Redeeming Features by Nicky Haslam

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Redeeming Features by Nicky Haslam

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Category: Autobiography
Rating: 3/5
Reviewer: John Van der Kiste
Reviewed by John Van der Kiste
Summary: The memoirs of the interior designer, who has rubbed shoulders with several members of royalty, showbusiness and cultural elite alike.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 368 Date: November 2010
Publisher: Vintage
ISBN: 978-0099546238

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Nicholas Haslam, interior designer, columnist, reviewer, the man whom it was said would attend a lighted candle, let alone a party, socialite and name dropper - this is your life.

Born in September 1939, the month the war broke out, and brought up at the sumptuous Great Hundridge Manor estate near Chesham, he seems to have met or attended social functions with almost every person of consequence during his lifetime, and found something to say about those he hadn't. Ever since he was introduced to the eccentric film star Tallulah Bankhead as a boy of fifteen, he has collected famous names the way many of us have collected stamps or coins at introduced Maynard Keynes to the City, while his mother was born a member of the Ponsonby family, and was a goddaughter of Queen Victoria.

Something of a self-appointed royal insider, he has lunched with Wallis Simpson ('a scarecrow body in its exquisite clothes') and the Queen Mother – separately, it must be noted, and also tells of a gay night club in Covent Garden at which one of King George VI's brothers was wearing full make-up and another Queen Mary's clothes. At the same time he offers his reasons for the breakdown of Princess Margaret's marriage, and informs us that he had had affairs with Antony Armstrong-Jones and Roddy Llewellyn, future husband and boyfriend respectively of the princess.

Elsewhere, he regales us with the story of a nightspot in Soho when a young androgynous-looking student from the LSE called Mick Jagger, bored with increasingly loud and snooty speculation from a couple of guests about whether he was a boy or a girl, undid his trousers far enough to dispel any lingering doubts about his, er, manhood. When punk rock came along, he was eager to patronize Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren, as he was amused by this gang of rule breakers, even if he found the sound their spiky-haired protégés made frankly unbearable.. Diana Cooper, Greta Garbo, Cecil Beaton, Bryan Ferry, to mention only a few, have all been part of his circle at various times. More recently he has moved into Cool Britannia circles, befriending such modern icons as Tracey Emin, Alex James of Blur and Liam Gallagher of Oasis. While on the musical aspect of things, he reminisces fondly on the release of the Beatles' 'Sergeant Pepper', adding that he only has to hear 'The Long and Winding Road' to be transported back to that month. Any Beatles fan (oh yes, he knew them as well) will instantly spot the deliberate (?) mistake there. Either that, or his memory is failing him and he needs a new research assistant.

There's a new name on almost every page. While there are several interesting, if perhaps not fully credible, stories about the rich, famous and titled in the book, it's rather akin to reading a book of gossip columns with barely a pause for breath in between. It's probably not altogether correct to call this book a memoir, because once the author gets past his early life and an attack of polio when he was only 10, there's little about him, precious little introspection. Every time he is on the verge of telling us something about himself, along comes a recollection or scandalous titbit about somebody else. Everything takes second place to the breathless social merry-go-round. He even takes to bringing in pieces of second-hand gossip, like a rumour that in the early 1970s astrologer Patric Walker killed another famous astrologer down the stairs from her top floor apartment in order to get her job on 'Queen' magazine. Whether he was indeed given the subsequent vacancy and/or whether he was charged with murder or manslaughter, we are never informed, because the next paragraph tells us eagerly about yet another person who invited him out for lunch. If he must add such stories to his tale, he might at least tell us what happened in the end. It really is that kind of book.

It's only fair to add that I found it entertaining in a way. But it also struck me as rather an ego-trip, somewhat overdone, and bitchy in places with a few catty remarks. As a peek into the world of high society and gossip, it is quite fun, and certainly not dull – but it's probably not the kind of book one would want to read too often.

Our thanks to Vintage Books for sending a review copy to Bookbag.

If you enjoy this, you might also like The Bolter by Frances Osborne, a biography of Idina Sackville, socialite from a previous generation.

Buy Redeeming Features by Nicky Haslam at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Redeeming Features by Nicky Haslam at

Buy Redeeming Features by Nicky Haslam at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Redeeming Features by Nicky Haslam at


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