The royal gigolo: Edwina Mountbatten sued over claims of an affair with black singer Paul Robeson. But the truth was even more outrageous...
By MICHAEL THORNTON
14 November 2008 in The Daily Mail http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-1085883/The-royal-gigolo-Edwina-Mountbatten-sued-claims-affair-black-singer-Paul-Robeson-But-truth-outrageous-.html#axzz2KVz9n047
This was an episode in the London High Court that astonished even experienced members of the Bar.
The Lord Chief Justice's court opened its doors at the unprecedented hour of 9.30am on that July day in 1932 to enable an earth-shakingly intimate and sensational libel action to be heard - in effect, in camera - before newspaper reporters even got to hear that it was happening
The plaintiff in the action was Britain's richest and most publicised heiress, the bisexual Lady Louis Mountbatten, afterwards Countess Mountbatten of Burma and the last Vicereine of India.
Sitting beside her was her handsome sailor husband, the equally bisexual Lord Louis, uncle of Prince Philip, cousin of the King, great-grandson of Queen Victoria, the future last Viceroy and first Governor General of India, First Sea Lord and finally Chief of the Defence Staff.
Dickie and Edwina Mountbatten - whose ten-year-old 'open marriage' had been the subject of feverish gossip and barely suppressed scandal ever since it had begun - had been summoned urgently home from his latest naval posting in Malta and forced by Buckingham Palace into reluctantly issuing libel proceedings against the gossip columnist of 'that vulgar socialist Sunday paper, The People', as Mountbatten called it.
Seven weeks earlier, the paper had alleged 'a scandal which has shaken society to the very depths. It concerns one of the leading hostesses in the country - a woman highly connected and immensely rich.
'Her association with a coloured man became so marked that they were the talk of the West End. Then one day the couple were caught in compromising circumstances.
'The sequel is that the society woman has been given hints to clear out of England for a couple of years to let the affair blow over and the hint comes from a quarter which cannot be ignored'.
Mayfair gossips lost no time in identifying the woman in question as Edwina Mountbatten.
When King George V saw the article, he ordered the Mountbattens to return to London immediately, and to sue for libel, in order to clear the Royal Family of the allegation that Edwina had been exiled from Britain on the orders of the Palace, and Edwina from the suggestion that she had a black lover.
Cables from Buckingham Palace rained down upon the Mountbattens. 'Coded messages galore,' wrote Edwina, 'and really nearly going mad (three months' gossip to the effect that I had been exiled from England for two years as a result of my association with a coloured man whom I have never even met!!!!')
The man widely identified as her lover was the American actor and singer Paul Robeson. 'It is most incredible,' wrote Robeson's wife, Essie, 'that people should be linking Paul's name with that of a famous titled Englishwoman, since she is just about the one person in England we don't know.'
So, if not Robeson, who was it? According to a startling new C4 television documentary, Edwina's lover was, in fact, the sleek, sophisticated and - according to legend - sensationally well-endowed West Indian cabaret singer and pianist, Leslie 'Hutch' Hutchinson.
Among the many amazing claims put forward in the documentary is the suggestion that Edwina commissioned Cartier to design a diamond-encrusted penis sheath for Hutch.
It is further alleged that the 'compromising circumstances' referred to in The People article concerned Hutch and Edwina becoming inextricably locked together sexually through a rare medical phenomenon known as vaginismus - which led to them being taken in flagrante delicto from the Mountbatten residence, Brook House in Park Lane, to a private hospital where doctors separated them.
Even allowing for Edwina's lifelong reputation for promiscuity, can such outlandish claims possibly be true?
According to her official biographer, Dr Janet Morgan (in private life, Lady Balfour of Burleigh), the story is 'piffle'.
But should we believe Dr Morgan? After all, she was recommended as official biographer to Edwina's daughters (the present Countess Mountbatten and Lady Pamela Hicks) by their father's official biographer, Philip Ziegler, whose 1985 study of Mountbatten blandly ignores all pointers to its subject's own wild sexual antics.
Both official biographies - of the Countess and Mountbatten himself - are Establishment-friendly, and both deliberately omit clear evidence, in Mountbatten's own handwriting, of his extra-marital interest in the reigning society beauty of the day, Margaret Whigham, afterwards the notorious and sexually licentious Duchess of Argyll.
The TV documentary offers compelling evidence that Edwina's activities with Hutch became increasingly brazen, and were bitterly resented by her husband.
Yet he sat beside her in court to hear Norman Birkett, one of the greatest advocates of the day, telling the judge: 'It is not too much to say that it [The People article] is the most monstrous and most atrocious libel of which I have ever heard.'
Both Mountbattens went into the witness box, Edwina to state on oath that she had never in her life met the man referred to in all the gossip (Robeson), and Dickie to swear that his wife was never exiled on the orders of Buckingham Palace - the only reason for her presence in Malta was because he was serving there as an officer in the Royal Navy.
The People, which had spent the staggering sum (for those days) of £25,000, trying to find evidence to support its story, failed to come up with a viable defence, leaving its barrister, Sir Patrick Hastings, to make a grovelling apology - 'genuine and deep regrets' - on behalf of the newspaper's owners
Edwina, awarded full costs, declined damages. That evening, the Mountbattens gave a celebration party at the Cafe de Paris.
On the following day, in a display of royal solidarity, they were invited to lunch at Buckingham Palace by the King and Queen. A few days later, Edward Prince of Wales, who had been best man at their wedding, gave a party for them at York House.
Edwina, freed from the threat of social disgrace, and the exposure of the sham that her marriage had become, calmly went back to the black lover The People had failed to identify.
Leslie Arthur Julien Hutchinson was born on March 7, 1900, in Gouyave, a small fishing village on the island of Grenada. His parents saved hard to send him to the best local school and he became something of a child prodigy at the piano.
When he was 14, his father swept him off to a brothel, an experience which his biographer, Charlotte Breese, believes 'frightened and distressed him: he lost something more important than he gained - his childhood innocence'.
At 16, his parents paid to send him to medical school in America, but he ditched his studies and headed straight for Harlem, capital of the jazz scene, where he married a black Anglo-Chinese girl, Ella Byrd, and fathered a daughter, Lesley.
His father cut off his allowance. For a while he was destitute, but not for long. His overpowering good looks impressed one of New York's first families, the Vanderbilts, who scoured the art world for talent and introduced him to wealthy patrons of the jazz scene, where he soon made his name as a pianist alongside other jazz legends such as Fats Waller and Duke Ellington.
Arriving in Paris in 1924, and already flagrantly bisexual, he found a gay lover and patron in the composer Cole Porter, who wrote a hit song clearly based on Hutch's character:
I should like you all to know
I'm a famous gigolo,
And of lavender my nature's got just a dash in it...
The handsome West Indian stud now added screen sirens Tallulah Bankhead and Merle Oberon to his conquests. In London, where he arrived in 1927, the West End's leading male matinee idol, Ivor Novello, also became his lover.
The biggest musical star of the day, Jessie Matthews, after a performance, heard Hutch singing to his own piano-playing in the orchestra pit one night. Transfixed by his melodious, dark velvet voice, she immediately urged him to become a solo cabaret performer.
Within a year, he had won recording contracts and had become a highlypaid headliner at top London nightspots the Cafe de Paris, the Cafe Anglais and Quaglino's.
He bought a Rolls-Royce, a grand house in Hampstead, patronised London's best tailors, spoke five or six languages and was on friendly terms with the Prince of Wales.
But he was still a black man in an era of racial discrimination. When he entertained at lavish Mayfair parties, his fee was large, but he was often obliged to go in by the servants' entrance. This embittered him.
Evelyn Waugh satirised Hutch as the social-climbing upstart, Chokey, in his novel, Decline And Fall. 'He's just crazy to meet the aristocracy, aren't you, my sweet?'
Replies Chokey: 'I sure am that.' Says Mrs Clutterbuck: 'I think it's an insult bringing a n***** here.'
The first scandal surrounding him came in 1930, when he made the debutante Elizabeth Corbett pregnant. Her father vowed vengeance and pursued Hutch through the courts.
Elizabeth managed to get a Guards officer to marry her. They had a society wedding in Sloane Square but she was already three months pregnant, and it was not until she was in labour that she warned her husband the baby might be black. He was appalled. The child was removed at birth and put up for adoption.
But the enduring scandal of Hutch's life was his relationship with Edwina Mountbatten. A BBC producer, Bobby Jay, recalled their outrageous behaviour to Hutch's biographer, Charlotte Breese: 'I was at a grand party.
'Edwina interrupted Hutch playing the piano. She kissed his neck and led him by the hand behind the closed doors of the dining-room. There was a shriek, and a few minutes later she returned, straightening her clothes.
'Hutch seemed elated, and before he returned to the piano, told me that, with one thrust, he had flashed [propelled] her the length of the dining-room table.'
Although both had their liaisons, there can be no doubting the distress the affair caused Mountbatten. The reality was that he was unable to satisfy his sexually voracious wife.
Edwina showered costly keepsakes on Hutch: a jewelled gold cigarette case, a gold ring with her coat of arms engraved on the inside and a gold and diamond watch.
One night, a visibly distressed Mountbatten stumbled into Quaglino's restaurant and told the bandleader, Van Straten: 'I am lonely and sad and drunk. That n***** Hutch has a p**** like a tree-trunk, and he's f****** my wife right now.'
Hutch was to pay a heavy price for the affair. After The People case, Buckingham Palace refused to have him on any Royal Command Performance bill, and Lord Beaverbrook gave orders that Hutch's name was never to be mentioned again by any of his papers.
During World War II, Hutch was one of the first stars in Britain to volunteer his services to entertain the Forces, but he received no formal recognition for this and his name would never appear in any Honours list.
He added possibly two members of the Royal Family to the notches on his bed-post. One was the Queen's aunt, Princess Marina, Duchess of Kent.
The other, allegedly, was Princess Margaret, with whom Charlotte Breese believes Hutch enjoyed a 'brief liaison' in 1955, when she was 25 and he was 55.
His role in Edwina's life was now over. During her years as Vicereine of India, she replaced Hutch with another deeply passionate relationship - with India's first Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru.
There are those who suspect that Nehru, like both Mountbattens, had bisexual tendencies, and that Dickie, possibly in a last, despairing attempt to maintain physical contact with his unresponsive wife, may have joined them in a bizarre menage a trois.
During the Sixties, the daughter of a BBC producer regularly watched Mountbatten entering a male brothel by the rear entrance in Grosvenor Mews, Belgravia.
In the late Seventies, before they succeeded in assassinating him, the IRA closely monitored Mountbatten's involvement with teenage boys.
In 1958, Hutch's wife, Ella - often mistaken by visitors to his Hampstead home as his housekeeper - died. He buried her in an unmarked pauper's grave at a cost of £12. By that time, he had six children by different mothers, and was to father a seventh at the age of 64.
Edwina's death in 1960 symbolised for Hutch the end of his golden days. The advent of The Beatles and of the disco era closed off most of his avenues of employment, and he was reduced at one point to performing at Butlin's holiday camps in dates such as Skegness, or in end-of-the-pier shows where he was not top-billed.
In Weymouth, where, in 1944, he had entertained thousands of troops before the D-Day landings, he now played to a handful of people at the local theatre.
Drinking heavily, overweight, his face bloated and heavily made-up, his hair dyed, he was like a gargoyle of the once-beautiful black God who had conquered high society with his looks, his voice and his charm.
With his fortune squandered on gambling, he was forced to sell his house in 1967 for £13,037. Of this, £10,000 went to pay off his debts, leaving him just £3,000 out of the millions he had earned.
He moved into a tiny flat, where he sometimes attempted to cadge money from his teenage son, the singer Chris Hutchinson.
When, on August 18, 1969, now ' virtually penniless', he died at the Royal Free Hospital, Hampstead, from ' overwhelming pneumonia' at the age of 69, he left a mere £1,949 and no will. Only 42 mourners showed up at his funeral.
There was to be a bizarre epilogue. On the day of his burial, the undertakers, J.H. Kenyon, received a call from Lord Mountbatten offering to pay for Hutch's grave and tombstone in Highgate Cemetery.
Was it a final gesture of revenge on his sexual rival? Or did Mountbatten wish to ensure that the man Edwina had loved, and who had taken her from him, had a suitable final resting place?
Arthur Julien Hutchinson (nickname: Leslie "Hutch" Hutchinson) was born 1900 in Gouyave, a small fishing village on the island of Grenada. His parents saved hard to send him to the best local school and he became a child prodigy at the piano.When he was 16, his parents sent him to a medical school in the US, but instead of studying he headed straight for Harlem, where he married a black Anglo-Chinese girl, Ella Byrd, and soon fathered a daughter. When his father cut off his allowance, for a while Hutch was destitute, but soon his piano music as well as fascinating good looks impressed one of New York's first families, the Vanderbilts, who introduced him to influential patrons of the jazz scene. Having made his name as a pianist alongside other jazz legends such as Fats Waller and Duke Ellington, in 1924 he arrived in Paris, where he was involved in a long-lasting relationship with Cole Porter. That gay love affair had not restrained the handsome West Indian from involvement into more customary relationships with the movie stars Tallulah Bankhead or Merle Oberon. In revenge, Cole Porter had portrayed Hutch in a song "I'm a Gigolo", which he included into his extravaganza London's revue of 1929 "Wake Up And Dream"(it was sung in the show by Jack Buchanan). In 1927, Hutchinson travelled to London where his social patron and a sexual partner became idol of London's high society, actor Ivor Novello. With him, he entered the heremetic social circles of Mayfair, Knightsbridge or West End and became one of the most desired jazz babies of the London's nightlife scene in the Roaring Twenties Jessie Matthews, who heard Hutch singing to his own piano-playing in the orchestra pit one night, urged him to become a solo stage performer. Within a year, he had won recording contracts and had become a highly paid headliner at top London nightspots: the Cafe de Paris or the Cafe Anglais. He bought a Rolls-Royce, a grand house in Hampstead and, dressed by best London's tailors, he could boast of friendly terms with the Prince of Wales. But he was still a black man, so when he entertained at lavish Mayfair parties, his fee was enormous, but he was asked to go in by the servants' entrance. Famous English writer Evelyn Waugh satirised Hutch as the social-climbing upstart, Chokey, in his novel "Decline And Fall".
The big scandal surrounded Hutch in 1930s, when he established the intimate relationship with lady Edwina Mountbatten - the vivacious, enormously rich, sexual adventuress of the highest social rank. Edwina showered costly keepsakes on Hutch: a jewelled gold cigarette case, a gold ring with her coat of arms engraved on the inside and a diamond watch. But also Hutch was made to pay a heavy price for the affair: Buckingham Palace refused to have him on any Royal Command Performance bill and Lord Beaverbrook gave orders that Hutch's name was never to be mentioned by any of his papers.
During WWII Hutch was one of the first stars to volunteer his services to entertain the UK Forces, but he never received formal recognition for that and his name would never appear in any Honours list. In revenge, in early 1950s. Hutch added two members of the Royal Family to the list of his conquests: the Queen's aunt, Princess Marina and Princess Margaret, with whom Hutch enjoyed a brief liaison when she was 25 and he was 55. Yet, in the beginning of the next decade it was clear, the Hutch's heyday was over. The advent of the Beatles meant to him closure of most of his avenues of employment. In local theatres, where he used to entertain hundreds, he now played to a handful of people. Often, he wouldn't despise performing in end-of-the-pier shows where he was hardly ever billed. Drinking heavily, overweight, with six children from different mothers, he was like a gargoyle of the once-beautiful black God who had conquered high society with his voice and charm. Living in a tiny flat, he sometimes attempted to cadge money from his teenage son. In Aug. 1969 he died of pneumonia at the Royal Free Hospital, Hampstead. Only several mourners showed up at his funeral.
Hutch by Charlotte Breese
In this marvelously researched and evocative biography, the author has captured not just the soul of her subject, but the spirit of an exciting era. Hutch, a gifted musician and entertainer, comes to life in this richly documented and illustrated book. His conquests,both musical and sexual, were the stuff of gossip in the swinging set of London in the Thirties and Forties. Breese has wrought a literary miracle by giving us such adetailed account of what it must have felt to be a part of the vibrant nightclub scene of the era. Her depiction of night life in Paris and London, as well as the development of icons like Cole Porter deepens and enriches our understanding of society in a period of flux. In this sense, the book transcends its genre as it is as much a social history as it is a biography. Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of this absorbing book is the study of a black entertainer who struggles for acceptance in an extremely racist milieu. Although he makes numerous conquests among both sexes of the elite of the day, he is painfully aware that he is invited to the homes of the aristocracy only for his entertainment value. If you have time for only one book over the Christmas holidays, make it 'Hutch'.
My Mummy the maneater: How the wild promiscuity of Edwina Mountbatten - wife of Prince Charles' mentor - took a heartbreaking toll on her children
Pamela Mountbatten has written a memoir about her mother Edwina
Edwina was married to Lord Louis Mountbatten, a relative and confidant of the King
By TONY RENNELL
PUBLISHED: 30 November 2012 in The Daily Mail http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2241195/How-wild-promiscuity-Edwina-Mountbatten--wife-Prince-Charles-mentor--took-heartbreaking-toll-children.html#axzz2KVz9n047
The housekeeper at the grand Mayfair mansion was at her wit’s ends, as she complained when the lady of the house finally bustled in from shopping. Five gentlemen admirers were waiting on her.
‘Mr Gray is in the drawing room, Mr Sandford is in the library, Mr Phillips is in the boudoir, Senor Portago in the anteroom . . . and I simply don’t know what to do with Mr Molyneux!’
To complicate matters further, the lady in such amorous demand should not have been entertaining the advances of any of them. She was a married woman — and not just any wife but one with a husband who was among the most eminent in the land, a relative and confidant of the King, no less, and a navy captain to boot.
This was the mad social and sexual whirl around the slim, elegant and scandalous Edwina Mountbatten, one of the magnetic personalities of high society in Thirties London. She rubbed shoulders with royalty, danced the Charleston with Fred Astaire and let young men not only fall at her feet but into her bed as well.
On the surface, Edwina and her husband, Lord Louis Mountbatten, were the glitziest couple of their day — rich, high-born, debonair, de luxe. Beneath, the reality were separate beds, separate lives and a flurry of flings that set tongues wagging.
If the housekeeper was confused about all the shenanigans, how must it have felt being one of Edwina’s two daughters, growing up with a procession of ‘uncles’ and a father who chose, appropriately Nelson-like for the naval officer he was, to turn a blind eye to what was going on?
By her own account — revealed in a fascinating, newly published memoir — the young Pamela Mountbatten saw nothing untoward at first in her mother’s string of male friends. But in time, the ‘eccentricity’ of her family life would inevitably be a source of bewilderment and sadness.
Yet, three-quarters of a century on, the 83-year-old Pamela writes lovingly and forgivingly of a mother who partied, frolicked and fornicated with abandon — and often left her children for some wild venture.
The excuse for such cavalier behaviour was that she was lonely. ‘My father’s naval duties often took him away, so she became increasingly reliant on admirers for entertainment.’
She called them her ‘ginks’, a slang word for ‘guys’, and she loved the thrill of being chased by them. ‘She began to collect them in a way that raised many eyebrows,’ Pamela writes.
‘Of course, the ramifications were messy and complex. When my father first heard that she had taken a lover, he was devastated. But eventually, using their reserves of deep mutual affection, my parents managed to negotiate a way through this crisis and found a modus vivendi.’
But that modus cannot have been easy for the children of their unconventional union.
Edwina — a wealthy heiress who had married the impecunious Mountbatten when just 21 — was a force of nature certainly, but a moody and impetuous one. She demanded attention and sulked if she did not get it.
Not surprisingly, she was utterly devoid of parenting skills. Just a month after her first child, Patricia, was born, she was off partying in the South of France, leaving the baby at home.
‘It seemed she couldn’t stop herself indulging in this hedonistic way of life, the endless adventure and travel that so thrilled her,’ comments Pamela, loyally avoiding other descriptions that might spring to mind — such as ‘selfish’ and ‘spoilt’.
Not that Edwina was totally self-absorbed. She seemed to have oceans of love — for her ‘ginks’, her hospital work, the refugees she championed in later life, and the entire population of the Indian sub-continent when her husband became the last Viceroy of the old Raj.
‘As a young child, I rarely saw my mother,’ Pamela recalls wistfully. Brought up by nannies, at night, ‘I would start to buzz with excitement at the thought that one of my parents would come and visit me before I went off to sleep.
‘If my mother were in the country she would come and say goodnight. I would listen for the tinkling of her bracelet and after she had leant down and kissed me, I would lie awake and savour her scent for as long as it lingered in my bedroom.’
The more affable Mountbatten was a much better parent. ‘He loved to read or tell me stories and I would lie in a state of bliss as I drifted off to the sound of his words.’
But there was a spiteful streak in Edwina, and she grew jealous of the special relationship developing between father and daughters. She put a stop to those intimate bedtime stories.
She was also inordinately put out when — after ten years of her undisguised infidelities — he took a long-term lover of his own, the sparky, boyish Yola from France (on whom, claims Pamela, the novelist Colette based her fictional femme fatale, Gigi)
Mountbatten found ‘some contentment’ with Yola, as now did Edwina with a lover who became a permanent fixture in her life — ‘Bunny’ Phillips, a ‘thrillingly handsome’ (Pamela’s description) colonel in the Coldstream Guards.
He became part of the family, almost a second father. It was he who bought Pamela her first pony, played games with her, wrote her letters when he was away. ‘He would stay with us for long periods and we loved having him,’ she recalls, not least because ‘he made my mother easier’.
‘Bunny brought great joy to our lives and I loved him deeply.’ His precise status was never gone into.
‘They never displayed more than a friendly affection in public.’
Yola was a frequent visitor too, and this ménage a quatre continued on and off in the years up to World War II. Pamela took it in her stride without fully realising what was happening. ‘For me, the addition of Bunny and Yola greatly enriched my life in my somewhat unconventional home.’
But though she treasured the domestic interludes, the fact is there were too few of them. More often than not she was left at home while her father was away on his duties and her mother and Bunny off on one adventure after another, to Africa, China and the Pacific.
She lovingly hoarded the postcards they sent back and adored the lion cub, the wallabies and the mongoose they brought back as presents — typically over-the-top and impractical gestures by her mother. The wallabies, it turned out, needed feeding on orchids.
But nothing really made up for their not being around. The missed birthdays rankled. No wonder that Pamela became a loner and ‘highly strung’, finding it very hard to fit in when she was sent away to school.
Nor was the father she adored always as good as he might have been when it came to putting his little girl first. At school, a friend’s mother took her one weekend to a polo match and on the other side of the field she spotted her father saddling up.
‘I skipped over to kiss him. He was astonished to see me, and then embarrassed that somebody else was taking me out for tea.’
All her parents’ social gadding-about came to a halt when war broke out in 1939. Mountbatten and Bunny Philliips had serious and all-consuming duties to perform for King and Country; Yola was trapped in enemy-occupied France.
And Edwina at last had something real to do. She put on a uniform and cap — albeit set at a jaunty, come-on angle — and threw herself, body and soul, into work with the St John Ambulance Brigade.
Pamela recalls her father looking at his wayward wife with a new sense of pride that she had at last found her purpose in life. Pamela felt the same when she saw her mother in action.
On a visit to a hospital, ‘I saw how brilliant she was as she talked to each patient with genuine concern and a cheering remark.’ But she must have wondered why so little of that heartfelt concern seemed ever to come her way. At home, the Edwina who was so cheery in her war work was grumpiness itself.
With Bunny away, Pamela recalls, ‘she was very prickly. She would be hurt by the most unlikely things and then sulk for hours afterwards. We all had to be very careful of what we said in her company.’ Her mood turned even gloomier when, in 1944, Bunny dumped her. He’d met someone else. He was getting married.
‘My mother took the news very badly,’ Pamela recalls. ‘She took endless dismal walks alone down by the river, and the family feared she might drown herself.’
The devastated Edwina said not a word. ‘It was no good bringing up Bunny’s departure with her. She was never open to any conversation about relationships or feelings.
‘My sister Patricia wrote a letter to her, however, and this seemed to do something to short-circuit the unbearable loneliness she was feeling.’
Bunny, for his part, tried to mend fences, ‘to prevent the deep friendship that existed between us from being broken’. He invited the 15-year-old Pamela to be a bridesmaid at his wedding and she was overjoyed, but the ‘brittle and sensitive’ Edwina vetoed the idea. India was her salvation.
With the war over, Mountbatten was sent there to oversee the sub-continent gaining independence from British rule. His wife went with him and her charm was put to vital use in what the new Viceroy termed Operation Seduction — trying to bring the warring religious communities together
She worked like a Trojan. Pamela, who went with them — for the first time finding herself at the very heart of the family with a distinct role to play — marvelled at her mother’s stamina and bravery, her ability ‘to forge through the heat of the day, impervious to physical hardship’. She was selfless and tireless, with a sensitivity to the suffering of others that made her a heroine in what was an increasingly volcanic and violent situation.
Edwina fell madly in love with the country, and also with one of its new leaders, Pandit Nehru, India’s first prime minister after independence.
From the start, there was a profound connection between them. But Pamela saw more. ‘A peace came over her mother,’ she recalls. ‘She was easy to get along with; a sense of well-being emanated from her.
‘She found in Panditji [Nehru] the companionship and equality of spirit and intellect that she craved. Each helped overcome loneliness in the other.’
Mountbatten saw this too and let his wife get on with this new phase of her life. For him, Edwina’s new interest was a relief. It got her off his back.
‘Her new-found happiness released him from her relentless late-night recriminations, the constant accusations that he didn’t understand her and was ignoring her.’
The four of them — father, mother, daughter and prime minister — would walk out together, but always with Edwina and Nehru together side by side up ahead.
‘My father and I would tactfully fall behind when they were deep in conversation. But we did not, at any time, feel excluded.’
The Mountbattens slipped back into their old modus vivendi, ‘but it was particularly easy now, for my father trusted them both.’
In later years, Pamela would pore over Nehru’s letters to her mother, ‘and I came to realise how deeply he and my mother loved each other.’
But it was a spiritual and intellectual relationship, not a sexual one. Pamela is convinced of that. ‘Neither had time to indulge in a physical affair, and anyway the very public nature of their lives meant they were rarely alone.’
What was remarkable in all this — as seen through Pamela’s eyes — was her father’s dignity and forbearance, as it had been through all the ups and downs of his marriage to Edwina. He remained loyal to the end.
In 1960, aged 58, she died of a stroke on a tour of the Far East for a charity. She had requested to be buried at sea. As the coffin slipped below the water off the south coast of England, Pamela recalls ‘my father standing with tears streaming down his face. It was the only time I had ever seen him weep. He then kissed his wreath before throwing it into the sea.’
It was the last act of a strange marriage but one which, in its own way, had worked. He had defied the gossip, kept up appearances and kept his family intact, however unconventional the method.
There were apparently no scenes, no public scandal and, best of all, no acrimonious divorce. The credit for this Pamela gives unreservedly to him.
It was not until she was a teenager that the penny had finally dropped about Bunny and Yola and all those ‘ginks’ dotted around the house. When she realised the truth, she was glad that her father’s ‘complete lack of jealousy prevented our family from fragmenting’.
He had managed to find a practical solution to the ‘tricky problem’ of his wife’s wanderlust. Whatever else she had to put up with, their daughter remains deeply grateful for that.
But, tellingly, she made sure her own marriage was very different. She took a good few years to find the right man, married interior designer David Hicks when she was 31 and remained in that happy union until his death.