Craig Brown’s Ma’am Darling

Sophie Putze

“We must make the most of this wonder that has happened to us to do particularly wonderful things…so that people will marvel at them and they won’t know why we are doing such excellent things in such a special way.” This passage is excerpted from a love letter composed by Princess Margaret yet in many ways it seems to speak of the life she lived. When we pull it apart, it is like an intricate jewel, symbolising the Princess herself. Her joie de vivre, her mischievous streak, her wit and her sparkle. It is these jewels, well ninety-nine of them that Craig Brown explores in Ma’am Darling. A very non-traditional memoir for a non-traditional woman. 

It is perhaps thank to Netflix’s ‘The Crown’ and moreover the portrayals of Margaret by both Vanessa Kirby and Helena Bonham Carter, that we are seeing such a revitalised interest and fascination with the Princess. Her Dior gown, created for her 21st birthday was also the centrepiece in a recent retrospective at the V&A. It was the first glimpse and snapshot documented by many a visitor. No doubt, Brown’s book also plays a huge part here. It was even reported that Helena Bonham-Carter consulted with him during her personal research into the illustrious spare. 

One of the most heartbreaking revelations in this book is that Princess Margaret burned many of her private papers. This includes letters she sent and received. Were diary entries among these long lost pages? Would Margaret, had she had a crystal ball to gaze into the future, have been so quick to erase these snapshots of her history? We cannot say if she would have delighted in her re-introduction to a modern audience, just like we can never know for sure, what she actually destroyed. Then again, perhaps she had some foresight.  The Princess experienced betrayal from a number of former royal staff members who went on to publish invasive exposes that understandably caused some upset. 

One of my favourite excerpts, reproduced by Brown is that of the Princess’s morning routine. At 12.30pm, she would appear downstairs for a vodka pick me up. This is after a morning spent luxuriating in the morning news, maybe a spot of coffee, but always a bath and of course doing her own makeup.  There are numerous anecdotes that spread beyond the confines of these 99 chapters. It seems everyone has some ties to the Princess. Her influence and circle were widespread. 

Brown, while providing a detail-laden and fun book, isn’t afraid to be a little bit experimental. Whether that is through his personal reinterpretations of events from Margaret’s life, or experimenting with various literary styles. It reiterates that what we know of Princess Margaret could be true. It could be a mere myth.  Such is the elusive and mysterious nature of the Royal Family. We never really know any one of them. 

While some of the sources referenced are arguably kinder than others, the fact of the matter is we will never hear or read Margaret’s reflections of the life she lived. A life full of glamour and personal struggles-yes, but also fantastic stories and people. Luckily for us, Ma’am Darling perfectly encapsulates all things Princess Margaret. Be prepared for an education that is far from stuffy. This book is laden with charm, whimsy and feeling. It is a dazzling, unforgettable read. 

Sophie is an aspiring essayist from Auckland, New Zealand. When she isn’t writing, she can be found reading multiple books at once or re-watching Fleabag for the umpteenth time. She also writes the blog, Nana Wintour.