‘We are stuck like chicken feathers to tar’: Elizabeth Taylor’s description of the fabled romance

‘To begin at the beginning,’ intones Richard Burton with a voice like warm treacle at the start of the 1971 film Under Milk Wood. It’s hard to imagine an actor more obviously influenced by his own beginnings. The epigraph to this double biography is ‘The damp, dark prison of eternal love’, a line borrowed from Quentin Crisp. And if that’s an accurate assessment of Burton’s on-off-on-again relationship with the actress Elizabeth Taylor, it’s an even better summary of his childhood in Wales. Born Richard Walter Jenkins to a barmaid mother and a coal miner father (a ‘12-pints-a-day man’ who sometimes disappeared for weeks on end to drink and gamble), as

The 19th century Chinese craze for all things European

By the 1800s, the mechanical clock had become a status symbol for wealthy Chinese. The first arrived with Jesuit missionaries and Portuguese merchants years earlier, but it wasn’t until the early 19th century that those outside of the imperial court could afford them. Rich merchant families displayed their clocks proudly, like their European counterparts had showed off pineapples. Women’s jackets started to be decorated with ‘clock buttons’ made of enamel and one family embroidered a clock face on to their baby’s silk bib. European aesthetics made their way into other parts of Chinese society too. Traditional ink portraits became colourful and hyper-realistic, inspired by photography. Courtesans learned to play billiards

In defence of Prince Harry’s necklace

The revelation that Prince Willy allegedly broke Prince Harold’s necklace in a fight shows how unshockable we’ve become when it comes to Harry and Meghan drama. Because my main question after this particular episode isn’t about press standards or dysfunction in the royal family – it’s ‘why was he wearing a necklace?’. When I was a child, my mother would impress upon my brother, sister and me the importance of not being seen to do or wear anything that could be regarded as ‘naff’. Tattoos and earrings or necklaces (on men) were all deemed especially naff. As a result, between the three of us we have 12 tattoos at the last count. I

A show of ample and eerie majesty: British Museum’s Peru: A Journey in Time reviewed

Growing up on a farm outside Lima, I was aware that indigenous Peruvians did not understand time in the same way that their white countrymen did. On our visits to the highlands, we would encounter a very different mode of thinking. Ask an Andean villager where the next settlement was and you’d be told, ‘aquisito no más’ — just over here. Whether ‘aquisito’ meant around the next bend or four days’ schlep across the mountains was, for aboriginal people, a meaningless question. They were not ruled, as their European-descended neighbours were, by clocks. You’d sometimes see Quechua-speaking herdsmen sitting motionless for so long that they seemed to have switched off

The art and science of Fabergé

After all the magnificent presents she’d received from his workshop, Queen Alexandra was eager to meet the most famous jeweller in Russia. ‘If Mr Fabergé ever comes to London,’ she said to Henry Bainbridge, a manager of the design house, ‘you must bring him to see me.’ Peter Carl Fabergé paid a rare visit to the capital to inspect his new shop — the only one located outside the Russian empire — at 48 Dover Street in 1908. ‘The Queen wants to see me! What for?’ he asked an exasperated Bainbridge. ‘Well, you know what an admirer she is of all your things.’ Insisting that she would not wish to