BOOK REVIEW: 'The Queen Mother': Tell-All Biography of the Mother of Queen Elizabeth II Shows That The Demand for News, Gossip of British Royals Is Unceasing

Reviewed by David M. Kinchen
BOOK REVIEW: 'The Queen Mother':  Tell-All Biography of the Mother of Queen Elizabeth II Shows That The Demand for News, Gossip of  British Royals Is Unceasing
At the end of "The Queen Mother: The Untold Story of Story of Elizabeth Bowes Lyon, Who Became Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother" (St. Martin's Press, 512 pages, 16-page photo section, appendixes, genealogical tables, index, $29.99) author Lady Colin Campbell sums up the long life of the mother of Queen Elizabeth II, who herself had been Queen of England from 1936 to 1952: "It had been an incredible life well lived and her accomplishments had been vast. If she had not been perfect, by and large she had been a force for good and since none of us can be both perfect and human, such failings as she had cannot detract from the extraordinary human being she was."

Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother -- she devised that title to make sure nobody would forget her reign as consort to "Bertie" -- King George VI -- has been called the "most successful queen since Cleopatra." Her personality was so captivating that even her arch-enemy Wallis Simpson, the Duchess of Windsor, who married David, the man Elizabeth wanted to marry, wrote about "her legendary charm."

Portrayed as a selfless partner to the King in the Oscar-winning 2010 movie "The King's Speech", The Queen Mother is most often remembered from her later years as the smiling granny with the pastel hats. When she died on March 30, 2002, just short of her 102nd birthday, she was praised for a long life well lived. Technically she lived in three centuries, since the year of her birth, 1900, is considered the last year of the 19th Century, with 1901 being the first year of the 20th Century. (
Lady Colin Campbell
Lady Colin Campbell

Taking us beyond the biographies of the Queen Mother -- including the official biography by William Shawcross -- Lady Colin Campbell shows us that the untold story of Elizabeth Bowes Lyon, born in Scotland on Aug. 4, 1900, is far more complicated, fascinating and moving than the official version that has been peddled ever since she became royal in 1923 with her marriage to "Bertie", the Duke of York. With unparalleled sources -- including members of the Royal Family, aristocrats, and friends and relatives of Elizabeth herself; this mesmerizing account takes us inside the real and sometimes astonishing world of the royal family.

Someone once asked me why I was so fascinated with the Royals of Great Britain, as well -- to a lesser extent -- the kings and queens of other countries. My standard reply is that I'm interested because they're part of history, and their lives and deaths -- think of Sarajevo in June 1914 with the assassination of Franz Josef of Austria -- are part of history. That's only part of it, of course: I'm curious beyond reason, wanting to know what part of history is real -- if any -- and what part is myth.

Speaking of history, Lady Colin Campbell mentions the famous Zimmermann telegram of 1917, that was one of the reasons the United States entered the Great War -- later called the First World War -- on the side of the allies. She manages to get several things wrong with the recounting of the famous telegram, including Dr. Arthur Zimmermann's name, calling him (page 74) Dr. Alfred Zimmerman, and his title, Foreign Minister. He was Foreign Secretary of the German Empire and the message came as a coded telegram dispatched by Zimmermann, on 16 January 1917 to the German ambassador in Mexico, Heinrich von Eckardt. Zimmermann sent the telegram in anticipation of the resumption of unrestricted submarine warfare by Germany on 1 February, an act which Germany predicted would draw the neutral U.S. into war on the side of the Allies The telegram instructed Ambassador Eckardt that if the U.S. appeared likely to enter the war, he was to approach the Mexican Government with a proposal for military alliance, with funding from Germany. Mexico was promised territories in Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. Eckardt was also instructed to urge Mexico to help broker an alliance between Germany and theJapanese Empire. Mexico, unable to match the U.S. military, ignored the proposal and (after the U.S. entered the war), officially rejected it.

A minor quibble, perhaps, but when I see an error of this magnitude, I wonder what else the author might have gotten wrong in her breezily written account of the Queen Mum's life. She dismisses out of hand the much publicized story that Bertie's brother David -- King Edward VIII from 20 January to 11 December 1936 -- had Nazi sympathies. Considering that the Royal Family was of German origin -- called the House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha until 1917 when it was renamed the House of Windsor (upon hearing that his cousin, King George V had changed the name of the British royal house to Windsor, Kaiser Wilhelm II remarked jokingly that he planned to see Shakespeare's play "The Merry Wives of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha", a play on the actual title "The Merry Wives of Windsor") -- and that many of the Royals of Great Britain had relatives in Germany, with some even serving in the German army, the idea that the Duke of Windsor had German sympathies doesn't seem out of line.

The Queen Mother portrayed by Lady Colin Campbell was a firm believer in Gore Vidal's famous maxim "It's not enough to succeed, others must fail" especially in the case of the much admired Duchess of Windsor, Wallis Warfield Simpson. The author says that Wallis was admired as America's royalty in the same way that Grace Kelly was admired after she met and fell in love with Prince Rainier IlI of Monaco in 1956, becoming the much admired Princess Grace. We long for royalty and all its trappings, even as we proclaim ourselves to be a democratic Republic!

Lady Colin Campbell praises the portrayal of Elizabeth in Tom Hooper's wonderful movie "The King's Speech" but adds that Bertie's mistress, singer Evelyn "Boo" Laye supplemented Australian speech therapist Lionel Logue's exercises with "breathing" exercises of her own in her studio in London's West End (page 220). The screenwriters of "The King's Speech" were wise to keep Boo Laye's story out of the screenplay. One of the charming details supplied by Lady Colin Campbell is that Elizabeth didn't mind her husband having multiple mistresses, even as she sought to destroy David and Wallis for succeeding in gaining worldwide admiration in spite of her attempts to destroy them.

Details like this make Lady Colin Campbell's book a delight to read. A new movie, "Hyde Park on Hudson" starring Bill Murray as Franklin D. Roosevelt and Laura Linney as his cousin and mistress features a scene with the Royal family at the Roosevelt estate in Dutchess County New York in 1939 following their triumphal tour of Canada. The author says that Canadians in particular were great admirers of the Queen and later Queen Mother.
For a list of movies portraying Elizabeth and Bertie, click:

About the Author

Born Georgia Arianna Ziadie, in Jamaica in 1949, Lady Colin Campbell, who is connected to the royal family through mutual ancestors and marriage, is the author of the New York Times bestseller "Diana in Private" -- which was the first book to reveal the truth behind the "fairytale" marriage of the Prince and Princess of Wales--as well as "The Royal Marriages: What Really Goes on in the Private World of the Queen and Her Family", and "The Real Diana". In 1974, she married Lord Colin Ivar Campbell, the son of Ian Campbell, 11th Duke of Argyll; she divorced him in 1975.

Reviewer's note: I'd like to see Lady Colin Campbell write about her own exotic family! Campbell was born in Jamaica, the child of Michael and Gloria Ziadie. According to her Wikipedia entry: The Ziadie family is prominent in Jamaica, the descendants of six Maronite Catholic brothers who emigrated from Lebanon in the early 20th century; she says they have gone from being "revered to reviled to treasured as exotica." Her father was of royal Russian bloodline. His family were Greek Orthodox Catholic who had settled in Lebanon. Her mother came from English, Irish, Portuguese and Spanish ancestry. Her maternal great-grandmother, family name De Pass, was Sephardic Jewish. She was born with an unspecified form of intersex, and was brought up as a boy until her late teens. At the age of thirteen she secretly sought the help of a gynecologist, but her parents authorised treatment with other physicians who forcibly gave her male hormones. When she was eighteen and working in New York City as a model, she had gender reassignment surgery. What a book that would be!
Comments powered by Disqus