Official Biography of The Queen Mother

Macmillan published Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother by William Shawcross. The book suffers from the usual bug all autobiographies and official biographies suffer from: It shows the life of the subject as the writer of those who authorized it wants it to be remembered, not as it was. Official biographies are nothing more than a propaganda tool to bend history.

The worst thing first: You have to get through 1,000 pages from cover to cover. Meticulous retelling of a life that lasted for more than a century long takes up space, even while leaving out all relevant material. If you are one of the poor people living in circles where you are expected to have this book on display, you might put four legs on it and use it as a cocktail table (don’t forget to serve gin on it). If you remember just a few funny anecdotes, you can always pretend to have read it, nobody else will have either.

Anybody expecting even vestiges of journalism from William Shawcross, that’s the guy who exposed the secret bombing of Cambodia by the United States, will be shocked by the frivolous emptiness of this book. It is crammed to the rafters with everything one already knows and manages to leave out anything that might even just resemble news. Even old news is glossed over if it would scratch the glossy and faultless surface aimed at.

Obviously, as Queen Consort of England (plus some other countries) and Empress of India, she had to be a prime performer on the world stage; unhappily, the book is all about the performance and not about the performer. If you want to believe the book, the Queen Mother was all sugar. You never get to see the ruthless politician with an iron core that was the real her, a personality that makes Margaret Thatcher look like a cuddly toy. Her political views are never mentioned, though they would make Prince Philip look like a model in political correctness.

The book completely fails to show up how the woman who didn't want to become a Queen Consort was such a success at it, because sugar and charm were not the ingredients of that success, only its icing. It also doesn't show her as the driving force behind the complete exile of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor (the former King Edward VIII), and why she was so right in doing that to two Nazi sympathizers.

Is there anybody who should read this book? Maybe there are people who might glean something from it, apart from the fan crowd. I had to battle through pages and pages of description of each and every piece of fashion that was ever made for her. As a historical compilation of fashion over a century, the book might just serve a purpose. But be warned, it is written as badly as any of Dame Barbara Cartland’s novels.

I can’t recommend the book as a good read either; the repetitions were just boring and tedious, and when the author used the words ‘delightful’ and ‘thrilled’ for the thousandth time, I could happily have throttled him. What is exciting about the book is the fact that it shows an Empress of India who never quite came to grips with the fact that she had become an ex-Empress after the war and was not a prime player in world politics anymore, but monarch of a small country on the very edge of Europe; and as the book progresses, the writer loses his perspective more and more and regresses into that warped view of make-believe and has-been himself.

It is, in that sense, a perfect representation of Britain today, a country lost in a dream of grandeur long past; a government laboring under the delusion that Europe needs it; and people hardly able to write and read, thanks to the shambles they call schools, imagining that they have something other to give to the world apart from being mainly a bad example of how things should not be done.

If you got the impression I am unhappy about The Queen Mother, you are wrong. I am unhappy about this soppy piece of writing about a woman who was probably the greatest British politician of the 20th century. That she was so good at hiding it under all those layers of hats, coats, and dresses, just makes her so much more intriguing. This woman was made of stainless steel, as opposed to poor incompetent Margaret Thatcher.

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