**** As read on BBC Radio 4 ****
Lady Diana Cooper was an aristocrat, society darling, an actress of stage and early screen. When she married rising political star Duff Cooper, they became the golden couple who knew everyone who was anyone; they sat at the very heart of British public life.
Diana’s letters to her only son, John Julius Norwich, cover the period 1939 to 1952. They take us from the rumblings of war, through the Blitz, which the Coopers spent holed up in the Dorchester (because it was newer, and therefore less vulnerable, than the Ritz), to rurual Sussex where we see Diana blissfully setting up a smallholding as part of the war effort. After a spell with the Free French in Algiers, Duff was appointed British Ambassador to France and the couple settled into the glorious embassy in post-Liberation Paris.
Over and beyond all the glitz, Diana emerges in these letters as highly intelligent, funny, fiercely loyal: a woman who disliked extravagance, who was often cripplingly shy, who was happiest in the countryside with her cow and goats and whose greatest love and preoccupation were her husband and son.
As a portrait of a time and some of history’s most dramatic and important events, these letters are invaluable. But they also give us a vivid and touching portrait of the love between a mother and son, separated by war, oceans – and the constraints of the time they lived in.
‘Please, darling monster, write as often as you can. It’s so sad waiting for letters that don’t come and are not even written. I love my darling boy. Don’t treat me so badly again or I’ll have your lights and liver when I get home.’ 19 November 1939
‘I wish, I wish it was all over – Hitler defeated, the lights up again and the guns still.’ 2 October 1940
‘Yesterday was a gallop of spirits and people and sun and fun.’ 26 September 1948
‘I do my best but I’ll always be a bum.’ 12 October 1948