The Final Curtsey by Margaret Rhodes
Birlinn/Umbria Press $26.99
Margaret Rhodes, a self-confessed "publishing sensation", takes the cake for what must be one of the worst book covers ever: an out-of-focus photo of her with the Queen, both wearing knitted woollies, tartan skirts and sensible padded jackets.
But she's right: her book is a publishing sensation. Her account, which centres around her relationship with her "charismatic aunt, the late Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother and my first cousin, the Queen", was serialised in the Mail on Sunday and Hello!, and reached number one in the Sunday Times best-seller list.
Subtitled "A Royal Memoir by the Queen's Cousin", it's heavily nostalgic and surprisingly addictive, evoking a privileged childhood growing up in Scotland, where Rhodes' family still had "staff" and the royal family came to stay and play games like "Are you there, Moriarty?"
Her mother was more interested in gardening than her family, and her father liked shooting animals. Rhodes grew up in the time of debutantes and balls, until the Queen ended the tradition in 1958 because, as Princess Margaret is quoted as saying, "We had to end it.
Every tart in London was getting in."
Many of her observations are unintentionally amusing, with the casual insouciance of the privileged: "our family home in Devon had 30 acres"; "as luck would have it ... we were delighted to be invited to a dinner at Windsor Castle, in honour of Haile Selassie, Emperor of Ethiopia".
Rhodes was a Woman of the Bedchamber to her aunt, the Queen Mother, from 1991 until the matriarch's death in 2002. The "Final Curtsey" of the title is taken from her last viewing of the QM's body, the next morning. With Rhodes deputed to register the death at the Windsor Registrar's office, the official filling-out the form asked her, "right, what was the husband's occupation?" Rhodes replied, "King", writing that "I think [she] might have found that almost amusing."