Lady Anne Glenconner, 88, grew up on the family estate, Holkham Hall in Norfolk. She was a maid of honor at the coronation of Elizabeth II in 1953 and lady-in-waiting to Princess Margaret for nearly 30 years. In 1956 she married Colin Tennant, later the 3rd Baron Glenconner, who turned the Caribbean island of Mustique into a private playground for the rich and famous. They had five children. She lives alone in Norfolk near her twin daughters, Amy and May.
Breakfast was always brought to me when I was a girl. These days I prepare a tray with tea and toast, then have a lovely time sitting in bed, eating my breakfast and phoning friends, some of whom are quite old, like me. By about 9.30 I’m showered and downstairs being an agony aunt. I get letters from women all over the world who have violent husbands or who have lost children or been abused, as I was.
I did put up with rather a lot; Colin had a terrible temper. After one of his outbursts when I was expecting [their first son] Charlie, I went home to my mother and she said: “You married him. Go back.”
I lived with Colin’s tantrums for nearly 55 years [until his death in 2010]. We didn’t see much of the children; like everyone else we knew we were away a lot and we left them with nannies. One of my nicest memories was of living with Princess Margaret in Kensington Palace for a year after Colin sold our London home. She was having a difficult time with Tony [Lord Snowdon] and she said: “Anne, it’s so much easier without these difficult husbands.”
I get letters from women all over the world who have violent husbands or who have lost children or been abused, as I was.
I do a quick shop in the village — Cromer crabs and lobster, local vegetables. I was out for lunch three or four times a week [before lockdown], or friends came to me. The great benefit of not having staff is that I don’t have to look after them. I eat what I like when I like and I answer to no one. I feel hugely free. Never been so happy, actually.
I don’t worry much about Covid. As a child I lived with the fear of polio, and then there was Aids, which was even more terrifying. I had three children who were dying at one point. Two did — Henry first [from Aids] and then my sweet Charlie, having finally given up heroin. I thought there couldn’t be anything worse than burying a son, until I was in the churchyard again burying another. Christopher survived [a brain injury while on a gap year in 1987] after five months in a coma. His old nanny and I nursed him: 15 minutes of sensory stimulation every hour, 24 hours a day. I don’t know how we did it, but I feel blessed to have him.
After lunch I do 20 minutes, feet up, with the papers, then I birdwatch on the marsh or drive to the beach for a walk. The Queen and Princess Margaret loved it there, we’d build sandcastles all day with our nannies. My father built the Queen her own beach hut.
One of my nicest memories was of living with Princess Margaret in Kensington Palace. She was having a difficult time with Tony [Lord Snowdon] and she said: “Anne, it’s so much easier without these difficult husbands.”
I always called Princess Margaret “Ma’am” — one never forgot the relationship, but she loved mucking in when she stayed at my house. I think of us side by side on our gardening mats, Marigold gloves on, weeding. We just had a lovely time. And she was so full of good advice. She was one of the few people who wasn’t afraid of Aids. She visited Henry and brought her children to stay.
I eat a bit of scrambled egg and smoked salmon, then sink down in front of the television. I’m in bed by about half past ten, but I don’t turn the light off until about 1am. Then I sleep soundly.
Before lockdown my life had become extraordinarily exciting. I had Helena Bonham Carter to tea [in preparation for her role as Princess Margaret in The Crown]. I did a series of “An Evening with Lady Glenconner” talks in proper theatres and was going to tour Scotland. It’s funny, isn’t it? I had to wait until I was 88 to suddenly have this amazing life.
Anne Glenconner is the author of Lady in Waiting and the upcoming Murder on Mustique