Frances Osborne at the Biographers Club
Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 12th November, 2008
Naughty people are so much more interesting than goody-goodies. And few well-bred ladies in the 20th Century were quite as naughty as Idina Sackville, five times married and five times divorced, painted by Sir William Orpen, part fictionalised by Nancy Mitford and Michael Arlen and now immortalised by her great-grand-daughter, Frances Osborne, in her book The Bolter (Virago, £18.99). Frances Osborne — who is the daughter of the former Conservative government Minister, Lord (David) Howell, and the wife of the Shadow Chancellor, George Osborne – was the guest speaker at the Biographers’ Club lunch at Shepherd’s Restaurant in Westminster today. She gave a fascinating talk about how she became engrossed in her errant forebear, who walked out on her handsome, sweet and super-rich husband Euan Wallace and their two little boys, to go to live in Kenya, settling in Happy Valley, the land of White Mischief, where she consolidated her reputation as a great seductress.
The book is a compulsive read, but the story of its gestation is gripping too. Originally conceived as a novel, it turned into a family memoir, as Frances Osborne probed deeper into her great-grandmother’s hidden past. The author stumbled on her connection to the subject by accident when she was 13, reading an article in a newspaper about Idina Sackville’s scandals. When she brought this to her parents’ attention, David Howell laughingly said that now her mother would now have to tell her the family secret. It was not easy. As Frances Osborne commented at the lunch, ‘Mother was not brought up to go round saying her grandmother was a nymphomaniac.’ Thanks to several caches of diaries, letters and other primary sources, a wonderfully rounded tale was weaved together. But now the book is launched and selling well, Frances Osborne will proceed with her thwarted original intention of writing an historical novel.