At 90, the British aristocrat’s second book, Whatever Next?: Lessons from an Unexpected Life, is storming through high society on both sides of the pond. She speaks with Avenue about sex, the royal family, and becoming a gay icon.
What was your goal with this book?
When I went to my publishers I said, “There’s two things I really want to do: sell half a million copies and be on Graham Norton’s red sofa.” They said, “You won’t be able to do either of those things. We’d be very pleased if you sold 40,000 books.” Actually — I sold more than half a million. And I got on Graham Norton’s sofa.
Your appearance was delightful. And your kids were in the audience!
I thought that might be rather embarrassing for them because once I had got offered Graham Norton, I thought, “Help! I’ve got too big for my boots.” My great friend, Rupert Everett, the actor, said, “Graham is always full of sexual innuendos. You go on and tell him a honeymoon story straightaway.” And that’s what I did. People started to laugh. But afterwards I said to my children, “I do hope you weren’t embarrassed by your mother.”
Was there anything too scandalous to include in the book?
I couldn’t have written my book if Colin [her late husband, the 3rd Baron Glenconner] or Princess Margaret had been alive. And there are one or two stories that I didn’t put in because people were still alive. All of my stories are really about people that, sadly, are no longer with us. I’ve got so many stories I could tell. Of course, having taken part in the late Queen’s coronation 70 years ago. Then there’s King Charles’s coronation, which I’m thrilled about and very interested to see how they differ.
What do you think were the biggest misconceptions about Princess Margaret?
I really wrote my first book [Lady in Waiting: My Extraordinary Life in the Shadow of the Crown, 2020] because I was so angry about all these books written about her by people who didn’t know her. I just wanted to put the record straight. She was a wonderful friend to me and long before Diana did things with people with AIDS, she came with me to the Lighthouse, which is a place for the young men who are dying of AIDS. When my darling son Henry had AIDS, she always brought her children to stay. She always hugged him.
Speaking of Henry, Princess Diana visited him and sent you a letter.
Yes, she did. She was wonderful with people with AIDS. People didn’t know how it was caught, people died and it was very, very difficult in the early days. People were absolutely shunned and snarked. It was called a “dirty disease.” It was just awful. Princess Diana and Princess Margaret did a lot for them.
You’ve been such an ally. Thank you for that.
That’s why I have become a gay icon in America. I was doing something for the Prince’s Trust the other day on Zoom and they said, “Would you like to know who sponsored you?” I said, “Yes, I would.” “Oh, it’s the gay community in Milwaukee.” I wasn’t quite sure where Milwaukee was.
What did Queen Elizabeth think of your work?
I hesitated about sending my book to the Queen, but then Fergie, the former Duchess of York, said that she’d seen the Queen. (She calls her “the boss.”) The Queen [told her], “I’ve just read Anne Glenconner’s book. I enjoyed it so much.” That made me feel brave enough to send her a signed copy.
What about Imelda Marcos?
I sent her one of my books and these friends of mine who saw her said she was delighted that I’d written about her. I wasn’t completely complimentary, but anyway, luckily, I think she thought it was all right.
In both books you write about how you couldn’t inherit your father’s title and home.
Yes. I knew from an early age that I couldn’t inherit because I wasn’t a boy. My father, rather charmingly, treated me as a boy. I used to go around the estates. I visited the villages that we owned. It was very sad the way I knew I couldn’t inherit just because I was a woman.
Did you read Prince Harry’s book, Spare?
I did not, but I read a bit about it in the newspaper. I just found it very sad. I’m of a different generation. My mother always said, “Life is not fair. Get on with it.” We didn’t whine. We didn’t think ourselves victims. I feel sorry for Harry that he feels like that. He was such a nice little boy. I knew him a bit. Anyway, I hope he’s happy now.
You say it’s never too late for a new chapter. So, what’s next?
You never can tell. Although I said this really is my last book, I’m never going to say never. I think everybody has a book in them. I didn’t start ’til I was 87, so there’s hope for everybody.
Whatever Next?: Lessons From an Unexpected Life by Lady Anne Glenconner (Hachette Books) is available online and in stores now.