With us today is Lady Colin Campbell, an accomplished writer and columnist. She is the author of the international bestselling book Diana in Private (1992) and her subsequent extended and revelatory biography of the Princess of Wales, The Real Diana published in 2004.
Her latest release is Daughter of Narcissus, a biography of her family.
CM: Thank you for joining us today, Lady Colin. Let’s start by having you tell our readers a bit about yourself.
LCC: I was born in Jamaica, in the days when that island was regarded as being one of the most glamorous places on earth. My father’s family was a household name, having worked hard to achieve what they did after arriving virtually penniless from the Ottoman Empire in an attempt to flee from religious prejudice in the early days of the twentieth century.
It is ironic that a family that was fleeing from prejudice should encounter it in another form in their new country, but the English elite of that day had no time for ‘Johnny Foreigner’ as they called people like my father, and when he wanted to marry my mother, a scion of an old English family, objections were raised.
Although my father was a descendant of emperors such as Charlemagne and kings such as William the Conqueror, families like his did not gain the respect they deserved until the English vacated its colonies. The colonial and post-colonial ages were fascinating to be part of, for we were actually living through a time of profound change, when the country went from being an oligarchy run for whites to somewhere with a black identity. In terms of interest, it would have been hard to replicate a childhood such as mine, and from that point of view, I will always be grateful for having had it.
On a more personal level, our family life, while supposedly privileged, was heavily colored by our mother’s narcissistic personality disorder, and each of the four of us children couldn’t wait to fly the coop.
I fled to New York, where I made the mistake of studying apparel design at the famous Fashion Institute of Technology. I found it so boring that I wanted to leave after one term and become a writer, but my father was insistent that I complete my studies, so I spent the next two years partying and having a great time while cursorily attending classes.
In those days, every girl of my station had to get married unless she wanted to be regarded as a failure. Because I was determined to get married for love, I kept on forgoing prospective husbands my father deemed suitable, until in 1974 I met my husband. That proved to be something of an error, and after our divorce, I headed for London, where I have lived since then.
It was only when I reached my early thirties that it occurred to me that I might not get married again—marriage then being seen as the only ‘life’ for a lady—for I was quite determined to have no marriage but a happy one, and those, as everyone knows, don’t grow on trees. I had therefore better do something with my life. So I settled down to writing full-time.
Although I love my career, I have to say no one and nothing comes a close second to my two sons. They were born in Russia and I adopted them when they were babes in arms. As I see how I am with them, and as I experience the joy they bring, I am reminded of how lucky I am, not only to have them, but also to be able to love them, for the fact is, my mother never really loved any of us, or indeed anyone else but herself, and in the end, she paid a high price for such self-obsessiveness.
CM: When did your writing career begin?
LCC: It began in 1973 when I wrote my first book, a philosophical treatise called The Substance and the Shadow. I returned to writing in the 1980s and in 1986 my second book, Guide to Being a Modern Lady, which was etiquette underpinned by philosophy, was published to a certain amount of acclaim. For a few years, I also did a column for one of the glossy magazines in England, but when Diana in Private was published in 1992 and the firestorm of the Wales saga broke, I had to give up the column due to lack of time. Since then, I have written only books; the rest of my time being taken up with family matters.
CM: It must be fascinating to cover the Royal Family and be a Royal Insider and expert on the British aristocracy. How did the skills you picked up during that time assist you as your career evolved?
LCC: I have to say that writing about the Royal Family seemed a lot more fascinating than it was at the time. Being a member of the aristocracy, I did not view the royals as entities-at-a-remove from ordinary human beings the way journalists and writers from less privileged backgrounds did. To me, they were just human beings like you or me, who by an accident of birth or ambitious design had found themselves in extraordinary situations. That helped me to deal with their stories as human beings, and not as exotic proto-humans who should be revered or reviled according to people’s class prejudices.
I was also fortunate in that, unlike the other writers, I had access to the people who really knew what was going on. I didn’t have to rely on the tattle of servants, the way most other writers and journalists did. Indeed, I would never have stooped to suborning the staff, because I had been brought up with servants and knew from my own experience that no one ever drops their guard 100 percent with servants. While they might know a little about a lot, and a lot about a little, they NEVER, but NEVER, know the full picture. Because we are conditioned to monitor our actions from the cradle to the grave in front of a variety of people, who include servants (and journalists!), there are always significant limits on their supposed knowledge.
A lot of what was going on behind the scenes while the Wales marriage unraveled was fascinating. The republican forces which joined the Murdoch media empire’s initial attempts to undermine the monarchy using Diana as a Trojan horse collided forcefully with the monarchist establishment. Everyone who was even peripherally involved, like me, found themselves being briefed against by one camp or the other. What went on was very a hard graft indeed. I found myself caught up in a series of lawsuits which consumed my life for the next five years.
Had I not had a mother whose adeptness at intrigue was surpassed by no one, I might well have cracked under the strain. But having survived Gloria, I suspected I could survive anyone else—and did. Make no mistake about it, though, it was a very difficult time.
Part 1 | (Part 2)