Ma’am Darling: 99 Glimpses of Princess Margaret

The tale of Princess Margaret is pantomime as tragedy, and tragedy as pantomime. It is Cinderella in reverse: hope dashed, happiness mislaid, life mishandled.



She shows up without warning, popping her head around the door of every other memoir, biography and diary written in the second half of the twentieth century. Everyone seems to have met her at least once or twice, even those who did their best to avoid her.

I first noticed her ubiquity when I was researching another book.

Wherever I looked, up she popped. Can you spot her here, in the index to Andy Warhol’s diaries?

Mansfield, Jayne

Manson, Charles

Mao Zedong

Mao Zedong, Mrs see Chiang Ching

Mapplethorpe, Robert

Marciano, Sal

Marcos, Ferdinand

Marcos, Imelda

Marcovicci, Andrea

Marcus, Stanley

Margaret, Princess

Marianne (Interview staff )

Marilyn (Boy George’s friend)


Or here, in the diaries of Richard Crossman?

Malta, withdrawal from

Management Committee

Manchester water supply

Manchester Junior Chamber of Commerce

Margach, James

Margaret, Princess

Marina, Princess

Marquand, David

Marre, Sir Alan

Marriott, Peter


It is like playing ‘Where’s Wally?’, or staring at clouds in search of a face. Leave it long enough, and she’ll be there, rubbing shoulders with philosophers, film stars, novelists, politicians.

I spy with my little eye, something beginning with M!

Here she is, sitting above Marie Antoinette in Margaret Drabble’s biography of Angus Wilson:

Maraini, Dacia

Marchant, Bill (Sir Herbert)

Maresfield Park

Margaret, Princess

Marie Antoinette

Market Harborough

And here, in the diaries of Kenneth Williams:

Manson, Charles

March, David

March, Elspeth

Margaret, Princess


Margolyes, Miriam


Would she rather have been sandwiched for eternity between Maresfield Park and Marie Antoinette, or Elspeth March and Margate?

I’d guess the latter was more her cup of tea, though as luck would have it, there is a Princess Margaret Avenue in Margate,* named in celebration of her birth in 1930, so, like it or not, her name, rendered both topographical and tongue-twisting, will be forever linked to Margate.

Why is she in all these diaries and memoirs? What is she doing there? In terms of sheer quantity, she could never hope to compete with her sister, HM Queen Elizabeth II, who for getting on for a century of brief encounters (‘Where have you come from?’ ‘How long have you been waiting?’) must surely have met more people than anyone else who ever lived. Yet, miraculously, the Queen has managed to avoid saying anything striking or memorable to anyone. This is an achievement, not a failing: it was her duty and destiny to be dull, to be as useful and undemonstrative as a postage stamp, her life dedicated to the near-impossible task of saying nothing of interest. Once, when Gore Vidal was gossiping with Princess Margaret, he told her that Jackie Kennedy had found the Queen ‘pretty heavy going’.

‘But that’s what she’s there for,’ explained the Princess.


* At present the headquarters of the mobile hairdresser ‘Haircare at Home by Sharon’. As it happens, HRH Princess Margaret was fond of visiting her own hairdresser, almost to the point of addiction, often popping in twice in one day.


Extract from Ma’am Darling: 99 Glimpses of Princess Margaret by Craig Brown


Ma’am Darling: 99 Glimpses of Princess Margaret by Craig Brown is available now!

Ma'am Darling


She made John Lennon blush and Marlon Brando clam up. She cold-shouldered Princess Diana and humiliated Elizabeth Taylor.

Andy Warhol photographed her. Jack Nicholson offered her cocaine. Gore Vidal revered her. John Fowles hoped to keep her as his sex-slave. Dudley Moore propositioned her. Francis Bacon heckled her. Peter Sellers was in love with her.

For Pablo Picasso, she was the object of sexual fantasy. “If they knew what I had done in my dreams with your royal ladies” he confided to a friend, “they would take me to the Tower of London and chop off my head!”

Princess Margaret aroused passion and indignation in equal measures. To her friends, she was witty and regal. To her enemies, she was rude and demanding.

In her 1950’s heyday, she was seen as one of the most glamorous and desirable women in the world. By the time of her death, she had come to personify disappointment. One friend said he had never known an unhappier woman.

The tale of Princess Margaret is pantomime as tragedy, and tragedy as pantomime. It is Cinderella in reverse: hope dashed, happiness mislaid, life mishandled.

Combining interviews, parodies, dreams, parallel lives, diaries, announcements, lists, catalogues and essays, Ma’am Darling is a kaleidoscopic experiment in biography, and a witty meditation on fame and art, snobbery and deference, bohemia and high society.



Photo by Katarzyna Kos on Unsplash





Posted on December 21, 2017 by

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"Ma’am Darling: 99 Glimpses of Princess Margaret"

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