Juliet Nicolson

Juliet Nicolson is an author and contributing editor to Harper’s Bazaar magazine.

The summer I dwelt in marble halls

The discovery of a cache of long-lost love letters might be an over-familiar inspiration for a memoir, risking a bit of a dusty lane indulgence – a charming, nostalgic featherbed flop into a past romance. But although the events described by this delightful nonagenarian first-time author took place three-quarters of a century ago, there is

Brutality rules in paradise – a memoir of Jamaican childhood

The blue-skied, hibiscus-clad ‘postcard’ beauty of Montego Bay, where the seasons shift with the rhythm of the sea breeze, veils the terrifying reality of Safiya Sinclair’s life at home. Until the age of five, Safiya lived in a small Jamaican hamlet on the white sand close to the endless beaches that attract the tourists, many

Why I queued to see the Queen

I went there with Rachel my best friend from childhood. We both wore black. Even our trainers were black. We took the train together from our homes in Sussex and joined the queue in London at 7 p.m., when day light was still strong, in the knowledge we might be part of this slow-moving mass

Who would be a farmer’s wife?

On the opening page of The Farmer’s Wife, Helen Rebanks quotes George Eliot’s famous passage from Middlemarch. Dorothea adds to ‘the growing good of the world’ through her ‘unhistoric acts’ and by having ‘lived faithfully a hidden life’. With this enchanting, funny, fearless book, Rebanks brings her own ‘unhistoric’ life unequivocally out of hiding. The

Polly Toynbee searches in vain for one working-class ancestor

Polly Toynbee’s fascinating, multi-generational memoir comes with a caveat to a Spectator reviewer. While her book is written with ‘self-conscious awareness’, Toynbee predicts, with a cautionary wag of the finger, that it will be reviewed in publications where ‘introspection is inconvenient’. Not a page goes by without a reference to the iniquities of class, accent,

My memories of Raymond Briggs

I really loved Raymond Briggs. I first met him in 1976, before his mega-fame had arrived. I was working in the publicity department of Raymond’s publishers, Hamish Hamilton, and every so often he would trundle a wheelie suitcase into the office containing the painted boards of artwork for his latest cartoon story. His visits were

A vroom of one’s own: how I loved my old Mini

Almost 100 years ago the writer Virginia Woolf advised women to find themselves a room of their own: a refuge away from the busy, crowding demands of life, where they could focus instead on themselves and write, think, be. At a time of austerity, when space is at an expensive premium and when post-pandemic empty

Abandoned for a bogus guru – Lily Dunn’s harrowing family memoir

Sins of My Father begins with an ending. Describing her 61-year-old parent’s final desperate flight from a life of vibrant glitter, creativity and affluence, Lily Dunn reveals the extent to which it was simultaneously riddled with devastating addiction. After alcoholism, drugs, money and sex played their destructive role, her father (who is never given a

My mother’s secret life was a Dickensian horror story

What happens to a child raised without love? This is the agonising question that the American lawyer Justine Cowan braces herself to address in a memoir that seeks to explain her relationship with Eileen, her monster of a mother. As her parent’s gaunt figure lay in hospital, vanishing within the fog of a disease that

Diplomatic daughters go behind the scenes at Yalta

From Downing Street to Pennsylvania Avenue, history’s powerful inter-family influencers, whether spouses or children, have long operated behind weighty political front doors. With an unerring eye for the revealing detail, Catherine Grace Katz has uncovered a fascinating generational back-story to the Yalta summit of February 1945. The three varyingly spirited daughters of Churchill, Roosevelt and

Bringing up Benzene: Charlie Gilmour adopts a magpie

One day a baby bird falls from its nest into an oily scrapyard in Bermondsey, south London and seems unlikely to survive. As the writer Charlie Gilmour and his set-designer fiancée Janina (Yana) find themselves scrutinised by the tiny creature’s ‘gemstone eyes’ they become caught up in an unexpected urge to save the fledgling’s life.

A passionate wartime love story is rescued from oblivion

Once in a while, just at the right moment, a truly gorgeous real-life love story appears out of the blue, or in this case out of a chance purchase on eBay. Thanks to a serendipitous sequence of connections, including a perspicacious dealer and a fast-moving literary agent, the wonderful (and super-latively edited) seat-of-the-pants romance of

Beyond SAD

As travel writer, nature writer, memory retriever and, I would add, prose-poet of mesmerising lyricism, Horatio Clare is a celebrant and observer of what is lovely, less lovely and sometimes, thankfully, absurd in the world. But Clare has come to fear winter. Recently the season has sapped his emotional and creative energy, masking his joy

Listing or sinking?

The arrival at a new foreign posting for a junior diplomat’s wife in the first half of the last century was no glamorous picnic, as she grappled with a ceremonial sword in a golf bag, three months supply of toothpaste, a crate of hot water bottles and enough safety pins for every emergency. Born in

Listen with Auntie

The camouflage-painted, smoke-blackened entrance to London’s 1940s Broadcasting House, moated with sandbags and battered by bombs, provided its staff with a refuge from attack. Inside, a gender-segregating blanket divided the employees’ emergency dormitory in two. But such propriety masked the energy, idiosyncrasy and influence that ballooned within the Portland Place walls during the wartime years.

The best Brontë

Fans of the novels and poems written by the sibling inhabitants of Haworth Parsonage always have a Top Brontë. Fame-seeking Charlotte and mysteriously reclusive Emily usually grab the limelight. My father reread Emily’s only novel every five years, annotating his student copy of Wuthering Heights and monitoring his opinions depending on how his own love

The world in limbo

In 1919 the economist and sometime prophet John Maynard Keynes left the glittering ballroom of Versailles feeling profoundly despondent. The treaty that determined the political geography of a postwar world inspired in him a fearful sense of inevitability. The punitive conditions imposed on Germany would be too harsh for the country to tolerate for long.

More sinned against than sinning

The 55-year-old ’flu-ridden John Charles Wallop, 3rd Earl of Portsmouth, his feet in a basin of warm water, shivered in the dock with fever but also with fear. Would the jury, assembled in 1823 in London’s jam-packed Freemason’s Hall at the end of an unpredecentally sensational two-week trial, find him eccentric, delusional, simple-minded or, instead,

Great halls, last balls

Contrary to popular myth, the exuberant flame of life in the English country house was not extinguished by tears at the end of the Great War. And in his deliciously jaunty and wonderfully knowledgeable book, Adrian Tinniswood, social historian and country house authority, also upturns the story that huge numbers of Britain’s loveliest houses disappeared