Corgi & Beth

Af­ter in­fu­ri­at­ing roy­al­ists by prick­ing the “Saint” Diana bub­ble, Penny Junor has found some safer Wind­sor dar­lings to write about.

New Zealand Listener - - CONTENTS - By Michele He­wit­son

Af­ter in­fu­ri­at­ing roy­al­ists by prick­ing the “Saint” Diana bub­ble, Penny Junor has found some safer Wind­sor dar­lings to write about.

Penny Junor, a bi­og­ra­pher of the Bri­tish royal fam­ily, was once at­tacked by a drag queen at Al­bert Hall. That is a true story. She was, at the time, 20 years ago, one of the most re­viled women in Bri­tain. She may have been sec­ond only to Camilla, now the Duchess of Corn­wall, who was then a mere mar­riage wrecker and al­legedly had buns thrown at her in a su­per­mar­ket car park. Buns. Vit­riol. They have both had a lot of things thrown at them.

It is per­haps no won­der that Junor feels a lot of sym­pa­thy for Camilla. Say­ing so, and that poor dead, de­ceived Diana’s bu­limia was a men­tal ill­ness in her book Charles: Vic­tim or Vil­lain?, led to her be­ing de­scribed as evil and poi­sonous and “Bri­tain’s fore­most hatch­et­ess”.

She sounds ter­ri­fy­ing. And, as she is sup­posed to be “as cold and sharp as ice”, im­per­vi­ous to the sort of mail she gets, you would think. Not a bit of it, she says. “I have a ridicu­lously thin skin. And when I get letters, or emails now – it used to be letters on lined notepa­per in green ink – say­ing ‘you ugly cow’ and ‘I hope you go to hell’ and ‘I hope your chil­dren all die of can­cer,’ and all that kind of stuff, that re­ally does up­set me.” Per­haps her bark is worse than her bite.

She has a new book out. She has done Charles and Diana and Camilla; she has done Wil­liam and Harry. Ac­tu­ally, she did the whole clan in The Firm. Who has she taken her hatchet to now? Kate? Meghan? No such luck. The new book is about cor­gis.

“It is a com­plete de­par­ture, but I’m mad about dogs.” And these dogs are not just any dogs, they are the Queen’s cor­gis, hence the ti­tle: All the Queen’s Cor­gis:

The Story of El­iz­a­beth II & Her Most Faith­ful Com­pan­ions.

“It seemed like some­thing quite fun to do for a change. Hav­ing spent my life writ­ing about peo­ple, who can be very liti­gious, it’s quite nice to write about dogs,” she says on the phone from Wilt­shire, which is one of those coun­ties in Eng­land’s south-west where dog­mad peo­ple con­gre­gate.

All the Queen’s Cor­gis is bonkers. How could it not be? It is about cor­gis. Also, be­cause, as fas­ci­nat­ing as the Queen’s cor­gis un­doubt­edly are, there is only so much that can be known

Is Prince Philip as cur­mud­geonly as his rep­u­ta­tion sug­gests? “I think he’s a very com­pli­cated man.”

about cor­gis, it is about the Queen’s dor­gis and her gun dogs as well. Dor­gis – you may not know this; I cer­tainly didn’t – are a cross be­tween a dachs­hund and a corgi. The orig­i­nal dor­gis were Pick­les and Tinker, the re­sult of an unau­tho­rised bit of royal romp­ing be­tween one of the Queen’s cor­gis and Princess Mar­garet’s sausage dog. What japes!

The corgi book be­gins with The Line of Suc­ces­sion – the royal corgi fam­ily tree. This makes your eyes wa­ter. It is as com­pli­cated as the list of char­ac­ters in War and Peace. The dogs all have posh names, such as Roza­vel Crown Princess and Ermyn Moon­dust, but are known by their com­mon (or ken­nel) names such as Dip­per and Disco and Martin. Martin! That’s roy­alty for you.

In the be­gin­ning was Su­san. She was the Queen’s first corgi and she was smug­gled un­der a blan­ket in the royal car­riage as the Queen and Prince Philip left for their hon­ey­moon. Junor writes: “The Duke of Ed­in­burgh has been vy­ing with the dogs for his wife’s at­ten­tion ever since.” Much later, he is sup­posed to have said: “Why have you got so many bloody dogs?” All of those bloody dogs might, one could sur­mise, be the rea­son for his leg­endary bad tem­per.

The dogs bite; he barks. But bug­ger the cor­gis for a bit. Is Prince Philip, I wanted to know, as cur­mud­geonly as his rep­u­ta­tion sug­gests? “I think he’s a very com­pli­cated man. Well, Philip had a dif­fi­cult start.” You could say that. There was the deaf mother who went into psy­chi­atric care; the fa­ther who drifted off; two of his four sis­ters mar­ry­ing Ger­mans with Nazi sym­pa­thies; and one, Ce­cilie, who was killed in a plane crash.

He’s a stoic. Junor says: “I think he’s a re­mark­able man to be some­one who gave up his naval ca­reer – and he is re­ally a sort of clas­sic al­pha male – and yet he has walked [for nearly 70 years] two paces be­hind the Queen.”

There are those re­puted af­fairs. “Who knows?” If any­one does, she prob­a­bly would. “If any­one knows, they cer­tainly wouldn’t say so while he’s still alive. Put it that way.” I put it this way: she thinks he prob­a­bly did, like the Queen’s corgi and Princess Mar­garet’s dachs­hund, get up to mis­chief. “I would not be sur­prised. But I don’t know.”

The Queen’s cor­gis, the book’s cover line sug­gests, are the great loves of her life. Does she think the Queen loves her dogs more than she loves Philip? “I think she loves her cor­gis and we dog lovers are pas­sion­ate about our dogs. My chil­dren are all con­vinced that I love my dog more than I love them!”

The roy­als are not like us, and nei­ther are their dogs, and nei­ther are their sex lives. As Junor has pre­vi­ously pointed out, “the then Camilla Shand slept with Prince Charles in

1971 only as re­venge on her phi­lan­der­ing boyfriend, later hus­band, An­drew Parker Bowles, who was cheat­ing on her with Princess Anne. That’s just how the up­per classes bonk.” Lit­er­ally bonkers.

Peo­ple think she knows about things such as royal sex lives. They also think that she goes about tal­ly­ho­ing and shoot­ing pheas­ants, say, with the roy­als; that she’s friends with them. She isn’t, al­though she has met some of them, in­clud­ing the Queen – “not to chat to” – and she did once in­ter­view Prince Charles.

She sounds posh, to an an­tipodean ear, but says, “No, no. Not at all.” She went to the same board­ing school, Be­nen­den School in Kent, as Princess Anne, who was a year be­hind her. They were never friends. “No. no, no.” She was sent to the school only be­cause, she says, she failed her ex­ams and couldn’t get into a gram­mar school.

Her fa­ther was Fleet St editor Sir John Junor, who was much loved and much feared, not least by his daugh­ter. He died in 1997. In 2002, she pub­lished a mem­oir, Home Truths: Life Around My Fa­ther, in which he was por­trayed as a heavy­drink­ing man’s man, a phi­lan­derer who was a brute to his wife. His daugh­ter had a pre­dictably com­pli­cated re­la­tion­ship with him (he was “ab­so­lutely vile” to her hus­band, James Leith, the brother of food writer and telly cook Prue Leith). Her feel­ings about him are still tan­gled: “When he was nice, he was very, very nice, and when he was nasty, he was hor­rid.”

She, too, be­came a jour­nal­ist (and one of her four chil­dren is the jour­nal­ist Sam Leith) and worked for the Evening Stan­dard, and for some years wrote a col­umn for the satir­i­cal mag­a­zine Pri­vate Eye (which had spent many merry years pok­ing fun at her fa­ther). She says she had no in­ter­est in the royal fam­ily and cer­tainly no in­ter­est in writ­ing about them. “The whole thing started with a ra­bid dog

“I thought cor­gis were pretty hor­ri­ble un­til I met a few. I have a ger­man shep­herd, and they’re a bit like ger­man shep­herds with their legs cut off!”

in Kath­mandu,” which is ap­pro­pri­ately bark­ing. She was work­ing as a free­lance jour­nal­ist and got a call from an editor: some­body in Ful­ham had been bit­ten by a ra­bid dog. The editor knew some­body who had been bit­ten by a ra­bid dog in Kath­mandu. Could she go and in­ter­view her? The bit­ten woman worked for a pub­lisher, liked the piece Junor wrote, and days af­ter Charles and Diana’s wed­ding, phoned and said: “Would you like to write about Diana?”

That was her nice Diana book. It was a suc­cess. But then she wrote her book about the fail­ure of the mar­riage. She says she didn’t set out to write a book that shat­tered the im­age of Diana the saint and Charles the scoundrel. Diana had been dead for about 18 months, and “great

bub­bles had grown up around her in that pe­riod. Be­fore she died, peo­ple were re­ally sort of crit­i­cis­ing her; colum­nists in the news­pa­pers were say­ing, ‘This is re­ally tacky, to be tak­ing your chil­dren on board your play­boy’s boat; to be hav­ing the Queen’s grand­chil­dren pa­raded on Dodi Fayed’s boat, and half-naked’, and so on. Peo­ple were tut­ting about her and then, the minute she died, she be­came a saint, an ab­so­lute saint, and you could not say any­thing about her. At all.”

She did. “I was re­ally in­ter­ested in what went on in that mar­riage and I knew that the Prince of Wales was never go­ing to speak about it. And the world had been left with Diana’s ver­sion of a cal­lous, ter­ri­ble man and an evil Camilla who de­stroyed Diana. I didn’t know whether that was true or not and I wanted to find out.”

What she found out was that they were en­tirely ill-suited, that Diana was “a very trou­bled girl and she’d never had any dis­ci­pline in her life be­cause her par­ents were divorced. When­ever she dis­liked some­thing, she was able to give it up, and be­ing a mem­ber of the royal fam­ily is all about do­ing things that you re­ally don’t want to do, year in and year out.”

Junor is a great ad­mirer of Charles, but con­sid­ers him a flawed char­ac­ter. He has a very bad tem­per and he can be­have “quite self­ishly at times. He’s not a great man. In many ways, he’s not the strong­est of men. Camilla will be the strength be­hind the crown.”

She said all of these things and that Camilla saved Charles from “the depths of de­spair”. Her tim­ing was off. The man­u­script, about to be se­ri­alised in the Mail on Sun­day, was stolen and other papers pub­lished ex­cerpts.

Peo­ple thought that she was a to­tal bitch. A bitch who got rich writ­ing hor­rid things about Princess Diana. “No. If I’d writ­ten that Charles was a hor­ri­ble man who was beastly to Diana and had only ever loved Camilla, I’d be rich.” The book was shunned by the pub­lic. “The old maxim that there’s no such thing as bad pub­lic­ity did not carry in that in­stance.”

Oh, well, I say, I used to be called a bitch, too. “I’m sure you’re not.” We all have our mo­ments, I say, hop­ing to tease out a bit of the bitch I was se­cretly wish­ing she was. She’s been a hack for too long to fall for that old trick. “Ha, ha. Mmm,” is as much as she’ll say.

Junor doesn’t think she’ll write about Kate or Meghan. She thinks Kate is “very, very nice but I don’t think she’s go­ing to set the world on fire. But, you know, that’s per­fect for her role.” Doesn’t she think that’s a ter­ri­ble ob­ser­va­tion to make in 2018? She says the dif­fer­ence be­tween Wil­liam and Kate’s mar­riage and Wil­liam’s par­ents’ mar­riage is that Kate and Wil­liam “are equals”. She who will never set the world on fire is never go­ing to up­stage the fu­ture king in the way that Diana did. “In this par­tic­u­lar job, I think it’s im­por­tant that Kate doesn’t eclipse Wil­liam. I’m not say­ing he’s more prom­i­nent than she is, but she isn’t in com­pe­ti­tion with him.” As for Meghan: “She’s used to be­ing a star. She’s used to pub­lic ac­cla­ma­tion and I think that’s one of the rea­sons that she sort of nailed it. Harry’s pre­vi­ous girl­friends have fled at hav­ing the spot­light turned on them.”

Any­way, much safer to write about dogs. But cor­gis, aren’t they aw­ful? And the Queen’s cor­gis are par­tic­u­larly aw­ful. They bite. “I thought they were pretty hor­ri­ble dogs un­til I met a few and they’re ac­tu­ally rather sweet. I have a ger­man shep­herd, and they’re a bit like ger­man shep­herds with their legs cut off!” My favourite story in her book is of a foot­man who, af­ter hav­ing been bit­ten, took re­venge by lac­ing the corgi’s food with gin. I hope this is a true story be­cause, good for him. “It was only a lit­tle bite!”

From a ra­bid, bitey dog in Nepal to one of the big­gest bitches in Bri­tain to bitey cor­gis at Buck­ing­ham Palace. That’s the sort of ca­reer tra­jec­tory you couldn’t make up. De­spite the sad lack of ev­i­dence of bitch­i­ness, and her un­fath­omable fond­ness for cor­gis, I liked her. She’s jolly good fun. She said: “It’s been very nice to talk to you. Good night from one bitch to an­other.”


From left, the Duke and Duchess of Sus­sex, who ar­rive in New Zealand on Sun­day; Diana and Charles.

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