Featured photo courtesy of http://www.christopherwarwickbiographer.com/
Today, I have a real Blogmas treat and I am excited to share this with you.
Last week I spent over three hours engaged in conversation with Chris Warwick, the writer and broadcaster. This to me, has been such a gift. I do not mind admitting that I have admired Chris and his writing for many years, since I first read his biography of Princess Margaret. I think that I now possess every book he has written.
Chris is a highly respected royal historian, writer, biographer and broadcaster, who is regularly asked to take part in television programmes, documentaries and radio programmes, relating to modern royal history from the reign of Queen Victoria to the present day. I must say that my interview with Chris will undoubtedly figure as one of the highlights of my writing career. I came away from the interview on a high, which has still not diminished.
Chris has been exceptionally kind whilst I have been writing my biography of Princess Mary. He has been there to offer me advice and encouragement and I am truly grateful for that. Chris is immensely knowledgeable and for someone who has achieved so much during his career, he is surprisingly modest.
Chris has published fourteen books; the majority concerning the Royal Family and Royal History. He was Princess Margaret’s authorised biographer and wrote Princess Margaret – A Life of Contrasts, which has been in print in several editions since it was first published. He has also written books on Queen Victoria’s remarkable granddaughter, Ella, otherwise Grand Duchess Elisabeth Feodorovna of Russia, Prince George, Duke of Kent and Princess Marina of Greece and Denmark. He also wrote, The Universal Ustinov, a best-selling biography of the incomparable actor, writer, director, playwright and UNICEF goodwill ambassador, Sir Peter Ustinov, which to date is his only non-royal book.
Chris (who was the first consultant editor of Majesty magazine) was a contributing author to The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, a hardback tribute published by Majesty. More recently, he contributed to Kensington Palace – Art, Architecture and Society, which was published by Yale University Press in association with Historic Royal Palaces.
Chris has had a very successful career as a broadcaster. He has advised and taken part in many history programmes including the acclaimed two-part Princess Margaret – The Rebel Royal, on which he acted as consultant and contributor. Along with his spectacular career as a writer and broadcaster, and his encyclopaedic knowledge of Royal history, Chris is a great raconteur and wit. Three hours spent in his company is incomparable joy. He is equally generous with his time and his knowledge. I hope that you will enjoy this interview as much as I did.
If you are a lover of Royal history or biography, then I would strongly urge you to read one of Chris’s books. His prose alone is sublime. Chris’s books are available from Amazon and you can read more about him on his website. You can also purchase Margaret the Rebel Royal, an outstanding documentary on YouTube and it is occasionally available on the I-Player.
Where did your love of Royal history come from?
I was about 6 years old and we had a neighbour who brought magazines to our home, such as The Picture Post and The Illustrated London News. There was a photograph of a very beautiful woman on the front cover of the Picture Post. It was Princess Margaret on her Caribbean Tour of 1955. I was told who it was, and for me, it was love at first sight. When I was seven, I went on a school trip to the Tower of London and was very much taken with the history of the Tower, the Tudors and the Six Wives. My interest peaked. So, it really started from there.
Did you set out to be a royal biographer or did it find you?
It kind of found me. I wanted to be a writer or a journalist. I had written prize-winning essays at school. I wanted to combine my love of history and my gift for writing. When I went to see the Careers Advisor, I was told that in those days to be a “journalist”, as opposed to being a “writer”, one needed to start out at a local newspaper. My reaction to being told one started on a local paper was,”but I want to work in Fleet Street not the local newspaper.” When I left school, I went to work in the advertising department of IPC magazines. In 1973, the year of Princess Anne’s wedding to Captain Mark Phillips, an American friend suggested that I wrote a book about royal weddings. I had written a few short stories, but I didn’t have a clue. I did my research and cut my teeth on it. I submitted the manuscript to a well-known publisher. At the time I didn’t have a literary agent. I had to pay the bill for all the photographic rights, and it took me three years to pay off. The company was on the verge of liquidation and at the same time, two other writers had collaborated on another book about royal weddings.
Eventually, I gained a position as an assistant editor for the publishers, Weidenfeld and Nicolson. It was there that I met Elizabeth Longford, the British historian and a wonderful writer. She became my guiding light and encouraged me to pursue my ambition to become a full-time writer. I thought that I might as well grasp the nettle and begin a freelance career.
How did your association with Princess Margaret come about?
Through my work at Weidenfeld and Nicolson, I met Roddy Llewellyn, who was already famous as Princess Margaret’s close ‘friend’ and it was through Roddy that I met Princess Margaret. As fortune would have it, I became both her authorised biographer and a friend. I wrote a second book for her 70th birthday.
What is the greatest misconception people have of Princess Margaret?
The first time I had lunch with her, it was just the two of us having lunch at Kensington Palace. She said and I’ll never forget it, “I expect before you met me, you thought I was the person the newspapers say I am. Now you know I’m not.” And it was very true.
In The Crown, Princess Margaret is misrepresented, reinforcing every stereotypical view of her that was always fodder to the tabloid gossip columnists. She was not an unpleasant person. I knew her for twenty-two years. She would correct someone, and it would stop the conversation. However, she was only like that if she thought that someone had overstepped the mark. She was grand, conversely generous, kind, funny, intelligent – far too intelligent – very interested in art, architecture, ballet, design and was for much of this self-taught. She had an inquiring mind. As President of the NSPCC, she would often ask to listen in on meetings. She was most definitely not just a name on a piece of paper. She was heavily involved in all her charities. She was human in an extraordinary position. She was always close to the Queen. They spoke daily, and there was a great bond between them. The last time that I saw her, was about a year before she died. As I was leaving, it was by something she so very sweetly said that I instinctively knew – in the indescribable way one somehow does instinctively know – that I wouldn’t see her again.
What is your writing technique?
In the days before the internet, I would spend hours in reference libraries after finishing work each day. I would work through huge bound volumes of reference material and most of the time copy using pen and paper. I love research. It’s a bit like being a detective.
There is nothing better than working from primary sources. When writing my biographies, I always try to find as many primary sources as possible, as well as interviewing people. I am not inclined to write various drafts. I prefer to work on my writing until I am happy with it. I am very possessive with my writing since it is my baby.
You have a really successful career as a broadcaster. How did that come about?
I started as a guest on Pebble Mill at One discussing my biography of Princess Margaret. I also had early guest appearances on Good Morning Television, TV-AM and Richard and Judy. I have been invited to comment on topical royal issues for national broadcasters; BBC News, ITN and Channel 4 News; for BBC World Service, BBC 5 Live, and regional radio. I have since been involved in many news items, and I love participating in documentaries.
As a freelance royal correspondent for CTV (Canadian Television News), I have provided analysis and commentary for major royal events including the ceremonial funeral of Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother, the 90th birthday celebrations as well as the Golden- and Diamond Jubilees of Her Majesty The Queen, the weddings of The Prince of Wales and Camilla Parker-Bowles, and Prince William, Duke of Cambridge and Catherine Middleton; the births of Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis of Cambridge, the engagement of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, and as Duke and Duchess of Sussex, the birth of their first child, Archie Mountbatten-Windsor, in May 2019.
Television documentaries have played a prominent part in my career. One of the most acclaimed was the two-part Princess Margaret – The Rebel Royal, on which I acted as consultant and contributor. The documentary was short-listed for the 2019 Grierson Award in the Best Entertaining Documentary category. I have also recently contributed to Elizabeth and Margaret, Yesterday Channel’s latest series of Private Lives, presented by Dr Tracy Borman, on which I again acted as contributor and consultant, and the recent three-part Channel 4 series The Queen’s Lost Family. I have participated in a forthcoming series for CNN looking at a century of the Royal House of Windsor and in 2020 I will be seen in two further documentaries, currently in production, on the Queen for BBC television and a sequel to The Queen’s Lost Family for the Smithsonian Channel. My other global television documentary appearances include The Riddle of the Romanovs, and Prince George – Tragedy or Treason, Inside Kensington Palace, and Inside Windsor Castle (Channel 5); The Other Prince William (Channel 4); The Queen’s Big Night Out (Channel 4); Russia’s Lost Princesses (BBC 2); Royal Babies, (ITV); King George & Queen Mary (BBC 2); Britain’s Royal Weddings (BBC 1); The Real King’s Speech (Channel 4); Royals at War (UKTV); Margaret: Royal Rebel (Channel 5); The Queen Mother in Love (Channel 4); The Queen’s Lost Uncle (Channel 4), and Death at Eagle’s Rock (BBC Scotland).
What was it like writing Peter Ustinov’s biography?
Writing Peter Ustinov’s biography gave me three of the happiest years of my professional life. It was almost like having my own private audience with him. Such a tremendous experience. He was terrifically helpful, but right from the start he said there was no obligation for him to see in advance what I had written. There came a point, however, when I said to him that I was concerned that there appeared to be no skeletons in his cupboard. His reply was typically Ustinovian: ‘It’s not the skeletons I’m worried about Chris. I can’t remember where I left the cupboard.’ According to his secretary, Peter had told her that my research for the book was faultless and at Peter’s memorial service, reference was made to my ‘charming’ biography in the eulogy.
I could quite easily have spoken to Chris all day, if not all week. This interview is only part of our conversation because I must admit, the conversation flowed so freely that I found it difficult to write at the same time. Chris is such an interesting man, who has done so many things and met many people in his lifetime. During our conversation, I kept mentioning that he ought to write a book of anecdotes. Sadly, he is far too modest to write anything of that ilk. I urge you to read one of his books. You really will not be disappointed.
Chris Warwick Books
You can buy all of Chris’s books on Amazon.
Featured photo courtesy of http://www.christopherwarwickbiographer.com/
And finally ………….
Tomorrow is Christmas Eve and as we are hosting Christmas again at our house, I have decided to finish Blogmas on this fantastic high. How on earth could I better this? All that remains is for me to thank you all for your support throughout Blogmas and throughout this year. I am so grateful to everyone who has read my blog, shared my posts and sent me such lovely messages. 2019 has been a fantastic year for me and my family. Much, of course, has been taken up with my journey to discover Princess Mary. I can’t wait to share my book with you in 2020.
I hope that you have a lovely Christmas and I wish you all the very best for a very happy and successful New Year 2020, or as my husband calls it – the year of perfect vision.
Best wishes from