Redeeming Features: A Memoir by Nicholas Haslam - review by Sebastian Shakespeare

Sebastian Shakespeare

Anyone Who’s Anyone

Redeeming Features: A Memoir


Jonathan Cape 324pp £25 order from our bookshop

Nicholas Ponsonby Haslam – interior decorator, great-grandson of the 7th Earl of Bessborough, Princess Diana's cousin, and the life and soul of every high society party – can name-drop for England. The index of his memoir is a roll call of the most iconic figures of the twentieth century, and our Nicky has met them all: Cecil Beaton, Noël Coward, Diana Cooper, John Betjeman, David Hockney, Andy Warhol, Dorothy Parker, Jackie Kennedy, Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley. Ever since, as a young boy, he named his pet mongrel Pablo (after Picasso), Haslam was always destined to wag his tail in the presence of what he calls ‘stars of great magnitude’. Once he even cajoled Mae West into repeating one of the best-known lines she ever uttered on screen down the telephone to him (‘Come up and see me sometime’). This is a wonderfully entertaining memoir, gossipy, touching and tender, even if at times it verges on self-parody. Famous connections are flaunted no matter how tenuous. When Haslam picks up a bit of rough in Naples called Hans, it's not any old Hans, but ‘none other than Hans Werner Henze, the most admired young classical composer in the world, whose ballet was about to premiere at Covent Garden’.

Yet for all the name-dropping this is a far from meretricious memoir. The best chapters relate to his upbringing in postwar England. This is a vanished era when the post was delivered twice a day and avocados were regarded as the Holy Grail. He spent three years immobilised

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