The New Mrs Simpson: Zsuzsi Starkloff And Prince William

On 28th August 1972, at the Goodyear International Air Trophy at Halfpenny Green Airport, in the village of Bobbington, Staffordshire, a crowd of nearly 30,000 people had gathered to watch a dashing pilot put on a skilled display in his Piper Cherokee. Within minutes of take-off, the aircraft began to lose altitude at an alarming rate; clipping a tree, one of its wings was torn off, causing it to crash before it was engulfed by flames.

Horrified spectators raced towards the burning wreckage, but were overcome by the heat, leaving the pilot and his single passenger trapped inside and facing certain death. The passenger was Vyrell Mitchell, an experienced airman and demonstrator pilot who had worked for Piper Aircraft since 1967; the pilot, Prince William of Gloucester, also a highly competent aviator, was ninth in line to the British throne.

Born in Hadley Common, Hertfordshire on 18th December 1941, William was the son of Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester, the third son of King George V, and Princess Alice, Duchess of Gloucester, the daughter of John Montagu Douglas Scott, the 7th Duke of Buccleuch. As a member of the Royal Family, he served as a page boy for the wedding of his cousin, The Princess Elizabeth, when she married Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark on 20th November 1947 and also attended her coronation on 2nd June 1953.

Above: Prince William prepares for the Royal Wedding (1947)

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Bryter Layter: The Songs Of Nick Drake

Around midday on 25th November 1974, Molly Drake knocked on her son Nick’s bedroom door.  It was not all that unusual for him to sleep late but she was a little concerned when no reply came.  Entering the room, she was horrified to see her son lying across his bed, looking pale and lifeless. She knew at once that he was dead. Over the past year, Nick Drake had been subject to periods of intense depression and introspection. He had always been a quiet, somewhat sensitive soul, but it seemed that life had started to become troublesome and problematic for Nick, feelings that were poignantly reflected in the lyrics and music found in the three albums he left behind.

Born in Burma on 19th June 1948, Nick was the son of Rodney Drake, an engineer with the Bombay Burmah Trading Corporation and his wife Molly, a talented singer who would encourage her son’s musical proclivities; the couple already had one daughter, Gabrielle who was born in 1944 and would later become an actress. The Drake family returned to England in 1950 and settled in Tanworth-in-Arden. At the age of 9, Nick was sent to Eagle House, a boarding school in Berkshire before attending Marlborough College, where he excelled at music and was a keen sportsman.

After spending six months at the University of Aix-Marseille, Nick went up to Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge in October 1967. One fellow student remembered how Nick had been disillusioned by Cambridge, recalling that ‘He had this wonderful vision of going up to Cambridge – the dreaming spires, the wonderful, erudite people. We went up to visit and he was in this grim, redbrick building, sitting in this tiny motel-like bedroom. He was completely crushed. He just sat there saying ‘it’s so awful’. It was anathema to him. Torture.’ Continue reading

All In The Golden Afternoon: Alice Liddell’s Adventures

‘I hope I’m not ungrateful, but I do get so tired of being Alice,’ Mrs Alice Hargreaves told her son Caryl, shortly before her death in November 1934. Since childhood, she had been known as the inspiration for Lewis Carroll’s 1865 children’s book, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Born Alice Pleasance Liddell on 4th May 1852, Alice was the third child of Lorina and Henry Liddell, the headmaster of Westminster School. In 1855, Alice’s father was made Dean of Christ Church College, Oxford and so the family, including the children’s governess, Miss Prickett, left London for the Dean’s lodgings in Tom Quad. The Liddells became noted society hosts at Oxford, with Mrs Liddell earning herself the nickname ‘the kingfisher,’ on account of her desire to make connections that might better the future marriage prospects of her daughters.

At Christ Church, the Liddell family made a significant acquaintance that would have a notable impact upon them, Alice in particular. The Dean befriended a young mathematics don named Charles Lutwidge Dodgson. A keen photographer, Dodgson’s preferred subjects were young children, usually depicting historical figures or scenes from literature. Pictures of children were especially loved by the Victorians, often appearing on greetings cards and advertisements as they were thought to convey an image of innocent beauty and purity. Sharing Dodgson’s enthusiasm for photography, the Dean asked him if he might photograph his own children; the Liddell children would pose for Dodgson several times over the next decade.

But the Liddell’s friendship with Dodgson also extended to outings, picnics and boat trips. On 4th July 1862, Dodgson and another Christ Church man, the Reverend Robinson Duckworth, took Alice Liddell and her sisters Lorina and Edith on a trip along The Isis from Oxford to Godstow. As Duckworth rowed, Dodgson regaled the children with marvellous tales, as he had many times before. Yet the one he told that afternoon as the sun glistened on the river, somehow surpassed those that had come before; so much so that Alice, upon whom it had made a great impression, asked him if he would write it down for her. Dodgson described it in his diary as a ‘white stone day,’ a term he used for one that was special to him. Alice herself remembered many years later:

‘Most of Mr. Dodgson’s stories were told to us on river expeditions to Nuneham or Godstow, near Oxford. My eldest sister, now Mrs. Skene, was “Prima,” I was “Secunda,” and “Tertia” was my sister Edith. I believe the beginning of “Alice” was told one summer afternoon when the sun was so burning that we had landed in the meadows down the river, deserting the boat to take refuge in the only bit of shade to be found, which was under a new-made hayrick. Here from all three came the old petition of “Tell us a story,” and so began the ever-delightful tale. Sometimes to tease us—and perhaps being really tired—Mr. Dodgson would stop suddenly and say, “And that’s all till next time.” “Ah, but it is next time,” would be the exclamation from all three; and after some persuasion the story would start afresh. Another day, perhaps, the story would begin in the boat, and Mr. Dodgson, in the middle of telling a thrilling adventure, would pretend to go fast asleep, to our great dismay.’ Continue reading

God Of The Witches: The Cult Of Margaret Murray

Denounced in 1938 by the witch hunting and trials expert, C. L’Estrange Ewen, as nothing more than ‘vapid balderdash,’ the work of the Egyptologist and anthropologist, Professor Margaret Murray, has been subjected to even fiercer criticism since her death in 1963. Propagating the theory that in early Christian Europe until the Renaissance, there existed an organised and widespread Pagan cult, which grew around the worship of what she termed The Horned God,’ Murray became known as a leading authority on the subject of European witchcraft, with her controversial books earning her a substantial readership and many of her ideas capturing the public’s imagination. There were even ridiculous and unsubstantiated claims that Murray herself practised the dark arts about which she wrote, and would cast spells to sabotage academic appointments she disapproved. In reality, she was by all accounts a pragmatic and rational thinker, who had little time for superstition in her own life.

Born in Calcutta in 1863, Murray studied linguistics and anthropology at University College London, where her interest in Egyptology brought her to the attention of the renowned Egyptologist, Sir William Flinders Petrie, whom she accompanied on several excavations and who appointed her as a Junior Lecturer in 1898. As a member of the Women’s Social and Political Union, Murray fought to improve the status of women and for greater recognition of their academic achievements, and in 1908, made history by becoming the first woman to unwrap a mummy in public during a series of lectures she gave at the Manchester Museum. Continue reading