I swear to God I thought the Queen Mother would never die. Her daughter, Queen Elizabeth, probably thought she'd never get rid of the old broad either.
Of course, I realize the Queen Mother (Queen Elizabeth to England's George VI) died more than ten years ago. But I've been reading The Queen Mother: The Official Biography by William Shawcross, and because the Q.M. lived to be 101, I thought the book would never end.
It was a very interesting biography -- in places. When Edward VIII abdicated to marry Wallis Simpson, it was Bertie (George VI) and Elizabeth who had to step in and take his place. Until Wallis came along, they were extremely close to Bertie's older brother, David, the Prince of Wales. The threesome and whatever mistress David had at the moment used to go out nightclubbing and dance till three in the morning, much to King George V's displeasure. Right up to the last minute before David abdicated, supposedly Bertie and Elizabeth really didn't believe he would go. It seems like kind of a foolish faith to me, looking at it in hindsight, but if he had been my brother, maybe I wouldn't have thought he would cast aside his duty either.
Strangely, Bertie and Elizabeth were afraid the British people would not accept them as their monarchs, although they were already very popular (Elizabeth was kind of the Princess Diana of her day), and their two little girls, Elizabeth and Margaret Rose, were much loved by the people.
Accepted they were, of course, and they went on to become symbols of courage during World War II, refusing to leave London during the terrible bombing. Bertie even insisted that if Germany invaded England that he himself would take up arms and fight the scourge.
I found it rather interesting that Elizabeth's family home in Scotland, Glamis, was used as a hospital during the first World War, and she stayed in touch with some of the soldiers who were patients there until the end of their lives. She came from a large family and lost a brother during the war. One of Bertie's younger brothers died during the second World War.
Probably the most boring part of the book was the chapter on all the charities of which Elizabeth was patroness. I had to skim over that.
And being an official biography, of course it's a whitewash. What was Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon really like? We get only glimpses of her. Interestingly, she turned Bertie down many times before finally agreeing to marry him. She was extraordinarily fond of Prince Charles. Did his philandering not upset her? Margaret burned the letters that Diana wrote to the Queen Mother, deeming them too personal for public consumption. Elizabeth couldn't bear it when Margaret wanted to marry a divorced man, so Margaret gave him up, but then three of her four grandchildren divorced. Did she wail and sob over that?
I do like it that she enjoyed a strong drink -- or two, or three, or more.
In the mid 1990s [Major Michael] Parker had tea with the Princess of Wales and the Queen Mother. When the Princess said to her, "We're all so looking forward to your hundredth birthday," Queen Elizabeth replied, "Oh, you mustn't say that, it's unlucky. I mean I might be run over by a big red bus." Parker said he thought this was very unlikely, to which Queen Elizabeth replied, "No, no, it's the principle of the thing. Wouldn't it be terrible if you'd spent all your life doing everything you were supposed to do, didn't drink, didn't smoke, didn't eat things, took lots of exercise, all the things you didn't want to do, and suddenly you were one day run over by a big red bus, and as the wheels were crunching into you, you'd say, ' Oh my God, I could have got so drunk last night!' That's the way you should live your life, as if tomorrow you'll be run over by a big red bus."
By the way, after George VI died and their daughter became Queen, she was generally known within the family as the Queen, and the Queen Mum was Queen Elizabeth.
One thing I didn't like about the Queen Mum was that she was extremely fond of Ted Hughes, Poet Laureate and Chief Prick of England. When he died, he left the title of Chief Prick to Prince Charles.
If you have any interest in history, and you should, I recommend this book, but I recommend it in small doses. At 900-some pages, it took me about four months to read. I usually read part of a chapter at bedtime, and I continued my habit of reading other books at the same time. The Queen Mum was one of three bedroom books, and I have two family room books.
Of course, The King's Speech is out on DVD and when they say the king, they mean George VI. Helena Bonham Carter plays Elizabeth. I look forward to seeing this Academy Award winner for Best Picture, for which my darling Colin Firth won the best actor award by playing the king -- perfectly, no doubt.
Thus, Happy Reading and Viewing, my friends.
Infinities of love,