The borderline between fact and fiction becomes ever hazier, I find. Last February, Daisy Goodwin — the author of the brilliant new Victoria drama on ITV — took me to an aircraft hangar near Leeds. Cold fog hugged the tarmac and grass outside. We stepped over cables and squeezed past screens. A ringletted woman in a severe dress of the 1830s passed us and said, ‘Guten Morgen!’ As we spoke, our breath made clouds in the freezing Yorkshire air. Wasn’t that the Baroness Lehzen, Queen Victoria’s governess, whom we just passed? A moment later, as the dream continued, we saw the Queen’s mother, the Duchess of Kent, another German lady. Pushing aside some flaps, we found ourselves in a corridor of Buckingham Palace, ablaze with candles, and I was introduced to Prince Albert and his brother Ernst, over on a visit to woo our young monarch, the enchanting Jenna Coleman. I was astounded by the recreation of an illusory Buckingham Palace in that hangar by Michael Howells, the production designer.
Queen Victoria and her entourage have been dancing inside my head for years — ever since, as a child, I read Laurence Housman’s short plays, Happy and Glorious, with their illustrations by Ernest H. Shepard. Later, when a boy at Rugby School, I read the book which made me realise that I, too, wanted to become a writer, Lytton Strachey’s Queen Victoria. In the fullness of time, I wrote a biography of Victoria myself. Daisy Goodwin and Mammoth productions have used my work as a source, and I have been acting as historical adviser to the series.
Malcolm Muggeridge’s joke about the evidence given at Stalinist show-trials — everything is true except the facts — has a universal application.