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FIONA ARMSTRONG: From Churchill’s granddaughter to Lady Glenconner

Fiona paid a visit to Dumfries House for the Boswell Book Festival, the world’s only festival of biography and memoir.
Fiona paid a visit to Dumfries House for the Boswell Book Festival, the world’s only festival of biography and memoir.

We are back from a day of culture. A few hours away from the MacNaughties. For what would they make of it all?

The Boswell Book Festival is the world’s only festival of biography and memoir – and it takes place at elegant Dumfries House in Ayrshire.

The day is sunny, and the temptation is to stroll round the grounds of this magnificent Palladian mansion, saved by Prince Charles for the nation, and now restored to its full glory.

A beautiful estate

The estate is immaculate and possibly seen at its best at this time of year; azaleas in full bloom; Scots pines and giant redwoods creating a dramatic backdrop.

Red and green Chinese style bridges span pools of water. There is a walled garden is to die for. Yet outside must wait because folk are already queuing by the marquee and there is work to be done.

I am there – very last minute, by the way – to stand in for a much more famous broadcaster who is unable to attend.

Winston Churchill’s granddaughter

My job is to take the stage to interview authors about their books. One of them is Winston Churchill’s granddaughter.

Journalist Emma Soames has published her mother’s diaries; a fascinating record of what it was like being the daughter of Britain’s leader as he negotiated a tortuous path through World War Two.

It is also an insight into the great man’s domestic situation. I now know he loved animals and had a marmalade cat called Jock.

Of course, anything to do with Churchill is a winner. As is my second author’s subject.

Lady Glenconner

Lady Glenconner is an English aristocrat who grew up close to the royal family.

A maid of honour at the Queen’s coronation, for several decades she was also lady-in-waiting to Princess Margaret.

The stories are eye-opening. Because if Churchill is revered as political royalty, real royalty sits on another plain.

Anne Glenconner has us spellbound as she relates her time at court.

There are the ups and downs of royal life. Then there is her tempestuous marriage to an eccentric Scottish aristocrat and her exotic life on the Caribbean island of Mustique.

There is gossip and there are indiscretions. There is also tragedy, chief of which is losing two of her five children.

Funny and charismatic

Lady Glenconner is now 90, but she looks and sounds 30 years younger.

I like her hugely and the audience hang on her every word. She is funny, charismatic, and witness to an age that is long gone.

By the way, she also writes thrillers: two so far with more to come.

So, that is our day of culture. The MacNaughties meanwhile are having their own time.

We get back to find a note. The neighbour who has walked them morning and afternoon reports that all has gone well, apart from finding an empty chocolate bar wrapper on the kitchen floor.

Where did they get that from? And did they actually eat the contents?

Chocolate is bad news for dogs. Help – only time will tell…

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