Somehow I missed Roddy Llewellyn along the way, among several hundred other celebrities that everybody else knows all about, so it surprised me to read an item from Salem House about a forthcoming book:
"In 'Little English Backyards,' " the promotional sheet says, "Roddy Llewellyn, the well-known author, gardening and landscape consultant, and paramour of Princess Margaret, aims to inspire the urban gar- dener . . . "
Paramour? Princess Margaret? Is she a big gardener?
This newspaper, as it turns out, has had any number of little paragraphs and stories about the man, who has almost invariably been described by this family newspaper as a friend or companion of the English princess. Once the paper went so far as to call him "the other man in the affair" at the time of the princess' divorce from Lord Snowdon in 1978.
Princess Margaret has always been somewhat like the Congo, in the sense you can easily forget the cast of characters and say the hell with it, but it does you no good, since a year or two later it all crops up again in the papers.
Llewellyn, who flunked the entrance exams to Eton (not that the publisher says so), is said to be handsome, muscular and formerly given to T-shirts, jeans and a gold earring. The princess visited him a time or two at his commune where they ate a lot of vegetables and paid the phone bill with bales of hay. A sort of Arcady. I cannot imagine how I missed all this.
One Anglican bishop said the princess' friendship was "foolish" but another bishop said the princess supported good causes and that was more important than censuring her private life, and the archbishop of Canterbury said he hoped "every understanding will be shown to members of the royal family at this time of distress" (at the time the princess separated from her husband).
A gossip who writes in London said the princess and Llewellyn established "immediate rapport" when they met at a house party in the early '70s, but then Llewellyn said everybody exaggerated the friendship and in 1981 he married somebody else.
And then comes Salem House with its news of backyards, describing the author as paramour of the princess.
An unusual way to promote a book. Does it mean the friendship was not "exaggerated" after all? Does it mean "former paramour," and they just left out "former"?
The poor princess has not been treated kindly, not even in this gentle newspaper, which once informed readers:
" . . . As far as is known, her interests are limited to dancing in discotheques -- she is said to be adept at the 'jump up' -- light theater, the music of Frank Sinatra, and the joys of eating and drinking."
As for "Little English Backyards," perhaps the publishers thought sales would be better if we were assured the author is a loving man, and thanks to his royal connections had particular advantages in seeing more backyards than the ordinary English garden writer.
All the same, I never knew a book to be promoted because its author was "paramour" of anybody.
This all hit me -- Llewellyn and all -- just as I completed Charles Knight's biography of Shakespeare, which came out in 1843 and was updated in 1865. I immediately backtracked to see what he said about Leicester and Essex, those great friends of Elizabeth I. The most titillating allusion to either friendship is this, on Leicester:
"It is easy to believe that his ambition looked for a higher reward than that of continuing a queen's most favoured servant and counsellor."
Virtually nothing is known of Shakespeare to flesh out a long biography, so naturally the book has plenty about Elizabeth and her court, all very interesting, but the author there eschewed idle gossip. He could perfectly easily have had two full chapters on Elizabeth and her "favourite servant" but settled for a discreet sentence. What, exactly, was Leicester's ambition? There is nothing in the book to suggest anything carnal about it. As far as you can tell from Knight, Leicester just wanted to get on in the world.
But then the English tended to be more gentle dealing with royalty in 1843 than now, so I ransacked the book to see what was said about Marlowe. Marlowe was not a paramour of the queen but he is generally thought to have led a most irregular life. And the temptation to drool over Marlowe must have been almost irresistible to a biographer of Shakespeare (who never got into mischief) but this is the worst he says of Marlowe:
"It has long been the fashion to consider Marlowe as the precursor of Shakespeare," blah, blah, blah, "We may here say a few words as to the external evidence. Marlowe was killed in a wretched brawl on the 1st of June, 1593. Of his age, nothing is exactly known . . . " and you can read to the end and find nothing really juicy. Of his fabled exploits, only this:
"He plunged into the haunts of wild and profligate men, lighting up their murky caves with his poetical torch."
That raises a question, all right, but gives you little to go on. The unfortunate truth is that despite the "wretched brawl" and the considerable gossip about Marlowe, the honest author had virtually no facts to report.
Llewellyn, on the other hand, described as the princess' paramour, might have many interesting facts to report in his survey of backyards, but does anybody really think he will rattle on about the princess? I know these English garden books, and I tell you the most titillating thing you are going to find is the curious arrangement of stamens in primroses. If he is scholarly. And if he isn't, there will be even less sex than that.
I don't think you ought to let your publisher advertise you as the paramour of the princess and then just talk about lobelias. They are really different subjects. I liked it better when you had juicy sex books on the one hand and garden books on the other, not trying to sell one by hinting at the other.