REAL royal life revealed by Lady Pamela Hicks and her daughter India
I got Princess Anne’s scratchy knickers as hand-me-downs! This and other delicious apercus of REAL royal life are revealed by Lady Pamela Hicks and her daughter India – both royal bridesmaids – in a heartwarming new TV show
Talk about family baggage and lines of inheritance. India Hicks — granddaughter of Lord Mountbatten; goddaughter of Prince Charles — is talking about the hand-me-downs that arrived from the royal palaces during her childhood, which her no-nonsense mother delighted in making her wear.
Old posh frocks and outgrown tiaras? No, she means Princess Anne’s underwear.
‘It was entirely practical stuff handed from the Queen to my aunt, to my mother,’ she says. ‘We all wore hand-me-downs.
‘I remember my sister and I going through the bags. I was the last little recipient of Princess Anne’s chill-proof thermal underwear, thank you very much.
‘Actually, I’d like to correct myself. They weren’t even thermal. They were wool, and very scratchy.’
In an age when recollections famously vary about what it means to be royal, India Hicks has taken part in a rather illuminating documentary which peeks beneath the pomp.
Mercifully, Princess Anne’s scratchy knickers are just a sideshow. The main subject is the Queen — specifically, the memories that India’s mother, Lady Pamela Hicks, has of her lifelong friend.
India Hicks (left, with her mother Lady Pamela) — granddaughter of Lord Mountbatten; goddaughter of Prince Charles — is talking about the hand-me-downs that arrived from the royal palaces during her childhood
The formidable Lady Pamela will be 92 this month. On her next birthday, the Queen will turn 95. Any friends of that age will have quite a history, but their friendship surely trumps them all.
Lady Pamela was one of the Queen’s bridesmaids (and history would repeat itself when India was a bridesmaid for Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer).
Lady Pamela was there when the Queen fell in love with Prince Philip (Lady Pamela’s cousin). She was also in Kenya with her when the young Princess Elizabeth was told her father had died and she had become Queen. The friendship went both ways. When Lady Pamela’s father was killed by an IRA bomb in 1979, the Queen sent her private helicopter to pick up the children (India included; she was not in the boat that was blown to smithereens but heard the blast).
Later, the Queen asked for Lady Pamela’s first-hand account of that terrible event.
‘She asked me to tell her exactly what had happened because she adored my father,’ Lady Pamela says in the documentary. ‘And then, silence. The Queen’s emotions are all inside, always. She is very strong.’
In the documentary, Lady Pamela is guided through her memories by her daughter (India’s father was the interior designer David Hicks). So off we hop (yes, there is Scottish country dancing involved — the Queen is a huge fan, says Lady P, ‘because she is half Scotch’) on quite a journey. ‘While I knew some of the stories, there were other moments where I was genuinely going ‘really?!’,’ says India. ‘It was great fun to do. It always is when I get to do something with my mother. She has a real twinkle in her eyes still, and a great spirit.’
HRH The Princess of Wales with the Queen and her bridesmaids behind the scenes at Buckingham Palace on July 29, 1981. Diana is comforting Clementine Hambro. Bridesmaids left to right: India Hicks, Sarah-Jane Gaselee, Clementine Hambro
Like the Queen herself, to judge from this documentary?
‘Absolutely. I think that stoicism is a generational thing.’
Lady Pamela has declined to be interviewed for this piece (‘She has retired to her sofa, so you’ve got the wrong end of the panto horse,’ says India) but her glorious memories are backed up with evidence. She wrote expansive diaries when she was a young woman, which form the basis of this documentary.
There are extracts that marvel at how the young Queen is developing ‘tremendous arm muscles’ from continual waving on an early Commonweath tour. And there is an account of how the newly crowned Queen once tricked a boatload of tourists desperate to catch a glimpse of the monarch. ‘She went that-away,’ the Queen tells them, as they speed off.
The Queen is revealed as quite the giggler, a keen mimic who loves to send people up. She also emerges as a resolute romantic.
We hear the full story of how the Queen’s romance with Prince Philip unfolded: Lady Pamela reveals that her friend fell in love immediately, while Philip’s feelings took time to develop.
‘She was very much in love. He grew very much in love.’
She said: ‘I remember my sister and I going through the bags. I was the last little recipient of Princess Anne’s chill-proof thermal underwear, thank you very much.’ Princess Anne is pictured at Cheltenham last year
The royal wedding was surprisingly chaotic. Lady Pamela hoots at how the Queen’s bouquet couldn’t be found. Her pearls were also missing, until someone remembered at the last moment that they had been displayed with the wedding gifts.
There are titbits that only friends would know, such as how the Queen behaves as a houseguest. She brings one box of chocolates for her hosts, Lady Pamela reveals, and one for herself: ‘She likes to keep a box in her own room because her ‘greedy’ family is likely to demolish them.’
India says that from as far back as she can remember, she was aware of her mother’s diary, which Lady Pamela (who was later formally engaged as a lady-in-waiting) had typed up herself.
Many passages in Lady Pamela’s diary stand out but one in particular, India says, ‘sent a shiver up my spine’.
She explains: ‘It was when my mother was describing the Coronation. There were these extraordinary scenes of history unfolding and all the pageantry around but my mother was focused on this very young woman, completely alone, with that extraordinary light shining on her.
‘My mother was wondering, ‘How is she going to cope?’ And we know how she coped, of course —with stoicism and great dignity. I found that so moving.’
Lady Pamela draws particular attention to the moment during the Coronation when the heavy robes were removed from the young Princess and she looked suddenly frail. She likens her simple dress to a ‘nightie’.
In another part of the documentary, the old photographs come out. One is a family portrait from the day of the Coronation and Lady Pamela reveals that her brother-in-law, Lord Brabourne, was wearing robes borrowed from a film costume department.
‘He didn’t own them so he hired them,’ says India.
It is clear that even the Queen’s friends see her as their Queen first; a friend second.
Lady Pamela describes Queen Mary beckoning her across a room before she left on her first trip abroad as a lady-in-waiting, and warning her that she must call her friend not ‘Lilibet’ but ‘Ma’am’. So it has continued, says India.
‘Even though there were very intimate, funny moments of them not on public duty, you still get that sense from my mother that she is not with a friend, that she is with the Queen.’
India won’t reveal how close her mother is to the Queen these days (‘I think you’d have to ask her that’), but it does raise the question of whether the Queen has any friends with whom she can truly be herself.
Pamela Mountbatten (right_ lady-in-waiting, adjusts Queen Elizabeth’s stole at the Royal Ball in Melbourne in March 1954
‘I wouldn’t be able to answer that,’ says India. ‘But I’d guess that Prince Philip has been the support, the backbone.’
The documentary is also a study of a fascinating mother/daughter relationship.
There are sparky moments between Lady Pamela and India as they heave out their respective bridesmaid dresses, Lady Pamela complaining that hers looks shabby. They watch the royal weddings they attended — and Lady P has a dig at ‘bossy India Hicks’ being a little madam at Charles and Diana’s wedding.
There is much sighing over Charles and Di. Charles looks so sad, according to Lady Pamela. Diana’s train is ‘ridiculous’. ‘Silly girl,’ she says.
Oh, to have heard Lady Pamela’s views on some of the more contentious royal goings-on. But no producer could have persuaded her to blab too much, says India.
She adds: ‘I think, you know, the end result feels like a celebration of the Queen’s 95th birthday. It feels joyful.’
Joy and duty then, but not necessarily in that order. India says even she, a little farther down the chain, feels a sense of obligation inherited from her mother and her aunt.
She is talking to me today from Alabama, where she is on a humanitarian trip to visit tornado victims with the relief agency Global Empowerment Mission. There are helicopters overhead and she is having to shout down the phone.
Whatever people think of royal privilege, she says, most of those in the inner circle have been raised with a ‘roll-up-your sleeves’ attitude.
She cites as evidence the way her family picked themselves up after the assassination of Lord Mountbatten. Her aunt Patricia — Lady Pamela’s sister — was with him on the boat the day he was murdered, and survived despite terrible injuries.
‘Both my mother and my aunt were extraordinary examples to the rest of the family — my aunt particularly, who so tragically lost her son [Nicholas Brabourne].
‘She said we will not live with bitterness. We will not live with regret. We will move our lives forward. That has been my mother’s way, too: move on with compassion and humour.
‘You are reminded how strong the human spirit is — and I think you see that very clearly from both my mother and the Queen. They are absolutely examples of how strong the human spirit is.’
n My Years With The Queen, tonight, ITV, 9pm
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