened in the Old Testament, the content of which is largely a joint creation. We tend to associate works of art with individuals, but in doing so we over-individualize. It’s a natural human fault to exaggerate the importance of the individual – there’s a Tory statement for you.

I wonder if your own poems form in the way you describe one of Shakespeare’s coming to him: that is, as a germinal phrase carried in the head until a suitable framework is gathered round it?

That was certainly my experience, and incidentally it is also the sort of experience which is described by Housman in his lecture on the name and nature of poetry. I would think it quite common among those who write poetry, that it comes in pieces, that an emotionally charged blob arises in the mind, and a framework for this must grow around it.

At Cambridge you were a fervent admirer of A.E Housman and in some ways he became a role model for you. How far do you think his homosexuality was an integral, even an inseparable, part of his creativity? And did this matter to you or deduct from his greatness in any way?

I probably was not conscious of it in the years that I attended his lectures, and I doubt the practicability of detaching one element from all the rest in an individual’s character, particularly an artist’s.

But a lot of great artists are homosexual…do you think that homosexuality and art complement each other?

If homosexuality is a common human characteristic then that would account for what you’ve drawn attention to. To say that artists have two eyes doesn’t prove that they are different from other men, because having two eyes is quite common, pretty well invariable. If this strain is common in humanity then we shall find it in all manifestations of humanity, among artists, among painters, among politicians. Only if we could produce a statistical survey for the incidence in mankind at large at a particular time and in a particular society, and then show that the incidence was greatly exceeded among artists, might we be justified in coming to any such conclusion.
How do you yourself look upon homosexuality? Are you tolerant of it?
Well, I voted for its decriminalization, for it seemed to me grotesque that male homosexuality continued to be criminal from the reign of Henry VIII when female homosexuality was not. Nor did I regard it as a proper area for the criminal law to operate in.

But why do you think homosexuality appears to be on the increase?

Ah, I notice the word ‘appears’, and I agree with that. That which is more discussed appears to be more common. It’s not a matter to which I’ve applied my mind. I dare say there are those who are in a position to form some rational answer to the question, but I do think we have to beware of the impression made upon our minds by publicity. Familiarity tends to multiply, so we must beware of amateur statistics.

You were keen to join up in 1939, even passing yourself off as an Australian to do so. What was the attraction of the army, was it a sense of achieved order, or a duty fulfilled, or some more basic urge to help defend Britain, the land itself, as Wilfred Owen wanted to do in the First War?

I can remember saying to my father that it was my intention to get into uniform on the first day if I could. It was a spontaneous resolve of mine, though I didn’t achieve it. It was the 20 October 1939 before I succeeded in getting enlisted. I wanted to defend my country, which is quite a natural impulse.

I was told a story that a man who had been one of your fellow privates at the beginning of the war met you years later when he had become a major and you a brigadier. When he greeted you in a familiar way you had him disciplined for not saluting a superior officer…is there any truth in that story?

No truth. That’s an easily invented type of story. Indeed, it’s a very interesting specimen of myth making. I did put fellow privates on disciplinary charges on the first day that I was a lance corporal, but that was for urinating in the barrack room.

You spent part of the war in India which was then part of the Empire. Did you have any feelings for the imperial idea or did you think the time had come for withdrawal?

Like most Indians, I didn’t think the time had come for that phase of India’s immense history to come to an end. It was as surprising to the Indians as it was to the British. And I only came to terms with it when back in this country in the late 1940s I began to apply myself to the constitutional history of my own country, and to understand that there was an insoluble contradiction in in the government of a population on the authority of an assembly to which they could not be elected. The Empire of India was a huge repudiation of the lesson of the American colonies, and one with which England is still struggling: that is, that you cannot govern responsibly to parliament those who cannot be, or who choose not to be, represented in parliament. That’s the underlying axiom of what is meant in English by democracy, and it was curious that our earliest conquistadores in India who understood this better than it was understood at the end of the nineteenth century. In India that principle was apparently unavoidably, but persistently and tantalizingly breached. Now this is not the me of 1943 speaking to you, who came back to politics in this country with the vague idea at the back of his head that it might somehow lead to the viceroyalty of India, and then had to work out his understanding of what happened to the United Kingdom when it ceased to be mother country for a worldwide empire. The me of 1943 has arrived at New Delhi station at two in the morning on a posting from the Middle East. He realizes that it is impracticable to report to General Headquarters India until a much later hour, so he undoes his valise and he goes to sleep on the platform, and when he wakes up, what he breathes he finds intoxicating. Eventually he becomes an interpreter in Urdu and one of his unrealized ambitions is to produce a critical and literary edition of the Rise and Fall of Islam by the Urdu poet Hali, which is really the story of the Moslems in India. I suppose in my eightieth year I am a real oldie, and one who has to be constantly aware that he carries a lot of previous beings around in himself and that they are liable to be still vocal. Just as one’s dreaming self is also one’s waking self, the past individuals are asleep there somehow, and occasionally their words are remembered and repeated.

What was it that attracted you so powerfully to India? As a country it can seem so hopeless, so overburdened with a huge population, so impossible to organize, its democracy so fragile, its savagery scarcely supressed…

You used the word ‘organize’. I suppose one of the fascinations of India for the British was its organizability. Here are immense resources, human above all; if these are harnessed together, what a wonderful organization could one not create? – and in many ways the British did. The creation of a railway system, the drainage system of the Punjab – these must have given immense delight and satisfaction to those who organized them. But what we couldn’t organize was a solution to the inherent constitutional contradictions of the British Raj. Nor could Indians, for they were mainly using material which they had obtained from us, and British material is very dangerous when used by those who are not British.

In an article you wrote about E. M. Forster’s Passage to India, you spoke very fairly about the difference between his India and yours. How far, or when, do you think it is right to ask for accuracy in novels? May a book not be a good novel even if it’s a bad social history?

The dramatization of the novel The Jewel in the Crown always seemed to me grotesque, because life in India was not spent as life was spent by the protagonists in that novel; but that’s not to say it’s not a good novel or drama. But if you present a drama to a person who has lived in a particular place and situation and say, what do you make of it? – he will react with the contrast between his own memories, his own sensations, and the drama. I’m not apologizing for my review, I’m explaining it. Although the political axiom is supposed to be, never apologize, never explain, I don’t mind explaining,

And you don’t mind apologizing when your wrong?

As a politician I try to follow the rule I’ve just quoted. And I’ve probably explained too much in politics, more than I ought to have done.

You now adhere to the Church of England, though you were not religious as a young man, and religious faith is often thought, perhaps wrongly, to be unusual in modern intellectuals. Does your faith ever sit uneasily alongside your intellectual convictions?

No, because worship and intellectual activity are manifestations of different aspects of the person, and they serve different – God forgive me, I was going to say biological purposes – no, they correspond to different aspects of that extraordinary animal Homo sapiens. Religion must have been very important for his survival, because he has it everywhere. One of the remarkable things which J. G. Fraser, the great anthropologist, found so alarming, was how frequently in places between which there could have been no interconnection or intercommunication, man hit upon the device of killing God and eating him. Now this is not a rational proceeding, but it may nevertheless be a proceeding which is beneficial or necessary to humanity. I hope I have not unduly alarmed you.

No. You have said that you are deeply aware of a dilemma and a contradiction between Christianity and human life. Some observers have suggested that despite your participation in holy communion and observance of religious practice it is as if you are somehow forcing yourself to believe, if you like; that you are really struggling with agnosticism.

Well, who is to look into the heart of a man and declare what he sees there, and who is a man to say what is in his heart? I can only observe that at no stage in the last forty years can a credible political motive be assigned to what I have done and said as a member of the Church of England. Self-interest is difficult to establish – a very modest disclaimer I realize – but then we’re often led by motives of which we are unaware.

It is said that those who believe have the grace of belief, and that is something that comes from God. Do you feel that you have the grace of belief or do you have a constant struggle to believe?

I feel everything comes from grace; I have everything by grace. My wife and I, for example, are celebrating our fortieth wedding anniversary but our marriage was a grace; it was something I didn’t deserve, something I’ve been given beyond my desert. I find the concept of grace, that is to say an input of indeterminate origin, unavoidable in a whole range of experiences. To arrive at a logical conclusion from premises is in a way an act of grace. Perhaps this is to acknowledge what a wonderful thing it was that man originated.

Have you any doubt in your own mind about an afterlife?

If you had substituted immortality for an afterlife, I would not have hesitated to reply in the affirmative. The expression ‘afterlife’ is time-bound; immortality is not. The individual, encapsulated by time, unable to think or understand or have his being except as bounded by time, ceases to belong to that framework on death, and it’s therefore a misrepresentation to treat him as though he continued to exist on the same scale. Suppose time is a man-made illusion, which it probably is…in that case the meaning of immortality will be very different.

Presumably you have a view about the ordination of women, a matter which looks as if it might further fragment the Christian Church. Is it possible theologically in your view, and is it desirable politically?

We’re going through a bad dose of feminism, aren’t we? Certainly the chattering classes are. Under the influence of a worldwide cross-infection, we are calling in question specializations which have become necessary to the survival of humanity. It may well be that the preservative and the destructive impulses of mankind have been specialized in the sexes and that we are playing with fire when we introduce confusion into that specialization. The specialization can, of course, be defined and debated, but the anxiety is whether we can radically interfere without unforeseeable but damaging consequences. I would place the proposal for the ordination of women and the enthusiasm for it in the context of that movement which leads all political parties at present in the United Kingdom to say that we want to see more women sitting in the House of Commons, even though those who do the work necessary for putting the members there don’t think so.

There is now and there has been for a long time a great deal of agitation about women’s rights. I suspect that you are not especially sympathetic to the women’s movement. Is it that you fear the consequence of a loss of natural complementarity, or what?

I am very happy to consider with an open mind proposals for a change in the law where the law differentiates between men and women, though I am not sure that to treat the female as an independent tax band will be something welcomed by all those whom it will affect. My wife was certainly alarmed when I told her that she will be making her own tax return in future and would surely not expect any help form me.

Since you are a member of the Church of England, I assume you believe in original sin. How is the outcome of that to be combated in a society without any restraints on gain?

Covetousness, greed, are not matters which can be the subject of legislation. They belong to a category of sin rather than crime, and from sin we are saved by grace.

You acknowledged once that you are intellectually arrogant. Does that degree of self-confidence not isolate you in the political world of horse trading?

I’m also a corporate man, a person at ease in society, fulfilling the laws and obeying the conventions, just as – constitutionally – the shared responsibility for the advice tendered to the sovereign extends right through political life. I accept that the unity of that advice implies give and take between those who are responsible for it being tendered. In other words, I am a naturally complaint member of a cabinet. The intellectual arrogance leads me to perceive that the whole structure of cabinet government and of party government depends on bargaining and compromise. But I’m a good colleague, one who goes to meet his own colleagues halfway, more than halfway if necessary.

Can you tell me what it is to be a Tory?

To me a Tory is a person who believes that authority is vested in institutions – that’s a carefully honed definition. We have made the law, not for extraneous reasons, not because it conforms with a priori specifications; it has been made by a particular institution in a particular way and can be changed by that institution in a particular way. A tory therefore reposes the ultimate authority in institutions – he is an example of a collective man.

Do you believe in the Thatcher philosophy which is sometimes characterized as advocating greed and free enterprise as a way of life, irrespective of community benefit.

It is alleged that the speeches I made on the working of the competitive market in the early 1960s influenced Mrs Thatcher, but I wouldn’t attribute to her the formulation which you’ve just provided. There is undoubtedly a role in the functioning of a human society for progressiveness, for competition, for envy, and for many urges which live in a kind of balance and coexistence with the other urges within. For instance, if we take the question of denationalization: do we wish our railways to be run by politicians, or do we wish them to be run by those who will lose if they are ill run? The private enterprise corporation is founded upon the assumption that the resources which it puts to work are put to work most efficiently if it is managed by those who stand to lose if the customers’ demand is not anticipated and met. That seems to me a very happy and ancient device which most nations have grown up with.

You have described yourself as a man naturally sympathetic to authority and its institutions. What is to be done when authority ceases to be impressive or even trustworthy, when for example a minister insists that the economy is recovering in the face of the facts, or when unemployment statistics are patently ‘managed’?

No institution is immortal, any more than any other human thing is immortal, and there is no sovereign remedy against its deterioration. Institutions are not only created and strengthened, they also weaken and disappear. We cannot deny that.

You have been the subject of a great deal of abuse for stating your views about immigration. Have you modified them at all?

The aspects and consequences of immigration as perceived now in the 1990s are not the same as those which were perceived in the 1960s. In the 1960s the level of admissions was the critical subject; this resulted in a factor of almost equal importance being underestimated and largely overlooked – the age structure of the incoming population. Age structure is now asserting itself and will result in a progressive and on-going relative increase in what are called the ethnic minorities in proportion to the total population. What we don’t know and what nobody can know, is how long institutions based upon the working of majorities can continue to operate. There is an on-going change in the population if this country, and one doesn’t know how far that will be compatible with the continued operation of our parliamentary institutions. If you cannot change your mind between one election and another in reaction to what has been your experience in the meantime you cannot operate a parliamentary system. If an election is a census it cannot form a basis of parliamentary self-government. There are the questions which with the passage of time are now emerging, but I do find that, so far as I can judge it, public anxiety is as lively on this subject as it was thirty years ago.

Except our worst fears have not been justified?

My projections have been verified. What I said in 1968, I would say again if it were 1968.

In a discourse of Wagner’s Ring, you say that Siegfried of course did not fully understand or intend the consequences of his actions. Did you fully understand or intend the consequences of your ‘River of Blood’ speech?

Those words were never used. The phrase did not occur in the speech. I don’t think one ever foresees the consequences of one’s actions and certainly in politics one never knows which utterances are going to be heard and which are not.

The sting in Paul Foot’s book about you was that you had exploited the race issue as an act of political opportunism and not, as you claimed, as a matter of principle. What is your comment on that?

That’s what he thought when he started to write the book, but after he’d met me he thought better. In fact, I ruined his book for him. When I heard he was writing it, I sent him a letter inviting him to come and talk to me. This was fatal because one can see in the course of the book that he discovered his conception was not viable.

The story goes that when you went to Northern Ireland someone called you a Judas, to which you retorted: ‘I am sacrificing my political career. Judas was paid.’ Is there any truth in that story?

That interchange did in fact take place after I’d delivered the second of my Vote Labour speeches in the election campaign of February 1974, but it was nothing to do with Northern Ireland.

You once spoke of yourself as a ‘Lansdowne man’ in the sense that since by 1943 it was clear that the axis powers could not win, we ought to have had a negotiated peace. Does that view not place you in the strange company of Oswald Mosley who also advocated a negotiated peace?

It does not put me in the company of those who see war between civilized nations as ending with the destruction of one’s opponent. The object of war is to prove to one’s opponent that he cannot gain his aim by force. When that has been proved the justification for war is at an end, and that point should be sought. Unconditional surrender was the most barbaric and inhuman concept to bring into the Second World War. You do not have to destroy your opponent; you merely have to prove to him that he cannot win, and when he can be persuaded that he cannot win, then you must take peace. Otherwise you will have to rebuild him and there will be a lot of other fallout too.

Many people have drawn a comparison between you and Mosley: intellectually rigorous, patriotic, a natural leader, a powerful orator, uncompromising, destined for – but never quite achieving – high office. It is a comparison which offends you?

It’s a comparison which is quite strange to me. I’ve never come across it. I am of course a failed politician, if one assumes that the object of politics is to gain and keep high office. Mosley was a failed politician too, so I may be included in the same category, but there is a large category of failed politicians.

Yes, but failed politicians because they were incapable…

All right, I can be placed in the category of failed capable politicians; they’re still a sufficiently large company to contain me and Oswald Mosley and dozens and dozens of others.

You once wrote that ‘no time spent reading history is misspent for a politician.’ But do not circumstances change beyond all recognition and invalidate the ‘lessons’ of history….may it not be an error to read the future out of the past?

It is an error in any case to read the future out of the past, because history is not repeatable. The lessons which we learn about the scientifically measurable and investigable world are applicable because that world is a constant. But history is not a constant; it is an artistic presentation of change in progress, irreversible and unique change. I recently improved upon my dictum about time spent reading history, and I would now say time spent reading biography is not misspent, perhaps because the repeatable element in individual human life is more substantial than the repeatable element in social or national life.

Hailsham said of you: ‘He has the best mind in politics, until it is made up.’ Did you understand what he meant by this, and did you accept the implied criticism?

No to the first question, and therefore the second does not arise.

A lot of people have said in that context you’re your own worst enemy.
Well, it depends what a man wants, what his standards are, what life means for him.

But if you were to live that period in your life again…
Don’t frighten me with such a horrible idea. Imagine putting all my prejudices as an octogenarian into the body of a forty-year-old man – it’s such a horrible notion that I decline to entertain it.

Maurice Cowling called you ‘a closet socialist.’ What do you think he meant by that?

He meant what I was saying earlier about a Tory being an aspect of collective man. Society is in the end normative, and politics is about the management and governance of a society. Society is prior (in a logical sense) to the individual; the individual in the last resort is an abstraction. Nobody has ever met an individual, we didn’t start as individuals, we don’t live as individuals, we only know ourselves as members of collectivity. I think it was that aspect of my Toryism that Cowling may have had in mind.

It is said that an unofficial approach was made to you with a view to your becoming a life peer, but that you made certain conditions.

That’s not a question I would ever answer.

Would you like to have been in the House of Lords? Conditions or no conditions?

You mean, would I have liked to have a different father? [Laughs.]

The House of Lords would have provided you with a forum in which to express your views…

I find no difficulty in getting my views onto paper, or getting what I put on to paper printed. Nor do I find any shortage of my fellow countrymen who are anxious to lend me their ears.

The house of Lord wouldn’t interest me in the least?

You’re putting words into my mouth.

Would it interest you?

I do not wish to say anything disrespectful about the upper chamber.

I am puzzled by your suggestion that the greatest act man is capable of is to chose death instead of life. I assume you are not writing in praise of suicide. Are you describing the capacity to sacrifice oneself for someone or something else?

Yes. It was the only way out for mankind that God could discover. It was the only way to save mankind, to allow someone to sacrifice his life for the remission of sins. It is an idea endorsed by the strongest authority.

Are there circumstances in which you would sacrifice your own life for that idea?

I suppose my decision to enlist is the only evidence that I have to offer. And I know now that I’m not the only person who put on a uniform and took it off again who has a lurking feeling at the back of his mind that there must have been something wrong with him if he came back. When I was asked on a radio programme how I would like to be remembered, and I replied that I wished I’d been killed in the war, I received a large correspondence from people who wrote that they were glad I had said that, because until then they thought they were the only people to feel that way. A large number of people who voluntarily went into the forces in 1939 are dogged by the idea that they were left unscathed when others were taken. Those who survived concentration camps also have this feeling.

Now that you have reached a certain age, are you afraid of death?

The nearer Death comes actuarially, the more he tends to present himself in the guise of a potential friend, a hand laid upon the shoulder saying, never mind old chap, I’ll come along in due course and carry you away. There’s a wonderful line in Homer where the prophecy is made to Ulysses that Death will come to him from the sea, with the words (in Greek) ‘gentle, ever so gentle’. And one does come to regard Death as a gentle presence.

Many people have commented on your seemingly cold exterior, yet in private you are obviously a compassionate man. Are you aware of this tension between the public and the private personae?

The surprise that I sustain is how widespread and undifferentiated is the friendliness towards me, evidently entertained by large numbers of my fellow countrymen. It constantly comes as a happy but still remarkable thing to me. Perhaps that is an act of grace.

What in essence so attracted you to the music of Wagner?

Hearing it. There’s a line in Caducci: ‘When Wagner breathes into the sounding metal a thousand spirits, men’s hearts tremble.’

What is your view on the current debate in Israel about Wagner’s music? The Isreali Philharmonic wants to play Wagner but the public continues to reject him because of the association with Hitler and the Nazis.

That is their business, and I thank them to mind their business in declining to express corresponding opinions about the affairs of the United Kingdom.

Siegfried proclaimed what you call the great moral discovery of humanity: that it is better to die than to live in fear. While it is an idea which greatly captures the imagination, is there not a case for saying that in practice it is all but worthless. Many people live in fear of life itself or in fear of God, but their life still has intrinsic value.

Well, that will turn upon the word ‘intrinsic’, won’t it? We live because we cannot help it, and we die because we cannot help it. You remember in front of Bolingbroke Richard II says: ‘Give Richard leave to live till Richard die.’

When you reflected on age you said that to your surprise it was ‘a constant opening of doors.’ Can you elaborate on that?

I’m surprised by how much new there still is to think and to see, and the apparent immunity of one’s thinking mechanism from those ravages that are making their advance in other parts of the organism. That one continues to think and enjoy thinking, to observe and to enjoy observing, is a constant marvel.

INTERVIEW CONDUCTED WINTER 1992

TOO OLD TO HAVE A GO?

A curious item last weekend attracted my attention and made me wish I was a tortoise, still going strong at the age of 186. Apparently, never again will the hills of St Helena resound to the eerie sound of Jonathan, a giant tortoise, trying to mate. At an estimated age of 186, Jonathan appears doomed to celibacy after vets decided against an operation that might have helped him pursue female tortoises.

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The British government revealed that although Jonathan continues to lead an active life, vets have decided that surgery to remove the cataracts that have blinded him is too high risk. Jonathan has also lost his sense of smell, leaving him cruelly bereft of the senses he needs to mate.

Lord Ahmad, a Foreign Office minister told the Lords that St Helena, a South Atlantic island, is not conducive to breeding the species of tortoise. The last female known to have become pregnant died in 1918 after she apparently fell over a cliff while attempting to lay eggs, according to a website maintained by island resident, John Turner.

For years, Jonathan’s companion was a giant tortoise named Frederica who never fell pregnant for reasons that became clear when vets found that he was male. He was subsequently named Frederic. It may never be known if Jonathan is gay, as reports have suggested. But St Helena appears to have lost forever the sound of his mating activity, described by a vet as like ‘a loud, harsh escape of steam from a giant, battered old kettle, often rounded off with a deep oboe-like grunt.’

I feel sorry for Jonathan, gay or otherwise, who must now miss his love-mate when, at his age, he kisses love goodbye. On the other hand, he had a jolly good run which we humans would yearn to have.

Is the Book Trade on the Verge of a Slow Extinction?

I have been a publisher since the early ‘70s and have never experienced such a decline in the book trade as in the first half of this year, which I believe threatens the very fabric of our cultural heritage. People seem to have lost interest in the written word and have switched their attention to more mundane matters, triggered off perhaps by the instability of the political scene throughout the world.

Reading my Sunday newspapers last weekend I came across a most telling news item which confirmed my notion that books are in crisis everywhere. In Paris, Bouquinistes are appealing for UNESCO status to avoid being swamped by traders selling tourists trinkets. Described as the keepers of the ‘biggest open-air bookshop in the world,’ these are the booksellers who ply their trade along the Seine. They are asking to obtain UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage status. With their trademark dark-green stalls on the parapets overlooking the river, the bouquinistes have a rich history of selling second-hand tomes all the way back to the sixteenth century.

Some made their fortunes by selling the libraries of guillotined aristocrats during the French Revolution, others braved death by passing on messages from the French Resistance in books during the city’s occupation by the Nazis. But after surviving centuries of censorship, political turmoil and floods, they face a new threat: a tide of plastic Eiffel Towers, love-locks and other tourist knick-knacks.

In theory, the trade is strictly regulated. Each bouquiniste is allowed 4 boxes, three must contain books, and the fourth can sell anything from prints and collector’s fashion magazines to old postcards and souvenirs. Yet a quick stroll on the Right and Left Banks suggest this rule is wildly flouted, as many stands near tourist sites like Notre-Dame and St Michel are crammed full of Chinese-made keyrings and ‘I Love Paris’ bags.

‘If we wait any longer it will be too late, the trinket markets will have consumed the booksellers completely,’ said Jerome Callais, president of the Cultural Association of Paris Bouquinistes, who is spearheading the drive for UNESCO status. He is one of just three self-professed diehards among 237 bouquinistes who sell books only. ‘We are as important as the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, Montmartre. People come from far and wide to see these sites, but also us. But some of my colleagues think the writing’s on the wall, that we are the last generation.’ Recently he received the backing of the Paris Town Hall which voted to send a request to the Culture ministry for the booksellers to be considered for UNESCO Intangible Heritage status. France can only put forward one request every two years and competition is fierce.

Florence Berthout, mayor of the 5th arrondisemnt said: ‘UNESCO Heritage Status would shine a light on an activity that shapes the intellectual identity of Paris and participates in the French cultural exception.’ Not all bouqinistes back the idea though. Many fear that an ensuing restriction on selling non-literary items could kill them off. ‘We can’t live of books alone,’ said Ghillaine Thibaud, a bouqiniste for 30 years, who said sales had nose-dived amid stiff competition from online dealers and changing tastes. ‘When times are hard an extra few Euros from a photo or bag can stop us from going under.’

And one despondent vendor, Andres Brisson, said: ‘If I sell one book per day, it’s already a lot. I sell more pictures and trinkets. I frankly think the best thing to do would be to let bouquinistes die out and leave the space open so people can make the most of the area and get a better view of the Seine.’

It’s obvious that books are in crisis. The trend is unfortunately downwards. As publishers we must, however, fight back and ensure that we publish better books and convince readers that we need their support. For without it, we are doomed. On the other hand, their intellect would help the nation prosper.

THE FOURTH ESTATE EXPOSED

Press freedom in Britain is the second worst in Western Europe, yet we are led to believe by the present government that democracy in this country is something we should be proud of. Yet the UK was ranked 40th in the 2018 World Press Freedom Index, only just ahead of Burkina Faso (no.41) and Taiwan (no.42), The Times reported.

Of Western European countries only Italy (no.46) is below the UK, which ranks behind countries with questionable human rights records such as South Africa (no.28), Lithuania (no.36) and Trinidad and Tobago (no.39). Critics said the UK’s position, which is unchanged on last year, was embarrassing.
The threat of state regulation and on-line intimidation campaigns against prominent journalists knocked Britain down the table, compiled by Reporters Without Borders (RSF). The online abuse and threats made against Laura Kuenssberg for example, the BBC’s political editor, resulted in her being assigned a security detail at the 2017 Labour Conference.

British newspapers also face the threat of a second Leverson Enquiry to examine relations with the Police, but the Government said in March it would be formally scrapped. At the time, Culture Secretary Matt Hancock said: ‘We do not believe that reopening this costly and time-consuming enquiry is the right way forward.’ He highlighted reforms to the police, as well as the challenges faced by publishers, especially local newspapers.

Rebecca Vincent, UK Bureau Director of RSF (a non-profit group that promotes press freedom) told The Times: ‘This is unacceptable for a country that plays an important international standard-setting role when it comes to human rights and fundamental freedoms. We must examine the longer term trends of worrying moves to restrict press freedom and hold the UK government to account.’

The New Media Association, which represents newspapers, urged politicians to ‘protect media freedom and safeguard a vibrant press in the UK.’ A spokesman said: ‘We have seen repeated attempts by the House of Lords to highjack legislation such as the current Data Protection Bill, to enforce state-backed press regulation which would have a chilling effect on investigative journalism. This is a grave threat to press freedom and could lead to the closure of newspapers.’

Well, hypocrisy is involved in all this, especially when you see how political standards have fallen to rock bottom. They have deteriorated to the extent that the public believe we are served by a bunch of opportunists whose motives are power for the sake of it, hence the division within their ranks tell it all.

A Lioness on the Loose

A lioness has recently taken London by storm. Her name is Paula Diana, the author of Saving the World, just published by Quartet Books: The subject of which has mesmerised the capital, and catapulted the dynamic author to a well-deserved position, rarely achieved in such a short time.

An activist and entrepreneur who runs the Diana Group, the UK’s leading concierge service, recognised as one of London’s most influential agency providers for high-net-worth families and corporations around the world, from luxury travel to finding the right sports car, hotel accommodation, unique properties and much more, as her interviewee Tina for the Tripfiction team describes her.

Here is the gist of what appeared on the Internet as I believe this will induce people to buy her book and tell others to do the same. Her message is highly topical and well worth listening to. So don’t linger,  join the crowd of admirers for whom she stands supreme.

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I was delighted to have the opportunity to chat with Paola Diana, bestselling author, activisPaola-Diana3-389x389.jpgt and entrepreneur.

Her new book “Saving the World” was published on 2 May 2018, in which she reveals her ground breaking research, demonstrating how gender parity in politics and business has a hugely positive impact on a variety of factors including national GDP, political empowerment, economic leadership as well as life expectancy, literacy and stability.
We set the scene for our interview – Paola is drinking a mug of green tea in her beautiful office, which she designed herself, imbued with French and Italian influence. It is the former office of Spike Milligan (coming from Italy she had never heard of him, but soon discovered his importance in British society!). She is just a stone’s throw from Hyde Park in London, overlooking Kensington Palace. Her office exudes energy, providing a creative space to think and relax, it’s more like a sitting room than an office.

Her book explores the oppression of women over millennia –  past, present and what the future may look like – and she is keen to stress this is not a book written by a woman for women, it is to be read by men also. Since the beginning of time, women have been relegated to the home, and their bodies have been controlled over centuries… but she is clear that she is not encouraging women to emulate men and their ways; she is more focussed about exploring the power of empathy, an asset which many women have and need to bring to the proverbial table.

She herself came from a very patriarchal family in Italy and considers herself a survivor. Her childhood was coloured by male oppression, and from the outside it seemed she had the perfect family. Behind closed doors it was, however, very different. She also considers the Vatican as the most powerful patriarchy in the world, and society has been formed by the ethos of religion and the notion of the fairy tale of life (knights in shining armour), which does a disservice to the cause of women.

I was curious to know more about the path she has taken to get to where she is now. She told me that after her Master’s Degree she worked in politics in Italy for 5 years. Thereafter she became her own boss, went into recruitment and then lifestyle, building up “a luxury boutique” company. She does not value people in terms of their monetary worth but applauds what they do and achieve for themselves. She has, as one might expect, worked hard to find her own work-life balance, and, she stresses, she is not a workaholic. Nor is she wedded to her iPhone, but the temptation to check on issues at work can indeed be seductive. She still personally runs her Social Media accounts but there will come a time when she will pass them on for someone else to manage.

With success comes responsibility, which she relishes, it is very much in her nature, she likes to inspire and lead people. My experience during the interview was that she is an extremely warm and thoughtful person.

Turning to travel, I was curious to find out what kind of holiday she would choose for herself. Being Cancerian she is drawn to the sea and its therapeutic effects – French Polynesia and the Maldives are her ideal choice; she still has the Great Barrier Reef to visit. Her ideal holiday would be a month travelling, by private jet, of course.

As far as reading goes, she loves to read. Currently she is into neuroscience and would ideally like to pick up her studies once again. She is reading books by Yuval Noah Harari but doesn’t really read novels at the moment. She says she is in a phase where she craves knowledge and learning.
We talked about the attributes she feels she has that have underpinned her success, and she is clear that self confidence is key. As a teenager she worked on it and now feels she is at her peak. It is something she encourages in her two children, who are both very independent, happy and making the most of their young lives. In life you are either a predator or prey, she muses.

She is already planning her next book which will focus on domestic violence and abuse, and femicide. The plight for many women is a social emergency and it is imperative that governments across the world really get behind these social issues. Violence against women takes a huge toll on society, across generations, and education is key.

As our chat drew to a close, I asked her which aspects she values in England and in Italy as she is at home in both countries and cultures:

England – here she is in love with the culture and feels it is a great democracy which is reactive and proactive. It has built its civilisation since the Magna Carta. And there is a great respect for rules. She would be honoured to carry a British passport.

Italy – in this country she values the creativity which is evident everywhere. It’s like a spiral, the beauty of the cities inspires the creativity. And first and foremost, the Italians know how to enjoy life!

 

HOME SWEET HOME

It is an accepted fact that when children first fly the nest it can hit parents hard – but most soon find it a liberating experience that gives them a new lease of life after years of dedicated duty. Now a study has revealed that they appreciate the freedom so much that if their children return to the family home the effect of the intrusion can be as bad as suffering an illness or a disability.

It said that mothers and fathers suffer distress on behalf of their off springs if they come back because they have lost a job or broken up with a partner. But the biggest blow is the loss of the independence and the new quality of life they had experienced when their children left home.

Researchers from the LSE examined assessment of the quality of life across Europe to study the effects of returning ‘boomerang’ children on their parents’ wellbeing. They found that when an adult child returns to its old home, occupied only by its mother and father, the parents suffered a loss of ‘feelings of control, autonomy, pleasure and self-realisation in everyday life. This has a substantial effect on quality of life similar to developing an age-related disability, such as difficulties with walking or getting distressed.’

Between 6 and 7 million young people aged between 15 and 34 live in the family home with their parents, according to recent assessments from the Office of National Statistics. The numbers are around a million up on 20 years ago, driven largely by the high cost of housing and increasing pressure on the finances of young people, including the need to repay student debt.

Children moving back home are also likely to place extra pressures on the ‘bank of mum and dad’. Dr Marco Tosi, a research officer in the LSE’s Department of Social Policy, said: ‘When children leave the parental home marital relationships improve and parents find a new equilibrium. They enjoy this stage in life, finding new hobbies and activities. When adult children move back, it is a violation of that equilibrium. Our work shows that in contexts where family orientations and welfare institutions foster individuals’ independence, return-home’s by adult children have negative implications for parents’ wellbeing.’

The paper, produced by Dr Tosi and colleagues, said that around a quarter of young adults in Britain live with their parents and a similar pattern can be seen across Europe. However, the trend is more marked in Protestant countries such as the UK, than in Southern European or Catholic nations. On top of the impact of the intrusion, parents are also upset when a child has difficulties in early adulthood.

The report, published in the journal Social Science and Medicine, said: ‘Economic difficulties and temporary instability prompt returns to the parental home, particularly among young adults who leave education to find a position in the labour market. Similarly, union dissolution may prompt a return to the parental home as a possible solution to economic, housing and emotional problems. For parents these events in a child’s life may be distressing. Parents tend to suffer when they see their children suffer.’

I personally believe that young people these days are likely to face hardships when trying to settle down to a life where comfort does not come easy. Competition in the market place is fierce and the high cost of living is often crippling. It is a problem for every government in the western hemisphere. Let’s hope that something concrete can be done to help the younger generation to survive against unimaginable odds.

No Longer With Us

LADY SOAMES

Mary Soames, youngest daughter od Sir Winston Churchill, was born in 1922-2014 and spent most of her childhood at Chartwell where she was educated privately. From 1939-41 she served with the Red Cross and WVS and later in the ATS with mixed anti-aircraft batteries. She also travelled with her father on several wartime journeys. In 1947 she married Christopher Soames and campaigned with him through six elections between 1950 and 1966 when he was Conservative MP for Bedford. In 1968 she accompanied him to Paris where he was ambassador for four years and in 1979 to Rhodesia where he was the last British governor. Her publications include The Profligate Duke (1987) and Winston Churchill: His Life as Painter (1990). Her biography of her mother, Clementine Churchill (1982), won the Wolfson Prize for History and the Yorkshire Post Prize for Best First Work.

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Here is the substance of an interview I did with her in 1992.

When writing about your childhood you say that although elements of anxiety, sorrow and disappointment began to appear as the years went by, in your own recollection it is the happiness which predominates. Is that in effect a tribute to your parents who helped shield you from the darker side of life?

I wrote those lines after describing life at Chartwell and the wonderful Christmases we had there. As life went on and I became a teenager I began to know that life wasn’t a Garden of Eden, and it was disquieting to me because of my idyllic childhood at Chartwell. The first time I saw my mother cry was one of the most traumatic moments of my young life. I had very rarely seen grown-ups cry and to see this beautiful woman whom I loved and admired, and also rather feared, weeping and completely disintegrated with grief was a terrible shock to me. I saw my parents a lot because we children were never kept away in the nursery wing, and also I was very much the Benjamin, so I strayed around all over the house and never felt I was excluded from my parents’ life when they were at Chartwell. I went to day school; I was never sent away to boarding school, and those parts of my life that my mother didn’t take personal part in she organized with perfection. I also had the most wonderful duenna figure in my life, a first cousin of my mother’s who came when I was a baby to look after me and stayed right through until I went away to the war; and so when my parents were absent I still had a wonderfully secure life. I adored Chartwell, believing that it was a very large house and a beautiful house; of course now I see that it isn’t a very large house and it certainly isn’t a beautiful one, but I do look back at my childhood as bathed in golden sunshine.

As the youngest child you were perhaps the one to benefit most from the stability that Chartwell offered. How important do you think that was in later life?

I suppose I did have a rather different upbringing from my elder brother and sisters. I could try to count all the houses, the nannies and governesses and nurses they lived through, but that would be counter-productive. Does a very stable, almost cabbage-like existence, like a plant in the garden, with one set of influences make a great difference to a child? I suppose it does. There was Diana, Randolph, Sarah and then there was Marigold who died the year before I was born, so I was brought up almost like an only child. Sarah was already seven when I was born, Diana was thirteen, Randolph was eleven … they were godlike Olympian figures. Sarah was really the only one with whom I had close connections; I loved the others, but really didn’t know them at all. They inhabited a different landscape from me.

You describe your relationship with your mother at that time as respectful and admiring, rather than close. Was that a retrospective analysis or something you were aware of at the time?

I grew into being aware of it and can almost date it: when I was thirteen my mother realised that Cousin Moppet had a great influence on my whole outlook on life and she saw that I was growing much closer to Cousin Moppet than to her. It was then that she started taking me away to ski in the holidays and I began to be more than just respectful and admiring. I came to love her in a much more real way I suppose, and it wasn’t without same painful interludes, because I was a tiresome teenager. My mother was a complex character, and could also be difficult, but I came to love her when I got to know her better.

Although your mother was devoted and conscientious there was never any doubt that Winston came first. You seem not to have any sense of grievance about this. Did you come to mind it later?

Not at all. We all felt that our parents had other very important things to do. I never felt neglected emotionally or in any other way by them. It was in my mother’s nature to be dedicated, and it was true also of my father, luckily for him and perhaps the whole world as well. However, much later, when I knew my husband Christopher was going into politics, I took a vow in my heart that I would try to give my children a greater priority than perhaps we had with my mother. But I think it very important in this context to remember that when my mother was bringing up her children it wasn’t a mark of bad mothering to have nurses and governesses; it was part of the way of life in that stratum of society. I certainly never regarded her as a bad mother. She had some less than happy relationships within the family but I think that happens very often. If you have a number of children you’re probably not equally close to all of them.

Were you the closest to your mother?

I came to be because of my position in the family as the youngest. When the war broke out for instance, Randolph was away in the army, my sister Diana was married and had her children. Sarah was married to Vic Oliver and then went into the air force. I did go into the army eventually, but by the time I was sixteen or seventeen the others had flown the nest. My mother more and more confided in me and we became much closer, but it was an accident of timing.

Was your mother difficult in her relationships with people generally?

She was a very complex and emotionally charged character, but she wasn’t difficult all the time. She had enormously high standards which she imposed with varying degrees of success on her children, but she was also very hard on herself. She adored my father, was completely absorbed in his life, and involved in his politics, and she felt it all with every fibre of her being. But she was undoubtedly a highly strung animal.

But did she clash with your father because of that?

Yes. Perhaps history would have been different if my father had married a docile yes-woman; he might have had an easier time at home. But my mother had the will and the capacity to stand up to my father, to confront him, and to argue with him, and the fact that she had that capacity is more important than whether she was always right. I don’t think she was always right, but she took a passionate interest in his political life, and there’s no doubt about it that sometimes her judgements about his friends were truer than his. I’ve always thought my father married an equal in temperament and in spirit.

Would you say that she influenced his political life as well as his private life?

She was a Liberal at heart and she never really changed, but she did have an influence on him though it’s quite hard to say exactly to what extent. He didn’t necessarily take her advice, but it was very important to him as a politician that she could enter into the arguments and the choices.

Did your father have time to show you affection when you were young?

Both my parents were enormously affectionate, visibly so, and he was a great hugger, my father, and loved having us around. The stiff upper lip of the British upper class had really no part in our family life; it was something I read about in books. I may have been deeply shocked the first time I saw my mother cry, because that was as a result of a great drama in the family, but I often saw my father weep and it never struck me as odd that a man should express emotion. My mother could be cold when she wished to express disapproval or to distance herself from a person, but to walk into a room where they both were was to be enfolded and embraced. We were a very noisy and extrovert family; when we were happy we laughed and hugged each other, and when we were sad we cried, and when we were angry we stamped our feet – there was never any doubt about how we were all feeling.

What kind of thing made your father cry?

He was moved by events and tragedies, by people behaving nobly, by poetry … I’ve seen him recite Shakespeare with his eyes brimming with tears. He wept easily and he wasn’t ashamed of it.

I know you hate being asked what it was like to be the daughter of Winston Churchill, so I will ask you something rather different. Were you aware of being set apart from your peers by virtue of your father’s importance, and if so, was that something you found difficult to cope with?

It came upon me gradually. Of course, as a small child I took my parents completely for granted. It never struck me as odd, for instance, that my father wrote books, made speeches, built walls, painted pictures, but the realization of his importance and fame grew upon me. I may not have had a very profound understanding of events, but I realized that significant things were afoot. I used to listen to my parents talking, and with great events impinging on our domestic life, I came to realize that my father was an important figure who played a leading role in all this. We were all brought up with a great sense of public service. I would have thought it contemptible in me to have wished my parents to be at my school sports day; what did it matter if they saw me coming fourth in the egg-and-spoon race? When the war broke out and Papa took office, my feelings for him as his child became confused and mingled with the feelings I had as an ardent young Englishwoman. 1940 was special for us all, and my father was the hero of the hour to whom we all clung. Me too.

For much of the 1930s your father had been in the political wilderness. Then in May 1940 when power slipped away from Chamberlain, Churchill began his ‘walk with destiny’ for which he considered all his earlier life to have been a preparation. How great a part do you think destiny played in all this?

Destiny played a great part, because he was a young soldier-of-fortune and seeking ‘reputation in the cannon’s mouth’, he could have lost his life on about five or six different occasions. Although my father longed to be in office in the 1930s, my mother often said to me that it was a real blessing that he never held office then, because he couldn’t single-handedly have turned the tide of appeasement and slow rearmament; he would have been involved in government in a time that came to be regarded, perhaps rather unjustly, as the dark decade when we were purblind. As it was he was able to start with a clean slate.

You served for five years with the ATS. The contrast between the life you had known and life in the army must have been stark. Did you find it an ordeal, or did the conditions of war make everything acceptable.

I was thrilled to go into the army and rather gloried in the discomforts. I really did want to do my bit and felt I was part of this great enterprise going on. So I loved it and was a tremendously enthusiastic soldier, rather too much so probably.

But did you feel that because of your father you were looked upon in a different light?

Yes. I had difficult moments. It was always agony going to a new unit because I knew I wouldn’t be treated in quite the same way as others. I always felt I had to overcompensate, scrub more floors than anyone else.

Churchill offered his countrymen ‘blood, toil, tears and sweat’, and they responded with indomitable spirit. Do you think that the strength of their response surprised him, perhaps humbled him even?

Yes. The response of the British people was something which moved him deeply. He was very conscious of all the devotion and valour and dedication, and he valued them enormously. It was a pact really, between the British people and him.

Churchill was held in near veneration during his lifetime. In more recent times the history books have not been especially kind. How do you respond to criticism of your father’s wartime period?

I try not to mind too much about judgements on public events. I dislike mean judgements and those based on being wise after the event. But of course my father must stand the test of history. He didn’t do everything right or make all the right judgements, but we did manage to win, despite all the mistakes, so I can only imagine the enemy made even more. One must keep these things in perspective, but of course I find it difficult to detach myself entirely, and when it’s a question of personal criticism, I sometimes know his critics are actually wrong.

To be a very successful politician, particularly in time of war, you have to take decisions which might be interpreted later on, or even at the time, as ruthless, where sometimes the innocent have to pay a great price. Do you think your father ever took decisions which were perhaps good for Britain but were rather questionable on moral grounds?

My father would have done almost anything to win the war, and war is a rough business. I daresay he had to do some very rough things, but he wasn’t a man who took these sort of decisions lightly. All those things weighed with him, but they didn’t unman him.

You refer in your book to what you call ‘slaps at Winston’s departed greatness’. What did you have in mind?

I don’t remember in what context I made that particular remark, but I suppose I was thinking of how much I minded that, in quieter times, people took slaps at my father. But I’ve been brought up in quite a rough political school, so one accepts that that must be so. No true historian of the war is guilty of unjust or ill-informed criticism, but people who write meretricious histories are being tremendously wise after the event. They assume that we knew that we were going to win. But when you lived through it at the side of people like my father who were so deeply involved in it, the uncertainties were enormous. I feel that people very often don’t understand how much the war was lived step by step and day by day.

Did your father ever despair?

A lot has been made of the depressive side of his character by psychiatrists who were never in the same room with him. Of course he himself talks of his ‘black dog’, and he did have times of great depression, but marriage to my mother very largely kennelled the black dog. Of course if you have a black dog it lurks somewhere in your nature and you never quite banish it; but I never saw him disarmed by depression. I’m not talking about the depression of his much later years, because surely that is a sad feature of old age which afflicts a great many people who have led a very active life.

Was he dictatorial?

No. He had a greater measure of power than any leader in democratic times in our country, but you must remember that every Tuesday when he was in this country and the House was sitting, he answered questions in the House of Commons. He always regarded himself as a servant of Parliament, and I don’t think there is a recorded instance of his having gone against the decisions of the joint Chiefs of Staff. Of course he would argue his corner but it’s not true to say he always got his way; he didn’t, and sometimes it made him very cross. Sometimes he even acknowledged they were right. Several times during the war he pressed something to a vote of confidence which people found rather tiresome because of course he would always get the vote of confidence, but he wished to demonstrate to the world that this was a war waged by a democratic country, and that he was empowered by the democratic vote, even at the height of war.

Your introduction to Christopher Soames was reportedly love at first sight … was he your first love?

No. I can’t remember who was the very first. I was quite susceptible when I was young and I’d been in love with several people by the time I met Christopher. I was very attracted to men and fell head over heels many times. I was very high spirited and had a lovely time in a way, but when I came back from the war I found it quite difficult adjusting to my own class, funnily enough.

Were you flirtatious?

Yes; but having been brought up strictly, I was quite prim. I was also horrendously innocent. I can only say the gods look after their own and I had a guardian angel. I don’t think I was very sensible.

Tell me how you first fell in love with Christopher Soames.

It wasn’t love at first sight on my side, I have to say, but we met for the very first time in the British Embassy in Paris where, years and years later, he was to be ambassador … and that was rather romantic. My father and I were in Belgium and he was going to fly straight back to England, but the US Secretary of State was going to be in Paris and my father wanted to see him. We both flew to Paris for twenty-four hours, and in those twenty-four hours I met Christopher Soames. I think he fell in love straightaway, and I did quite quickly after that, but the first time, I really thought he had other fish to fry.

Did you have other fish to fry?

No, I was rather unhappy when I came out of the army. I’d had an interesting, exciting war – as the equivalent of a captain. I’d served in mixed anti-aircraft batteries and, in much as it was possible then for women in England, I’d been in action against the enemy. In some ways one felt sparkling and confident and yet in other ways not. I hadn’t been in my own world for five years. The men in London whom I saw when I first came out of the army were either beardless boys who seemed to me like schoolchildren, or they were young married men very occupied with beautiful young wives; and most of my friends were either dead or still in the army or abroad. I found it quite difficult to re-establish life at home and I wasn’t very happy. I don’t think I woke up in the morning saying I was miserable, but looking back, it wasn’t a happy time in my life and I couldn’t think what I wanted to do. I didn’t have a vocation, certainly not a profession, and the only way I could have earned my living would have been as a lift operator or a scrubber of floors, so I was in rather a strange position. My father, although out of office immediately after the war, was enormously famous, and I was made much of and had a lovely time wherever I went with him; but my own actual personal life wasn’t very satisfactory. Then, within a year of being demobilized, suddenly wonderful Christopher Soames appeared on the horizon and, like my parents, we married and lived happily ever afterwards.

In your book about your mother, you describe a certain inhibition in Clementine which made for a barrier between her and her children, a certain formality and lack of spontaneity. Was that something you tried consciously to reserve in your relationship with your own children?

Yes. My relationship with my children was quite different. For one thing it was more knockabout and workaday. It’s true, I had a nanny, a wonderful nanny, who looked after them all, but Christopher and I lived in the country and life was different. I think that all of us in that age group had a freer and cosier relationship with our children than our parents had had with us.

As PPS to your father, Christopher Soames was a key figure, particularly when your father suffered a stroke and was scarcely functioning. How was it possible to keep this from the public and keep things running smoothly?

That’s really an extraordinary episode, and the more I look back on it, the more extraordinary I think it is. Again fate steps in. My father sustained the stroke in the evening at a dinner party at Downing Street; the next morning he presided at a Cabinet meeting. Harold Macmillan and Rab Butler and several others were absolutely amazed afterwards when they learned of the extent of the stroke. They all said that Winston was rather silent and looked pale but none of them at the time noticed anything seriously amiss. By the morning Lord Moran had diagnosed a stroke and my father headed for Chartwell having walked to his car from No 10. When he got to Chartwell which was an hour’s drive away, he couldn’t get out of the car, and had to be carried inside. So it was only then that the worse effects of the stroke became obvious, and at Chartwell he was kept absolutely incommunicado. That weekend Lord Moran told Christopher that he thought my father was going to die. Christopher didn’t tell me that, but I knew he was very ill. He was there for six weeks and somehow – it couldn’t happen now – Christopher and John Colville between them kept the machine turning over. Julian Amery is very naughty about it: he always says that Christopher was Prime Minister, but it isn’t true that Christopher ever said or ever felt that he was.

Did your husband ever resent the fact that his own natural politician prowess was sometimes obscured as a result of his kinship with Churchill?

Not at all. Christopher loved my father, he loved him as he didn’t love his own father with whom he had an unhappy relationship. From the first they took to each other and were great friends. Christopher had become interested in politics when he was assistant military attaché at Paris during the Peace Conference, but he knew he owed an enormous amount to my father. I never heard him express anything other than that he was grateful for the start that his relationship with my father gave him. He was actually my father’s parliamentary private secretary before officially being appointed. Christopher was also able to do a great service for my father in that second period of office, first as leader of the opposition and then as Prime Minister in 1951. My father by that time was rather old and so very eminent people were quite frightened of approaching him, and it was through Christopher that quite a number of young MPs on both sides of the House used to gain access to him.

Did the fact that Christopher was very close to your father cement your marriage more?

It was a wonderful thing. In the first ten years of our married life we lived in the farmhouse at Chartwell, and so we saw my parents constantly. It was a very close relationship, and gradually my mother became fond of Christopher. She didn’t like him at first, though she was pretty good about it. But I remember one day years later, certainly after Papa’s death, when Christopher, Mama and I were all sitting round at table, having a lovely cosy talk, and Christopher said to her, ‘You didn’t like me, did you, when I first married Mary?’, and I remember it so well, she put out her hand and covered his and said, ‘No darling, but I’ve made up for it since.’

Although his native talents were not in doubt, it was 1960 before your husband finally got out of his father-in-law’s shadow. Was that a relief to all concerned?

I don’t remember feeling that. It seemed progressive. He had quite a difficult time getting a seat, despite being my father’s son-in-law. He was inexperienced politically and constituencies were quite wary of him to begin with. Somebody once implied that Christopher wouldn’t have been anything in politics if it hadn’t been for my father. It’s true that he might not have had the start my father gave him, and a wonderful start it was, but if Christopher had been no good he would have just fizzled out. In fact, he held Bedford for sixteen years and increased his majority each time.

You have sometimes referred to the golden years of Paris. What is it that makes you recall that period with such fondness?

For one thing we were both strangers to diplomatic life, so it was a joint enterprise. We also had a wonderful welcome awaiting us because the French nation was in love with my father. We already had friends there and we took the school-age children with us and the others came in their holidays. Of course it had its ups and downs – the Soames affair (when the Foreign Office blabbed top-secret information) very nearly capsized the boat before we’d been there long, but Christopher survived it although his position was precarious for a while. In our time there, things were happening that were really interesting and exciting: the General died in 1970 … in itself the passing of an era; Pompidou became President; Ted Heath became Prime Minister; the summit took place in Paris where it was agreed that the French would remove their veto. It was intoxicatingly exciting politically, and all the time the life of the embassy was going on. I love France, and how could anyone not love living in Paris?

What did you think of de Gaulle?

I admired him enormously; to me he represented, as he did to my father whatever their differences and quarrels, resurgent France, the soul of France. I was also much alarmed by him, but he was very civil and kind to me. The only time I really had a conversation with him was in at luncheon in the Elysée, when I sat next to him shaking with nerves. He was not an easily approachable person and we had an extraordinary conversation. He asked me ‘Que faites-vous à Paris, madame?’ and so I panicked and I said, ‘Je promène mes chiens, Monsieur le Président.’ Instead of putting me down for an absolutely asinine answer to his question, he became very interested. He wanted to know what dogs I had and where I walked them, and then suggested I take them to the Ile de Cygnes which is a little island in the middle of the Seine. He drew it for me on the menu, and thereafter I always used to walk my dogs on the Ile de Cygnes with grateful thoughts of the General.

Did you warm to him?

I never had much time to, but I think one could have done. He was very fond of my mother, ever since the time when she flew at him for making a very anti-British remark. My father had missed it because he was at the other end of the table, and anyhow Papa’s French wasn’t very good, but when the General insulted the British fleet, Mama retaliated in perfect French. The next day there arrived the most enormous arrangement of flowers, and thereafter he respected and liked her very much. For years after my father died he sent my mother a personal letter on the anniversary of his death.

Many people now acknowledge that without your husband’s work and popularity in France, Britain might never have joined the community. Do you think he would have been saddened by the current wrangles?

Yes. I’m glad he’s thought to have made a difference; I certainly think he did. Our version of Europe was formed during the early crusading days, and although you can never speak for people who are dead, I expect he would be saddened by the present misconception of what Europe is meant to be.

You must have had mixed feelings about your husband’s appointment to the governorship of Rhodesia. Did you ever consider not accompanying him?

Oh no. In fact, I made it a condition that if he accepted it, I should go with him. I wasn’t going to be left behind. I didn’t know what I was going into, but I certainly wasn’t going to let him go alone.

Many people believe that there could not have been elections without bloodshed in Rhodesia had you not been such a brilliant husband and wife team. You must feel proud of that achievement.

I feel very proud of Christopher’s part.

But you played an important part.

No, I was just there. The fact that there wasn’t a complete shambles and breakdown was very largely thanks to Christopher and the brilliant team from the Foreign Office and the Commonwealth Monitoring Force. It was also enormously important that he was able to forge a relationship with Robert Mugabe. In the beginning their meetings were completely confrontational, and yet they became friends. I always thought it was a wonderful recognition of this when Robert and Sally Mugabe flew from Zimbabwe for Christopher’s funeral in our village church.

In 1980 you and your husband were both honoured in Mrs Thatcher’s list, such a joint honour without precedent. Was that an especially proud moment?

Yes, I was staggered; it was very moving, very exciting for us. That was an extraordinary time, those winter months in Africa.

The following year Christopher Soames was dropped from Mrs Thatcher’s Cabinet, having been widely blamed for the disruptive strikes in the public services and for yielding to the unions. Do you think that was fair, or was he made a scapegoat?

The civil servant strike was probably the breaking point, because he had advised Mrs Thatcher that certain terms should be met, and she ignored his advice. Then she dismissed him from the Cabinet, which she had every right to do, but without giving that as an exact reason. Two months later the strike was settled on exactly the same terms. I think he was made a scapegoat, but truthfully I never think of it. After all they were very dissimilar in outlook – he was one of the wets – and they weren’t easy colleagues.

It is five years since your husband died … has time ‘healed you of a grievous wound’?

I’ve been very lucky. I have my children and I’ve been very busy. The acute pain diminishes, luckily, but the sense of loss is there forever; how can it not be, if one’s been very happy with somebody? It’s something that’s gone for good.

When you were appointed in 1989 to chair the board of the National Theatre it was rumoured that you were Mrs Thatcher’s revenge. What was the truth behind that appointment?

It was the most rum appointment that there ever was. I was simply staggered to be offered the job. But I’ve just been reappointed for another three years so I feel that perhaps I have lived down my reputation for being Mrs Thatcher’s revenge. They thought I was being sent by a Tory government to sort out pinkos on the left bank, though naturally they were too polite to voice that opinion to me, but I have to say there was never at the time of my appointment any suggestion that that would be my role, and if there had been I wouldn’t have taken the job. I don’t know why I was appointed. Richard Luce said he just thought it would be a good idea, and nobody was more astonished than I was. It’s simply thrilling for me to have entered a marvellous new world, to work with talented, gifted people, and I’ve learnt such a lot.

Out of all the Churchill children, you alone managed to keep your marriage intact. To what do you attribute that?

Luck. And I married a very nice man. I find your question so terribly difficult – I was dreading being asked that. Why does one marriage succeed and another fail? I don’t really know. I think we were both terribly lucky in finding each other, and we both tried very hard. A lot of commitment went into our marriage, but in the end it was just blessed good fortune.

Your elder brother and sisters had a far less settled early life than you. Do you think they paid for that with their marriages perhaps?

Who can tell? I really can’t go into all that, because the answer is, I just really don’t know. I don’t think they had a bad childhood; they were very close to my parents when they were small, and it was only later that rifts and difficulties appeared, but even so, the door was never shut; it remained always open.

Your parents were obviously saddened by the marital problems of their children – ‘they grieved over the shipwrecks’, as you put in the book. Did they hold themselves in part responsible, do you think?

I don’t know. I never heard them say so. I often knew them to be sad about it and try in so far as they were able to be a unifying force. In any case it isn’t always the result of difficulties in childhood. Two of my own children’s marriages have failed, and yet they were brought up in a united family, having the same home, the same childhood influences. It’s very hard to identify the root causes. The expectations that people have of marriage can be unreal and the climate we live in is not conducive to keeping a rocky show going. Sometimes people don’t try hard enough, or long enough. My parents had quite a number of disagreements and rows, and they lived through very difficult times. They weren’t always well-off in a marital sense, but they loved each other very much, and they also had a great commitment to the marriage, and I think that’s important above and beyond the commitment to yourself.

You suggest your mother was more comprehending than your father of the difficulties which beset unhappy relationships. You describe her as gentle and fair minded. Did you try and emulate her example when your own daughters’ marriages foundered?

I hope I did. But no two generations meet the same problems in the same way, and no two problems are identical.

You don’t have much sympathy with the view – most current in American feminist circles – that your mother was eclipsed by your father, still less I suspect with the view that you were to some extent eclipsed by your husband … but isn’t there a degree of truth in it, all the same?

I don’t feel in the least about myself. My life was tremendously widened and enriched by sharing in Christopher’s. The idea that a life is necessarily wasted because it is to a large extent devoted to promoting a husband’s career is something I don’t understand. I’m always amazed when people say to me that my mother’s life was eclipsed. It would never have occurred to her that she had been deprived, though of course it was a different generation. I certainly never felt eclipsed; I felt enhanced.

You write of your parents’ relationship. ‘She was scabbard to his sword, and she kept it shining.’ Do you think that sort of commitment still has a modern application, or is it hopelessly outmoded?

I think it’s a little sad that husband and wife enterprises aren’t any longer thought to be particularly admirable. I’m in rather a muddle about this because I do want women to have careers, yet at the same time I recognize that it is quite difficult for women to have careers and to run families. I sometimes think that women have found liberation but haven’t quite found out how to manage it.

You have said many times: ‘I have lived with clever, gifted people all my life’, which rather ignores your own special gifts. Is this what is known as British modesty, or is there some deep-seated need to make light of your talents?

I have enjoyed the company of clever, gifted people, and of course perhaps something rubs off on one. I don’t at all feel unfulfilled, or that I ought to have had a bigger role at all. I think I have been very fortunate in what has come my way. I never meant to write a book, for example, but once I started I rather warmed to the task. Although I’ve lived all my life with political people, I’m not in myself a political animal. There was never a point in my life when for more than five minutes I considered the idea of going into politics on my own.

I imagine you found it a very emotional experience to write your mother’s biography – that is certainly something which comes through in the writing.

I said in my preface that it was quite impossible for me to write completely dispassionately or in an unpartisan way, but I tried to be fair, to stand back from it as much as I could. Inevitably, however, in writing about your own family, you do lose objectivity, but you also have knowledge that other people don’t have and a sensitivity that outsiders couldn’t have.

I suppose you discovered many things about your mother that you were barely conscious of during your childhood and young adulthood. Did you also discover things about yourself?

More about my mother. I tried to efface myself as much as possible. When I started to write I hadn’t really understood about her very difficult early life about which she told me a great deal when she knew I was serious about the book. I also discovered that Mama lacked the capacity for happiness. By that I am referring to something beyond the circumstances in her life because I would never suggest that she and my father were not happy together. In fact I find it very difficult to understand the hurtful things that have been written recently, that it wasn’t a happy marriage, for example, and that my mother was enormously difficult. She could be difficult, but it isn’t only easy people who are loveable. She was someone who felt things very deeply and she was a rather lonely person.

Did you discover things that disappointed you?

No. I found things that explained certain other things which I hadn’t understood before. If I ever revise the book I’ll write some parts a little differently, particularly those concerning the period in childhood when you don’t think about your parents as having lives of their own; it’s later that you see it.

In the love and devotion between your parents which spanned over half a century, there seem to have been only two ripples … one when your father wrote to Clementine saying that she absolutely had no need to be jealous, we know not of whom; the other when your mother at the age of fifty fell in love with Terence Philip. I had the impression that you tried to play down the possible significance of this attachment saying these five months had ‘the unreality of a dream’. Did you perhaps feel some conflict at that point between your role as daughter and biographer?

By that time I was old enough to want to understand, and I wrote what I believe to be the truth about that relationship. I truly believe it had the air of unreality about it; it was a holiday romance, and she came back to base. She certainly didn’t seek it, and he for his part was, I believe, quite lukewarm. How much do you tell your children about a relationship you have had with a man who isn’t your father? I asked her ‘Mama, were you ever in love with him?’ and she said, ‘Well, I was rather in love with him, for a time, and he wanted me to be.’ But it wasn’t a commitment, it wasn’t planned and plotted, by which I mean she didn’t go on the cruise to meet Terence Philip. But when she came back she brought a little dove with her; it lived for two or three years with us and when it died it was buried under the sundial in the garden at Chartwell, and round the base my mother had engraved the words: ‘It does not do to wonder too far from sober men, but there’s an island yonder. I think of it again’

Is infidelity always damaging in marriage, do you think, or can some marriages rise above it, even benefit from it?

I’m sure marriages can rise above it, and I’m very sorry whenever I see that lack of fidelity has caused a marriage to crash to the ground. Fidelity seems to me to be a very important ingredient in marriage; it’s part of the commitment, but equally I think it’s in certain people not to be able to be faithful, and one must hope then that they are married to partners who can sustain that. For my own part I would have hoped not to know about it; and if I had, I would have hoped to keep it in proportion.

On the issue of Edward VIII and Mrs Simpson, your father – unwisely as it turned out – publicly supported the idea of Mrs Simpson as queen consort. Your mother was shrewder, and predicted the political fall-out. Was your father simply being naïve, do you think, or did the marriage appeal to his romantic side?

He primarily felt devotion and loyalty to Edward VIII, and felt that he was being cornered. I’m sure that he deplored his wanting to marry a divorced woman, but he so much wanted to keep the king on the throne that he did search for possible ways round the difficulty. I even remember hearing morganatic marriage talked about, which has no part in our constitution at all. Because of his loyalty to the king he didn’t appreciate how much public opinion was against this situation, and of course the dominions all came in strongly against it. My father underestimated that, but my mother never did. I remember they had awful disagreements over this, and my mother was very bitter because she felt that my father’s views in opposition about standing up to Germany were just beginning to be accepted by a lot of people, and suddenly this issue made it seem as if he were deliberately setting out to spike the Prime Minister’s guns, which wasn’t true at all. It was a really good example of my mother being shrewder than my father, but my father’s loyalty was deeply engaged, as was his sense of romance. But there was a very moving coda to the story. My parents were at the coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, and as Queen Elizabeth, now the Queen Mother, was being crowned in her own separate ceremony, my father turned to my mother and said, ‘You were quite right, Clemmie, the other one would never have done.’ The beauty of the service had brought home to him what the consort of the sovereign really means.

How did he view the exile of the Windsors?

He always remained on friendly terms with them, although he had quite a difficult time during the war with the Duke of Windsor who kept making unsuitable demands; trivial requests would arrive at a moment when my father was grappling with the aftermath of Dunkirk or something, and it was by no means easy to deal with them; but he always remained his friend.

As we all know, Churchill took an instant loathing to the eightieth-birthday portrait of him by Graham Sutherland, feeling that he had been betrayed by the artist. Do you feel any sense of betrayal that you were not told of the painting’s destruction till after your father’s death?

That was an instance when I saw a side of my mother that did quiet astonish me. She used to tell me a lot, and she simply didn’t mention this. Of course I regret that she destroyed it, but I don’t believe all the claptrap that she didn’t have the right to. It’s all a very unhappy story. Christopher and I and Mama were on our way to Jamaica for a holiday to help my mother recover from my father’s death. We were on board either the Queen Mary or the Queen Elizabeth, in the drawing room, and I can remember to this day how I nearly slid off my chair when Mama suddenly cleared her throat and said, ‘Oh by the way, I think I probably ought to tell you and Christopher that I had that dreadful portrait of your father destroyed.’

You must have felt a sense of discomfort at the very least when you were forced to lie about the fate of the Sutherland portrait while your mother was alive. You say it was the correct decision – what exactly lay behind the decision not to reveal the truth till your mother’s death?

We all took the view that Mama didn’t realise the hornets’ nest it would stir up. She was a most courageous woman, but she was quite old then, and we thought that she didn’t appreciate the awful reaction it would cause in the artistic world. Christopher and I tried to tell her how strongly people would feel about it, and we begged her not to say anything. She never mentioned it again. I like to think that I’m a truthful person basically, but I did for twelve years lie through my teeth when asked about it. People were always trying to get hold of it to stretch the canvas, or clean its face, or put it on exhibition or something. It was awful. But I would do the same again.

You write very movingly of your sister Diana’s suicide, saying that your parents were spared the extreme shock and grief, due to what you call ‘the dulling of sensibilities’ which accompanies old age. You were not spared the same extremes, I imagine. How did you come to terms with it yourself?

Suicide is such a cruel thing, because it leaves a terrible legacy that people have to live with, of questioning, of self doubt. And I agonized for her children. It was a very sad time, and one of the worst things I’ve ever had to do in my life was to tell my mother and father about it. My mother was ill in hospital and she was rather sedated at the time. I remember walking all the way back from the Westminster Hospital to Hyde Park Gate, trying to think how I could tell my father. I also had to tell Sarah who was in Spain. She adored Diana and was very close to her. I remember having to shriek down a bad telephone, but there you are. Diana was a marvellous person and it was a great tragedy, but worse for her children, awful for her children. I hadn’t always been close to Diana, but I was growing closer; I had always been, even as a middle-aged woman, her much younger sister, and I am afraid in her eyes I was rather ‘teacher’s pet’ – funnily enough these attitudes sometimes last into adulthood. But we were just really beginning to overcome that, and then this awful thing. She had a very unhappy life, yet my father wrote such beautiful things about her when she was born. She was such a wanted child, and much loved by both my parents, a golden child right into her teens.

Your brother Randolph died a sad and bitter man. You write most poignantly: ‘As always in sorrow Clementine had little to say.’ What do you imagine her thoughts to have been?

Only when I was writing my mother’s life did it hit home that she had buried all but two of her five children. It’s a bitter thing for a mother. She didn’t have a happy relationship with Randolph, and though she always tried to be helpful and loyal, the misunderstandings were profound. And then when somebody dies, you have to wait for eternity to put them right. My mother wasn’t a self-pitying woman, but she felt it all very deeply and would love to have had a marvellous relationship with both Randolph and Diana. I hate talking about these family relations, and I certainly don’t do so in any spirit of judgement. But my mother was a thinking woman, not an insensitive one, and I’m sure she felt very deep regret and grief.

You must sometimes have had the feeling, particularly when your father died, that he somehow belonged as much to the British people as to your own family. Did that help ease the loss, or did it sharpen it in poignancy?

When my father died it was a great loss, but also for him it was such a release. Life had become a burden, and it would have been a selfish person who would have wanted him to linger after all he had done in life. It was time, it was time. It’s quite a different sort of sadness from that which you feel when somebody hasn’t run their course. He was ill for a fortnight, and after ten days it was known publicly that he was ill, and from that moment onwards you really felt that the whole world was there at his bedside. I can only say it was the most extraordinary feeling. The funeral I shall remember always.

You have sometimes joked that you feel like the last of the Mohicans. Am I right in thinking a certain sorrow infuses the jocularity?

Yes. One’s alone in the little shelf of one’s generation. I miss Sarah particularly; she was the closest to me, and when she died, it was awful. We were great friends, and she was always my heroine. She had unhappy times in her life but she was a marvellous person, and we were very close in the months before her death. I miss her very much. But anybody who lives beyond seventy or so is in the foothills of old age, and you can’t arrive there without suffering anything. I think I’ve been so fortunate because I was loved by my parents, I was loved by my husband, and I am loved by my children. My father once wrote: ‘You must accept life with all its contrasts, the good and the bad, the dark and the bright.’ For me the death of my husband was and is a terrible loss, but I had happiness in great measure and I consider myself enormously blessed that life has brought enrichment beyond anything I could have hoped for or deserved or expected.