Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Wendy Holden Interview - The Royal Governess

Photo Content from Wendy Holden 

Wendy Holden has written numerous books and is a celebrated journalist. She lives in England.


Where were you born and where do you call home?
I was born in Yorkshire, in the North of England, not far from where the Bronte sisters lived in Haworth. These days I live a little further south, in Derbyshire, not far from the town of Bakewell and the stately home of Chatsworth, both of which appear in Pride and Prejudice. I’ve always been surrounded by literary inspiration!

Tell us your most rewarding experience since being published.
Being published is a rewarding experience in itself.

What inspired you to pen your first novel?
A job I had on the London Sunday Times. I was supposed to edit a column written by a celebrity socialite but I ended up writing it all myself. The socialite became very famous and the column absolutely huge, but no-one outside the paper believed it was me doing the work. When I had got over myself I realised that this Cinderella situation was the perfect plot for a romantic comedy. I had always wanted to write a novel but up till then I didn’t have anything to write about.

Tell us your latest news.
I’m very excited abut the paperback of The Royal Governess coming out 22 February. My brilliant publishers Berkley have given me the most amazing new cover. The story is the prequel to The Crown, in that it ends where that begins, with the wedding of Princess Elizabeth. The Royal Governess is about the childhood of the Queen and the young Scottish teacher who had such a profound influence on her

Can you tell us when you started THE ROYAL GOVERNESS, how that came about?
I had always wanted to write a novel about the Windsors. They had always seemed like characters from a book to me, such huge and diverse personalities. But I could never find the right way to approach it. Then, a few years ago in a second-hand bookshop, I found my inspiration for The Royal Governess. It was a book called The Little Princesses, by Marion Crawford. She was the real-life royal governess and this was her autobiography, about her 17 amazing years at the heart of the British Royal Family. It was a story that had been more or less buried for 70 years and it was my privilege to

What do you hope for readers to be thinking when they read your novel?
I hope they are surprised, entertained and moved. It’s a fascinating story which throws a whole new light on the family, especially The Queen. She can come across as frosty and distant but in The Royal Governess Princess Elizabeth is a vulnerable, eager-to-please little girl.

What was the most surprising thing you learned in creating characters?
In the case of the Queen Mother I learnt that she progressed from being quite a self-indulgent aristocrat to rallying the nation round the flag during the darkest days of the Second World War. Describing this process was comic, dramatic and great fun

If you could introduce one of your characters to any character from another book, who would it be and why?
One of the scenes in The Royal Governess has Marion Crawford asking her new royal pupil what sort of books she likes. “Not fairy tales!” says the little Princess Elizabeth. “They’re always about princesses. I’m a princess and they’re nothing like me.” I would introduce Princess Elizabeth to a princess from a fairytale. Maybe Princess Aurora from The Sleeping Beauty.

What was the single worst distraction that kept you from writing this book?
That is such a good question. I am so easily distracted it is ridiculous. Absolutely anything can stop me in my tracks but probably the most persistent interrupter is a white pheasant who lives in my garden. He’s wild and just appeared one day but I have trained him to bang on my writing shed door with his beak when he wants feeding. I keep a supply of seeds in there. I spend hours watching him strutting about and doing his pheasant thing.

Best date you've ever had?
When my husband was a student living in Cannes, we used to take picnics to the islands in the bay. We’d load up with supermarket deli items and a half bottle of champagne as we couldn’t afford a whole one. The ride on the boat through the sea spray, the scent and shade of the pinewoods, the blazing sunshine, it was magical.

Have you ever stood up for someone you hardly knew? 
The Royal Governess is that in a nutshell. Marion Crawford was badly treated by the Windsors, the family to whom she gave the best years of her life. I wanted to restore her reputation as well as tell her amazing story which spanned the drama of the 1936 Abdication, the glamour of the 1937 Coronation and the trauma of World War 2, all of which she experienced just as the Royal Family did.

Which incident in your life that totally changed the way you think today? 
Probably parenthood. Being a writer is quite a selfish and solitary type of job but that’s out of the question with children.

What was the best memory you ever had as a writer? 
I was in Cornwall, in England’s West Country, a couple of Easters ago. I was walking the coastal path with my son. My ancient brick phone fell out of my pocket and Andrew picked it up. “You’ve got loads of messages, Mum,” he said. It turned out to be my agent, my US agent and my American editor, Kerry Donovan of Berkley, who wanted to buy The Royal Governess.

First Heartbreak? 
When I was a child I had a dressing-up box full of beautiful 1960s dresses including my mother’s wedding dress. I left it outside one day and it got taken away by the dustbin men. I was completely inconsolable and I think my fixation with glamour started there. I have been trying to replace it ever since and this is why I write about royalty.

What is your most memorable travel experience? 
When I was 16 my parents took me to Florida. It was so exciting. It was my first ever trip on an aeroplane, let alone a jumbo jet, and America seemed so big and bright. Everyone was so nice to us and I could not get over the number of ice cream flavours. There were hundreds and at home we only had three; strawberry, chocolate and vanilla.

Which would you choose, true love with a guarantee of a heart break or have never loved before? 
The former, I suppose, but neither sound that great

  • There are parallels to Meghan Markle! A progressive young career woman from a modest background joins that most traditional of institutions, The British Royal Family. She tries to introduce modern liberal values. Things go wrong, she leaves, writes a book. Her reputation is besmirched. Sound familiar? Well The Royal Governess is about that too.
  • It’s the first of three! The Royal Governess, about a woman who came from the outside and shook up the Windsors, is to be followed by novels about two other ‘royal rebels’ who did the same thing. Next up is The Duchess, which fictionalises the amazing story of Wallis Simpson, for whom a king gave up his throne. The final part of the trilogy is The Princess, about the early years of Princess Diana.
  • It’s A Story That Has Never Been Told Before! Marion Crawford’s story was buried for 70 years. Few histories of the period refer to her in more than a footnote. When I came across her battered and neglected autobiography I realised instantly that here was the modern historical novel I had always wanted to write. And a reputation that needed to be rehabilitated. The Royal Governess shows Marion Crawford (who the royals called ‘Crawfie’) for the remarkable person she was.
  • Its The Prequel To ‘The Crown’! The Royal Governess shines a unique and unprecedented light into the Queen’s little-known childhood. We follow Princess Elizabeth from being a six-year-old in the nursery to a 21-year-old bride in Westminster Abbey. In the UK, where the story is set, The Royal Governess was an instant Sunday Times Top Ten bestseller. It’s been published across the world; France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Russia, Sweden, Turkey and Portugal and of course in the USA, courtesy of the brilliant Berkley Press.
  • It’s A Ringside Seat At The Greatest Show On Earth! Crawfie was governess to the Queen and Princess Margaret for seventeen years. She joined them in 1932 and left in 1949. The Royal Governess tells how, between these dates, Crawfie lived exactly as the Windsors did. From Buckingham Palace to Sandringham, from Windsor to Balmoral, through Abdication and war, the glamour, the drama, the trauma, even the comedy of royal life is all here
  • It Has Great American Characters! Including a glimpse of Mrs Simpson. In The Royal Governess, Crawfie has a long conversation with her at Balmoral. She also spirits them away for a walk when the new King Edward VIII appears unexpectedly with his mistress at their home in London. “Crawfie! Who is she?” asks little Princess Elizabeth. We also see Eleanor Roosevelt, Churchill (half American!) General Eisenhower and John F Kennedy (whose father was Ambassador in London
  • It’s Got The Love of Elizabeth’s Life! In The Royal Governess, we’re in the room when the teenage Elizabeth first claps eyes on Philip. And when Margaret her younger sister first meets Group Captain Peter Townsend.
  • It’s A Story That Was Never Meant To Happen! Crawfie never intended to teach in palaces. As a twentysomething student teacher in Edinburgh, she planned to work in the city’s notorious slums and help poor children. How on earth did someone who cared this much about social inequality end up with the royal family? You’ll have to read The Royal Governess to find out!
  • It’s Full Of Surprises! She may have left the slums behind, but Crawfie brought her progressive ideas with her. She took the princesses out into the real world and showed them how ordinary people lived. I dramatise in The Royal Governess how she took them shopping at Woolworth’s and to cafes where they had to stand in line. On the London Underground, her plan to remain incognito was somewhat compromised! The royal detective drew unwelcome attention to himself and another giveaway was little Elizabeth’s bright princessy chatter to other passengers. “You’re a charlady? How marvellous!”
  • It’s a Tragedy! Marion Crawford gave the Royal Family the best years of her life, renouncing marriage and children for their sake. But after a perceived betrayal she was cast into the outer darkness and none of them ever saw or spoke to her again. From her retirement in 1950 to her death in 1988 there was no reconciliation. She had even bought a house by the road to Balmoral hoping that those in the passing royal limos would one day stop and forgive her. They never did. At her lonely funeral, noit a single royal flower was sent.
  • It’s A Triumph! As The Royal Governess shows, Crawfie’s seventeen years with the royal family coincided with some of the most dramatic events of the twentieth century which, living with the Windsors on intimate terms, she experienced exactly as they did. Even through her long, lonely exile, she had her memories, and what memories they were! She had known everyone of any consequence at a crucial period in British history; perhaps even played an important part herself. As King George VI said to her during the war, as he and the Queen rallied a nation standing alone against the Nazis: ‘Crawfie, we couldn’t do it without you’.
Writing The Royal Governess required a huge amount of research into the strange lives that royalty lead. Among the things I discovered were the following:

Secrets of the Royal Bathrooms George VI, father of The Queen, had an ensuite with three basins in a row marked ‘Teeth’, ‘Hands’ and ‘Face’.

Princess Margaret Threw Terrible Tantrums Before the 1937 Coronation of her father King George VI, seven-year-old Margaret had a paddy because her older sister Princess Elizabeth was to wear a train and she wasn’t. The sisters eventually appeared in the Coronation procession each sporting their own magnificent fur-trimmed purple velvet cloak.

The Queen Went To Eton, As Princess Elizabeth, she was sent to the famous boys’ school in her early teens. But only for an hour once a week, for lessons in Constitutional History. Her tutor, Sir Henry Marten, was the archetypal intellectual eccentric. He had a pet raven which flew about the room. More accustomed to educating young men in top hats and tail coats, he habitually addressed the young princess as ‘Gentlemen’.

There Was A Buckingham Palace Girl Guide Pack. As their governess, Marion Crawford was determined to introduce the princesses to normal life. But the Girl Guides Commissioner, the redoubtable Miss Violet Synge, was doubtful about forming a pack at the Palace. “Show her your legs, Margaret!” urged Princess Elizabeth. “She’s got a fine pair of hiking legs, Miss Synge! And she loves eating sausages on sticks. Don’t you, Margaret?”

They Sheltered From Bombs In Windsor Castle Dungeons The princesses spent World War Two incarcerated in Windsor Castle, where Marion Crawford would hurry them to the mediaeval dungeons – serving as bomb shelters - during air raids. Once the All Clear sounded, the Governor of the Castle, resplendent in the black tie he had been wearing at dinner, would bow to Princess Elizabeth and intone gravely ‘You may go to bed now, Madam.’

The Royal Mouse Killer, Marion Crawford was appalled to find a rodent on her bath towel after she moved with the family to Buckingham Palace. The Palace’s Vermin Man was summoned to deal with it. This arrestingly-titled individual was listed in the Palace Directory along with the Page of the Backstairs and Steward of the Gold And Silver Pantry.

The Royals Love Nicknames. As a child, Princess Elizabeth was ‘Lilibet’ to her family and still is to her very close friends. Her father George VI, who visited many factories as Duke of York, was known as ‘The Foreman’ on account of this, while the slightly wooden Prince Henry of Gloucester, who was in the military, was ‘The Unknown Soldier’

The Queen Starred In Pantomime. Several wartime Windsor pantomimes were put on by Marion Crawford and the girls. The performances were for charity, but the ticket price worried Princess Elizabeth. ”You can’t ask for seven and sixpence just to see us!”

‘Nonsense!” said Princess Margaret. “They’ll pay anything to see us.”

The Royal Parrot. King George V, the Queen’s grandfather, had a large African grey parrot called Charlotte who stalked about the breakfast table and pecked the top off his egg.

You Can’t Sit In Queen Victoria’s Chair. In the drawing-room at Balmoral is an old, small, tartan-covered armchair. It was the favourite seat of the old Queen-Empress and no-one but no-one is ever allowed to sit there. Even now.

Sunday Times bestselling author Wendy Holden brings to life the unknown childhood years of one of the world’s most famous figures, Queen Elizabeth II, and reveals the spirited young governess who made her the icon we love today.

In 1933, twenty-two-year-old Marion Crawford accepts the role of a lifetime, tutoring the little Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret Rose. Her one stipulation to their parents the Duke and Duchess of York is that she bring some doses of normalcy into their sheltered and privileged lives.

At Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle and Balmoral, Marion defies stuffy protocol to take the princesses on tube trains, swimming at public baths, and on joyful Christmas shopping trips at Woolworth’s. From her ringside seat at the heart of the British monarchy she witnesses twentieth-century history’s most seismic events. The trauma of the Abdication, the glamour of the Coronation, the onset of World War II. She steers the little girls through it all, as close as a mother.

During Britain’s darkest hour, as Hitler’s planes fly over Windsor, she shelters her charges in the castle dungeons (not far from where the Crown Jewels are hidden in a biscuit tin). Afterwards, she is present when Elizabeth first sets eyes on Philip.

But being beloved confidante to the Windsors comes at huge personal cost. Marriage, children, her own views: all are compromised by proximity to royal glory. In this majestic story of love, sacrifice and allegiance, bestselling novelist Holden shines a captivating light into the years before Queen Elizabeth II took the throne.

You can purchase The Royal Governess at the following Retailers:

And now, The Giveaways.
Thank you WENDY HOLDEN for making this giveaway possible.
1 Winner will receive a Copy of The Royal Governess by Wendy Holden.


  1. "What was the last text message you received?" I don't *do* that.

  2. I have never received a text message and I do not text.

  3. A link to this:

    (it's a cutie dog, turn volume down :P)

  4. My UberEats meal has been delivered