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10 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Dancing The Night Away, 19 Aug. 2005
This review is from: Annabel: An Unconventional Life (Hardcover)
The title is a misnomer, for this book shows a life entirely conventional, save for its cocoon of money. Even the authoress' affair and remarriage would reflect, almost, the norm today in England. She was born into the Londonderry family, from aristocrats from way back, an ancestor of hers having secured the family fortunes by marrying into coal mines in NE England. As a child she lived in at least two huge houses, i.e. Mount Stewart in Northern Ireland and Wynyards, in Co. Durham (now or until recently owned by Sir John Hall, the ex-miner owner of Newcastle F.C.). The scale of the house will be hard for most --indeed, even those who have lived in country houses-- to imagine: 140 rooms.
She was born in 1934. In the 1950's, in her late teens, Annabel "came out" into what was then still called "Society", a fairly ancient term which lasted, even if only in the tabloid gossip columns, into the 1970's. Before very long she married Mark Birley, whose photo at the time shows someone looking very much the "chinless wonder", but that might be an unfairly superficial judgment: he and Annabel gave up their London lives for a while to look after Hungarian refugees fleeing to Austria in 1956 (but were disappointed that many returned in the end; they perhaps failed to understand the strong or even mystical connection between the Magyars and their land). Birley had been a commercial artist at the large ad agency JWT. Now he acquired financial backing and opened Annabel's in Berkeley Square, which club bridged the gap between the white tails nightspots of the aristocracy of the 1930s-1950's and the not very glossy new discos. It's still there and still insists on collar and tie (those refused entry --by the doorman, at that--having included Prince Andrew and George Harrison).
Although the authoress does make the point that they were not particularly wealthy at that time (except for her massive trust fund...) she has evidently never been financially embarrassed; let's put it like that. That was even more so after her affair and eventual marriage to Sir James (Private Eye said "Jams", since his money came largely from speculation in food) Goldsmith, the half-Jewish, half-French businessman who was one of the mega-wealthy on this Earth and with whom she had several children, all remarkably attractive when small in the photos printed. She and Birley also had several children.
Lest anyone think this gilded life was all roses, the lady has had several tragic occurences: one son lost swimming in Togo, of all places, another mauled and permanently facially scarred by a tiger (at her friend Aspinall's private zoo). She and some of her family also came close to death when a crazy African tried to crash their passenger jet en route to Nairobi. Only prayer and pilot skill averted disaster. Amazingly, the obviously well-connected skyjacker was released after a few weeks and returned to "study" in France.
Annabel knew Lord Lucan slightly and was in a sense part of his loose circle, but her insights do not add much to the mystery or its solution.
The photographs in the book are interesting: the lady herself, hugely attractive on the cover and, indeed, in other photographs; various children and the two husbands. There are a few less pleasant photographs, one taken with Lucan and others in Mexico and showing a vile-looking couple --unidentified-- with Lucan and the authoress. And why do so many of these pretentious types wear sunglasses when not in the sun?
One nice thing about this lady is that she seems to have retained the sentimental regard for her retainers of the aristos of old. That does mark her out from the merely wealthy, perhaps. She does see her nannies, servants, drivers as human beings in a sense equal to herself, even though in an employed position. She seems to have forgiven many a flaw in some of them (eg the butler who fell drunkenly into a plate of food a la Fawlty Towers).
It has to be said that anyone looking for signs of social awareness or analysis of the social changes in the UK since 1950 will be disappointed. This is very much a personal memoir and pretends to nothing more. A flaw (for me) was that if someone is called Joe Bloggs and happens to have a title, even if one bought for hard cash in 1920, he is "Joe Bloggs (Lord Bloggs)". So she is very aware of protocol in that sense, yet seems quite happy with the family Jewish connection (Goldsmith and also a son married to a Rothschild). Was it Marx or Engels who remarked that capital has no country? Having said that, Zac, her son with Goldsmith, does seem to be seriously involved in useful environmental and animal welfare work.
Overall, a good read and worth reading. The lady seems quite warm hearted and genuine. Just do not expect startling insights into anything beyond personal life. The rich are different from us: they have more money!
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