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She’s watched history in the making – from the freeing of Mandela to the fall of the Berlin Wall – and met everyone from premiers and presidents to showbusiness superstars. Now Daily Mail legend ANN LESLIE is telling the story of her incredible life in a brilliantly compelling autobiography. During the Sixties, I got to know the photographer Patrick Lichfield, the fifth Earl of Lichfield, who was a cousin of the Queen and who took the official photographs of the wedding of Diana and Prince Charles. He was a very amusing, rather sweet and extraordinarily handsome man with bouffant hair and apparently lots of money, and we used to go out together, in a desultory manner, to places like the then Sloaney nightclub Annabel’s. When he took a portrait of me he turned me, via air-brushing, into what he clearly thought I should be and what he was used to: a beautiful, dim, debby Sloane. Dressing up in leathers and riding a Harley, Patrick always liked to pretend he was one of the ‘lads’ – the iconoclastic, rough-and-ready, fashionably working-class photographers like his mates Terry O’Neill, Terence Donovan and David Bailey. But, of course, he knew perfectly well how useful his title and his royal connections were.
Not least because ‘they save me money! I never employ assistants who don’t have private incomes – they work for me for nothing because their mothers hope “something might come of it”! For as long as possible, I kept my friendship with Patrick dark from my mother who, like the hopeful mothers of his wealthy assistants, might have deluded herself that ‘something might come of it’. Apparently, she had never entirely got over the fact that she had not married an alleged admirer who was a Scottish earl.
When she did finally learn that I knew an even more exalted earl than her lost swain, she became nervously excited. But Mummy, he’d never marry me, even if I wanted him to. He’s told me he’ll never marry a girl who isn’t aristocratic by birth, because non-aristocrats don’t know “how things work”! When he did get married, in 1975, it was to Lady Leonora Grosvenor, daughter of the fabulously wealthy Duke of Westminster. Britt Ekland and Gayle Hunnicutt, were guests at his lavish wedding at the ducal estate in Cheshire.
It was Patrick who persuaded me it was time to leave the Daily Express, where I’d begun my career. He was a good friend of Jocelyn Stevens, the proprietor and editor of Queen magazine. He told me: ‘When I’d go round to Kensington Palace for you-know-what, she had a little hand-bell which she’d use to signal to the butler, using a code she and the butler had agreed. One ring meant “Don’t come in”. And then, when we’d finished, she’d ring it again three times, which meant “You can come in now, we’re finished! The photographer working with me in the Bahamas was Patrick, who, of course, knew all the right people and was able to ensure we had an entrée to all the most sought-after social events. Princess Margaret and her husband Lord Snowdon had come to the Bahamas for a brief but doomed attempt to save their failing marriage.
They did not, of course, stay in a mere hotel, but in the beachfront house of Jocelyn Stevens and his then wife, Janie, the Princess’s lady-in-waiting. Patrick was very nervous about his relatively ‘plebbie’ colleague’s forthcoming meeting with his royal cousin. Ann, I mean, when you meet her, you will curtsey, won’t you? And always call her “Ma’am” when you address her, won’t you?
Yes, Patrick, for heaven’s sake, yes, of course! She rose out of the water and started shrieking: ‘It’s that bloody Bellisario! Ray Bellisario was the first of the British paparazzi and had already caused a scandal by photographing her in a similar cozzie three years earlier. But when Patrick informed his cousin, as she emerged at full screech from the waves, that he’d like to introduce her to me, she assumed her royal mode, imperiously stuck out her dripping hand and then looked at my feet. It is, believe me, not easy to do the full curtsey in flip-flops on wet sand.