Talk about family baggage and heredity rules. India Hicks – granddaughter of Lord Mountbatten; goddaughter of Prince Charles – talks about the hand-me-downs that emerged from the royal palaces during her childhood that her no-nonsense mother took great pleasure in making.
Old chic dresses and outgrown tiaras? No, she means Princess Anne’s underwear.
“They were very practical things that the Queen handed over to my aunt and my mother,” she says. We all wore hand-me-downs.
‘I remember my sister and I going through the bags. I was the last little recipient of Princess Anne’s cold-resistant thermal underwear, thank you very much.
‘Actually, I would like to correct myself. They weren’t even thermal. They were wool and very scratchy. ‘
At a time when memories are famous for what it means to be royal, India Hicks has participated in a rather illuminating documentary that peeks beneath the pomp and circumstance.
Fortunately, Princess Anne’s scratchy underpants are just an afterthought. The main subject is the Queen – especially the memories India’s mother, Lady Pamela Hicks, has of her lifelong friend.
India Hicks (left, with her mother Lady Pamela) – granddaughter of Lord Mountbatten; goddaughter of prince Charles – talks about the hand-me-downs that came out of the royal palaces during her childhood
The formidable Lady Pamela turns 92 this month. On her next birthday, the Queen will turn 95. All friends at that age will have quite a history, but their friendship certainly trumps them all.
Lady Pamela was one of the Queen’s bridesmaids (and history would repeat itself when India was a maid of honor to Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer).
Lady Pamela was there when the Queen fell in love with Prince Philip (Lady Pamela’s cousin). She was also with her in Kenya when the young Princess Elizabeth learned that her father had died and that she had become queen. The friendship went both ways. When Lady Pamela’s father was killed by an IRA bomb in 1979, the Queen sent her private helicopter to pick up the children (including India; she was not in the boat that had been blown to pieces but heard the explosion).
Later, the Queen asked Lady Pamela’s first-hand account of that terrible event.
“She asked me to tell her exactly what happened because she loved my father,” says Lady Pamela in the documentary. And then silence. The queen’s emotions are all within, always. She is very strong. ‘
In the documentary, Lady Pamela is guided through her memories by her daughter (India’s father was the interior decorator David Hicks). So we hop (yes, there is Scottish country dancing involved – the Queen is a huge fan, says Lady P, ’cause she’s half Scotch’) on quite a journey. While I knew some stories, there were other times when I was really ‘really ?! ‘went’, says India. ‘It was a lot of fun to do. It’s always when I’m allowed to do something with my mother. She still has a real twinkle in her eye and a great mind. ‘
HRH The Princess of Wales with the Queen and her bridesmaids behind the scenes at Buckingham Palace on July 29, 1981. Diana comforts Clementine Hambro. Bridesmaids from left to right: India Hicks, Sarah-Jane Gaselee, Clementine Hambro
Like the queen herself, judging by this documentary?
‘Absolutely. I think stoicism is a generational issue. ‘
Lady Pamela has declined to be interviewed for this piece (‘She retired to her couch, so you’ve got the panto horse wrong end,’ says India), but her glorious memories are backed by evidence. As a young woman she wrote extensive diaries, which form the basis of this documentary.
There are fragments that amaze how the young queen develops ‘massive arm muscles’ by swinging constantly on an early Commonweath tour. And there is an account of how the newly crowned queen once tricked a boatload of tourists desperate to get a glimpse of the frost. “She’s gone,” says the Queen as they run away.
The queen is revealed as a giggle, an avid impersonator who likes to send people upstairs. She also emerges as a determined romantic.
We hear the full story of how the Queen’s romance with Prince Philip unfolded: Lady Pamela reveals that her friend fell in love immediately, while Philip’s feelings took time to develop.
She was very much in love. He fell very much in love. ‘
She said, ‘I remember my sister and I going through the bags. I was the last little recipient of Princess Anne’s cold-resistant thermal underwear, thank you very much. Last year, Princess Anne was photographed in Cheltenham
The royal wedding was surprisingly chaotic. Lady Pamela screams about how the queen’s bouquet couldn’t be found. Her pearls were also missing, until someone remembered at the last minute that they were displayed with the wedding presents.
There are treats that only friends would know about, such as how the queen behaves as a guest. She brings a box of chocolates for her hosts, Lady Pamela reveals, and one for herself: “She likes to keep a box in her own room because her ‘greedy’ family will likely demolish them.”
India says she knew from as far back as she can remember her mother’s diary, which Lady Pamela (who was later formally engaged as a lady-in-waiting) had typed herself.
Many passages in Lady Pamela’s diary stand out, but one in particular, says India, “made me shiver.”
She explains: “It was when my mother described the coronation. There were these extraordinary scenes of history unfolding and all the spectacle around it, but my mother was focused on this very young woman, all alone, with that extraordinary light shining on her.
‘My mother wondered,’ How is she going to cope? And, of course, we know how she handled it – with stoicism and great dignity. I thought that was so moving. ‘
Lady Pamela draws special attention to the moment during the coronation when the young princess’s heavy robes were removed and she suddenly looked frail. She compares her simple dress to a ‘nightie’.
In another part of the documentary, the old photos come out. One is a family portrait from the day of the coronation, and Lady Pamela reveals that her brother-in-law, Lord Brabourne, was wearing a robe borrowed from a film costumes department.
“He didn’t own them, so he hired them,” says India.
Obviously, even the queen’s friends see her as their queen first; a friend second.
Lady Pamela describes how Queen Mary beckoned her across a room before setting off on her first trip abroad as a lady-in-waiting, warning her not to call her friend “Lilibet” but “Madam.” So it has continued, says India.
“Even though there were some very intimate, funny moments of being out of public service, my mother gives you the feeling that she’s not with a friend, that she’s with the queen.”
India won’t reveal how close her mother is to the Queen these days (“I think you should ask her that”), but it does raise the question of whether the Queen has friends with whom she can truly be herself.
Pamela Mountbatten (right_ lady-in-wait, adjusts Queen Elizabeth’s stable at Melbourne’s Royal Ball in March 1954
“I couldn’t answer that,” says India. “But I think Prince Philip has been the support, the backbone.”
The documentary is also a study of a fascinating mother / daughter relationship.
There are sparkling moments between Lady Pamela and India as they take off their respective bridesmaid dresses, while Lady Pamela complains that hers looks shabby. They watch the royal weddings they attended – and Lady P searches for ‘bossy India Hicks’ as a little madam at Charles and Diana’s wedding.
There is a lot of sighing about Charles and Di. Charles looks so sad, according to Lady Pamela. Diana’s train is ‘ridiculous’. “Stupid girl,” she says.
Oh, to have heard Lady Pamela’s take on some of the more controversial royal events. But no producer could have convinced her to talk too much, says India.
She adds, ‘I think, you know, the end result feels like a celebration of the Queen’s 95th birthday. It feels joyful. ‘
Joy and duty then, but not necessarily in that order. India says even she, a little further up the chain, feels a sense of obligation inherited from her mother and aunt.
She’s talking to me today from Alabama, where she is on a humanitarian trip to visit tornado victims with the aid organization Global Empowerment Mission. There are helicopters overhead and she has to shout through the phone.
Whatever people think of royal privilege, she says, most of the people in the inner circle were raised with a “ roll up your sleeves ” attitude.
She cites as evidence the way her family arrested themselves after the murder of Lord Mountbatten. Her aunt Patricia – Lady Pamela’s sister – was with him on the boat the day he was murdered and survived despite terrible injuries.
Both my mother and my aunt were extraordinary examples to the rest of the family – especially my aunt, who lost her son so tragically [Nicholas Brabourne]
She said we will not live with bitterness. We will not live with regrets. We will advance our lives. That has been my mother’s way too: moving on with compassion and humor.
‘You are reminded how strong the human spirit is – and I think you can see that very clearly from both my mother and the queen. They are absolutely examples of how strong the human mind is. ‘
n My Years With The Queen, tonight, ITV, 9pm