LADY DIANA COOPER
BEDSIDE OBSERVATIONS ON THE DUKE, THE DUCHESS AND DOGGIE.
Byline: Patrick McCarthy, December 1978
As befits the woman Cecil Beaton once called “The most adulated beauty of her generation,” Lady Diana Cooper greets her noontime visitor in bed. Swathed in a pale orange dressing gown and wide pearl necklace, which perfectly complements her smooth, alabaster skin and cream-colored hair, she nonchalantly explains, “It’s just much too early to be anywhere else.” Besides, Doggie, her omnipresent brown Chihuahua, prefers to examine strangers from under the mountain of blankets and must be indulged. ‘He’s too important to neglect,” Lady Diana whispers.
She suggests a glass of port before beginning the “ordeal of an interview and then launches into a series of questions about her visitor’s background. “I insist on interviewing you first,” she says, burying a suspicious and growling Doggie beside her. “I can’t bear to talk over intimate things with someone I don’t know. Now, answer honestly, and we’ll get along. Otherwise you won’t have much luck.”
After a few half-hearted “how nices,” Lady Diana loses interest and starts talking about her townhouse. Located in a now-chic section of London nicknamed “Little Venice” because of the picturesque canal that runs through the middle of it, the three-story mansion was purchased by Lady Diana 20 years ago after she gave up her chateau in Chantilly. “I’m very smug about this area,” the woman who made it fashionable confesses. “We’re all exceedingly neighborly, unlike the rest of London….”
But Lady Diana has never been, and probably never will be, a homebody. At 86, she still drives around London (at breakneck speeds) in her little black Austin Mini, shopping and visiting friends. She is an inveterate partygoer and has a list of dinner engagements a mile long. She also loves to travel, even though her budget demands the rigors of second-class train compartments and tourist-class plane seats.
“I actually prefer to take the cheap route,” she adds. “There’s no point in spending good money for what comes down to snob status. I learned a long time ago that whether you fly in the front of the airplane or in the back, you get to the same destination at the same time. But at least in the pauper wing, you’ve got a little more money left to spend on something more interesting than an extra glass of champagne and an overly courteous stewardess….”
She chuckles for a moment, obviously aware that, with encouragement, her visitor is now primed to break one of the “sacred” interview ground rules, set by Lady Diana on the telephone earlier. “Let’s not talk about any of those people in my past,” she had said. “I can hardly remember them.” She sighs and waits for the inevitable onslaught. “Just don’t ask me to name the most wonderful person I have ever known,” she pleads. “It isn’t possible and it isn’t interesting.
Later she relents and voluntarily lists the interesting, giant-sized characters she has known. The tally is headed by the Duke of Windsor, whom Lady Diana and her husband, Alfred (Duff) Cooper, knew intimately as the Prince of Wales, Edward VIII and the sad expatriate in Paris. Her late husband, several times a cabinet minister under Neville Chamberlain and Winston Churchill, was one of the few public figures who urged the young king not to abdicate before he married Wallis Simpson.
“But he did, and that’s history,” recalls Lady Diana. “But what happened to him later is less well known and even more pathetic. He had such an awful life in Paris. He couldn’t speak French, he didn’t enjoy nightclubs, and he had very few friends he could talk with.
“If I had been Mrs. Simpson, if only I had been Mrs. Simpson, I would have bought him the most lovely house in Virginia, where he could have a little English court, be close to the countryside and, at the same time, close to politics. He was violently pro-American, and he would have enjoyed it so much….
“I hate to sound disloyal, but I find England a depressing place, especially London,” says Lady Diana, her light blue eyes opening wide. “There’s one million unemployed, but nobody seems to be doing anything about it. America has its problems, but they tend to do something about them, at least they have in the past. We tend to go from one crisis to another without any solutions.”