After the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in the UK, and our continuing series of books first published in 1952, a slightly different look at the joys of having a Royal Family
Some Hope by Edward St Aubyn
published 1994 chapter 8
[Princess Margaret – sister to the current Queen – is attending a dinner party ]
In his anxiety to show his love for the venison of merry old England, the [French] ambassador raised his fork with such an extravagant gesture of appreciation that he flicked glistening brown globules over the front of the Princess’s blue tulle dress.
‘I am prostrated with horr-rror!’ he exclaimed, feeling that he was on the verge of a diplomatic incident.
The Princess compressed her lips and turned down the corners of her mouth, but said nothing. Putting down the cigarette holder int which she had been screwing a cigarette, she pinched her napkin between her fingers and handed it over to Monsieur d’Alantour.
‘Wipe!’ she said with terrifying simplicity.
The ambassador pushed back his chair and sank to his knees obediently, first dipping the corner of the napkin in a glass of water. While he rubbed at the spots of sauce on her dress, the Princess lit her cigarette and turned to Sonny [the host].
‘I thought I couldn’t dislike the sauce more when it was on my plate’ she said archly…
‘What I admire about PM’ said Nicholas Pratt… ‘is the way she puts everyone at their ease.’
observations: This is, of course, complete fiction. Francine Prose in the New York Times says the Princess (who died in 2002) is portrayed ‘as a figure of jaw-dropping idiocy, petty snobbishness and blinkered self-involvement’, and that’s about right – the whole chapter needs to be read to get the full effect. But read the whole book, and in fact all St Aubyn’s Melrose books, while you are at it. He is one of those writers who makes you sit up in your chair, you think ‘this is completely unlike anyone else writing’. The books are terrifying and uncomfortable, but also gripping, compulsive and very very funny.
Tim Heald, researching his magnificently gossip-y and entertaining biography of Princess Margaret, was assured by EStA’s agent that the incident was completely invented.
The photo of a blue evening dress can be found on Flickr.