Sofka Dolgorouky’s life was polarised between two uniquely distant extremes. Her father’s family were the epitome of St Petersburg’s court grandees, though he himself was a charming playboy who dabbled in the theatre and was eventually remarried to a gypsy singer before dying at the age of forty-two. Her mother’s family, the Bobrinskis, were equally exalted, being descended from one of Catherine the Great’s many lovers, but her Bobrinski grandfather was an exceptionally cultivated archaeologist and collector, with a talent for versifying and for Edward Lear-like drawings. Her mother was determined to break away from a suffocating court life. She studied medicine and, having also learnt to fly at the Ecole Militaire d’Aviation at Chartres in 1913, acquired her own aeroplane. When war came, she was twice decorated as a nurse.
Sofka was an only child, and her incompatible parents separated after only five years of marriage. Her mother’s mother was a close friend of the Tsar’s mother, and little Sofka was given piggy-backs by the Tsar himself, and played many games of halma with the Tsarevich, who was too vulnerable,