It is comforting to hear that being married could be the key to weathering a midlife crisis because it makes you happier in middle age, researchers say. From the age of 41-55 our satisfaction with life drastically plummets as we juggle work and family and question the meaning of life. Having a spouse, however, makes you less unhappy during this tricky time because it eases the stresses of middle age, a study has found. And those whose husbands or wives are also their best friend see almost twice the boost to their wellbeing.

Canadian researchers looked at the U-shaped curve in happiness, which sees life satisfaction fall from the 20s through to middle age before rebounding again in older age. They found marriage protects against the sadness slump in middle age based on surveys of almost 360,000 British people. Co-author Professor John Halliwell, from Vancouver School of Economics, said: ‘Marriage may help ease the causes of midlife dip in life satisfaction and the benefits of marriage are likely to be short-lived. Even after years, the married are still more satisfied. This suggests a causal effect at all stages of the marriage from pre-nuptial bliss to marriages of long duration. Middle age is the time when, so the stereotype goes, the dissatisfied buy a sports car or start an affair. But the slump in satisfaction appears far worse for single people.’

The research, published in the Journal of Happiness Studies, gathered data from the British Household Panel Survey, taking in around 36,000 participants between 1991 and 2009, and the UK’s Annual Population 2011-13 Survey, involving more than 328,000 participants. Together, the surveys asked questions about satisfaction with life overall, how worthwhile people felt things to be, their happiness and anxiety. The life satisfaction scale of 0-10 shows a fall to just about 6.5 for life-long unmarried people between the ages of 46-55. But that rises to more than 7 for those who have been married. The authors’ state: ‘One potential explanation for this result is that the social support provided by a spouse helps ease the stresses of middle age. Previous studies also show married people are more sociable, healthier, better educated and have more engaging jobs. The boost from being married is even more noticeable in those who their spouse is their closest friend – approximately half of married people.’

Professor Halliwell said: ‘The wellbeing benefits of marriage are much greater for those who also regard their spouse as their best friend. These benefits are on average about twice as large for people whose spouse is also their best friend. Previous research suggests people receive only a short term rise in life satisfaction from marrying. However, the increased satisfaction from being married or living with a partner lasted in this study well beyond the so-called ‘honeymoon phase’ of a marriage, into old age.’ The authors conclude marriage seems to be most important in middle age, when people of every marital status experience a dip in wellbeing.

Well, I’m glad to hear that marriage has regained its importance for both the comfort of husband and wife, so long as the union proves to be a real loving one and not simply for convenience state. I personally had the good fortune of meeting and marrying a woman for 60 blessed years whose death two years ago shattered my entire existence, However, I now feel that she hasn’t forsaken me but keeps a watchful eye over me, as if she never left.

No Longer With Us


Hugh Trevor-Roper was born in 15 January 1914 – 26 January 2003 and educated at Charterhouse and Christ Church, Oxford. In 1947 he won international recognition for his book The Last Days of Hitler, a reconstruction based on research on behalf of British forces in occupied Germany. He was regius professor of modern history and fellow of Oriel College, Oxford 91857-80) and had published on a wide range of topics, including medieval Christendom, European witch-hunting, the Kennedy assassination, the Kim Philby affair and the Scottish Enlightenment. In a rare misjudgement he championed the authenticity of the so-called Hitler diaries until their fraudulence was revealed. He was a director of Times Newspapers between 1974 and 1988 and he was made a life peer in 1979.


I interviewed him in the late 1990s and here is the substance of what he told me.
Why exactly did you choose the title Dacre? I gather it upset the wife of William Douglas-Home who already had the title Lady Dacre and is a baroness in her own right.
That is right. I chose it after consulting the Garter King of Arms. It was a title which had been in my family, so Garter considered it was reasonable for me to take it, provided it was differentiated by being of something. And so it became Lord Dacre of Glanton.

Did you predict that you would upset Lady Dacre by choosing that title?

No. Time was short but I rang her up and asked her if she had any objections. She said she had none, so I went ahead. Parliament was going into recess and it therefore had to go through at once, so once she had agreed I told the Garter, and it was duly registered. By the time she expressed second thoughts it was too late. When I reminded her that she had had no objection, she said that she had been suffering from mussel poisoning at the times and hadn’t really been herself. We had a correspondence afterwards which was at times animated, but in the end she wrote me a very charming letter and peace was restored.

You have spent most of your life in the universities. There is quite a lot of talk at present about grading universities in such a way that only some of them do research. To an outsider the whole idea of research in, say, Greek noun phrases or the negative in Middle English seems a strange one. What is it for in your view?

Knowledge does not advance on any front without research. A university without a research side is like a hospital which has no teaching branch to it; it tends to stay put. You make a legitimate point in that some subjects are not worth researching into; research can become a fetish and like all professional subjects it is in danger of over-professionalization, with academics writing for other academics on smaller and smaller topics. That is an inherent danger in any research unless it is carefully controlled. People build empires out of research and sometimes the conquests are not worth making. But research is the basis of a university; otherwise it is simply a school.

What sort of duties did you undertake during the war? I know that you were with the security service, but what did that entail?

You must know I’m subject to the new official secrets act. However, I can say that I came to be in the security service by accident, that is to say I came to work on the activities of the German secret service, which was not what was intended for me. My superior officer and I discovered and identified the radio communications of the German secret service which created a great convulsion in the intelligence world. We were then moved into the secret service proper, and from then on we became an essential part of the business of reading and working out the organization of the German intelligence services.

Among you colleagues in the security service was Kim Philby. It rather undermines one’s confidence to discover that our security service not only catches spies but recruits them. How were people recruited in those days? To an outsider it all has the air of ‘there’s this chap I know’, and so many turned out to be duds.

I think it is true that at the beginning of the war and before, the secret intelligence service, MI6 was recruited on a personal basis by people of rather limited experience. They couldn’t advertise of course, and the people chosen were not always ideal. Accidents happened.

In your own case, how were you recruited?

I was recruited because of the work which we had already done. The secret service judged it essential to keep control of this work which had been done outside the secret service, and therefore I was moved as part of an organizational change. I was not chosen personally.

But how did this work start in the first place?

Accidentally. I was drafted at first and had a territorial commission. We were given a task which had nothing whatever to do with intelligence but by chance we made a huge discovery. To begin with no one would take it seriously, and consequently my superior officer and I worked on it in the evenings privately in our flat which we shared, and we deciphered the messages. It was a very simple cipher and I’m not claiming any great achievement, but once it was realized that we had discovered the operations of the German secret service, there was quite a storm. We were severely rebuked for making the discovery, and even more so for having deciphered it.
How do you think people ought to be recruited for such services? Is there, do you think, any way of ensuring loyalty, or at any rate of limiting the damage of disloyalty?

I don’t know of any infallible test which would exclude the wrong people. I myself was astonished when Philby joined SIS. I was already there and was surprised to hear people talk with great enthusiasm about his appointment. I knew that Philby had been a communist.

You knew then?

Yes, but I was as wrong as everybody else, only in a different way. Lots of people, my friends included, had been communists at university, but it was not taken seriously. It was a passing phase, and it all evaporated at the time of the Russo-German pact. I considered that our superior officers in the security service were often unreasonable, seeing reds under the bed all the time, and turning down clever people on the grounds that they had left-wing views. When Philby joined I was rather glad someone had got through the net. It never occurred to me that he was a communist still, even less that he would be a communist spy. So we were all mistaken on this. Recruiting policy, however, was not the only thing that kept able people out. It wasn’t a job in the usual sense, in that you couldn’t talk about your work, not even to your wife, it was not well paid because the budget was small, you disappeared in the morning, came back in the afternoon, and it led nowhere. It was not a very glamorous job unless you lived in a world of fantasy, in the Bulldog Drummond, Philip Oppenheim kind of world, which of course some of them did. People were therefore chosen out of a rather limited pool; they generally had some money of their own and they often lacked normal ambition. I was pretty censorious about them at the time, though I came to perceive the difficulties inherent in the situation. Nowadays of course recruitment is on a different basis; it’s no longer done in clubs.

If money was not the motivating factor, did people join for a sense of adventure?

I suppose it was adventure of a kind, at least for people who joined in peacetime. In wartime we didn’t so much join as end up there. I made a distinction between the armatures and the professionals. The armatures thought, and were blamed for thinking, in short terms; we wanted to win the war and we had no long-term aims, but the grandees of the service tended to regard the war as an inconvenient interruption and were determined not to allow the amateurs to burst the system. Philby was obviously determined to stay a professional, and he played the professional game. We made nuisances of ourselves since we didn’t care if we were kicked out, but Philby didn’t cause trouble; he was ingratiating and very competent. I don’t think he did us any harm during the war. He did afterwards, but if he did pass information to the Russians during the war, they either had it anyway, or they didn’t use it. I doubt if he actually did anything dangerous or contrary to British policy or aims during the war.

Setting aside the war, how much harm do you think Philby, Blunt and company actually did?

It’s difficult to be sure in concrete terms. One can of course say that they gave a bad name to their service, they spread distrust and suspicion and did a great deal of harm within their own world, the society to which they belonged. They certainly damaged the aims and interests of the British government and the West as they were at that time. It is possible, for example, that Albania would not have fallen so completely into the communist grip if it hadn’t been for Philby revealing the operations of the SIS or the CIA. Equally, you can look back on it and say, well, perhaps it wasn’t decisive after all, perhaps the CIA and SIS operations were rather madcap. Some people were killed, but then Philby would have said that the secret service involves everybody taking risks, and it’s the luck of the game. Another thing Philby did quite early on was to prevent the exposure of the Russian espionage system in Britain. There was a Russian defector to Istanbul called Ivanov who offered to provide the British government with the names of the Russian agents operating in the British intelligence world. If that information had reached the right people it would have exposed Blunt, Philby, Burgess and Maclean at an early date, but Philby had got himself into the position of being able to take charge of the matter. He obviously informed the Russians, who kidnapped Ivanov and he’s never been heard of since. There’s no doubt that he was shot. In this way Philby protected himself and the others from exposure.

When you reflected on why it should have been Cambridge rather than Oxford that produced communist spies in the 1930s you blamed a certain puritan high-mindness, but in itself that is surely no bad thing. What was it that narrowed that outlook to the point of treason?
I don’t know. Supposing there had been a high-powered Russian recruiter operating in Oxford, can I be sure that he wouldn’t have found Philbys there? I honestly can’t answer that. That puritanism, however, that extraordinary self-satisfaction which I do ascribe to Cambridge is lacking in Oxford. People don’t take themselves so seriously at Oxford. Cambridge people issue writs against each other inside the university, which I find laughable. There is a world in Cambridge which takes itself extremely seriously, and if you do that, it’s a stage nearer deciding that your conscience is more imperative than convention, humanity and loyalty to the government. It’s that kind of high-mindedness which I ascribe to Cambridge.

The present government’s determination to maintain secrecy at every level appears to many people to be perverse. Do you think it right that the defence of national interests should be barred in that anyone who has gone through ‘the proper channels’ with suspicions about Philby or Maclean or Blunt would have got nowhere?

Many people have found their way round these restrictions; sometimes they do it by going through the proper channels and sometimes they do it by knowing how to create interest in the right quarters. For all I know it may sometimes be done with official encouragement. I hold the view that most secrets are in print if you know where to look for them, and half the time the secrecy rules are merely a means of preventing the public knowing what is already known to the foreign governments from which ostensibly it is being concealed. For instance, during the war, and indeed until recently, one couldn’t even name the head of the British secret service, nor could people say that anyone was in it, yet the entire professional staff of the secret service was known by name in Germany and had been publicised in the German press in October 1939. I have seen it for myself and they were all named.

Were they accurate?

Absolutely accurate, and I know exactly how they came by the names. Right at the beginning of the war agents from the German secret service lured two British secret-service officers in the Netherlands to the frontier under the pretence of being the representatives of an anti-Hitler group. They then kidnapped them by force and carried them off to Berlin. The British officers were kept prisoner throughout the war, and under interrogation they revealed all the facts. When I was in Berlin in 1945 I found in the ruins of the Gestapo headquarters a secret document which set out the structure of the British intelligence services and ascribed its knowledge, some of which was coloured by German fantasy, to these two men. But MI6 knew perfectly well that all their names had been blown away because Himmler, after the seizure of these two officers, had made a public speech about information received, and this was then reported in the German press.
Of course I can see that one doesn’t want to encourage too much curiosity into the operations of the secret service which, whatever one says about it, does have its useful functions – we live in a world of terrorism after all – but I do think it’s carried too far and that the secret services tend to breed within themselves a separation from reality. I’ve known several cases of people who have simply become fantasists, and Peter Wright of course is an instance. A kind of mania can develop, a paranoia, a sort of mini-McCarthyism which feeds on itself.

Why do you think the government went to such lengths to ban Wright’s book?

I cannot say. I think it was mad, but I don’t know where the move came from. I suppose it grew gradually and was probably a question of pride. They started by thinking they could stop it at a lower level without any fuss, and then when that failed, they had to stop it at a slightly higher level. But it was absurd, because he lived outside the jurisdiction and he could publish outside the jurisdiction.

Do you think fascism has really been put behind us? The neo-Nazi movement seems to be gaining ground in an alarming way now.

People are misled by words. What is meant by fascism? Fascism and Nazism were quite different, although fascism was taken prisoner by Nazism in the course of the war. Mussolini’s regime was not anti-Semitic until it fell under German control, yet anti-Semitism was absolutely central to German Nazism. They are different movements with different origins, and yet we call them both fascism. Since I’m something of a pedant, I like words to be used so that one can argue on the basis of them, and therefore they must be used accurately. I believe that the movements we knew in the 1930s which reached their head in the war are dead, because they were inseparable from a particular political conjuncture which is now over and which will never be repeated in the same form. If by fascism we mean the Italian fascism of Mussolini, and if by Nazism we mean the German Nazism of Hitler with its total philosophy and aims, they cannot happen again. But if we use the terms in a vulgar way, meaning thuggery, right-wing xenophobia, brutality, stamping on the lower classes and so on, that is a far more generalized thing, and is liable to break out at any time.

At present there are some historians, such as David Irving, suggesting that Nazi atrocities were either the result of Allied propaganda or were grossly exaggerated. Will it ever be possible, do you think, to rewrite history, given the pressures for European unity?

Assuming that Europe, whether united or disunited, remains liberal, and that we have free press and free exchange of information, I don’t think that historical revisionism of that kind is possible. History is always being revised, but it’s revised from within rational norms; when we have more evidence, and different documents are produced, we see things from a slightly different point of view, but assuming a certain honesty in the historical profession, that is not a sign of perversity, it’s just a sign of what is always happening.

But isn’t history largely a matter of interpretation?

Yes, but what historians call historical revision is reinterpretation of agreed objective evidence, whereas what people like David Irving are trying to do is to rewrite history in defiance of the evidence. They thereby exploit legitimate revisionism in order to argue a political thesis, which in my opinion is unarguable. Their interpretations are scandalous, not honest.

Do you think the atrocities perpetrated by the Nazis during the war could have been exaggerated?

In the First World War there had been atrocity-mongering which afterwards was proved to have been false, and therefore there were people during the Second World War who did not believe all the talk of atrocities which they fully expected to be disproved afterwards. But one of the advantages of the Nuremberg trials was that it put the evidence on the record in a way in which it couldn’t be contested. After the First World War the victorious allies didn’t occupy Germany, they didn’t change the government of Germany, they didn’t confiscate or even have access to German secret documents, and therefore the Germans were able to build up the theory of the stab in the back, the myths on which Nazism afterwards fed. In 1945 it was different: Germany was totally defeated and occupied, documents were seized and trials were held, and whatever one may say about the trials, the fact is that all the documents that were produced were put to the court and could be ruled illegitimate or irrelevant. The defence had lawyers whose business it was to disprove allegations if they could, and no German historian has suggested that the documents used at Nuremberg were not valid documents. The evidence is public and has been agreed and cannot be contested, and that is the great difference between the post-1945 position in relation to history and the post-1918 position. So I don’t think that revisionism which exploits the mood of incredulity or the desire for European unity, or the wish to forget the past to the extent of negating well-established and undeniable facts, I don’t think that is a possibility now.

I gather you read Mein Kampf in the original when you worked for intelligence. What sort of impression did it make on you at the time?

That’s not quite true. I read Mein Kampf in German in 1938 as a consequence of an article by Ensor, a very able historian, who had been prophesying that there would be a major international crisis resolved either by European war or by a climbdown by the West in the autumn of 1938. One thing he said was that the beginning of wisdom in international affairs was to read Mein Kampf, and that it had to be read in German because it was not fully translated. People at that time tended to regard Hitler as a mere froth-blowing demagogue, nasty, but slightly comic, whereas Ensor was claiming he was very dangerous. That article decided me to read Mein Kampf in the original. I could see it was the work of a man with a powerful mind who had already achieved much of what he had threatened to achieve and showed no signs of weakness of any kind. It was a coherent ideology, a horrible one but nevertheless coherent, and I decided that it was serious. And I became rather serious myself in consequence; I’d led rather a frivolous life up to that time, but I reckoned then that we were in for a war. I did not believe as many others did that Hitler was a clown, a mere adventurer. He was a gangster, though not only a gangster; he was a dangerous and effective political force.

How do you view someone like Lady Diana Mosley who admired Hitler and believes that many of the atrocities attributed to him are not possible?

She is one of those people who think that because somebody is polite and considerate to her personally, he can’t possibly be a criminal. The world is full of people who are conned by confidence tricksters, ladies who listen to honeyed words and can’t imagine such a nice person having another side to him. I once wrote a review of an article about Goebbels, and she wrote a letter of protest, saying how monstrously I had misrepresented Goebbels. She said she had often dined with Goebbels and his wife who were such kind hosts and conversation was so agreeable and they lived in quite modest style. It was the same with Hitler. I’m afraid she’s just a gull, as was her sister Unity.

Do you think the last war was the inevitable outcome of the Versailles Treaty?

The Treaty of Versailles provided the excuse. The real reason was that the Germans did not believe that they were defeated. They were of course defeated, but there’s a difference between defeat and recognizing defeat. The ruling classes maintained that they have been deprived of victory; and in the spring of 1918, just as in 1940, they considered they had won the war, and couldn’t understand why everyone didn’t then surrender. And then suddenly at the end of 1918, they were totally defeated, which came as a great shock. The entire organization of propaganda, the doctoring of documents, even before Hitler, shows that they were determined that this be rectified. They needn’t have done it by war; they could have tried to build up German power and negotiate from strength. But Hitler wanted war; he was an all-or-nothing man, and he was determined that it could be done only in his lifetime. It was the same argument used in 1914, that Russia was going to be too powerful and that the social basis of Germany had to be changed. This is where anti-Semitism comes in. Hitler’s complaint in Mein Kampf is that the Kaiser’s Germany was a Byzantine Judaized aristocratically-run incompetent Germany; it had all the German virtues of racial and military strength, if only it had been properly led. In order to be sure of victory this useless aristocracy had to be eliminated and replaced by an organization based on blood. He really believed in race and blood, and elimination of the Jews. According to Hitler the social structure had to be changed in order to liberate the full energies of Germany and then, led by him, they could win. That was the real cause of the war, in my opinion.

What do you consider the origin of anti-Semitism to be. Is there a definitive historical explanation, or is it specifically religious and cultural?

I’ve thought a good deal about this, and I’m sure that it is not religious. In the Middle Ages there was anti-Semitism in Germany and in Spain, and it was religiously based. The Jews were the people who had crucified Christ and had refused to accept Christianity, and were consequently public enemy no. 1. But in the eighteenth century this sectarian attitude dissolved with the weakening of religion and religious persecution; and yet anti-Semitism didn’t disappear. In the nineteenth century it revived with vengeance and adapted to an industrial society, this time not for religious reasons at all, but on the basis of blood. This was equally irrational, because there is no such thing as Jewish blood. The only way you can define a Jew is by religion. Hitler had no interest in religion, Jewish or Christian. His problem was how to identify Jews among German lawyers or German police, or indeed Germans in general. It was simple when Jews had come in from Poland, for example, and were called Moses or Abraham, but among Germans how could you distinguish who was a Jew and who wasn’t? The only way to distinguish them was by religion; and in this way we have the phenomenon that anti-Semitism survives its particular explanations. Different rationalizations are produced at different times, but one has to ask, what is the real basis of it? My own theory is that it is the determination inherent in the human race to find a scapegoat for one’s misfortunes, particularly in an unassimilable group in society. They may be religious dissenters, they may be as in the witch craze of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, people who just don’t mix, who don’t fit in, who make their neighbours uncomfortable, who seem to belong to a different world. Any minority group is liable to persecution, even genocide. Often the unassimilable group is relatively prosperous, like the Armenians, or Parsees in India, or the Ismailis in East Africa, or even the Quakers in England; they’re shut in on themselves, perhaps they don’t even try to become assimilated, so they concentrate on business and they become rich, and in turn they become envied. The Jews single themselves out, and they fit into all these categories, and that is my explanation.

I believe you covered the Eichmann trial for the Sunday Times. Did you undertake the work as a historian, or was it primarily a journalistic assignment?

I was asked to go by the Sunday Times and was glad to do so for my own education. (I had attended the Nuremberg Trials, and I afterwards attended the Auschwitz Trials in Frankfurt.) I was interested both in the revelations in the evidence, and in the procedure. I had been in Israel before and was interested to see the way in which the Israelis would handle the trial.

Your historical researches have covered a number of periods. Which has given you the most satisfaction?

Although I have studied and written about Nazi Germany, it does not give me satisfaction. I find it in some ways a repulsive subject and I have not allowed myself to be tied to it. If I’m an expert in anything I suppose it is sixteenth-and seventeenth-century history, but I don’t really think in ‘periods’. I came to the conclusion at one time that political history is really rather small beer; seeing people digging deeper and deeper into a petty cabinet crisis in eighteenth-century English politics – I found that poor stuff. Humanity does not live for this, I thought, and I gradually found myself more drawn to intellectual history. So rather than being interested in a particular period, I’m interested in a particular side of history, the intellect of man rather than the politics. I consider that intellectual history is not separable from its context in practical history; that is to say, ideas do not develop out of previous ideas. This is falsely maintained by professional intellectual historians who, as it were, follow an idea from one generation to another as if people read the books of their predecessors but didn’t live in the context of the present. I’m Marxist to the extent that I would allow that ideas are conditioned by the context, which means that one is going to understand the intellectual views of this century, and the same is true of any other century.

I understand that your political antennae were developed in the thirties but gradually your imagination was captured more by academic rather than political intrigue. How did this come about?

I find this a rather offensive question. It implies that I am only interested in ‘intrigue’ and merely changed direction within that constant. I am not interested in intrigue. If I have occasionally found myself in controversy it has always been open – perhaps too open for my own good (but that, in my opinion, is because I am a victim of the media!) My answer to the substantive question – how did I come to prefer academic to political life (not intrigue) is quite simple. I was an undergraduate at a very political college – several of my friends and several of the dons went into politics – and I did at one time think of a political career. Munich made politics very actual to me. But then came the war; and during the war I decided that my real interest was in literature and the study of history. I also valued my independence, or perhaps my ease. The thought of constituents, ‘surgeries’, public meetings, party conferences, whips (not to say scorpions) repelled me. I also loved country life and shrank from smoke-filled rooms in London. I’m afraid I was rather indolent in those days.

You are a distinguished historian, so I ask this question rather diffidently. Why does history matter? I can see that chemistry, physics, medicine, computer technology, agriculture, even perhaps psychology, have real consequences, but history seems to fall into a different category. By the time we meditate on the past it’s all over. The study of literature may make us aware of the way language is used to manipulate, but it sometimes seems as if the clashing opinions of historians only catalogue possible past mistakes…

I agree with Gibbon who says that history is little else than the register of the crimes, follies and misfortunes of mankind. I nevertheless think that it is worth studying because I think that nations are conditioned even though they may not recognize this by their history. If one cuts oneself off from one’s history, one is losing a capacity to understand the present, or indeed perhaps the future, not that anyone can understand the future but at least you can speculate. I also think that the study of history enriches the study of thought and art and literature. If somebody totally ignorant of his history goes round a picture gallery, let us say, and relies entirely on his aesthetic sense, his appreciation is entirely different. I’m not saying that paintings should be studied solely as historical documents, because obviously they have an aesthetic quality which transcends that context, but I do think that appreciation is deepened and made intelligent and articulate by an understanding of history.

Historians are constrained by facts, but even in the selection of which facts to highlight, there is a degree of interpretation involved. Since interpretation is necessarily subjective, do you think there can be such a thing as a correct perspective in history?

No, and indeed I don’t want there to be. Interest in history really depends to a large extent on the problems which it raises, and the idea that it can be reduced to a science as people thought about 1900 (and the Marxist continue to maintain) is very perverse in my opinion. The attempts to reduce it to a science have all failed and now look very ridiculous. History is made up of continued pressures and options and mistakes. At every point in history there are decisions to be made; decisions can be wrong in a technical sense, I will allow this, if they are simply impossible in the context of the times, but one cannot say that there are no alternatives, that there is a course specifically plotted, because there is no such course. And indeed that is the interest of it; that is what makes it a living subject, not a dead subject.

What is your view of the relationship between history and biography. Are they very different animals, or can they be ‘cross bred’?

I think they can be cross bred. A biography reduced to mere biography would be a very jejune affair. Of course I can envisage a biography of some unimportant shoemaker in Nottingham simply describing his life in shoemaking, but that’s not of great moment. He may be a very worthy person but it’s not of much interest. But the greatness of an intellectual or artistic figure depends on his response to his times. You can’t detach the biography altogether from the context.

There has been rather disturbing work done in France in recent years which seems to undermine the legitimacy of history. I’m thinking of the views of men like Jacques Derrida and Foucault. Is there any answer to the charge that we make history in our own image?

I think this is a defeatist view. We write history in a more social way than that, we test our arguments against other people’s arguments, whether in books or in discussion. Obviously there are subjective interpretations, but honest historians try to discover an objectivity. I’m afraid I’m not in love with Derrida and Foucault.

It would not be too far from the truth to say that you are anti-clerical. Is it that you think priests hypocrites or fools?

I’d have you know that I am a doctor of divinity. I don’t think I’m particularly anti-clerical, but I’ve long ago given up thinking what I am. People say that I’m so many different things that I’ve decided to let them say it. It’s true I don’t like folly combined with persecution, and I can’t take theological doctrine very seriously. I regard it as at best legitimate myth to which one pays lip service but one doesn’t engage one’s mind with it. I find it rather absurd when the clergy involve themselves with abstruse doctrines, when they give themselves airs and try to dictate to us or to persecute us or to persecute each other; then I’m anti-clerical I daresay, but I don’t feel anti-clerical.

Are you a believer?

I think the answer is no. If you mean, do I believe the content of the Athanasian Creed, no I certainly don’t. Do I believe in the Virgin Birth, certainly not.

Do you believe in God?

I’m a sort of eighteenth century deist really. I would adopt the position of Voltaire and Gibbon.

My research would seem to indicate you are anti-Catholic … and that you reserve a particular dislike for convert to Catholicism.

The great Lord Halifax, George Savile, said at the end of the seventeenth century that the impudence of a bawd is modesty compared with that of a convert. I often think of this when I meet certain converts. They also tend to revile the church from which they have been converted, which is a form of intolerance I dislike. I was fairly anti-Catholic at the time when the Catholic Church was ruled by Pope Pius XI, whom I regarded as one of the more disastrous figures of this century. The Papacy was responsible for the dictatorship of both Mussolini and Hitler. I know that is a very serious charge, but it is one I can document. If it hadn’t been for the activity of Pope Pius XI in suddenly forbidding priests to take part in politics, thereby wrecking the Christian Democrat Party, Mussolini would not have been able to take power in Italy. And if it hadn’t been for his persuading the Centre Party in Germany to vote for the Enabling Act which gave Hitler his dictatorial powers, he could not have become a legitimate dictator. The Papacy wanted to get a concordat with Italy and Germany which it would never have achieved if it had had to operate through a liberal government dependent on a parliament containing agnostics, protestants and so on; but it could do a bargain with a dictator. Of course Hitler and Mussolini both broke the concordats, but the Papacy was silly in making them; it should have realized it was dealing with crooks.

But do you see a role for the church in politics nowadays?

I think the church’s intervention in day-to-day politics is generally disastrous. I sometimes listen in the House of Lords to bishops making speeches on subjects about which they seem to me to know very little. I draw a veil over that; there’s quite enough for the church to do outside politics.

They should be saving souls, you mean…

Precisely, though saving souls is a metaphor. I don’t mean that they should be forcing their particular doctrines on people.

There have surely been good men and women who drew their strength from their faith. Why do you think so many people turn to religion? The Soviet Union tried to suppress it for seventy years without success.

People come to the conclusion, which is a legitimate one, that the purpose of life is not political orthodoxy, not even political success, that politics and public life contain a great deal of ambition and hypocrisy, and that if we have a purpose in life it should be rather higher. We have at times to think of what are vulgarly called higher things, and religion is a kind of distillation of one’s loftier aspirations; the trouble is that it is distilled into such an extraordinary crystallized from that is difficult to take, or it becomes sectarianism, or a sort of conventional sanctimonious church-going. To put it bluntly, I think that one needs an awareness of a metaphysical dimension in order not to be absorbed in what may be at best dreary and at worst dishonourable courses.

Do you think that your attitudes towards religion ever put you at a disadvantage professionally? I am thinking of occasions such as attendance at conferences like the proposed one at the Vatican on Eastern Europe.

It has never occurred to me that my views on religion were objectionable or even eccentric. I am not irreligious. I do not believe, with Freud, that religion is an ‘illusion’ which can be ‘ended’ by psychoanalysis. Rather, I regard psychoanalysis as a superstitious illusion. I consider that a sense of religion is necessary to a complete man: it is a framework giving metaphysical coherence to the natural and mortal world, the primitive myths which it retains having been converted into metaphor. Of course I do not believe these myths – who does? – but I am happy to accept them as metaphors representing the mysteries of nature and the human condition, insoluble as intellectual problems. I regard theology – the attempt to create a system out of these myths – as absurd: an absolute historical curiosity; but I get on perfectly well with (sensible) clergy, whom I regard with respect as a useful body of men – provided they don’t pontificate or persecute.

You’re a conservative, but of what sort? Are you an old Macmillan conservative with what one might call a sense of obligation, or one of the newer Thatcherite type?

I can’t quite answer that. I approve of Mrs Thatcher in as much as I think she saw that a moment had come when consensus had been turned into a continuing slide of appeasement; it was no longer a consensus from a position of rationality and strength. I was therefore in favour of her strong measures. On the other hand, I think there is an unacceptable side of Thatcherism, a kind of ruthlessness which I find unattractive.

So you’re more of a Macmillan conservative?

I am, but Harold Macmillan did sell the pass in a way. He believed, or behaved as if he believed, that one could always go on yielding a bit more for the sake of consensus, but consensus is a game at which two have to play, otherwise it loses its reality. If the trade unions on one side believe in pursuit of power at the expense of consensus, then it’s got to stop. I was a director of The Times when it was losing millions and faced ruin. The unions were totally unappeasable, and what were described euphemistically as ‘old Spanish practises’ were rife – people drawing salaries under false names for no work, and so on. They thought they had the management in their hands and that somehow this gravy train would go on for ever, on the grounds that the Thomson Organisation which was then in charge was so rich from its other activities that it would go on paying this Danegeld for ever. Rupert Murdoch turned that round by being as rough to the unions as the unions had been rough to the Thomson Organisation. I think a consensus has to depend on a willingness of both sides to consent, and that had been sacrificed in the Macmillan period.

You have a reputation for being something of a dandy…

Oh really? My wife would be very surprised to hear me described as a dandy. I did read somewhere that I gave a tutorial in hunting clothes, but it is a complete myth.

Is it fair to say you are a social climber?

I don’t think so. I like intelligent people really. I have moved in bits of the beau monde, that I admit.

Would you consider yourself a snob?

Yes, I am in a way. Except that I don’t take it seriously. I think snobbism is a harmless affectation. To say that somebody is a snob tout court is not an offensive thing; it’s rather like saying that somebody is interested in going to race meetings. I’m interested in the diversity of humankind, but yes, I quite like sophisticated parties.

Well, that’s no sin. In 1957 when you gave your inaugural lecture as regius professor of History, I understand that a notice appeared on the board to the effect that your lecture was cancelled and that A.J.P. Taylor was lecturing in your place. This was presumably symptomatic of the animosity and rivalry between you … what was the origin of those feelings?

First of all, it isn’t true. It was entirely invented by the press, and Alan Taylor objected to it as much as I did. We were always friends and we differed only on the thesis of his book The Origins of the Second World War. The book became a succès de scandale and because I’d reviewed it critically I had to appear on television with him and the whole thing was blown up by the press. Alan and I both got very bored by it. There was an issue about which we dissented, as scholars are entitled to dissent from each other, but the rest is a myth.

But was he expected to be appointed at the time instead of you?

Well, yes. It is true that Alan was tipped, and, being a vain man, he believed he was really entitled to it. This was what surprised me about Alan: generally speaking he adopted a tolerant attitude towards history, he accepted that everything is chance, anything can happen, there is no directing purpose in it, that things always turn out differently from what is expected – this was really his basic, rather nihilistic philosophy. But the one point where he failed to apply it was to his own history. Deducing from his general historical attitudes I would have expected Alan to say, well I expected to be made regius professor, but the right person is never appointed, things never turn out as we expect, well, that’s how things go … but he never applied this attitude to himself. He considered that he was entitled to the chair, that he was the most distinguished person in the running and that it was a miscarriage of justice. But he never blamed me for this; he blamed Harold Macmillan. Later he said he would not have accepted it from this hand stained with the blood of Suez.

Talking of Harold Macmillan, what prompted you to promote him as candidate for the chancellorship of Oxford in opposition to Lord Franks? Did you not feel that it would be interpreted as a quid pro quo? After all he had appointed you.

I don’t really care about what people say, but I certainly didn’t like the way Maurice Bowra had pushed through the nomination of Franks (whom I respect). After Lord Halifax died, the vice chancellor took ill, and Maurice became acting vice chancellor. Maurice was a bully, quite an agreeable bully, but a bully nevertheless, and he always fought to win. He summoned a meeting of the heads of houses who were all very feeble, and he simply railroaded Franks through. I wasn’t there, of course, but I had full accounts, and Maurice was so determined to get his candidate appointed that he simply vetoed other names in his brutal way. When Lord Salisbury was mentioned, for example, Maurice said, ‘He’s no friend to this university,’ and moved on to the next man. Harold Macmillan, who after all was prime minister, a distinguished man and a scholar, a man of intellectual interests who would have been very suitable , was never even mentioned. I thought that this was improper. I had means of communicating with Harold who was in South Africa at the time, and I asked him if he would be willing to stand. He sent back a message to me, saying, ‘Nothing would give me greater pleasure. I shall not shrink from the contest.’ Those were his very words. It was a very enjoyable contest.

Was it a real battle?

It was rather a good battle because Harold won, yet it was not humiliating for Franks. And Maurice Bowra was furious. There was no nonsense about a secret ballot, and he sat there receiving the votes, examining each one, and either scowling or beaming.

Do you ever regret going to Peterhouse?

That’s a difficult question. On the whole I value experience by what I learn from it. I learned something at Peterhouse, and I made many friends there, especially among the scientists, but I’d rather not say too much about Peterhouse.

Peterhouse is well known for reaffirming the importance of high politics and intellectual movement against the fashionable concentration on the grass roots and the masses. Is this something you applaud?

No. I think it’s a perfectly reasonable point of view, but in Peterhouse it was combined with politics so reactionary that I found them both ridiculous and rather offensive.

People have said of you that in the background of your life and career there lurks a book, the magnum opus that you didn’t write. Is that something that worries you?

Not greatly. I would like to have written a great work … who wouldn’t … but when I consider historical writing I see that it very quickly perishes and if it’s any good it is boiled down into an article. Students of history have not read the books that they talk about; they’ve only read concentrations of the argument.

You were, I believe, the author of the wonderfully funny series in the Spectator under the pseudonym Mercurious Oxoniensis.

I know nothing about Mercurious.

You weren’t involved in it at all?

I’ve heard people suggest I was involved, but I’ve never acknowledged it.

But you were the author?

Well, you’ve said so. I haven’t. I don’t contest whatever people say about me.

Do you deny that you are the author of it?

[Laughs.] Yes.

Is that a half-hearted denial?

No. Toto animo.

You are of course a member of the House of Lords. Do you think it proper in the late twentieth century that there should be an unelected body of legislators, however distinguished, in parliament?

I see nothing wrong in an unelected body. The hereditary principle I admit is very difficult to defend. But it’s irreformable in a way, and any replacement would, of course, be liable to different objections. The House of Lords carries some fat, if one may use the phrase, but then so does the House of Commons. The Lords is much more of a real debating chamber than the Commons, because there’s not so much of a party side to it.

Do you think it will ever be possible to forge a real federal state in Europe out of the animosities of the last thousand years?

Neither possible nor desirable. I am very much a pluralist and I consider that the pluralism of Europe is what has been the essential feature, if not cause, of its superiority. The various states have distinct identities, irreconcilable attitudes, which compete against each other and these have been the main factors in Europe’s effervescence and efflorescence, and I don’t wish to see it all homogenized. I support the idea of a free trade area in order that Europe may pull its weight in the world, but that does not mean that it should be ruled by an unelected bureaucracy in Brussels, establishing identical norms everywhere.

You must sometimes reflect ironically on the forged Hitler diaries when you recall your own work on Backhaus. In the appendix of your book you list ‘three learned forgers’. Is that something which made matters worse for you?

No, I didn’t think about it. What was traumatic was my inability to prevent extracts being published, which was due to complicated muddles at The Times. I couldn’t stop the process which was forced by a series of episodes outside my control. When the business blew up I decided the only honourable thing to do was to state publicly that I had made a mistake, although I had tried to remedy the mistake and had been prevented from doing so. The mistake wasn’t the one I was accused of making, but still, I said I had made a mistake, and I thought naïvely that the other people whose responsibility had been far greater than mine would admit their part in it. But not at all; they all turned on me and kept completely silent about their own involvement, and regarded me as a sort of expendable scapegoat. All the media persecution was concentrated on me, and the rest sat smugly behind their barriers. That was a shock. It lowered my opinion of human behaviour. One likes to feel that people are honourable, and it’s painful to find that they aren’t.

Your enemies of course delighted in your mistake. You have always maintained that other people’s opinions of you were of little importance. Is that really the case, or have you put a brave front on it?

No. Long before that episode I decided that other people’s opinions, within limits, are not of interest to me. I’m afraid it’s a rather arrogant thing to say, but I don’t really respect the opinions of people whom I don’t know. I think it’s as simple as that. If a trusted friend were to say harsh things about me, that would upset me, but if a journalist whom I’ve never met makes statements about me I’m quite indifferent to it. I have a kind of proud stoic attitude in this; I just say a man is himself, not what strangers say of him. To thine own self be true, that’s my philosophy.

What was your feeling when you learned that a TV series was to be made of the Hitler diaries saga?

I paid no attention at all. I neither saw the film nor read the book. And I declined to write to the papers about it. I simply treated it as non-existent.

A.J. Ayer once said of you: ‘Some may think him lacking in charity’, and it is true that over the years you have joined battle with a number of enemies, often distinguished people, such as Lawrence Stone, Evelyn Waugh and Arthur Toynbee. The last of these you demolished in an article in Encounter. Some people, while admiring the scholarship of that article, detected a streak of cruelty. Is that something you are conscious of?

No. I may say it was Evelyn Waugh who declared war on me, not I on him. Lawrence Stone also asked for it. He borrowed transcripts which I had made from documents in the Records Office, and that was the basis of this half-baked article which he wrote and which I criticized. He behaved very badly. I don’t think I’ve ever severely criticized any young scholar; it’s when people give themselves great airs and are taken seriously, that’s what arouses me.

I have always heard it said that in your eagerness to win battles you do not shrink from making personal attacks on colleagues. Do you accept that charge?

I am not aware of having made personal attacks on colleagues. If I have engaged in controversy, it has always been because I thought at the time that a serious issue was at stake. I wonder what colleague I am said to have attacked personally?

Richard Cobb has spoken of your love of combat, your readiness to jump into the fray over public issues. Is this something you have ever had cause to regret?

I don’t think I love combat: it’s true I enjoyed the election for chancellorship of Oxford, but it was a genial, good-tempered affair, and there was a serious issue involved. Maurice Bowra, by bouncing a single gathering of heads of houses, had effectively disfranchised the university. This was widely felt (hence the strong support I received). Of course once the battle was on, Maurice was determined to win, and so was I. Have I ever regretted controversy? I regret them all in so far as they were extended (largely by the media) beyond their original terms. I regret having been involved with Evelyn Waugh, whose writing I admired. But he opened fire on me in 1947, both publicly (in the Tablet) and privately (in an abusive letter to me), and continued the one-sided vendetta for nine years before I finally took notice of him in the article which provoked his onslaught on my historical scholarship; to which I felt I had to reply.
The controversy whose extension I most regretted was with A.J.P. Taylor. I criticized his book The Origins of the Second World War because I thought his thesis wrong, indeed irresponsible. But then the press took over; and from then on I was always represented as the constant adversary of A.J.P. Taylor. In fact I never criticized any other work of his. I minded this, as did he. In 1979 he wrote, in the London Review of Books: ‘I often read that Trevor-Roper and I are rivals or even antagonists. On my side, and I can confidently say on Hugh’s, this is totally untrue. We have always been good friends and no cross word has ever been passed between us.’ And he wrote to me in 1983: ‘I can assure you that my feelings towards you have always been those of friendly affection.’ It was the repeated (and successful) attempts of the press to persuade the world that Taylor and I were permanent adversaries that bred in me that distaste for the media which, I’m afraid is now ingrained in me. (Of course, the affair of the Hitler diaries strengthened it.)
Another controversy was my critique of Toynbee. I admit that I was nauseated by the pretensions and sanctimonious humbug of Toynbee, and (especially) his message which was defeatist and obscurantist; disgusted too by the idiot sycophancy towards him of the American academia and media. But effectively all I did was to quote his own words, which none of his sycophants had read – they had only read Somervell’s potted one-volume abridgement of his first six volumes, whereas the real revelation of his purpose, and his vanity, was in volumes seven to ten, published later. I do not regret this episode! Toynbee’s recent biographer, William McNeill, says that Toynbee’s reputation never recovered from my essay. That pleases me!
But neither here nor in any other controversy was I drawn in merely by ‘love of combat’; there was always a real issue on which, at the time, I felt strongly: Stone’s total misrepresentation of historical documents which he pretended he had discovered (when in fact he had borrowed my transcripts and had not tried to understand them); Bowra’s contempt for the Oxford electorate and its rights; Taylor’s special pleading for Hitler; Toynbee’s hatred of reason and the Enlightenment … As I don’t think I was wrong, intellectually, in any of these encounters (or in my critique of E.H. Carr), I don’t regret them – only the personalization of them, or some of them. Perhaps it is all the fault of my style: not enough emollient, shock-absorbing pulp, sawdust, stuffing, ect…

A few months later, he reviewed our previous encounter by saying the following:

“ If you are to be interviewed by Mr Naim Attallah, do not suppose that you will get off with easy answers, for he comes well briefed and will push you hard… but on the whole the patients submit to this tactful psychoanalyst.
Indeed, they are stimulated… all these bare their souls to so perceptive and sympathetic an inquisitor”

Hugh Trevor-Roper


It is unbelievable how technology has become a prime factor in the advancement of everything we do and often facilitates many of the problems we come across, to alleviate our way of life as and when necessary. However, security risks can in the beginning turn into calamity unless properly eliminated. In this case robot bees, the subject under this discussion, can be dangerous. It seems a perfect opportunity for technology to step in and solve problems in the natural world – using tiny helicopter drones to pollinate crops as the number of bees plummets. But amid all the buzz, could this plan for ‘robot bees’ have a sting in its tail? One scientist has suggested the robobees could be taken over by hackers – and turned into killing machines. The robots are under development in both the US and Japan and it is hoped they could be ready for use within a decade. Under the plans, the drones would wear fuzzy jackets which pollen would then stick to, allowing them to pollinate flowers.

In some parts of the US up to 44 per cent of bees have died, meaning the robots could be needed sooner rather than later. But at the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences Annual Conference in Austin, Texas, Professor Shashi Shekhar of the University of Minnesota warned that security was a key concern for the technology. He said hacking is a security issue so if the bee’s own controls are hacked the insects can be put to a damaging purpose. He told the audience about a chilling episode of the Netflick’s series Black Mirrors in which robot bees are put to ‘nefarious purposes.’ The storyline involves a rogue hacker who is able to control countless numbers of the drones to attack and kill hundreds of thousands of people. Professor Shekhar said: ‘They are killer bees. With bees all you need is a sting and that sting can deliver a chemical.’

On a more serious note, the Academic said the project still had issues to iron out before the robot bees could be used – including how they will manage to find their own way around. He said the US developers – at Harvard University – were still not using autonomous drones. These could then be used to fly over a field and map where all the flowers are to a few centimetres. He said; ‘If you made a very detailed map then offline, using these images, you could create the location of the plants and the flowers. Today these technologies are mature enough that this could be done daily. Then all this computing and sensing to offload from the bee. You can say to bee number 1, “go to these 10 flowers”.’

Professor Shekhar thought some robotic bees would be in use within 5 to 10 years. He added: ‘Sometimes a crisis allows you to test new technology. If we did have a bee-related crisis, that might prompt more early adaption. It’s possible this is perceived as a food security issue. There is a food security problem being looked at in the US because of climate change.’ He said it was also possible that the Pentagon was working on the bees because ‘food security is considered a major threat to US interest. It’s possible they are preparing the kind of technology if they think bee-colony collapse is the first order food security risk.’

He added. ‘However, in some cases experiments can prove dangerous and they need extensive studies to make them safe.’

No Longer With Us


Nigel Nicolson was born in 1917-2004, the younger son of Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson. He was educated at Eton and Balliol College, Oxford. During the Second World War he served in the Grenadier Guards and from 1952-9 he was a conservative MP. He edited six volumes of Virginia Woolf’s letters and three volumes of his father’s diaries. He is the author of many books on history, politics, architecture and literature, including the biography of his parents, Portrait of a Marriage. He lived in Sissinghust Castle in Kent, where his parents made their world-famous garden. He and George Weidenfeld co-founded the publishing house Weidenfeld and Nicolson, of which he was a director from 1948 to 1992.


I interviewed him in 1996. Here is what he told me then.

It is difficult for those of us who had a fairly ordinary childhood and background to conceive of what it must have been like to have been born into such extraordinary circumstances. Have you always regarded it as a privilege or have you perhaps sometimes felt it as a burden?

I’ve never felt it as a burden, and I wouldn’t call it all that extraordinary. It certainly didn’t seem so to me at the time. I had two parents who have become well known, perhaps better known after their deaths than during their lifetime. Most people have one famous parent, I had two, and that has been a great advantage to me throughout life. First of all I had a comfortable home, a very good education, and the company of extremely lively and intelligent parents and their friends. In addition I acquired from them certain moral values which stood me in good stead throughout my life, and of course I inherited material benefits. For example, I now live at Sissinghurst which they found as a ruin and transformed into one of the most famous gardens in England. The National Trust owns it, but I am their tenant, rent free. I was given a springboard in my life, not a platform exactly, more a trampoline from which to bound upwards. Many of their friends were in a position to help me with my early career and that was an extra advantage. You’re right to call it a privilege.

You describe your mother and father as ‘parents such as God provides for one in a million’ and you felt that you and your brother could not have had greater advantages in terms of education and money and independence. People who are born with a silver spoon often have great difficulty in accepting it. Has your attitude towards your background been a complex one, would you say?

All children react against their parents’ attitude in certain ways, and I was no exception. To give you one example, there’s no doubt at all that my father had a strong colour prejudice, and he also admitted that he had certain reservations about Jews. It would be too much to call him anti-Semitic, but he would rather not know if one of his friends had Jewish ancestry. He was a very strong supporter of Weizmann and Zionism, but it was mainly in compensation for his dislike of the Jewish race. I reacted against all that. After all, my business partner in life was George Weidenfeld, who gained a great deal from his Jewish ancestry. And again, although my father certainly wasn’t a snob – he was more of an elitist – I found it much easier than he did to mix with people in the pub. There were other areas in which one differed from him politically. He was all for the old diplomacy, I was all for the New World and the United Nations. He felt very little sympathy for people outside certain capitals in Western Europe. London, Paris and Rome were the centres of his life and those outside were – if not exactly barbarians – trainee civilized people. My mother was very conservative. Although she had a pretty reckless youth she was in fact immensely bound by the tradition of her own family. She believed in the aristocracy very strongly. She wasn’t exactly a snob, but she did believe in lineage and in ancestry, and all of these things meant less to me than they did to her.

You write in Portrait of a Marriage that your mother was guiltily conscious that she never managed to establish an intimacy with her sons and thought herself a failure as a mother, but you say it was as much your fault as hers. What did you mean by that exactly?

I regret very much that I didn’t make any greater effort to know her better. She didn’t easily form intimacies. She was very private about the things that meant most to her which were her poetry, her garden, her friendships with women. None of these things did I ever discuss with her. She never wanted to talk about her current book, for example, whereas my father would talk about what he was writing the whole time, openly. And so I felt that I responded to her privacy with a sort of privacy of my own, and that established a gap between us which was never bridged. There were only one or two occasions in my life when we broke through that barrier. I might have been in distress about something, or she might suddenly have felt passionately keen upon some activity in my life, and those were the only occasions when for an hour or two we managed to establish any intimacy.

Were you in awe of her?

Slightly. She could be rather formidable and I was very careful not to trespass on ground where I was not allowed. For instance, I only went up to her room in the tower two or three times in thirty-two years. None of her family went up there. It was her sanctum, and only one or two friends like Virginia Woolf went there.

You say that your mother felt only a distant affection for you and your brother. That is the kind of attitude which modern psychologists would claim to be deeply scarring in later life. Have you suffered in that way at all?

I wasn’t conscious of a lack of maternal love. I understood that she was different, that she couldn’t be much interested in the activities of little boys, and later in life when I went into the war, into politics, into business, these were all areas with which Vita had no familiarity. Psychologically, I suppose, if one dug deep enough, one could discover that faults in my character were due to the lack of maternal love, but I’m not aware of it.

You wrote that for your mother babies were ‘an interruption, a reminder of duty, a reminder of their innocence compared to her guilt’ and so on. Presumably this was something you became conscious of only much later. Did you find it shocking?

No. We’re talking about the 1920s and early 1930s and life was very different then. Most people of our generation and class had governesses and nannies, and we would spend 95 per cent of the day with them, and for 5 per cent of the day we were allowed down to see our parents. Often I would come down and find my mother deeply absorbed in her current book, writing poetry, something which required intense concentration, and the eruption of two little boys was a great disturbance to her, just as it was when we were at school and it was expected that parents would visit their children for sports day or half-term. Vita hated doing that. We felt perhaps a little guilty in obliging her to come, wanting her to come. Because she was a woman with far greater gifts than most mothers, we assumed we would have a different relationship from that which our friends had with their mothers. It was a special situation which we accepted and didn’t mind. Vita felt guilty about not being a better mother, and she wrote to my father about it. I didn’t read these letters till long after her death; at the time I didn’t realize that she felt like that about us.

Was your father a good father?

Our closeness to our father was another reason for the distance between us and my mother. I don’t know if it’s true of other children, but my brother and I certainly chose one parent rather than the other, and in our case it was Harold, because of his greater openness with us, his interest in us, in our school work. He would read a play by Aeschylus in the original Greek, just because it was our set book at school that particular term, and he wrote us wonderful letters. And although he wasn’t really a great countryman himself he taught us how to shoot and how to make a lake by diverting a stream, and so on. All these activities cumulatively made us much closer to him than to our mother.

Did Vita resent the fact that you were close to your father?

No. I know that she didn’t because her life and her thoughts were so extensively documented in her letters to my father. They wrote to each other every day when they were apart, and they were apart a very great deal. There are over twelve thousand letters, six thousand from each side, and I’ve read every one of them. I don’t think there was a single indication that she was jealous of our relationship with him. There was a slight element of self-reproach but never of envy.

During the war you served with the Grenadier Guards. Your brother was at heart a pacifist and his attitude to winning the war was described by your mother as ‘deplorable’. Did you have similar doubts? Did you perhaps feel pressurized to fight because of your brother’s weakness in that respect?

I never did. My brother Ben was very much under the influence of certain intellectuals like Philip Toynbee who tended to be left wing and not exactly pacifist, but contemptuous of the idea of glory of empire. My brother was in intelligence, not in the front line. I don’t think his pacifism lasted very long with him, and he came to accept the war. I was very different. The Grenadiers was a combative battalion in Africa and Italy, and I did engage in active welfare. I never killed anybody, I wasn’t wounded myself, but these things could have happened to me, and I didn’t feel any sense of shame. In fact my shame came retrospectively, because I enjoyed a great deal of it, and I remember writing to my father when we were advancing up Italy saying, ‘There is nothing more enjoyable than conquering a country.’ He wrote back and said, ‘Hitler feels exactly the same.’ It was a very salutary reminder that war is a horrible experience.

Would you say you were a natural soldier?

I don’t think I was because I wasn’t a natural leader and I had a certain feeling of distaste for killing young men of my own age on the other side. But I had a very interesting war, and I was present at many of the most dramatic occasions, like the surrender of the Afrika Korps, Rommel’s army in Tunisia, the Battle of Monte Cassino, and so on. The war for me was very exciting and at moments even a pleasurable experience, which it never was for my brother.

Victoria Glendinning wrote in her biography of your mother: ‘Just as Ben had to free himself from Vita’s projections, so Nigel needed to free himself from Harold’s.’ Was Glendinning right in this assessment, and did you free yourself?

She’s certainly right about Ben. He freed himself not just from my mother but from both parents, quite early on. His chosen profession of art historian was not either of their professions, and his friends were in the world of art, many of them were Jewish people, and certainly the great majority were not British. All this was new to Harold and Vita, particularly to Vita. I followed rather closely in my father’s footsteps, by going into politics and writing books. My interests by and large were his interests, in literature and politics and history. I also took from him certain moral values. He would say that an honourable life is more enjoyable than a dishonourable life – which makes him sound rather platitudinous – but he did teach me that honesty is a desirable and beneficial quality. So on the whole I’ve been rather pious, not in a religious sense, but a good pagan as Harold called himself. All that came from him, and in no way did I ever feel I wanted to liberate myself from it.

Your father wanted you to go into the House of Commons as he had done, and yet you thought it would be ‘too soft a life’, as you put it. What was it that made you change your mind when you stood for Parliament in 1950?

I don’t remember feeling that. My hesitation was much more whether I had the capacity for it, whether I could speak to large audiences, and whether I knew enough about other people’s lives. I had a certain mistrust of myself which diminished as I got a little more experience. Fortunately I was adopted for Bournemouth which was a very safe Conservative seat. But before then I didn’t really have much of a political philosophy – I just followed the leader and doled out to my constituents bowls of soup from the party tureen. It was only after I became a member of parliament that I found my own position within the party, which was to the left of centre.

Was it clear from the start that you would stand as a Conservative?

Yes, and here again I was guided by my father. He himself had never been a Conservative and swore that he never would become one. But he felt that he had always been tied up with minority parties which meant very unsafe seats, and he said that one of his mistakes was never having joined one of the major parties. He advised me to join the Conservative party because, after all, my background fitted that – it hardly fitted the Labour party – so I did that without any very strong conviction that I was a Conservative, and it turned out that in many ways I wasn’t. I was much more of a Liberal. I believed in the abolition of capital punishment, for example, and I was very much at variance with my party over the Suez crisis. Eventually I was de-selected, which was perfectly justified, and they chose somebody else who was more in tune with the party.

But have your politics changed over the years?

They haven’t changed since then. What happened was that they changed when I was between the ages of thirty and forty. It was then that I began to feel more of a Liberal than a Conservative, and to dislike some of my Conservative colleagues in the House of Commons very much, and to like some of my opponents very much. My admiration, I always found, was for the other side…Nye Bevan, Denis Healey, Roy Jenkins, people of that calibre.

Would you describe yourself today as a Conservative?

I’ve come back to the Conservative party. I’ve never voted Labour, though I’ve often voted Liberal, but in the last six months I have rejoined the Conservative party, partly because I think that John Major has been given such a raw deal by his own erstwhile supporters. He is a very remarkable man capable of great grace, resilience, intelligence, foresight, and I believe he has qualities which will be recognized in the future. There’s no issue of Conservative policy today with which I disagree.

Was it an embarrassment to you that when you contested the election of 1950, your father was by this time in the Labour party?

Yes. He was a Labour candidate at North Croydon when I was the candidate for Leicester. His was a by-election and not a general election, so we didn’t actually clash, but I had some difficulty explaining the situation to my constituents.

Did you understand his wanting to change his colours?

He disliked what he called the selfishness of the Conservative party very much. Remember that these were days long before Butler and Macmillan transformed it into what is virtually a liberal party today. It was then still rooted in the old aristocracy, which my father disliked and wanted to dissociate himself from. People call him a frightful snob, but they might remember that he became a Labour candidate specifically in order to distance himself from the Ascot set. He and I were not really too far apart. The idea that he was standing as a Labour candidate and I as a Tory candidate amused people a great deal, but didn’t do either of us any harm.

You were in Leicester with your mother the day your father lost his seat in the election of 1945. What were your feelings for him then?

Oh, great sorrow, disappointment, sympathy from him. He loved being in the House of Commons, and when he lost his seat to Barney Janner he could barely walk through Westminster Square and see the light on above Big Ben signifying that the House was sitting, with him no longer there. It was really painful for him. But he had a second string with his books, and he never really made up his mind whether he was a writer who dabbled in politics, or a politician with an interest in literature. Perhaps the same could be said of me.

In 1959 you were unseated in Bournemouth, most probably because you abstained from the vote of confidence in the government during the Suez crisis. Did you ever come to regret your abstention?

Oh no, on the contrary, it’s the best thing I’ve ever done in my life. I opposed Suez because it was based upon a lie, and because it was quite obvious that it wouldn’t work. I knew, and most other members of parliament knew, that Israel would invade Egypt but encouraged them. We would join in with the excuse that we were ending the war for the Egyptians when we had actually stimulated it. I believe a democratic nation like ours should never go to war unless they have at least 90 per cent of the support of their own people, and Eden had barely 50 per cent. The whole of the opposition united against him on the grounds of the feasibility and morality of the operation. That’s why I abstained, and I’m very glad that I did. Most people, even Conservatives, have come to agree that I was justified in what I did. And the fact that it meant the end of my political career added a note of semi-nobility to my action.

Some people suggested at the time that your losing the constituency poll might have had something to do with your father’s friendship with Guy Burgess…was there anything in that, do you think?

I never heard that said before. I knew Guy quite well, and disliked him very much. He was a drunkard, and when he was drunk he was extremely offensive, and he was not the sort of person that I felt able to cope with. My father was amused by him since he was a very witty man and an iconoclast, always attacking the establishment. My father sympathized with a lot of that and felt a certain loyalty towards him. He was the only person to write to Guy when he defected to Moscow, and they had quite a correspondence. Of course, as a patriot my father was shocked by treachery, but also he had a strong sense of loyalty, and he felt sorry that Guy, having made an idiot of himself should be exiled for life to this distant hostile capital, and he wanted to give him a link with his own country.

Was the publishing of Nabokov’s Lolita a good political move, do you think?

No, because it contributed to the loss of my seat. I don’t think that many people in Bournemouth had read Lolita, nor were they interested in the support the book gained from leading literary critics; all that mattered to them was that here was a novel about a middle-aged man seducing a teenage girl, and this was shocking. It caused me a great deal of trouble at the time, because we were publishing a book which had been banned in America, and in England too in an earlier edition. Reading it now, it all seems very innocent, but it didn’t at that time. At my suggestion we published a single copy of the book, sold it to a secretary in our office, and then sent the copy and the receipt for the sale of the book to the Attorney-General, the Director of Public Prosecutions, saying, if you want to prosecute us for an obscene publication, do so on the single copy; if we win the case, we will publish the full edition the following day; if we lose it, we will destroy the entire edition the following day. We leaked this proposal to the press, and it caused a great deal of amusement, and seemed to most people eminently fair. Apart from an acknowledgement, we heard nothing from the Attorney-General, although three months passed. And then on the eve of publication we gave a party at the Ritz Hotel for all our friends and journalists and also Nabokov himself, and in the middle of the party I had a letter from the Attorney –General saying that he had decided to take no further action. We published the book next day and it sold eighty thousand copies in two weeks.

Has your partnership with Lord Weidenfeld been a stimulating one?

Enormously so. He was and remains quite an amazing man. When you consider that he arrived in this country from Austria on the eve of war with his own country, with no friends here, no money at all, and not even speaking English, and now here he is a peer of the realm, founder of an important publishing house, and his portrait is about to be unveiled in the National Portrait Gallery. It’s quite amazing what he has achieved. I often wonder what I would be doing if I had been exiled for some reason to Vienna in 1939, with no money or prospects. I expect id be sweeping the streets.

But how did you cope with his Zionism…because although he has mellowed and is now a man of peace, he was an extremist at one time. I certainly remember clashing with him in the past…

Remember that I myself was in favour of the Zionists. I wasn’t a Zionist because I wasn’t a Jew, but it seemed to me then, and it seems to me now, a very noble cause. I admire very much what they have done. And I was only anxious in a selfish way not to lose my partner to Israel. He spent a whole year there soon after we founded the firm as the right-hand man of Weizmann, and I think it was one of the finest things he ever did, out of loyalty to me very largely, to return to England when he had a future made for him in Israel. He might not have become prime minister, but he would perhaps have become ambassador in the UN, and he would have done that job marvellously.

How can you call Zionism a noble cause when it entailed uprooting people who had been living there for hundreds of years?

Oh, you mean the Palestinians…well, there is another side to it, I suppose. Are you Jewish yourself?

No, I’m Palestinian…

Ah, you’re Palestinian…well, I can understand your feeling about it. But remember I was much influenced by my father’s support of Zionism, his friendship with Weizmann from a very early age, so I started out that way. I never had an equivalent Arab or Palestinian influence. I recognize that, but I am still a Zionist. The Israelis have had to fight for the retention of their country and they were right to do so, because they had been given it by the Balfour Declaration which my father had helped to draft.

Except it was not something they were entitled to give…

Well, that’s how it all began…

Yes, I know. Moving on, it must have been an extremely difficult, not to say a courageous, decision to publish Portrait of a Marriage. Did you come to have any regrets?

No, but I had considerable apprehension about whether it was the right thing to do or not. As I expected it did arouse criticism from some people like Bernard Levin, Rebecca West, Cyril Connolly and other leading intellectuals, but on the other hand it had support from people who knew my father very well, starting with my brother Ben who was all in favour, and people like James Lees-Milne. I did feel that if my mother’s autobiography was published by itself it would cause even more controversy, and I would be accused of matricide, so I decided to write another two thirds on top of what she wrote explaining what happened, elaborating it, and telling the rest of the story, how her affair with Violet Trefusis and her autobiography stopped at the point when their affair ended. Vita behaved during those three years (1919-21) very badly indeed. She was going to desert her family, her loving husband, her children, and live the rest of her life, so she said, with a woman who was in a sense a seductress. I don’t think that Violet was actually evil, but I believe that she was even more crazy than Vita in wanting to destroy their whole lives for the sake of a passion which would be ephemeral. My thesis was that the rest of Vita’s life showed that she had acted in a fit of madness – her own words – and that her marriage subsequently was more successful because she and my father had jointly survived the crisis. Indeed both Vita and Violet had no domestic happiness, it’s quite true, but she made many friends. And Vita’s domestic life was supremely happy from that moment onwards.

One of the most difficult aspects must have been the question of loyalty, but you say in the foreword that your mother trusted your judgement on that. However, Suzanne Raitt argues in her book about your mother and Virginia Woolf that the form in which you published Portrait is differently accented from the text your mother wrote. She says that you guide the reader’s attention away from her affair with Violet, and on to her marriage which, she argues, in Vita’s own text comes over as a mere prelude to her affair with Violet. Do you accept that criticism in any degree?

No, I don’t. The woman is making it up. She thinks Portrait of a Marriage was misinformed because I concentrated on the marriage more than the affair, but I wanted to show that Vita really spent the rest of her life making up for the cruelty that she had directed towards Harold for three years. I felt that was quite legitimate and would put the autobiography which she left in the context of her whole life; that was my purpose. I believe it was right to do it that way, though of course the critics concentrated on the affair and not on the marriage.

Frank Kermode called Portrait of a Marriage an ugly story with a happy ending, and you yourself say that without the ending it would have been simply ugly. Despite that, it does seem that you go out of your way to be kind in your account, extolling your parents’ virtues, playing down their faults, excusing their prejudices and snobbery on the grounds that they were natural to them. Did you feel a need not just to tell the story, but to defend your parents?

Yes I did, particularly against the charge of snobbery. I’ve tried, mostly without success, to draw a distinction between snobbery and elitism. Snobbery is a vicious quality, it’s cruel, but elitism is a very natural and beneficial one. Vita had a certain feeling of kinship with the aristocracy, but why not? She would select from the aristocracy those worthy of being aristocrats. She didn’t give the benefit of the doubt to people simply because they held a title; they had to prove themselves worthy of that title, and as often as not, they didn’t. Harold and she felt very much the same about this. Harold once wrote in his diary – I can quote it to you because it was only yesterday that I reread the passage – ‘I have always been on the side of the underdog, but I’ve also believed in the principle of aristocracy. I have hated the rich, but I have loved learning, scholarship, intelligence and the humanities. Suddenly I’m faced with the fact that all these lovely things are supposed to be class privileges.’ To call him a snob is simply a tabloid method of abusing him because he happened to be intelligent and have high standards, and required high standards of intelligence among his friends.

It is a sad irony, is it not, that despite the great love between your parents and the sexual passion outside the marriage, that there was nevertheless a singular lack of intimacy within the family?

But then it happens to everybody, as they become adults themselves, marry and have children of their own, that a distance opens between them and their parents. Their own children and ultimately grandchildren become more important to them than their parents, and so you could say the older you get the weaker the intimacy becomes.

To take the point a little further, Victoria Glendinning suggests that although the family bonding seems to have been strong there was a sense in which it was merely notional. She says: ‘The platonic ideals of relationship, however dearly held in the heart, are not a substitute for reality.’ Do you disagree with that?

I think she was imagining a family relationship which has never really existed. She is not only demanding the impossible, she’s demanding the undesirable. You have at some point to cut the umbilical cord, you have to venture out into the world on your own, and while you are indebted to your parents for what they’ve given you in the way of an education and companionship and comfort and support, after a bit you have to work life out for yourself and try to pass on some of the advantages which you have had to your own children.

I understand there was no common family sitting-room at home, everyone had his own space, and it was not an easy place for you to bring friends back to…

That’s true. But the fact that we had our own sitting-rooms meant that it was the family habit to work. Both my parents were writers, they had to earn money, they had to keep us at school and they expected their sons to work, which we did. We began writing very early on in our lives. First it was letters and diaries, and then it was short stories and essays. We were a literary family, and a literary family doesn’t sit all in one room unless they are the Brontë sisters.

Do you think that all the letter writing in your family was perhaps a substitute for something else? What I mean is, in all the outpouring of feeling between your parents and their lovers, the letters themselves somehow take the place of actually living the feelings and emotions they describe?

Our family relationship, it is perfectly true, was largely made by correspondence and not conversation. We would pour into our letters all our experiences and ideas and hopes and fears and disasters and triumphs, which we would never do to the same extent when we met face to face. With letters you can think out ahead what you’re going to say which you can’t always do when you’re talking. Virginia Woolf used to say to me that nothing has really happened until it’s been described in writing. She urged me to keep a diary, and I followed that advice. I was very shy when I was young and she once said to me, ‘You mustn’t wonder, what is this person thinking about me?, you must ask yourself, what am I thinking about him?’ That was a wonderful; piece of advice which I passed on to my own children.

Would you say your relationship with your own children is much warmer than the one you had with your parents?

No, I wouldn’t say that. Again I make the distinction between Vita and Harold. The relationship I have with my daughters is much warmer than that between Vita and me, but I don’t think my son Adam has quite the same feeling of intimacy with me that I had with Harold. Much earlier on in his life he saw faults in his father, in me, whereas I took time to see faults in Harold. Adam reacted pretty strongly against my political views; he was very much a more natural Labour man that I am. He’s not a person who gives his admiration very easily, although he gives his affection very strongly to his wife and to his children whom he really adores. He gives them his time and his care much more than I ever did with him. That was another thing that he might feel that I lacked as a father, that I didn’t take enough interest in his life. I have two daughters. Rebecca, who is a very successful journalist and a very private person, but my other daughter, Juliet, is much more open. Of my three children, she is really the closest to me. I’m a little scared of Adam. He has enormous abilities as a writer, as a father, and as an action man, and in some ways I envy his gifts, meaning I wish I’d had them, not that I’m jealous of them. I feel no resentment towards him, he’s a very remarkable man, and I think that he will become an important figure in English letters and writing.
Would you prefer to have had a closer relationship with him?

Yes, I suppose so. I feel a certain deficiency as a father, that I failed to have that closeness with him, but we remedied it to some extent in an extraordinary way by writing a book together called Two Roads to Dodge City. In 1988 we set off on the same day for the United States in separate aeroplanes. He flew to Los Angeles and I flew to Miami, and on arrival we each hired a car, and we drove for the next three months all over the United States, I over the eastern half, Adam the western half, all the way up the two coasts to Canada, then down again to the Gulf, and at the end of the three months we met in the centre of the United States – Dodge City in Kansas. We wrote to each other every day, posting the letters collectively once a week to prepared addresses by express mail. He wrote as a young man who had never been to America before, I as a much older person who had often been there, and gradually our correspondence turned into dialogue about what sort of people we were and how we differed. It wasn’t intended like that but it evolved like that, and in a curious way we got to know each other much better by this correspondence, which was a public not private correspondence, than we ever had in conversation between the two of us.

Victoria Glendinning talks about the ‘insulating effects’ of your upbringing. To what extent were you aware of those?

She probably means that it was an aristocratic upbringing. But it is as well to remember that I had the whole war commanding men who came from very different backgrounds, and as a member of parliament one was constantly dealing with people who hadn’t had one’s advantages, and here at Sissinghurst I’m on the best of terms with our tenants, our gardeners, and so on. It is quite true that my friendships are made among people who share my tastes and interests, but then that is true of everybody.

In your thirties you wrote to your mother: ‘I grew up slowly, met the real difficulties so ridiculously late, and still remain strangely immature in some ways…’

I think that one of my immaturities was sexual, though I don’t want to go into this in any detail. Having no sisters, being at a boys’ school only, then in Oxford where one knew very few girls, and in the army which was a masculine occupation, I knew very few women until I was in my late twenties, and that held me back as it would hold anybody back. I was a virgin until after the war, until I was twenty-seven years old.

Did you make up for it afterwards?

Not very vigorously. I always adored women and I’m not in any way indifferent to the charm and beauty of young girls. I still feel great tenderness towards young women, and not only young women, but I don’t have affairs with them; I just like their company and the presence and the sight of them very much.

But don’t you ever feel a sexual tension if a woman is attractive?

Well, no. When you’re my age, and remember I am seventy-nine. I don’t think that one does. Lust is something which diminishes to the point of extinction. Admiration for feminine beauty, on the other hand, does not. I have a great many women friends…

But you haven’t inherited the passion of your mother?

No, I certainly haven’t. I never never had feelings of desire such as she felt. I was more like Harold in a way; although he was homosexual, I think his sex was pretty casual and intermittent and really relatively unimportant. And it’s been the same with me.

Your brother Ben at one point had a man friend but your parents resented it, they didn’t want the man to come to the house, and yet they were supposed to be very liberal…

Firstly it wasn’t just at one point. Ben was in fact gay. I think my parents felt sad that he wasn’t heterosexual because they wouldn’t have grandchildren. Both Ben and I were married late in life – I was thirty-six and Ben was nearly forty. Ben was gay, there was no question about it, and his marriage didn’t succeed, but he did have a daughter. I was never gay and all my affections were for women, but sex has never played a great part in my life as it did in Vita’s. You’re quite right to say that I lack Vita’s passion. Thank goodness.

In Portrait of a Marriage, you write of yourself and your brother: ‘Ben and I both married and had children, but our marriages did not succeed, nature having endowed us with a greater talent for friendship than for cohabitation, for fatherhood than for wedlock.’ Do you feel sure that it was nature rather than your experience and upbringing?

The reason I wrote that was because both Ben and I were divorced by the time I wrote Portrait and since our wives were still alive, I wanted to include a single sentence in as tactful and truthful a manner as possible. (Louisa, Ben’s wife, is still living, but my wife has died.) I showed them this sentence before publication, and they approved it, and so it was written with a certain guile, but at the same time it was true. I didn’t have a great capacity for wedlock, even though I had had a very good example in front of me in Vita and Harold. They made a success of marriage, I made a mess of it, and the same with Ben, so it wasn’t an inherited incapacity. In the case of my marriage I lacked Harold’s patience with what I saw as the failings of my wife, and she was exactly the same with my failings, and so the marriage dissolved, not in acrimony but in mutual indifference. I was really quite happy to be left a bachelor again.

Was it important to you that there should be no divorce while your parents were still alive?

Yes, I think so. I didn’t want to wound my parents by divorce. My wife went off with another man, but she wouldn’t have done so if we had been happily married, so that was the occasion, but not the cause, of our separation. Fortunately it was after the death of both Harold and Vita, so they never knew. They knew about Ben and his wife and were very distressed by that.

Your first real love was Shirley Morgan who went on to marry someone else. Was that a crisis in your life?

Unrequited love is probably the most painful experience which men and women undergo in their lifetimes. Not everybody has experienced it but I would say that most people have, so they will sympathize with me when I say that I was shattered by it, and felt myself unmarriageable, unlovable, useless, hopeless, weak. All the self-reproach which I’d ever felt about myself was concentrated upon this disappointment when Shirley married Henry Anglesey, and it lasted quite a long time. But we’re still very great friends. I’m godfather to one of her children and she’s my oldest and closest friend.

When you married your father cautioned you that the physical side of marriage could not be expected to last more than a year or two at most. How did you view that advice?

Harold, being a homosexual, didn’t attach much importance to the physical side of his marriage to Vita. I think it was quite remarkable that he managed to produce two children – in fact three, because we had a brother who was stillborn – but after my birth I don’t think he had any physical relationship with Vita. When he gave me that advice he was really thinking of his own experience and not of the generality of mankind. For most people the physical side of marriage lasts almost a lifetime, but not with me, because I was never very highly sexed. I was perfectly faithful to my wife – and I’m not going in to this in too much detail because it’s really too intimate – but I really had a pretty tepid sexual life; my energies were concentrated elsewhere. So Harold’s advice was really rather comical, based on his own experience, but it happened to hit mine as well.

A large part of your own literary life has been devoted to writing about your parents and editing their letters to each other…

Yes, but I have of course written on many other things – Jane Austen, Napoleon, Curzon. It is true that my best-known book is Portrait of a Marriage, and it’s made me financially secure. It was a bestseller in America and England for months and had dozens of foreign editions. All my finances are really based upon the success of that book, so I can’t deny that it was a very important part of my life, but I do sometimes wonder whether having been the son of such famous parents has been a handicap or not, and I think it has been a bit, because people like yourself probably associate me more with Harold and Vita than with anything else. It is a certain disadvantage to be the son of a famous father and mother. It’s just like Mary Soames; she is not herself, or even the wife of Christopher Soames; she’s Winston Churchill’s daughter.

Your mother’s reaction to the possibility of Sissinghurst going to the National Trust was passionately negative. ‘Never, never, never,’ she said ‘il y a des choses q’on ne peut pas supporter.’ It didn’t pass to the National Trust till after she died, but did you sometimes think it was a betrayal nevertheless?

No, for one very simple reason. She left a letter for me with her will, which said that although she would never have given Sissinghurst to the Trust in her lifetime, she realized that I would have no alternative after she died, because of the death duties, but to sell the place or give it to the National Trust. There was no question in my mind which of the two to choose. If I’d sold Sissinghurst the money would have gone mostly to the Treasury, and it would have ruined one’s life and destroyed this place, so I had no hesitation whatsoever.

Your mother wrote of you as a young child: ‘If Nigel stays as he is, he will be happy and everybody will love him.’ Did that turn out to be prophetic?

I don’t think any man or woman can say of themselves in old age, ‘Everybody has loved me.’ I do have enemies. I have Lord Aldington, against whom I gave evidence in the great Tolstoy trial. He doesn’t love me. And I turned a man out of a cottage which belonged to me, because he was destroying it. He doesn’t love me. I don’t think I have excited among a great many people what you could call love, though I wish I had. As for being happy, I’ve had great failures in my life and they don’t make me happy on relocation. I lost my seat in Parliament, never got another one, I’ve never written a book which is regarded as a work of literature, as opposed to one of sensational interest. When I read my father’s essays now, as I sometimes do, I wish I could write as well as he did, I wish I had his wit. But there are other things with which I feel moderately satisfied, like my standing over the Suez crisis and publishing Portrait of a Marriage, both of which I think were the right things to do.


Research can have its benefits but it can also go wonky at times since various aspects of it tend to be contradictory. Take for example the new notion that half a glass of wine a day raises the risk of dementia. Yet this latest warning makes no sense whatsoever when drinking three and a half glasses of wine a week is assumed to be enough to raise such a risk.

This latest study of more than 13,000 adults, the largest of its kind so we are told, shows how even low levels of alcohol can harm the brain. Men and women who drank a little over one unit of alcohol a day suffered a noticeable decline in their brain’s ability to function over four years. One unit of alcohol is equivalent to around half a 175ml glass of wine, half a pint of beer or a measure of spirits. Researchers from Oxford and Cardiff universities say adults who drink more than this amount are putting themselves at significant risk of dementia. They are also calling for a discussion over whether the government’s recommended alcohol units of 14 units for both men and women should be lowered for older adults.

Shortly, the Royal College of Psychiatrists will publish a review into the harm that drinking does to the over 60s. Its authors believe that 14 units a week is an ‘unsafe’ level for many older adults because of the risk of dementia and other illnesses. Dementia is now the leading cause of death in the UK. There are 61,000 new cases a year, and no sign of a cure.

Researchers say alcohol is contributing to these rising rates because it is toxic for the brain and damages the memory. Professor Simon Moore of Cardiff University, one of the lead authors said; ‘We’re drinking ourselves to stupidity. If you want to remain healthy in your later years you should really minimise how much you drink. If you’re planning on drinking more than 10grams a day (1.25 units) you’re increasing your risk to dementia. If for example, last week, you were drinking one average of 10 grams of alcohol a day, about a bottle of Prosecco that week, but then next week you increase that to two bottles of Prosecco, you’re putting yourself at significant risk.’

The study published in the Journal of Public Health, looked at 13,342 adults aged 40 – 73. They took computer tests four and a half years apart that measured their brain’s ability to function. These tests are useful in predicting whether someone will develop dementia in later life. Men and women who drank more than 10 grams of alcohol a day performed much worse in the tests four and a half years on, compared with those who drank less often.

This was even more pronounced amongst those adults over 60, suggesting their brains are more sensitive to alcohol. Professor Moore said there were two probable ways in which low level drinking harms the brain. Firstly, it is thought to dissolve the nerve cells that send signals to the brain. As we get older, the brain loses its ability to generate the new nerve cells so this damage is irreparable.

Secondly, doctors believe alcohol prevents the brain from absorbing vitamin B1, which is crucial for the brain’s ability to work. Recently, a study published in the Lancet Public Health Journal showed that heavy drinking can treble the risk of developing dementia. Research from the Transitional Health Economics Network in Paris found that 39 per cent of those diagnosed with dementia before the age of 65 had signs of brain damage linked to alcohol. But researchers say there is growing evidence that moderate amounts of alcohol are contributing to the illness.

Last summer an Oxford University study, published in British Medical Journal, found that adults who drank between 14 and 21 units of alcohol a week were much more likely to suffer damage to a part of their brain linked to dementia. It involved 550 men and women who had MRI scans on their brains.

Well, well, all this is baffling since alcohol, particularly wine drunk in moderation, was until now considered to be health boosting and in most cases, where writers and artists were concerned, rather inspiring.

I personally believe that moderation is probably the most effective way to stay healthy, especially when old age beckons.

No Longer With Us


Sybille Bedford has had a long and distinguished career in writing and journalism. She was born in Berlin in 1911-2006 and educated privately in Italy, England and France. She wrote her first novel when she was nineteen and around that time she became friends with Aldous Huxley, whose two-volume biography she published in 1973-4. As a reporter she covered the Auschwitz trial in Frankfurt and the Lady Chatterley trial at the Old Bailey. Her books include A Favourite of the Gods (1963) and its sequel A Compass Error (1968). Her autobiographical novel, Jigsaw, appeared in 1989 and was shortlisted for the Booker Prize.


I interviewed her in 1996. Here is what she told me then.

In an epigraph to one of your novels, A Compass Error, you quote victor Hugo: ‘Le passé est une partie de nous-mêmes, la plus essentielle peut-être.’ Is that something you believe yourself?

Very much. All my writing has always been about le passé. I can’t write about what happened yesterday, I have to write about events of fifty years ago. It’s a big drawback.

There appears to be something of a contradiction in your character: in the one hand you want to shroud your life in mystery, to muddy the waters of your own biography; on the other hand, your novels are full of detail and events from your own life. Does it seem much safer to you if such things are confined to the pages of a book?

It’s not a question of safety. I write as I must, and when I do, a great deal comes out which I normally don’t talk about. Most novelists use the experience of their own lives, and I am no exception. I am a very private person, but there is a compulsion to writing.

You left Germany at the age of nine and did not return to till long after the war. You have described that early period as being ‘suspended in amber’ till you came to write about it much later, in 1956. Do you think you were in some way scarred by your early experiences in Germany?

Not at all because I was a small child. The book you refer to sprang from a great distaste and dislike for Prussia, and I’ve always had an antipathy towards the German side, but I had no difficult experiences in my early childhood. It’s not quite correct that I never went to Germany till after the war because, in fact, when I was twenty-one I visited Germany with Aldous Huxley. I was absolutely appalled to see the Hitler Youth march about. I was, of course, half Jewish – two thirds Jewish, in fact – but one never talked about such things then.

In view of later events – Hitler and the rise of National Socialism – did you ever come to feel ashamed of having associations with Germany?

I had no associations with it.

But you were born there.

Yes, but I was born in Charlottenburg, which was a suburb of Berlin, and I was always very keen to put Charlottenburg rather than Berlin on my passport to make it sound a little bit more respectable. I had an early introduction to fascism because my mother married an Italian when I was a child. I went to live in Italy with her and her husband, and in their own very small way they resisted fascism.

Your father was German, wasn’t he?

Yes, but he belonged to the south German aristocracy who married into Italians and into the Tyrolese. He lived most of his life in Paris or in Spain or in Corsica because he loathed Germany and was very cosmopolitan minded.

Do you think you have drawn strength from the richness of your background or has there been a problem of national identity?

The richness of background was very good, except I never felt I had the German identity, the Germanic mind. I feel I’m a complete outsider, but the fact that I had any connections with this terrible country became a curse of guilt, and for some time I tried desperately to anglicize myself entirely.

I suppose your childhood was not very unusual for its time, although it would be considered extraordinary and even traumatic nowadays. Your father died when you were nine; you joined your mother in Italy, but you were sent off to England to be educated by tutors; your mother had a drug addiction problem – and so on. Did it seem difficult to you at the time?

I think I was perfectly happy until I was about five, when my parents got divorced. My mother was always having great love affairs, and she deserted my father, which hurt his pride very much. My father was much older than my mother, but a very good-looking man. He was a great womanizer in his time – the Parisian demi-monde, and so on. My mother was his second wife, but she only married him because she couldn’t marry her great love. All this was told to me as a child, and they certainly didn’t want me. I was a terrible disaster. My mother had just decided to leave my father when she discovered she was pregnant. They were living in Spain at the time, which my father adored, but Spain was too primitive for a baby. When they divorced he got custody of me. That was a very difficult time because I felt very alone, and when my mother left there was nothing – no money whatsoever because he had none. I was wretched because my father was almost sixty, and although I think he loved me very much, I never had any maternal love. My mother was not interested in children, not at all. She once said to me: ‘You were very sweet as a baby, but you’re going to be very, very dull for a very long time, perhaps ten or fifteen years…we’ll speak then when you’ve made yourself a mind.’ Of course I thought that was quite normal.

Did you ever regret not having a more formal education?

Very much. I longed to go to university, I longed to learn, but I never had a proper education at all. Tutors never came, there was never any money.

Your novel Jigsaw described the cruelty of the emotional and physical neglect of a child by her parents. I know you are sensitive to there being too much extrapolation to your own childhood, but the similarities are obvious. Did you find it difficult to forgive your parents?

Not at all. I used to wonder if my parents would forgive me. I actually behaved unforgivably to my father because I didn’t love him and I couldn’t show him affection. I was acutely aware of his loneliness, but I was like an ungrateful child. I grieved him awfully. As for my mother, I had a lot to be grateful for because she taught me everything about literature and art and world affairs. She was very well educated and she instilled into me the idea that it was a very grand thing to be a writer. She was a great influence on my intellectual life. I suppose I always had a passion for writing, but being brought up to talk about Dostoevsky at breakfast was a great advantage. I owe her an enormous amount.

Did you love her?

No. I was frightened of her as a child. She had a terrible temper. I began to love her when she started taking drugs and became unhappy in love and lived a lonely life. It was all much worse than in my novel because it went on longer.

A Legacy was reviewed favourably by Evelyn Waugh in The Spectator. He said: ‘We know nothing of the author’s age, nationality or religion, but we gratefully salute a new artist.’ I imagine these words gave you a tremendous thrill…

Still do…still do. It’s the one thing I hang on to sometimes when I start to wonder what I have done with my life. It’s much the best thing that ever happened to me.

When you were eighteen or nineteen and living in Provence, you met a number of writers, including Thomas Mann and Bertolt Brecht…do you think that was a significant turning point in your own aspirations?

Not at all. We were living in a small seaside resort when all the refugees arrived, and although one was of course very much aware of their plight, they all called themselves princes or poets. They had enormous pretensions, and people like Brecht and Furtwängler and the Manns, they were very grand. They were not all poor exiles, and we thought how extraordinarily badly they behaved. They were more figures of fun in our milieu.

It was at that time that you also met Aldous Huxley, who was to be very influential in your life. You became close friends with him…were you also in awe of him?

I was absolutely awestruck because I had read him when I was fifteen and admired him enormously as a writer. I thought that one day, in ten or twenty years’ time when I became a writer myself, I could perhaps be like him. At first the Huxleys were friends of my mother’s, and I was just a young person sitting at the lower end of the table, but after all the terrible things happened they befriended me, and my moral education was really due to them.

Was Huxley’s wife influential?

Enormously…she was one of the best human beings I’ve ever known. It was she who made his life possible. She was a near saint.

Was there perhaps a part of you that was in love with Aldous Huxley?

No. I loved him enormously, but I was not in love with him, no.

Isaiah Berlin said of Huxley that he had helped liberate a generation by shedding light in dark places…do you go along with that?

I think he did, and he continued to do so with a later generation when he became religious and then a mystic. He liberated a great many English people who had been entirely bound by Victorian morality. He did not do it for me, of course, because in my milieu and with my parents’ history we lived sexually emancipated lives.

Huxley was very concerned with moral anarchy in a scientific age and he made a number of sinister prophecies. Do you think at the end of the twentieth century that his pessimism was perhaps justified?

It was completely justified, but I think he was far less pessimistic than I am about it now. In his later life he thought that mankind could be saved by goodwill and at the very end of his life, when he was asked what was the most important thing, he said that we should all try to be a little kinder to each other. That was the measure of a man.

In another life you might have been a barrister and when you were young you used to go to the law courts. Your book The Faces of Justice is a study of legal and judicial methods in different countries. Do you think that what happens in a country’s law courts sheds light on other aspects of national identity?

To my mind it does to a large extent. I must admit that I was infinitely surprised when I went to Germany by the quality of fairness in their law courts. It reflected the new spirit of the Germans. By contrast I was horrified by what I saw in French courts. The French are so civilized and yet their courts are so corrupt and so encrusted with neurotic issues. English law is fair as one might expect it to be, but then it’s not so very good at finding out the truth. What struck me so much about the continental system was that at least the trials tried to bring out what actually happened.

You covered the so-called Auschwitz trial for the Observer. Were you able to treat that as a professional assignment or were your emotions involved to some degree?

My emotions were entirely involved but you learn as a writer to control those. When I was asked to do it I thought, I can’t do it, I don’t want to do it, but because I had felt so much about it all my life, I thought it was my duty. Everything one heard was so appalling.

The judge was anxious that the trial should not be a short trial or a foregone conclusion but there should be a genuine effort to get at the truth. Do you think the truth was uncovered?

Yes…the truth was there for everyone to see. It was a very fair trial indeed.

The trial lasted for nearly two years. You describe how Doctor Hofmeyer, the judge who had kept calm throughout the proceedings, broke down at the end because of the emotional strain…what were your own feelings at the time?

I can’t really remember my own feelings, I just knew there was great pressure at the end of the last afternoon and my piece had to be telephoned to England next morning from Frankfurt. I had no time to think about my own emotions. I became simply a machine which received information.

You also covered the obscenity case against the publishers of Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Did you as a writer have a sense of incredulity that this case was actually being brought, that the establishment could believe that there was a serious risk of the nation’s morals being corrupted, and so on…was there not a fantastic element to the whole proceedings?

Oh, it was grotesque. I sat in court with like-minded people. I shared the special correspondents’ bench with Ken Tynan and we were nearly thrown out of court because we had to laugh, which wasn’t allowed of course. Yes, it was utterly fantastic. It sounds absurd now that it was all taken seriously.

What is it that makes you write do you think? Irish Murdoch describes it as an attempt to bring order out of chaos…how would you describe it?

I like to shape in words what I have received. It’s a strange urge, and I don’t know where it comes from. I have no confidence in my own writing, and I find it very difficult, but in writing one pays back the life that one has had.

In talking about your novel A Legacy V. S. Pritchett mentioned your ‘passion for justice, for moral courage, the truth of the heart’. Do you recognize that in yourself?

Passion for justice, yes, though perhaps not moral courage. I admire moral behaviour, by which I mean forgiveness, gentleness, and the fight against all the things I’ve had to contend with in myself, like bad temper, jealousy, unkindness, acts of selfishness.

Were you jealous in love? Did you have a weakness where men were concerned?

Not a weakness, no. I was very fond of some men; I had a few liaisons, a few affairs, but I didn’t ever fall in love with men. One never fell in love with men.

Not even the ones you had liaisons with?

Oh no, there would be friends whom I admired or father figures, or very intelligent men perhaps.

V. S. Pritchett also detects two other emotions in your novels – pity and sense of indignation. Do you agree?

Yes. I’d forgotten that. One mustn’t be too indignant, because it quickly turns into self-righteousness. I’ve been trying for the last twenty years, not very successfully, to reform myself…

In A Favourite of the Gods which was published in 1963, you examine the nature of love. Would you say that your fictional treatment of love has come from your own experience and observation, or is it purely imaginative?

It comes from my own observation and experience, yes. I wish I’d written more books and spent less time being in love. It’s very difficult doing both at the same time.

In that novel the character Anna displays a certain ineptness for love. Do you think people in real life are either suited or unsuited to love?

Yes. In Anna I was thinking very much of Lady Byron, or of my own maternal grandmother. They all had a horror of the sexual love life, which is to my mind a curse. Some people are born like that, and it’s very unfortunate.

Which would better describe your own disposition…suited or unsuited?

Suited, most definitely. It was immensely important. I have had the great fortune of having received and given a great deal of love. Some of it has been unrequited love and I have suffered as a result of love, but on the whole I’ve been very fortunate.

You married Walter Bedford in 1935 but the marriage was short-lived. Was that a very painful time for you?

No, not at all. It was a very dangerous time, but not painful. It was an arranged marriage, set up by the Huxleys, because I needed British nationality. He was a homosexual and Aldous Huxley gave him twenty pounds to take me out to the Criterion and then to a musical. The marriage was never consummated; it was a complete fraud and a rather comic interlude, but because the Home Office stepped in and tried to prevent it, it was very frightening.

In A Compass Error, published in 1968, you describe a love affair between two women. Would you have written about this kind of love earlier if it had not been such a risky topic?

Oddly enough I did not consider it a risky topic. In any case it was quite delicately done. Nowadays, God knows what they do.

But do you see love between women as an extension of friendship?

Not as an extension of friendship. It can be fulfilled and complete sexual love, as fulfilling as heterosexual love.

How do you know?

Because I’ve experienced it in sexual love. One knows when love is love.

Doris Lessing spoke of the shrill voice of feminism. Is that also how you have found it?

Oh, I can’t bear the feminists. I think they are appalling.

Have the feminists ever tried to claim you as one of their own?

Virago once wanted to put my name on their masthead but I wrote to them declining. Apparently my letter was so awful they hung it up in their lavatory for years. Nobody’s ever asked me again.

In most of your novels there is a sense of the transience of love, the impermanence of things. Is that something you have accepted easily?

No, it is a source of great sadness. Times change, places change; I’ve lived in places which I loved, the South of France between the wars, and then the five years in Rome, but everything came to an end. I’ve lost so many very dear and important friends, particularly in the last two years and that of course leaves an appalling age gap. One misses them terribly, and one misses the stimulus.

You were brought up as a Roman Catholic, weren’t you?

Yes. But nobody practiced, although when we were living in the country at Baden my father went to mass on Sunday. I turned against the church very early and for childish reasons, because the village people told me my parents would go to hell since they had divorced. I couldn’t accept that, so I decided that religion couldn’t be true. But one doesn’t lose it that easily, and I used to be quite frightened sometimes that hell might exist. But now I’ve lost it more, and I dislike the Catholic Church very much, the Church of England even more.

Jigsaw ends with a sense of forgiveness and of hope. So these feelings come from a religious sense, would you say?

No. I believe in forgiveness and hope for their own sake. Looking back on my life, there are certain acts of selfishness and meanness which I would like not to have committed. But what I can say is that all the people I’ve loved, I loved till the end. I mean, not only to the end of one’s living with them and one’s affair with them, but as long as they lived. That is a very rare thing.





The Indomitable Basia

Basia Briggs is a remarkable woman. She has survived a medley of unexpected disasters that would have put anyone else in a permanent frenzy throughout their life. Yet she has proved to be indestructible both in body and spirit and maintained a sense of humour to compensate for the tragedies that seem to engulf her without any respite. Her book which Quartet published recently has not yet had the attention it deserves.

She has subsequently written a piece on the internet for a blog called We Heart Writing in which she describes her feelings since the publication of her memoir.

I believe that those reading her piece will ultimately rush to get a copy of her book which will prove to be a page turner hard to describe.


Here is what she wrote:

Revisiting the past and poking old wounds is a painful process, some call it cathartic but I found it very draining to remember my dismay when I discovered aged 23 and busy with two tiny children, that my mother Camilla aged 43 was having an affair with my then husband Graham who was only ten years her junior. I think I lost all faith and trust in humanity on that day. ♥
I think I had what the Americans now call ‘abandonment and rejection issues’ although I had never heard of such terminology until recently. Good old Americans have a name for everything. I didn’t know it before but ever since childhood having been dumped by my mum in a Spartan institution of a convent boarding school aged six, I felt a bit bewildered and chucked out. But one just accepted it as normal everyday life.
Ever since childhood I had been aware of my mother’s chronic nymphomania, but did not resent or disapprove of her for this, as she was kind to me and I loved her madly. I was never naughty or gave her any trouble as I knew that I was a dreadful burden to her, being an only child of a single parent, and so I loved her very much. Nevertheless I resolved to grow up and be a paragon of virtue and chastity, preserving my honour and never allowing any man the smug satisfaction of having ‘had’ me. I wanted to be admired and desired from a distance and to this day I dislike bodily contact. On the occasions that I had lapsed (i.e. two marriages ) I have always regretted it, save for one time only when I fell in love and was very happy with my man. Observing my mother and her friends, all of which were rather promiscuous and utterly miserable, and often treated with scorn by their seducers instead of grovelling gratitude and diamonds, I decided that sex only brings emotional trouble, unwanted pregnancy, heartache or herpes. Bewilderingly women in general seem racked with insecurities and a lack of confidence and self-worth whereas men possess far too much, goodness knows why.

When my Mother was 31 years old she married an ugly rich old man for his money and I watched with horror as she was irrationally terrified of him instead of being the dominant one by virtue of her youth and beauty. He bullied her with his capricious and sulky ways and he ruled her life totally, turning her into little more than a servant. Why on earth I wondered, at age 12, should women be subservient to men and cook, clean, shop, obey every whim and make themselves available for sex on demand and get nothing in return. What price would a housekeeper demand, not to mention what is essentially legalized prostitution?
At age 18 I married an Australian named Graham who was of sluggish intellect but seemed so insanely besotted by me I felt I had the power and considered myself a glittering prize, so I married him for a lark as he was handsome and all the other girls fancied him. I had no intention of it lasting and was not at all in love. I soon realized that I had also condemned myself to penal servitude and domestic drudgery as his expectations of me were quickly made clear.

It dawned on me that perhaps all men are maybe afraid of their reliance on women and hate themselves for being vulnerable and therefore hate women also. Sometimes I think it is because their earliest recollections of childhood are of being dominated by their mothers so they grow up and thereafter want revenge on womankind. I had totally deluded myself with thinking he was infatuated with me, he probably was to start with, but hated being in the ‘Married Man’ category. For him, recreational womanising was fun, but having a wife emasculated him as he felt he had lost his freedom.
I never felt appreciated or rewarded in any way. Once I asked him why never bought me a gift and he responded angrily ‘Who do you think I am, Father Christmas?’ He totally ignored my 21st birthday but I did not cry, accepting his treatment with contempt and a calm detachment and some sadness. I confided in my mother that I was unhappy and instead of comforting and supporting me, she seduced him herself. It took me a few months to discover the affair. When she finally admitted their sexual relationship, I left them to it with disgust and with ruthless practicality I divorced Graham for adultery. I first considered the grounds of ‘exceptional depravity’ but then thought that would look so ghastly on the certificate. They are both dead now having destroyed themselves with drink.

I had spent my life starved of affection and I think this has hardened me, but I didn’t realize this until I started writing the book and analyzing the past. Looking back on those years and writing my book about it made me melancholy for the treachery humankind is capable of and sadly I feel that I can trust no-one. All that being said, I was born under the sign of Sagittarius which means I am an eternal optimist!

Basia Briggs is a luminary of the London social scene and a distinguished fundraiser, having played a fundamental part in the installation of the Queen Mother’s Gate in 1993 and the regeneration of Hyde Park Corner. She has written for various publications including The Telegraph and the Daily Mail. Born in London, she emigrated briefly to Australia before returning to Sloane Square where she now resides.