It’s fair to say that Lady Glenconner has lived a life of extremes. From being a maid of honor at Queen Elizabeth’s coronation to a lifetime coping with a mentally unhinged husband whose idea of a honeymoon was taking her to a brothel in Paris to watch two strangers have sex. She captures all of this in her new memoir, Lady in Waiting, which will make you laugh and cry and gasp. She was lady-in-waiting—hence the title—to Princess Margaret, and these memories, having been written by one so close to the royal family, have sent shudders down the corridors of Buckingham Palace. There, silent discretion is paramount. And against that grain, Lady Glenconner kisses and tells, except they are not her kisses, but those of the people she spent her life attending.

Lady in Waitingdiscloses the secrets of polite British society and sheds light on the narcissism, drug abuse, infidelity, and betrayal that is concealed within these impossibly glamorous lives. But at the heart is loss, grief, stoicism, and love, as she navigates the painful narrative of her life, in which two of her sons die and one is crippled. “Before I started, I thought my life had been fairly humdrum,” Lady Glenconner explained to me from her cottage at Holkham, “but when I started to write, I began to realize that I did have a few stories.” Now 87, she has surprised everyone by sailing to the top of the U.K. best-seller list, and for good reason. “I’m amazed, because I’ve been invisible all my life,” Lady Glenconner said with a laugh. “With Colin [her husband] and Princess Margaret, one was completely invisible—you had to just follow along behind—and suddenly I’m visible, I’m there, I’m out. It’s the most extraordinary feeling!”