Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Daughter of Empire Life as a Mountbatten by Pamela Hicks

We can thank Lady Pamela Hick's younger daughter, India Hicks, for persuading her mother to pick up a pen and write her memoirs. The first volume India Remembered was published in 2007.

 Lady Pamela's first book focuses on India's independence, and roles played by her parents, Lord and Lady Mountbatten, as Viceroy and Vicereine. Now in her second book,  Daughter of Empire, Lady Pamela offers an open door to her life as a Mountbatten.

Pammy and her older sister, Patricia, have lived very priviledged but largely unorthodox lives. Lady Pamela's mother, Edwina, came from a very rich family, allowing her father, Lord Louis Mountbatten, to pursue his naval career combined with the comfort of a social position backed by his wife's bank account.

Lady Pamela was born in 1929, five years after her sister, Patricia.  She acknowledged that she and her sister barely saw their mother, as they were raised by nannies and governesses.  Lady Louis (later the Countess Mountbatten of Burma) had her charity work, but she was also a lost soul, at times,  She got bored when Lord Louis was at sea, so she took lovers.  

Lord and Lady Louis had what we would call an open marriage.  Louis was often at sea, leaving his wife with a lot of free time.  He was hurt by his wife's betrayal, but eventually came to terms with it.  The marriage survived in spite of the infidelity.  They remained an effective team especially during the second world war and in India.

Lady Pamela offers an honest portrait of her parents. Having her mother spend most of a year traveling with her lover, Bunny Phillips (who latter married Georgina Wernher, the eldest daughter of Lady Zia Werhner, whose sister, Nada, was married to Lord Louis' elder brother, George).  Bunny and Louis' longtime companion, Yola, became members of the family.

Lady Louis was definitely a hands off mother,  During  one trip with her lover and her younger daughter (and nanny),  Lady Louis left Pammy and the nanny at a hotel in rural Hungary for some months because Lady Louis forgot where the hotel was located.

Lady Pamela has had a front row seat in India where her father negotiated the separation of India and the birth of two independent nations: India and Pakistan.  She witnessed the marriage of her first cousin, Prince Philip of Greece, to Princess Elizabeth in 1947, and she served as Elizabeth's lady-in-waiting on the 1952 tour that included a stopover in Kenya.

She watched as Prince Philip took his wife for a walk, and told her that her beloved father was dead, and she was now Queen.  When they returned to the Sagana Lodge, Pamela wrote: "I instinctively gave her a hug but quickly, remembering that she was now Queen, dropped into a deep curtsy." 

Daughter of Empire is truly introspective, wistful, at times.  Lady Pamela's young life was shaped by historical turmoil as well as the turmoil of her parents' marriage.   Yes, her life was privileged, but I think Lady Pamela would think that it has been a privilege to live the life she has lived.

It has been an extraordinary life as a Mountbatten, but Pamela, much her parents were "slightly unsettled" by Pamela's unwillingness to embrace a public life. She was in her late 20s, unmarried, although she had turned down dozens of proposals.  One night in 1959, she went to a cocktail part, where she met a man who "bowled" her over.  His name was David Hicks, an up and coming interior designer.   They married in 1960, and became the parents of three children.

Daughter of Empire was published by (Weidenfeld & Nicolson: L20.00).

The book is scheduled to be published in the US in September 2013 by Simon & Schuster ($26.00)

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