Born in 1910, Diana Mosley was one of the celebrated Mitford girls, daughters of the eccentric Lord Redesdale who was to feature prominently in Nancy Mitford’s novels. At the age of eighteen Diana married Bryan Guinness, later Lord Moyne, by whom she had two sons. In 1932 she met Oswald Mosley, leader of the British Union of Fascists, and fell instantly under his spell. Four years later they were married secretly in Dr Goebels’ house in Berlin. She bore two more sons before she and her husband were detained during the war under the defence regulations. Her publications include a book on the Duchess of Windsor and, in 1977, her autobiography A Life of Contrasts. She also regularly writes book reviews for the Evening Standard. For the past forty-five years she has lived in Le Temple de la Gloire, a country house south of Paris.
Diana, when we spoke about this interview you rather suggested that there was nothing new to say. My own impression from doing research is that you have given a very uneven picture of yourself. It seems to me that you are perhaps misjudged, certainly misunderstood. You say in your book, A Life of Contrasts: ‘Indifference to public opinion is an essential aristocratic virtue. It is rarer than one might imagine.’ Looking in from the outside, it is a quality, however rare, that you seem to have in abundance. Is it really so? Are you not tempted to open up?
I don’t quite know what you mean by ‘open up’. I don’t think I’ve ever consciously dodged answers to questions. By saying that indifference to public opinion is an aristocratic virtue, I did not mean to imply that I consider myself aristocratic, I certainly do not. Of course I mind very much about the opinion of people I love or esteem, but not of journalists or acquaintances who – quite rightly – look upon me as not ‘politically correct’ or whatever the fashionable phrase may be.
You have been known to say that you don’t understand all the fuss about the Mitford girls. By any standards family life was strange and eccentric and it has been well documented in Nancy and Jessica’s books. Was it the case that the oddness seemed perfectly normal to you, or were you conscious that yours was a very singular milieu, unlike that of others, even in your social circle?
I think there’s a misunderstanding here. Our life as children was exactly like that of hundreds of other children in the same walk of life. If you lived in the country in those days you probably didn’t go to school if you were a gel, you probably had a governess, you had animals, you went out hunting, you went to neighbours’ parties. I honestly don’t believe there was anything in our childhood which was unlike that of a great many other people. There was really nothing odd about it. Some fathers were stricter and more violent than others. Although our father was sometimes rather violent, we loved him and were amused by him. He’s been a bit exaggerated by Nancy, though not very much, since he is really more or less Uncle Matthew, but I think even in her novels she says we loved him. There was never a dull moment.
I realize that the memory of your brother Tom must still be painful for you, but can you tell me what it was about him that formed so strong a bond between you?
I suppose it was that we were very close in age, not even eighteen months between us. We were very fond of one another. He was a musical boy, and I loved music, so that was a bond. It’s hard to say really, but until he was killed we just were very close. I miss him even now, for many things. I can’t imagine him as an old man.
When one studies the Mitford girls it’s difficult not to be astonished by the sheer brilliance and individuality of all of them. It is not usual in large families for these qualities to be dealt out in such large measure across the board. Would you say that such things are decided, as it were, genetically, i.e. in advance of upbringing, or would you attribute it more to family life and parental influence?
I think it’s completely genetic. I don’t think that upbringing has a great deal to do with what one becomes later on. We’re products of our grandparents and great-grandparents much more. That’s been proved scientifically, I think. For example, if you take identical twins who are brought up in two different ways, they turn out the same in the end. It’s just a curious fact.
In your early life at least, your father seems to figure much more prominently than your mother. Was he the decisive influence on you, do you think?
No, I really do not think so. We just took him for granted. In a way the person who meant most to me when I was a child was my nanny. I loved her far more than I did my parents and I often felt guilty about that. One should love one’s mother more than one’s nurse, but in fact I loved nanny best. My mother was a great character; she had wonderful courage and was so honest that you couldn’t even imagine a dishonest thought or act coming from her. But again, she was somebody we took completely for granted; she was just our mother, always there.
If you had a problem, would you have confided in her?
I wouldn’t have dreamed of confiding anything in either of my parents. Possibly one of my sisters or my brother, but nobody else. It simply wouldn’t have occurred to any of us to confide in them, I’m sure.
You and your sisters seem in retrospect all to have been quite fixated on a particular man. In your own case it was Mosley, in Unity’s it was Hitler, in Debo’s it was her duke, and so on. In your own ways you all seemed to have been besotted by powerful men. This is not something you touch on in your autobiography. Is it not something that has occurred to you?
Yes, it has occurred to me. Strangely enough, even Nancy, who was devoted to her colonel, went over the top of the colonel, so to speak, in her tremendous feeling for de Gaulle. You see, she loved France, and she thought he was the ideal dictator. It was far more than the usual rather cool approval that one might feel about a president or a prime minister; it went much more deeply with her. You might say we all had that characteristic which must have come through our genes.
Your father does seem to have been a very eccentric man – he chased the children with a bloodhound, for example.
I don’t think he was nearly as eccentric as people imagine. You see, he had a bloodhound, and it was rather fun to hunt with him, and we children were there, available. Most men love hunting after all. He didn’t hunt us very often with his bloodhound, and in any case the bloodhound died. He didn’t have what you might call a kennelful of bloodhounds; there was just one dear old one and he thought, well, let’s give him a run.
But did there come a time when you realized that he was not like other men?
Well, he was actually very much like my uncles. It’s true he had great hates which were rather unusual. There were people he disliked intensely for no particular reason, even children. Most people usually dismiss children and say to themselves, ‘What a tiresome little gel or boy’, but he managed to work up quite a passion of hatred for some child he didn’t like. It didn’t evidence itself in any way; one just realized he could hardly bear the child. The same applied to grown-ups, of course. He wasn’t what you might call a very sociable man. He preferred walking with his dogs and chatting to the keeper.
I have heard it said that he was a bit of a philistine. Is that something you were aware of?
I suppose he was a philistine. He never went to an art gallery, he never cared the least about sightseeing, and he liked only a very simple kind of music – Puccini’s arias, for example; apart from that I cannot say that he had any sort of artistic interest.
In a sense you seem to have had quite a Spartan childhood, plenty of space, but not much warmth, no fires in the bedrooms, and really rather strict ‘rules’. I’m thinking of your Paris diary and its aftermath. Was that the usual patterns among the families you knew?
A good many gels of my age, who were friends of mine, had exactly the same experience, perhaps not quite so strict, but they were not allowed out except with a governess or a maid. This was by no means unique to us. When I got to Paris at the age of sixteen it seemed such a wonderful chance for freedom that I’m afraid I did one or two things which were strictly forbidden, like going to the cinema with a young man in the afternoon when I pretended to the old governess that I was going to a violin lesson. I put it all in my dairy and then of course there was the most fearful row when it was discovered. It’s rather sad that my diary went west. Mother and father put it in the boiler.
You married Bryan Guinness when you were eighteen. And he was also very young, twenty-three, I think. Do you think in retrospect that to marry at such a tender age may have been a mistake?
Not really. I don’t think age makes much difference. I was nineteen when my eldest son was born and when I was twenty I had another son. About a year after that my husband and I parted. It was not because I married too young, but because I fell in love with Oswald Mosley and decided that I should prefer living on my own and being able to see him occasionally, to being married to Bryan Guinness. He wanted a wife who would always be there, and that’s what he got afterwards. He married a wonderful person and they were terribly happy, so I was absolutely right.
You paint a very different picture of the nightclubs of Berlin from that usually portrayed in novels and memoirs. Were they really all as dull as that? You called them ‘grim places’?
Yes, you imagined you were going to find Marlene Dietrich, and then you didn’t. Nightclubs are for people who are searching for something. My husband and I weren’t, and we just did think them very dull – awful noise, second-rate jazz, hideous people, and lights going on and off. One’s idea really was to get away to bed.
How did people you knew react to your divorce and your attachment to Mosley? I imagine not everyone was sympathetic.
Everyone was unsympathetic, without exception I should say. It seemed very unusual for somebody as young as I was to leave her husband, to live alone, particularly after having had such an amusing, entertaining and interesting life as I had had. To want to cut oneself off seemed very curious to most people. First they thought I was too young to be married, then they thought I was too young not to be married.
Were you looked upon as rebellious?
I didn’t feel the least bit rebellious. I just followed my instinct. It’s very difficult to look back sixty years, but I never regretted it for one instant, and by degrees everyone came round to my point of view. It seemed the normal thing for me and Mosley to be together.
The relationship between yourself and the Mosleys after your divorce is rather baffling. For example, you speak of the death of Mosley’s wife, Cimmie, as a ‘devastating blow’ for him. It was also, however, the turn of events that allowed you to be together and marry. Did you have a strong sense of fate intervening? Did you know Mosley’s first wife?
I knew her, not very well, but she was charming and people were very fond of her. It was a devastating blow for me as well as him. She was a young woman and the last thing either of us ever expected was what happened. It might easily have meant a complete break with Mosley because it was terribly tragic for him. It might easily have worked the opposite way, but in fact it was only three years later that we did get married.
But what were your expectations when you fell in love with Mosley?
That I would live on my own with my children and that I would see him from time to time. I was interested in his politics, and I hoped to be able to play some part perhaps. Otherwise it was to be a life alone.
When you met Mosley he seems to have had the support of a great many men who were later prominent in public affairs – John Strachey, Aneurin Bevan, Arthur Cooke – and much later Richard Crossman spoke of the way in which he was a generation ahead of labour thinking. What went wrong? Was he unwilling to serve if he could not lead?
No. As you know he was first elected as a conservative, and when he crossed the floor he became an independent and then went the whole way and joined labour. But he never felt that labour would be an instrument of action; he always thought that the Labour Party would break in your hand if you tried to do anything with it. It was dominated then (and I suppose up to a point it still is) by two such disparate elements – the trade unions and the intellectuals; and they did not want the same thing. I don’t belong to the school of thought which makes out that one party is perfect and the other is devilish. By and large all politicians want the best for their country, but they got about it in different ways. England was at that time in a very poor way with enormous and growing unemployment, terrific suffering and hunger. That must never be forgotten, because to be unemployed then was far worse than it is now, awful though it must always be. Mosley therefore thought that the only thing to do was to make a grass-roots movement of his own. Some of the men you mentioned came with him, but there was a tremendous crisis in England after the Wall Street Crash in 1929. In 1931 there was an election and rather predictably the Tories won a sweeping victory and the New Party, as his party was called, was wiped out at the polls; even he was not elected. It was then that he thought he had better call things by their name and so he called his new movement the British Union of Fascists, later modified to the British Union, as you know.
Why do you think he went to such an extreme?
It wasn’t considered an extreme then. In those days, for instance, a great many Tories were admirers of Mussolini. Hitler had not yet come to power. It was a different picture. The reason he called it fascism was because it was in a sense a world movement and he thought it was more honest. With the benefit of hindsight, I think perhaps it may have been a mistake, but on the other hand he didn’t in the least want people to imagine it was anything it was not.
Historically speaking, it is not difficult to have some understanding of Hitler’s charisma and the spell which he cast. Even your own brother, who was later killed fighting on the other side, seems to have found his politics attractive initially. How did it strike you at the time?
It struck me as perfectly normal and natural. Tom used to say that it would be either the Nazis or the communists, and that if he were a German he would be a Nazi. It wasn’t only when he was a student in Berlin; he went on thinking that he would have been a Nazi – in fact, practically every decent German was. We must remember that nothing succeeds like success. Hitler not only had what people now call charisma, he was also – unheard of in the thirties – completely successful. He made promises at the polls and he kept them. In England both labour and Tories said they could cure unemployment, put the economy straight, make an earthly paradise, they each had a chance and neither of them was able to do it. Under Hitler, unemployment dwindled to nothing, and within two or three years a despairing country had been transformed into an extraordinarily prosperous one where people were happy and worked hard. Hitler always said he would give the people Arbeit und Brot, Work and Bread, but the interesting thing is that he put work before bread, whereas in England, they put bread first and then work a long way afterwards. Everyone was interested in Hitler. Churchill himself wrote at the time that Hitler was the person everybody would like to get to know, because he seemed to have a political secret which was hidden from others.
You speak in your book of your conviction that fascism in Britain would have been a different sort of thing from that which overtook the Continent. It is difficult for many people now, after the horrors of the camps and so on, to understand how it could have been different. What was your own vision?
That is such an impossibly large question; to answer it properly one would have to go into every fact of life. Briefly, the British parliament would have had a great deal of power which of course the Reichstag did not have. Another point which is very important is that my husband was always against imprisonment without trial. He said concentration camps were a horror which should never have been allowed anywhere. And as to cruelty, it just wasn’t in his nature.
What impression do you retain of that first Nuremberg rally? It must have been very different from the huge stage-managed affairs of later years.
Even so they managed to gather a million people for that first rally. The Germans are of course quite extraordinary when it comes to organization, and perhaps no other country could have done it, or done it so smoothly. It was an amazing achievement, and of course very interesting for a foreigner to see.
Were you mesmerized by it?
I wouldn’t say one was mesmerized, but it was very striking and even very moving. You saw a country which had been reduced to despair pulling itself up by its own bootstraps.
With hindsight virtually everyone thinks of Hitler as a monster, but that is a public rather than a private judgement. He clearly commanded the allegiance of his fellow countrymen. You have never denounced him, and have continued to reiterate your admiration for him… were you ever able to see things from a different perspective?
No. I saw a man whom I got to know through a very strange chance because he was a friend of my sister Unity. Unity loved and adored him, thought him utter perfection. I never felt like that about him, but I did admire him very much for what he had done. I thought it quite amazing that of all the politicians in charge of being industrial nations at the time, whether France, the United States, England, he stood alone in having been able to solve the appalling problems of poverty and unemployment. That is never admitted now because it is said that no monster could possibly have done anything as clever as that. But in fact he did, and one day history will be written in a truthful way. That was the man I knew, the public man. As for the private person, I didn’t know him all that well, but I was determined after the war that I would at least sat what I’d seen, because by then he had become a monster, as you say. Of course the crimes in the war were utterly terrible and unforgiveable, but I believe that THE great crime was the war itself, which engendered all the horrors, and not only all on one side, I may say. I have felt it not only a duty but almost a pleasure to describe the man I knew, because it’s so monstrously unfair when people deny something which they felt very strongly at the time.
Have you regretted anything?
No, absolutely not. Why should I? A woman writer published something the other day about me being impenitent. I’ve never really understood what I have to be penitent about. I just speak the truth as I remember it, as I know it, as I believe it.
But obviously you didn’t know some of the things that had happened. Since the war there have been horrific revelations about Hitler…
Yes, horrific. But I can’t change my mind about the man I knew long before all that happened. Like everyone else, I deplore the crimes and the horrors and the miseries, but I still think the basic reason that made them possible was the fact that we had a war, and for the war I blame Hitler and I also blame Churchill.
In your autobiography you suggest that the Jewish question was one which Jews rather brought on themselves and that is could have been solved by emigration. This is surely a somewhat naïve view, if only because there must have been millions of Jews, then as now, who thought of themselves as Germans. They were people who had fought as Germans in the First World War. Why should they have felt the need to leave?
I do see that very much, but at the same time, I’m quite sure that Jews who had fought for Germany in the First World Warn need never have left. Unfortunately there was this tremendous feeling of anti-Semitism not only in Germany, but all over central Europe. I’ve always felt that it would have been far wiser, and also far more humane, to have had a round-table conference with, say, the League of Nations, and discuss how best to separate people who were not living happily together. I still feel that. That’s what was attempted in Ireland, but because there were so many Republicans who remained in the Ulster, the fighting just goes on and on. If you force people who dislike each other to live together, it doesn’t make for a very happy life for anyone.
But what was the cause of anti-Semitism?
After the First World War there was an enormous influx of Jews from Eastern Europe. As we know one of their great strengths is that they always hang together, and, rightly or wrongly, they became more and more unpopular because people coming back from the front found their businesses had been taken over. This engendered an enormous amount of anti-Jewish feeling in Germany as a whole, not just in Hitler. I’ve always felt it could have been solved simply by separating them. Most of them would have loved to go to America, just as they do now. After all, most Jews coming out of Russia go to New York, not Israel.
In your book your recount that Professor Lindemann, a regular visitor to Chartwell, said to you of your friend Brian Howard, ‘Oh you can’t like him, he’s a Jew’. Were you aware of much casual anti-Semitism in those days?
No, I wasn’t. He gave me quite a surprise by saying that. But there are double standards here. My father, for example, was very anti-German and was quite capable of saying the only good German is a dead German, but of course if anybody said that about the Jews they’d be for the high jump, although it’s supposed to be quite all right to say it about other people. English people often say they hate the Scotch, but of course when they meet the Scotch they don’t hate them at all. It’s rather the same thing with the Jews. Collectively, so to speak, they may be deprecated by certain people but individually they’re considered brilliant, charming, clever.
How do you feel about the Jews yourself?
I feel they behaved very badly towards my husband who was not anti-Semitic. They attacked him not only in newspaper articles and newsreels at the cinema, but physically at his meetings, until in the end they practically made him into an anti-Semite. He never was one, it just wasn’t in his nature, but he did think they were a perfect pest. They used to disrupt his meetings, jump up and down and shot, very often without knowing English and therefore not even able to understand what he was saying. We now know they behaved in this way because they were having a really bad time in Germany, but having said that, it doesn’t alter the fact that they were anti-Mosley long before he was anti them.
You were very friendly with Goebbels’ wife. In Leni Riefenstahl’s autobiography she claimed that Magda only married Goebbels to be closer to Hitler with whom she was actually in love. Was there any evidence for that in your view?
No. She did adore Hitler, but I’m certain she was in love with the Doctor, at least when I first knew her. I think she got very fed up with him later. As minister of propaganda he had so many starlets around, and that probably annoyed her quite a lot. Nevertheless she was very fond of him, and devoted to her children.
Leni Riefenstahl also describes a conversation she had with Hitler on the subject of Unity. According to Riefenstahl, Hitler said: ‘Unity is a very attractive girl, but I could never have an intimate relationship with a foreigner, not matter how beautiful she might be.’ Does this accord with your own impression?
I don’t think Unity ever thought of him in that way. She adored him, of course, and the great attraction for him was that she made him laugh so much. She was so unlike German women; she just always said what she thought, did as she wished. I remember him telling me one day he had been driving in Munich when he saw somebody coming straight at him the wrong way down a one-way street. His driver had to break and Hitler saw it was Unity. She merely laughed and said she had been trying to catch up with him. She had no idea of keeping any rules, and that in itself is very unGerman. She was lawless, completely.
You have said many times that Hitler adored Unity and was devoted to her. I’m sure you are tired to death of being asked if Unity was in love with Hitler, but if she was not, why did she try to kill herself when war broke out? Was there a chance that they could have been lovers?
No. There was a much nobler reason behind her suicide attempt. She had always told me she would kill herself if England and Germany went to war. She was always an extremely patriotic Englishwoman as well as being so in love with Germany.
But she was in love with Hitler, wasn’t she?
Well, there are so many different ways of being in love. I don’t think she was sexually in love with Hitler, at least not in my opinion. She was devoted to him, admired him, but he represented for her something quite different from a lover or a husband. That’s my own view. She was appalled by the global tragedy of her two beloved countries going to war. When she heard Chamberlain say that war had been declared on Germany, she didn’t really wish to live and see any more happen.
Unity was the one who chose consciously to adopt a national-socialist creed. Did she ever change her mind when the consequences became apparent in the revelations after the war?
She wasn’t really with us after the war, her mind had gone away. The bullet went through her brain and Professor Cairns, the brain specialist, told my father that it was not possible to remove it safely. It was therefore a kind of freak that she lived at all. The Germans had been afraid that she might do something and were therefore watching her. They knew she had a gun and on 3 September 1939 she went to Gauleiter Wagner in a great state and gave him a letter to send to my father, and also one for Hitler. She then went to the English Garden in Munich and shot herself. Wagner had her followed because he had a feeling that she was going to do herself a mischief. No sooner had she fallen off the bench than two men ran up and took her to hospital straightaway. She was unconscious for several weeks and was looked after with extraordinary devotion by nuns. Hitler had been informed, of course, and he was constantly telephoning to find out how she was. On 9 November he came to Munich for the anniversary of the 1923 putsch and it was on that day she emerged from the coma. Naturally her brain had suffered terribly. Hitler offered her the choice between having a house in Germany where no one would pester her, or, if she preferred, safe passage to her family in England. She chose the latter. Hitler arranged the whole thing with a Hungarian friend of my brother Tom who was, in fact, a lover of Unity. He was perfect. He took her in a special train with nurses and doctors to the Swiss frontier and there handed her over to Swiss doctors. She was taken to a clinic in Zurich, and my mother travelled across France with my sister Debo and together they brought her back to England. This was in January 1940, long before France fell. Before that, my father had seen Oliver Stanley at the War Office and made him promise that Unity would not be arrested. Stanley gave his word and he kept to it. To begin with Unity was paralysed, but by degrees she got the use of her limbs again. But her mind was completely different; it was never again normal. To what extent she realized what had happened at the end of the war I don’t know, and I’m sure my mother kept newspapers away from her. She knew Hitler was dead, but whether she knew anything about the horrors of the camps, I doubt it. She never spoke to me of them and of course it was the sort of subject one never would have dreamed of raising with her. She was pathetic really.
In 1944 Adam von Trott was executed for his part in the failed attempt on Hilter’s life. Instead of being shot he was hanged from a butcher’s hook as Hitler looked on. His death was filmed for all to see, so there was no question of this being anti-Hitler propaganda. Was there anything about Hitler and the others that suggested this sort of potential ruthlessness?
First of all, I completely disbelieve that Hitler would have wished to see any person hanged in any way; that’s just the figment of some foul person’s imagination. You see, he was accused of terrible atrocities and cruelties because he was in charge, but that’s a very different thing from doing it himself. I’m quite sure your story is untrue, nothing would ever make me believe it. As for Adam von Trott, he was a traitor to his country. He tried to kill the person who was fighting the war and losing it – I don’t suppose there would have been very much sympathy in England for somebody who had tried to assassinate Churchill. His friend von Stauffenberg was one of the dirtiest fighters imaginable. He did what is always so much denounced when the IRA does it; he left a bomb so that it would go off and kill any number of people around, but not himself. If he had wished to rid the world of Hitler, all he had to do as a serving officer was to take his revolver, shoot him and take the consequences; that would have been the act of a man. What he did was the act of a perfect common or garden terrorist. There would have been no pity for such a man in England either….
Yes, but they wouldn’t have hanged him on a hook.
Well, I don’t suppose they did. But if it was done in a cruel way, Hitler would never have demeaned himself by going to watch, never. I simply don’t believe it.
Why are you so sure that Hitler wouldn’t have done it?
Because I knew Hitler well enough to be sure. I knew his character, he may have been cruel but he wasn’t mean.
You speak of Churchill as someone who was really in love with war. In your book you write: ‘The difference between M. and Churchill was that M. wanted Britain to be strong in order to keep the peace unless any part of our possessions was threatened, while Churchill genuinely hoped for war.’ And you quote in support of this statement Lloyd George who said: ‘Winston likes war; I don’t’. But if that was the case, why did Churchill disarm after the First World War and render the country quite unprepared for war?
He disarmed after the First War because quite rightly nobody thought there would be a war for ten years; this is what they call the ten-year rule. England became more and more poor (partly owing to Churchill’s muddling as chancellor or the exchequer) so the ten-year rule was forever being extended, or reimposed. But in the early thirties he did begin to want to rearm, and he never stopped speaking about it in parliament. Mosley thought it fatal to have the very tiny air force which we had, and he always maintained that a strong air force and navy together could have kept an invader out. That’s why he said that as long as England was not attacked we could make peace, or at least it would have had to be such a pathetic peace that it would hardly have counted. All the same, several cabinet members were for it, but Churchill was against it. I don’t myself go along with the idea of the finest hour; it seems to me that if you declare war on a very strong country and have as your ally a rather weak country and the weak country is overrun, and your army has to escape through Dunkirk as best it can, throwing away all its armaments such as they were, there’s nothing very much you can do except have a finest hour. What was so utterly foolish was to declare war in the beginning, pretending it was to help Poland; as Mosley said at the time, it was simply writing Poland a blank cheque which then bounced.
It must have puzzled you enormously, as it does me, why you were arrested and imprisoned. I suppose its arguable that your husband might have been thought potentially disruptive, but what were the authorities afraid you would do? What could you have done?
Nothing. I had absolutely no idea why they imprisoned me. I was told recently by a professor that the Japanese who were arrested and put in camps in the west of America brought a successful action against the government and won their case. I thought that was wonderful, and wondered about bringing one myself until he told me that they hadn’t got their compensation, so then the idea rather died on me. To return to your question, I think it was an extraordinary thing to have done to my husband too, especially since our people were extremely patriotic. They all joined the army when they could, and long before he was arrested. Fortunately it’s in black and white in his little paper which came out nearly a fortnight before he was arrested. He said there would be no question of where members of the British Union would stand; they would die to the last man in order to drive the invader from our shores. You can’t say more than that. All he had argued beforehand was that until something happened, we should try to have a negotiated peace over Poland. But France fell so quickly, and then there was the terrible tragic farce of Norway, which was entirely Churchill’s idea. And after he had made such an absolute fool of himself there, the next thing they did was make him prime minister.
What did you feel about Churchill’s complicity in your imprisonment? After all, you knew him quite well, and he was your father’s cousin, yet he separated you from your husband and your children and imprisoned you for years without charge. Do you feel bitterness towards him?
No, none at all for that. I feel bitterness towards him for the war itself. He was one of the people responsible for it, determined to have it. Sadly, I think the same of Hitler. I think that was their great crime, because it very nearly ruined Europe, and England was ruined completely. Not only have we lost our empire, which was supposed to be so strong but turned out to be so very weak, but also England itself changed very much as a result of the war, not all for the good.
Rumour has it that Churchill was prepared to allow you a bath and running water, but you refused it. Is there any truth in that?
Yes, it’s completely true. I was sent for by the governor and he said: ‘There’s a message from the cabinet. Lady Mosley’s to have a bath every day’. Of course it wasn’t possible, so I just laughed and so did he. All we had was a horrible foul little bathroom with a very old-fashioned geyser which did only three baths twice a day. There were about sixty of us, so we had a rota, and I could no more have gone in front of the others than…well, they were all my dear friends.
What did prison life teach you?
Nothing, except to hate discomfort, which I always have hated.
Did you leave feeling bitter?
No, I just despised the government so much really. If you don’t respect people, it doesn’t engender bitterness.
Were you ever offered any sort of explanation afterwards? Large numbers of those arrested with you were eventually freed, but you had to wait many years. Even after the war ended the authorities tried to prevent you travelling. Why do you think this was?
I just do wonder really. It is very extraordinary. One reason is that the Foreign office, as Enoch Powell so truly said, was a nest of spies and traitors; it really was, right up to 1951 when Burgess and Maclean very sensibly went off to Russia, which was where they belonged. And if you have a Foreign Office which is a nest of spies and traitors they don’t want decent people travelling.
You say in your book: ‘The paramount crime was the war itself. None of the atrocities could have happened in time of peace.’ But we know now of course that both Dachau and Buchenwald were in operation by the end of 1933…
Not in the sense that you mean. There were several concentration camps which my husband greatly deplored, but they had floating populations, so to speak. People would be told they were going to Dachau for three months, and out they’d come again. I remember an edition of an illustrated Berlin weekly just before the war which had pictures of people in concentration camps; there were very few, a couple of dozen perhaps, and they were all mentally deficient, or people who might have annoyed the government. They were neither criminal nor were they our beloved liberals or anything of the sort, they were just ordinary common or garden misfits.
Did you ever meet Eva Braun?
Yes. She was very pretty. She was also extremely loyal and brave, as we know by what she did when she flew into Berlin. She was flying to her death and she knew it.
You once said: ‘Men who wage war give cruel orders which are executed with violence and provoke tragedy. This applies to them all, Hitler, Stalin, Roosevelt and even Churchill, in so far as he had the power.’ Many people regard it as breathtaking cynicism that you make no distinction between the first two, Hitler and Stalin, and the last two, not even a distinction of scale.
But I said ‘in so far as it was in their power’; I call that a distinction. If Churchill had had absolute power, which thank God he did not, then who knows what he might have done? When you think of the lies that have been told about Hitler since the war I should think Roosevelt and Churchill would have been capables de tout.
I realize how dreadful it must have been to be imprisoned for years without even a shadow of a charge, but in view of the fact that there were crowds protesting at your release even as late at 1943, do you think that perhaps you would have been safe had you been released earlier?
That was the most terrific canard there has ever been. I know Clementine Churchill said to my mother that she thought we were probably much safer in prison, but my mother replied that she thought it was for us to judge. There was never a breath of any trouble after we got out. The Daily Worker even went round Shipton asking all the villagers to demonstrate against the Mosleys and not one of them would. We also discovered from an old man who lived in a villa about half a mile away that he had been approached by the Daily Mirror who told him that the Mosleys were going to be his new neighbours, and he said, ‘Oh, how interesting’, which wasn’t at all the reaction they’d hoped for. You see, English people are not like that really. You might get communists demonstrating outside the underground if they think enough people are watching, but they are not going to do the slightest harm. No, that aspect never bothered us. What we minded was not having passports. We had to buy a little yacht to get away from England.
Presumably you were not a political animal until you met Mosley. Did you actually share his vision intellectually or was it something you took on board as part of your profound love for him?
It’s not quite true to say that I wasn’t interested in politics; I was. The first time I had a vote was in the 1931 election and if in our constituency there had been a Lloyd George liberal standing, I would have voted for him because Lloyd George had very clear ideas about unemployment and all sorts of things. I often thought afterwards that was why he and Hitler got on so very well. They liked each other enormously when they met, and Lloyd George wrote wonderful articles in the English papers praising him. There’s a beautiful story about when he was on the Berg with Hitler. He was in bed one morning and he rang for his secretary Sylvester and told him he wanted to lay a wreath on the war memorial. Sylvester brought him a wreath, and gave him a card to inscribe. Lloyd George wrote on the card: ‘To the brave men who died for the Fatherland’. Sylvester asked, ‘Don’t you think it might be better to put their Fatherland?’ and Lloyd George thought perhaps it would, so he added the two little letters. It’s terribly nice isn’t it?
It is often said that you were the driving force behind Mosley. Would you agree with that?
No. He had the driving force within himself. He didn’t need me for that. I suppose I must have influenced him a little bit, but not very much. He was much more of and influence on me. He was so clever, so brilliant.
It is also alleged that Mosley was something of a philanderer. Was this a problem which loomed large in your marriage or were you so devoted to him that you accepted and forgave his transgressions?
Well, I suppose one never completely accepts. Jealousy is a very real emotion which nearly everybody who has been in love must feel and know about, but he was an exceptional person, and therefore very attractive to women. He himself adored women, and that’s just a fact. I never blamed him for that.
But did you suffer?
Only marginally really, because it was so taken for granted. It’s very hard to say looking back; I’m sure there were moments when I was jealous, but not unduly, not enough to matter.
You were upset and angered by the publication of your stepson Nicholas Mosley’s book, Beyond the Pale. I was told that you were shown the book in draft from and decided to make no changes and that it was only afterwards that you had second thoughts about what he had written being made public.
It’s completely untrue to say that I was shown it in draft. He sent it when it was already too late to make any alterations, which is an old trick, as we know. I didn’t mind him saying that Mosley was a philanderer, because it was just the truth. What I minded was that he tried to make him such a trivial person, whereas in fact he had been a tremendous worker all his life and had had brilliant ideas. None of that is dealt with at all in the book.
You mean the balance was not right?
No only not right, it was simply ridiculous. The other point is that as he was his son, he’d been told he could have the papers, and I didn’t bother to look through anything. There were very intimate things, such as letters between him and his first wife, which I didn’t think it was right for Nicholas to publish. I implored him to take them out and the answer was that it was already too late. He has a complete obsession about his father, which may not be entirely his fault, because the truth is that the most interesting thing about him is that he’s the son of an extraordinary man. Journalists know that too, so they always get off the subject of his probably not very interesting novels, and ask him instead about his father. The book about Mosley is fundamentally such a dishonest book, because nowhere is it suggested that he was a brilliant thinker or that he could have made a difference to the world had his ideas been accepted. Instead he is portrayed as some kind of playboy, which is too absurd when you think of what the man was. That’s why I object to it.
How did he get on with his father?
Very well. My husband was very fond of him and very good to him always. But of course it turns out that Nicholas must have been fearfully jealous; it can’t be explained any other way. The dishonesty and the obsession must be the fruits of tremendous jealousy.
Is there any truth in his suggestion that during your marriage to Mosley you suffered from appalling migraines which disappeared after his death?
It’s quite true that I did suffer from appalling migraines, but what I had was a brain tumour. It was operated on and removed, and I’m alive to tell the tale. Mercifully, it turned out to be benign, but it had been pressing on the nerve for years. However wicked Mosley may be considered by his rather dreadful son, I don’t think he could have given me a brain tumour.
With the imminent arrival of a united Europe, and apprehension about immigration and its troubles, you must feel that both your husband’s goal of an integrated Europe and his fears about widespread immigration have become part of mainstream politics. Do you feel that many of his views have been shown to be right?
I think his views were quite extraordinarily right. When you look back at what he wrote, you realize that he had amazing powers of seeing what might happen. It’s been a wonderful joy for me to see what’s happened in the last two years, to see the utter and complete failure of socialism and the reuniting of Germany, which is something I’d always known would happen but imagined might be long after my death. As to immigration, what happened in the 1950s was a great tragedy, and it still is. The proof is the number of laws which had to be made to force it down the throats of the unfortunate English, who really should have been asked, either in an election or in a referendum, whether they wished to be the hosts of an enormous population with a completely different culture from their own. They might have said yes, but I doubt it. Luckily there was a referendum for Europe and there was a large majority in favour. And every time the English try and put a spoke in the wheel of Europe, as Mrs Thatcher tried to do, I mind less and less, because as time goes on, if you have twelve countries and one of them is always the one that is bloody minded, it doesn’t really matter very much; the other elven have their way and the twelfth comes hobbling alone afterwards. Of course I should love to see Europe with England at the very heart of it, as Mr Major promised, but if we’re not to have that, we still have Europe. I’m a complete European. I love England, but I could be as happy living in Spain or Germany or Portugal or Italy as I am in France. The reason I live in France is that the house I’ve been in for so many years has so many memories, I don’t want to leave it.
You yourself have always had a very bad press. You said in an interview in The Times five years ago: ‘People think I’m a sort of gorgon.’ Do you think there has been a deliberate campaign of vilification or is it just the usual tabloid thirst for copy?
It’s fashionable to attack me and people follow the fashion. I can’t say I’ve minded very much or that I’ve done anything to stop it. I don’t get hurt in the least. I’m very thick skinned. I also feel very fortunate in that I have children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren, not to mention a great many friends. The people I write to and receive letters from don’t attack me, so I don’t very much mind whether the papers do or not.
Have you ever had the same sort of hostile reaction in France that you have suffered for so long in England?
No. They’re not a bit interested in attacking private people. In fact they have a very good law which forbids interference in people’s lives, which is an absolute boon. Nobody has ever bothered me in the forty years I’ve been here.
Even an apparently innocuous activity such as appearing on Desert Island Discs can provoke an outcry after nearly fifty years. Can you in any way understand the strength of the public feeling against you?
I don’t think it’s public feeling; it’s really rather a small number of people. Apparently what happened was the BBC decided to broadcast the programme when it was Yom Kippur. I’m not sure when Yom Kippur is, but it’s something very important for Jewish people who immediately made a tremendous fuss and said they couldn’t listen to Mozart or Beethoven and Wagner at Yom Kippur. The poor old BBC had to think of another date, but the next one turned out to be the Jewish New Year or something quite important. Again there was a tremendous outcry so they had to put it off again. In the end I wrote to them and said that if it was an embarrassment, then they should cancel. But of course they didn’t want to.
Your beauty is legendary in its own time. Your looks astonish still and yet you are said to feel indifferent on the matter. Can this really be true?
I suppose I was quite glad not to be a monster, but people exaggerated quite a lot by pretending one was so beautiful.
But didn’t men fall for you all the time?
I don’t think they did. Men don’t ever fall for someone who doesn’t fall for them; that’s my opinion. Women usually make the first move if there’s going to be anything. In any case, there’s something much more important than beauty, and that is charm, which is something you can’t describe adequately. But there’s no doubt it’s far more powerful than just having big eyes.
You were friends of the Windsors in Paris and you even wrote a biography of the duchess. It is a very sympathetic account of a royal love story which is at odds with the widespread opinion that she behaved appallingly towards the duke who was in turn masochistic, and so on. Why did you want to paint such a romantic picture to the world? Were you really not aware of the negative side?
I was well aware of it in the sense that it is always being written about. But I tried to write what I knew about, what I’d actually seen. I just don’t go along with the idea that he was masochistic or that she was beastly to him, or any of those things at all. Perhaps I did bring out the nice side, but one thing is for sure, he absolutely loved her. The reason I wrote the book was not all because writing about royals is an amusing way of spending one’s life, but the Americans had gone really beyond everything in their unfairness. It seemed to me that somebody might perhaps try and put the record straight.
You have said that one thing you regret is not having been able to do more to help Mosley to achieve his aims.
I regret most being unbale to do anything towards his campaign for peace. From the beginning of the war until I was arrested I was either pregnant or nursing a tiny baby, so there was nothing I could do.
But, looking back now, do you regret anything else, or wish that things had been different?
Does it sound very smug to say no? When I have regrets in the stilly watches of the nights, it’s always been about having been unkind to somebody or not fair, but I suppose everyone has those sort of regrets. Otherwise in the big lines of my life I wouldn’t have changed anything. I would choose the same life again, and in fact it’s wonderful to be able to say that. It’s like Nietzsche’s idea of die ewige Wiederkehr.
Is there anything in life you’d still like to achieve?
Not for myself, but for the people I love. I long for everything to go right for them. Of course, everyone has to live life in his own way, and nobody knows that better than I do.
INTERVIEW CONDUCTED WINTER 1991
La Temple de la Gloire 91400 Orsay 19 January 1995
Dear Naim, Thank you for your Christmas card.
I’ve been meaning to write to you for months. When you asked me questions you said something like, Did it make a difference to you being beautiful? And I answered: No. Well, the answer wasn’t quite true, although I never considered myself particularly beautiful.
I am now punished for my lie. I have cancer in my nose, and in getting it well again the poor nose was not improved, and will never be the same again. Don’t worry about me, I’m quite well (though so deaf and old), and it was very lucky to get a marvellous surgeon.
But of course it did make a great difference to my life being considered beautiful, even though I didn’t much agree myself about it. Forgive this selfish letter. Just to say if you are ever in Paris do come down here, I should be so pleased.