As the closest confidant of Princess Margaret, Lady Glenconner was aware of every turn in the turbulent love life of the Queen's sister. But as she reveals in this exclusive third extract of her intimate new memoirs, her own marriage was far from just sailing. . .
One of my husband Colin's many oddities was that every time he traveled on a small plane, he fitted himself with a snorkel and mask as an emergency plan in case it crashed.
One time the pilot of the small plane that us, our five children and their nanny Barbara Barnes from Mustique – the Caribbean island that owned Colin – to another island, suddenly warned us that he might have to make an emergency landing in the sea.
We were told to put on our life jackets, we were all very quiet, except Colin, who panicked.
In the summer of 1955, when I was 22, I met Colin Tennant at a debutante party at the Ritz. He clearly loved me because he called me and we started going out, writes LADY GLENCONNER Pictured: their marriage on April 21, 1956 in the church of St Withburga on the Holkham estate
He put on his snorkel and mask and started screaming and scrambling in search of the inflatable life raft.
As soon as he found it, our son Henry pulled the rope and the raft promptly filled the cabin.
Barbara – who later became princess William and Harry's nanny – took a pair of scissors from her bag and pierced the raft, which drained, though rather slowly.
At this stage, Colin screamed from his lungs, so she said very loudly to him: & Will you be quiet, Lord Glenconner! You scare us all! "
And he did. He would never have stopped if I had told him to do that.
The plane did not collapse, but the raft had to be removed before we could disembark. Colin got out rather sheepishly and had taken off his snorkel and mask.
After the coronation in 1953, where I was one of the Queen's bridesmaids, I received some very special love letters from strangers who asked me for my hand in marriage. But I remained single, not found the right man.
With two sisters and no brothers, the opposite sex was inherently a mystery to me. Men seemed old-fashioned, traditional and predictable. I wondered what would become of me and whether my father would succeed in persuading me to marry one of his old friends from the Scots Guards.
Then, in the summer of 1955, when I was 22, I met Colin Tennant at a debutante party at the Ritz. He clearly loved me because he called me and we started going out.
I was relieved and excited. Not only did a man pay me serious attention, but he was like no one I had ever met.
Colin was tall and terribly handsome and I found him very attractive. The son of 2nd baron Glenconner, he grew up between Glen, his ancestral Scottish estate in the borders, and London.
He had gone to Eton, then to New College, Oxford, where he became popular because of the large breakfasts he had in his rooms. After Oxford, he was employed by the Irish Guards and then transferred to the Scots Guards, before joining C.Tennant & Sons, the family trade bank. His family was very rich, making Colin very generous and he found an excuse to hold a party.
HIPPIES ARE STAYS AS OUR RESIDENTIAL
In 1963, the father of Colin Glen, the family's estate, handed over to Scotland for moving to Corfu. It had 26 bedrooms and 16 bathrooms and we spent every summer there.
In August, the hill was littered with the purple of the heather, but when Uncle Stephen got out of bed one summer and came to visit, the heath turned out to be unpleasant.
"Oh, honey," he told Colin, "what a pity that the valley is such a vulgar shade of purple."
Not wanting to see Uncle Stephen disappointed, Colin bought hundreds and hundreds of blue paper flowers and distributed them among the heather.
"Oh, honey, that's much better!" Said Uncle Stephen.
One afternoon Colin was walking along the road when he met a group of people dressed in hippie clothes.
Glen, the family's estate in Scotland, had 26 bedrooms and 16 bathrooms and was transferred to the couple in 1963
The result was that he offered them some terraced houses on the estate, which were in terrible decline. They turned out to be musicians, so we just had our own band, amazingly called the Incredible String Band. In exchange for their accommodation, they played during our dinners, in the gardens, on picnics – everywhere in the valley.
On another occasion, on the way back to Glen from New York, Colin called to say, "I met an actress named Brooke Shields and she's on her way to stay with us for a few days."
I had never heard of her, but she was delightful and started everything we did: picnicking, rowing the boat on the lake and playing with the kids.
Colin was the circus director at our parties. He built a stage in the salon and all guests would perform. One summer, Princess Margaret dressed as Mae West and sang up and see me somewhere. And the Incredible String Band always played until late at night.
He was a big part of "the Princess Margaret set", almost entirely composed of men, who spent hours and hours in clubs like the 400.
Although his background was perhaps similar to that of others, Colin & # 39; s combination of intense charm, quick humor and intelligence made him unique.
People were attracted to him from the moment he set foot in a room, including Princess Margaret.
Their friendship was platonic, but Colin had had several things before he met me, including Pandora Clifford, the grandmother of Samantha Cameron.
Many people from the village and the surrounding area had come to visit us, and especially to catch a glimpse of Princess Margaret and the Queen Mother, who was in her fur, waving and smiling. Princess Margaret arrived as a somewhat thin nurse in a dark blue jacket and blue hat and gloves, unaware that she would marry our wedding photographer, Tony Armstrong-Jones, four years later, writes LADY GLENCONNER
Suddenly this charismatic man was with me. He took me to dinners and back to his flat, where many heavy pats took place.
My idea of love and romance was entirely based on black and white Hollywood blockbusters, starring Grace Kelly and Cary Grant. But romance did not come naturally to Colin: although incredibly charming, he was not very affectionate and also had an unhappy mood. At those times he always said: & # 39; Oh, Anne, if we get married, I don't have to lose my temper. & # 39;
At the end of the summer I introduced him to my father, the Count of Leicester, who stared at him. He was not only fixated on the idea of marrying me with one of his friends, but he also saw the Tennant family as worlds under the coke (pronounced & # 39; Cook & # 39;).
While our family was founded in the 15th century, originating from fortunes in law and then from land, the Tennant family had made its – albeit huge – fortune through the invention of bleach in the industrial revolution.
They were not only traders, as far as my father is concerned, they were also nouveaux riches. When my engagement with Colin was announced, my father promptly wrote him a letter in which he told him, not uncertainly, that he would continue to call him and my mother Lord and Lady Leicester.
Years later I discovered that Princess Margaret had written my mother before the official announcement and described Colin as a "reasonably decadent guy."
This letter was never mentioned to me and I only came across it after my mother died. It is very telling that Princess Margaret described Colin as decadent and typical of her and my mother to accept that she is accepted instead of intervening too much
On April 21, 1956 we were married in the church of St. Withburga on the Holkham estate.
Many people from the village and the surrounding area had come to visit us, and especially to catch a glimpse of Princess Margaret and the Queen Mother, who was in her fur, waving and smiling. The queen was not there when she celebrated her birthday – something my father had not realized when he set the date.
Princess Margaret was said to hate one of her married friends, presumably because it would mean not only having fewer male friends to take her to night clubs, but also to remind her that she was still unmarried. She arrived as a rather thin nurse in a dark blue coat and blue hat and gloves, unaware that she would marry our wedding photographer, Tony Armstrong-Jones, four years later.
Although Tony was a man from Eton and Cambridge, my father regarded photographers as traders, calling him rather "Tony Snapshot," and not inviting him to lunch at the wedding party. Tony only ate downstairs while his future bride was guest of honor.
By the way, Cecil Beaton had approached my father because he wanted to be the official photographer, but when my father said he had already booked Tony, Cecil was disappointed. My father decided to invite Cecil as a guest and he took some beautiful pictures. He then sent the bill to my father, who was not doing well.
Like most brides of my background, I was a virgin and worried about our wedding night. All my mother told me about sex was: "Do you remember your dad's Labrador on top of Biscuit? Well, that's what happens when you get married, except you're probably going to lie down. & # 39;
After the reception, Colin and I flew for Paris for the first part of a six-month honeymoon. By the time we arrived at the hotel, it was midnight and I was exhausted. But not Colin.
When he saw that our room contained two single beds, he furiously walked to the reception. The little night porter was quite shocked when my imposing groom waved his arms, raised his voice to the roof, and woke up all the guests.
Finally, the porter and Colin pulled a double mattress up four or five flights of stairs. Colin screamed as the other guests at the hotel came out of the corridors to see what all the commotion was about.
Finally, a dirty hanging double mattress was put down over the top of the two single beds. And below that, somewhere, was the exhausted Frenchman.
I waited in silence, grabbed my silk handbag with both hands, and wondered what would happen next. To my surprise, Colin climbed onto the bed and snored within minutes.
People were attracted to him from the moment he set foot in a room, including Princess Margaret. Their friendship was platonic, but Colin had had several things before he met me, including Pandora Clifford, the grandmother of Samantha Cameron, writes LADY GLENCONNER
The next morning our first attempt at sex was uncomfortable and painful – and Colin was clearly dissatisfied, making me feel terribly uncomfortable. I knew he had been much promiscuous and often visited Mrs. Fetherstonhaugh, who is one of the & # 39; chicest brothels & # 39; ran in London, where the & # 39; ladies & # 39; quite often they were vicar women who worked part-time for pocket money and returned to their civilized life in the evening.
I assume Colin had never slept with a virgin. But instead of easing me into the physical side of marriage, he had an alternative plan.
& # 39; I'm taking you for a surprise tonight, & # 39; he said, after a somewhat uncomfortable day at the Louvre.
I imagined him taking me to the Ritz and put on my best dress. But when we drove through the center of Paris and on the other side, I started to get nervous.
The day before I had exchanged vows for the Queen Mother, Princess Margaret, and hundreds of other people, and now I was in a car driven through the shady suburbs of Paris.
& # 39; It's a surprise, & # 39; was all Colin would say.
The destination was nothing short of terrible: a filthy, dilapidated hotel with a strange odor. After we climbed a few stairs, we entered a room and sat down in a pair of velvet chairs with wings.
Then I got to see the "surprise" of Colin: two strangers, naked, for us, who had sex.
I stuck the back of my head against the chair, sat up and kept my eyes closed. The intertwined pasty bodies of the French couple were the most unattractive thing you can imagine. I found it completely disgusting.
Every now and then they asked if we wanted to participate. I noticed that I politely said, "That's very nice of you, but no, thank you." They went on, unaware, and then left. Colin and I had not exchanged a word.
I thought: this honeymoon goes on for six months. Six months! How do I deal with it?
Since then I have never been able to fully relax in Paris. The next time Colin and I went there, he took me to a show with a man making love with a donkey.
For phase two of our honeymoon we went to New York and then to Cuba. Colin seemed to relax a bit – but everything changed when he took me to a cockfight.
I watched uneasily as the men cruelly tried to provoke the cocks – pull their feathers, shout at them, and then throw them at each other.
However, one of the roosters made me. I think my blond hair has been mistaken because before I knew it, I had a rooster that was groping in my scalp and blood dripping down my face.
Colin was absolutely furious and shouted that I had ruined the cockfight and everyone's bets. Soon the whole crowd screamed at me, while the cock clung to my head.
The honeymoon continued. On a very long train journey to Yellowstone, Wyoming, we played cards in our sleeping car.
There was a big problem: Colin did not like to lose. I always got good cards and felt his mood change.
Suddenly he exploded and intentionally switched a switch. The bed I was sitting on was shut like a fall. I was crushed, my arms and legs extended, my head hit the wall.
Fortunately, Yellowstone marked the end of my baptism because I discovered I was pregnant. When we left, I felt a great sinking feeling: I now had to face the rest of my married life.
As an extreme man, Colin liked to attract attention and actively shock people.
Eccentricity prevailed in the family: there were stories about bacon bits used as bookmarks, about horses that Glen – his ancestral home on the Scottish border – were driven into – about the roofs climbed at night.
Like Colin, his paternal grandmother, Pamela Wyndham – one of the Wyndham sisters immortalized in John Singer Sargent's painting, The Three Graces – was known for her charm, but behaved like a spoiled child and was known to go lie and bite on the carpet when he is lost in anger.
Colin took me to her son – his uncle Stephen Tennant – in his country house in Wiltshire. Although he had been a beauty in his youth, he certainly wasn't. Swollen and heavily made up, he lay on his bed surrounded by shells and flowers.
He turned his attention to Colin. & # 39; You look a little pale, honey. Don't you remember what I told you? You need to apply a small eye shadow and a hint of pink to the lips. & # 39;
While Uncle Stephen reached for his makeup, I watched in horror. "Come here, honey!" He said, dabbing carmine on Colin's lips.
To my horror, he sent me many letters, steeped in scent and filled with obscene drawings of sailors in terribly tight pants.
Charles, our oldest son, was born in February 1957.
Life then turned into a routine, with Colin going to work at the family merchant bank while I organized charity events.
But behind this conventional facade, Colin was a man who had problems in a way that I never fully understood.
No one had told me before our wedding that he had had two nervous breakdowns, or that he had run barefoot through London in his pajamas to the hospital, claiming that his heart had stopped.
But there were also many good things about Colin: he taught me all kinds of things that I knew nothing about, and he was the best conversation partner in the world, his stories lively and energetic.
When he was in a good mood, no one was as nice as he to be. The problem was that Colin could change completely from one moment to the next; his face went crazy, like a werewolf, exploding.
Once, while he was in his office, he was so stressed by his attempts to quit smoking that he kicked into a glass window and cut an artery into his leg.
It was usually something trivial that got him going, and as soon as he turned around, he would insist that I don't move, not an inch, until he calmed down.
I learned to hold my breath like a rabbit. He would then pretend that nothing had happened.
Not long after we were married, I ran home to my mother after one of Colin's outbursts. I was desperate and thought we should break up, but she told me: & # 39; Go back immediately. You married him. & # 39;
That was typical of my mother: she just went on with life, whatever it threw at her. Everyone did that.
She preferred practical matters to sentimentality, denial to confrontation. So that was that: I went back to Colin and accepted my destiny.
He kept me awake all night, talking and talking while lying on the floor in a fetal position.
Then there was the habit of buying houses. He suddenly announced that he had bought a new one and that we would move, often almost immediately, sometimes after we had just arrived at our current home. He never consulted me, so I had to get used to it.
My father saw this flaking feature and suggested that I have to buy one of the superfluous farms on the Holkham estate so that I had my own stable base. I chose a few miles from Holkham and took Colin to see it as soon as I finished decorating.
I had kept the plastic cover on the bathroom rugs, because every time he took a bath, most of the water ended up on the floor. When he discovered this, he became very angry.
Then he disappeared. I had no idea where he had gone until I heard a moan coming from a ruined farm building on the other side of the road.
I was shocked to discover that Colin squatted in the rear, behind two rotting tractors. He refused to come out and I started to panic.
My mother sent a doctor who managed to crawl under the tractors to give Colin a narcotic injection.
I then persuaded my husband to go to a psychiatrist. But one day when I asked him what happened during the sessions, he said: "I just lie there. Very angry. Very angry and quiet. & # 39;
Colin was the son of the 2nd Baron Glenconner, he grew up between Glen, his ancestral Scottish estate in the Borders, and London
So Colin continued to have tantrums throughout the world for the rest of his life.
I once asked him why he was yelling at people and he said, "I like to make them twist. I like to scare them. & # 39;
Why did he choose me to marry, I asked another time, when he had many more sophisticated friends. He said, "Well, I knew you would go on, you'd never give up."
This was quite true, because I had been married to him for 54 years and did not give up – although I still had many moments when I thought I could.
Eventually I discovered that Colin had affairs. In the beginning I was incredibly jealous and found it very difficult to accept. But I didn't want our marriage to become a constant series of arguments.
Apart from his unfaithfulness and mood, we got along well. More to the point, we had five children, so I wanted to keep the unity because of them.
The strange thing was that Colin would complain to me about his girlfriends. He once told me when he returned from a trip to Africa with his long-term mistress: "I have had the worst vacation ever.
"She went and broke her leg for the trip and the whole point of going there was to canoe and see wildlife. But when I tried to get her in, her leg didn't fit because the bloody thing is in plaster.
"And then we had to lie in the boiling hot straw hut all day …"
Business was expected and women just worked around it. Even if he was married to a princess, Tony (Snowdon) was not satisfied and left with a series of women.
But when I knew that Colin had changed the playing field, I leveled it. I had a very good friend for many years. We had lunch every week and occasionally spent a weekend together.
It made the whole situation bearable. I felt happier, better able to cope. And it had a positive effect on our marriage because I was no longer consumed by jealousy.
When Colin found out, he was very jealous – but his own behavior was so terrible that he couldn't really object.
He never tried to divorce me. As he always said, "We grew up not to throw in the towel, but to bite bullets and fold towels neatly."
Although it was easier for him to say, I did agree with the sentiment.
Extracted from Lady In Waiting by Anne Glenconner, published by Hodder & Stoughton on October 17 for £ 20. © Anne Glenconner 2019. To order a copy for £ 16 (p & p free), visit www.mailshop.co. uk or call 01603 648155.
OUR TRIO OF IMPOSSIBLE MULTI-DESTINATED HOUSE GUIDES
Colin often invited people to Glen and then left me to sort them all out.
He once told me that he had simultaneously invited Bianca Jagger, Raine Dartmouth, who was later stepmother of Princess Diana, Countess Spencer and Clarissa Avon, the wife of former Prime Minister Anthony Eden.
I said: "You have asked three of the most demanding women I know. This is going to be a nightmare! "
The night they all arrived, I went into the hall when I heard a loud bang coming from Raine Dartmouth's room. I called for the housekeeper, who explained what was going on.
Raine Dartmouth, later stepmother of Princess Diana, Countess Spencer
& # 39; Didn't Lady Dartmouth tell you that? She said the closet was not suitable for her evening dresses because the rail was not high enough. She asked for the home carpenter. & # 39;
While that was going on, Clarissa Avon arrived. She was a good friend of Colin's and I suspected she had a relationship with him.
I was in my bath and had a few minutes of rest when I was afraid of bang & # 39; heard on the bedroom door.
Bianca Jagger seemed to spend most of her time ringing and demanding hot coffee, writes LADY GLENCONNER
"Who is it?" I cried. "Can it wait a while?"
& # 39; It's Clarissa here, & # 39; a voice came. & # 39; You said you would lend me some of your diamonds. & # 39;
& # 39; Yes, I will, & # 39; I replied, & # 39; but I am currently taking a bath. & # 39;
& # 39; Well, come out of the bath, & # 39; she ordered.
I didn't really have a choice, so I got out of the bath and handed her the diamonds in my towel.
Meanwhile, Bianca Jagger seemed to spend most of her time ringing and demanding hot coffee. Mrs Sanderson would therefore walk up and down the stairs with a constant supply.
And then, when these three were still there, Princess Margaret arrived.
Fortunately she was by far the easiest. She brought her own girl and was always polite.
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