Before the war started you could choose between four great balls every night, rivalling each other in luxury and grandeur. There was a court ball every summer and London tingled. There was little premonition of the tragedies and disasters that were soon to unfold. There were wonderful weekend parties organised for the young people at country houses such as Cliveden. I loved being invited by my aunt Lady Diana Cooper. She entertained with great flair the most famous people from all over the world and you were honoured to be asked. She was my father’s younger sister and famed for her beauty. She appeared in all the magazines in the latest fashions, which she adored. She was very nice to me but used to tick me off because I didn’t really care about the way I looked. She would say, ‘Darling it’s all very well being a wild child in the garden and playing at Mrs. Mop, but it’s very selfish because other people have to look at you. – An extract from The Girl With The Widow’s Peak by Lady Ursula d’Abo. Click here to read more
The forthcoming publication of Lady Ursula’s memoirs, The Girl With The Widow’s Peak, will appeal to admirers of Mitfordiana. Born in 1916 to the Marquess and Marchioness of Granby, Lady Ursula’s memoirs recall a gilded age at the centre of high society. Recalling her childhood spent at Belvoir Castle in Leicestershire, the rigid formalities of liveried servants, maids and the ‘pig man’ are reminiscent of Downton Abbey. Following her father’s ascent to the Dukedom of Rutland in 1925, Lady Ursula writes about the extensive restoration of another Manners’ family seat, the medieval Haddon Hall in Derbyshire. Fans of Debo and the restoration of Chatsworth are sure to enjoy this section of the book!
In 1934, Lady Ursula was presented at Court and three years later, she swapped her Prince of Wales feathers for a Norman Hartnell gown when she acted as one of the six maids of honour in the Coronation of King George VI. After the Coronation, Lady Ursula writes, she was recognised everywhere. With her striking black hair, pale skin and distinctive widow’s peak, it is not difficult to see how her beauty would have turned heads. In 1938, she accompanied the new King and Queen on their first state visit to Paris and Versailles.
A year later, and with the outbreak of war, Lady Ursula stepped away from her glamorous life and into the role of nurse in the Voluntary Aid Detachment. She then took charge of 2,000 women making bullets in a munitions factory in Springfield, Grantham. Those who enjoyed John Julius Norwich’s book Darling Monster will appreciate the letters included in this memoir, sent by Diana Cooper detailing Lady Ursula’s wartime work to her son.
As with any fascinating memoir, Lady Ursula touches on her extraordinary friendships, and such friends included the artist Rex Whistler, the Maharaja of Jaipur, Paul Getty and Baron Hans Heinrich von Thyssen. But unlike the fabrication of Downton Abbey, Lady Ursula’s account is entirely real.
After the war and a brief marriage to Anthony Marreco, Lady Ursula went to India. She married Edward d’Abo in 1951 and settled down to family life at West Wratting Park in Cambridgeshire, with two sons and a daughter. Lady Ursula is now 97 and lives in London.