First Lady: The Life and Wars of Clementine Churchill by Sonia Purnell - review by Jane Ridley

Jane Ridley

Grand Dame of Downing Street

First Lady: The Life and Wars of Clementine Churchill


Aurum Press 392pp £25 order from our bookshop

Clementine Churchill was remarkable not just for being the wife of the most famous British politician of the 20th century. She also became a major figure in her own right. Sonia Purnell claims in this new biography that Clementine was Churchill’s closest adviser and greatest influence. Her role has been underestimated. Forests of trees have been felled and libraries filled with books detailing every aspect of Winston Churchill’s career, but Clementine’s story has been neglected.

Clementine was twenty-three in 1908 when she married Winston, who was eleven years older. They resembled Beauty and the Beast. Winston was pink-skinned, round-shouldered, baby-faced and notoriously badly dressed. Clementine was taller than him and athletic, with a ‘splendid body’. She grew better-looking as she got older, and in her fifties she was stunning: white-haired and beautifully made up, with a wardrobe of bright chiffon turbans and leopard-skin coats.

Like Winston, she was the child of scandalous Edwardians. Churchill’s

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