From rock’n’roll to Anthony Powell via a crop of memoirs, there’s something for everyone in the year’s life studies
Always in a supporting role Princess Margaret meets the Beatles at the premiere of Help! in 1965
Craig Brown says he was prompted to write Ma’am Darling: 99 Glimpses of Princess Margaret (4th Estate ) by the fact that his subject appeared in the indexes of so many other biographies. While her sister could make claims to be the most famous leading lady alive, Margaret was assigned a character part in the second half of the 20th century, the snobbiest and most spendthrift poor relation in any town.
Brown does not attempt a beginning middle and end of the princess’s life, rather he aims to ask the questions that perhaps plagued her: “Why is she in all these diaries and memoirs? What is she doing there?” His answer, offered in 99 perfectly pitched vignettes, is consistently hilarious and eye-opening.
Inevitably, the princess has a small but telling role in what Tina Brown describes as her “madcap”, “supercharged” personal history of late 20th-century fame, The Vanity Fair Diaries, 1983-1992 (Weidenfeld & Nicolson). When “Queen Tina” took charge of Tatler with little experience aged 25, her soon-to-be husband, Sunday Times editor Harry Evans, gave her a crash course in picture layout. The photo he demonstrated on — a tight crop of Princess Margaret dancing in Mustique with Colin Tennant — gave Brown her first scoop. At Tatler and at Vanity Fair, Brown staked a claim to have invented modern celebrity by making gossip news. That dubious boast would be contested, however, by Jann Wenner, founding editor of Rolling Stone magazine. Joe Hagan’s biography of Wenner, Sticky Fingers (Canongate), is as obsessive and self-involved as its subject (who commissioned it, then disowned it), but as a chronicle of those testosterone- and cocaine-fuelled “purple decades” in which journalism aspired to the condition of rock’n’roll,…