By Lady Pamela Hicks
Simon & Schuster. 240 pp. $26
Are you still recovering from royal-baby fever? Counting down the days until the newest season of “Downton Abbey”? A new memoir, “Daughter of Empire,” by Lady Pamela Hicks — whose father was Lord Louis Mountbatten, whose cousin is Prince Philip and whose great-great-grandmother was Queen Victoria — may be just what you need.
Now 84 and the widow of designer David Nightingale Hicks, Lady Pamela lightheartedly reflects on the first 30 years of her aristocratic life. Highlights include living with Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt during World War II, witnessing the partition of India (her father was its last viceroy), and serving as a bridesmaid and lady-in-waiting to Queen Elizabeth.
While Lady Pamela adored her father, she found her mother distant. Mother preferred traveling; rubbing shoulders with celebrity houseguests such as Charlie Chaplin, Winston Churchill and Laurence Olivier; and taking comfort with other men rather than spending time with her daughters. Lady Pamela’s mother compensated for her absence by providing nannies and a menagerie of exotic pets, including two wallabies, a lion and a honey bear.
“It seemed that she couldn’t stop herself indulging in this hedonistic way of life, the endless adventure and travel that so thrilled her,” Lady Pamela writes. She attributes the success of her parents’ open marriage to her father’s “complete lack of jealousy and total desire for my mother’s happiness.”
In his role as viceroy of India, Lady Pamela’s father oversaw the partition of the nation, at the time considered “the last jewel in the Empire.” Unlike his predecessors, he was “not there to uphold the laws and traditions of the Empire but to dismantle them.” During her time in India, Lady Pamela befriended dignitaries and forged a close relationship with the religious and political leader Mahatma Gandhi. While there, her mother developed a deep friendship with India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru. Although Lady Pamela admits that the two were in love, she denies that their relationship was intimate.
She was also at Elizabeth’s side when, at age 25, the princess learned of the death of her father, King George VI. “I instinctively gave her a hug,” Pamela writes, “but quickly, remembering that she was now queen, dropped into a deep curtsy.”
Lady Pamela presents an honest yet blithe portrayal of her famous, eccentric family and offers a glimpse into the inner circle of Britain’s royalty.