Lady Colin Campbell – Georgie Campbell to her friends and friendly journalists – is undoubtedly the most prolific, fascinating and scandalous font of royal gossip in the world, and spending an hour talking to her on the phone is like being dunked, repeatedly, head-first into a lake of writhing rumours, your only dilemma being which one of the many tall tales on offer to grab a hold of for later inspection.
She’s also, amazingly, as reliable as she is outrageous, with impeccable form for her incredible stories. Famously, Georgie was the first writer to report that Princess Diana was bulimic, a claim rubbished by all and sundry as an outrageous fabrication until Andrew Morton’s book came out a few months later.
Her new tome, “The Queen Mother, The Untold Story of Elizabeth Bowes Lyon, Who Became Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother”, makes a compelling claim that Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, wife of George VI, who ascended the throne after his brother Edward VIII abdicated, was born to her family’s French cook, Marguerite Rodiere, in an “early version of surrogacy”.
Lady Colin says this explains the nickname “Cookie”, given to her by the exiled Duke and Duchess of Windsor, why her middle name was Marguerite, and why she gave multiple accounts of the place and even dates of her birth throughout her life, after the cook’s baby arrived early while her supposed real mother was down in London, necessitating a hasty cover-up and lifelong sowing of confusion to put mother and daughter in the same location. The cook then carried another child for the parents, who were desperate to get a male heir, and a longed-for son was born.
When I get on the phone with Georgie, I ask her who told her the story of the cook, the laird, his wife and the Queen Mother.
“I heard through the Duke of Windsor and that whole crowd,” she pronounces imperiously, in a curious accent which is both Upper Class British and Jamaican (she was born in Jamaica, the child of Michael and Gloria Ziadie).
When did she meet him? “I met him when I was at school in New York. When he was Governor of the Bahamas, his aide-de-camp was a family friend of ours, John Pringle, the founder of Round Hill, in Jamaica, which used to be the most fashionable place in the world. Ralph Lauren owned three houses there. In its glory days, in the 50s and 60s, everybody used to winter in Jamaica, JFK, Jackie. They wanted young pretty girls like me to be decoration.”
Another amazing fact about Georgie is that she wasn’t always a ‘young pretty girl’, she was born intersex, and was brought up as a boy for the first 12 years of her life.
But we’re here to talk about the Queen Mother, not Georgie Campbell, alas.
So, how old was the Duke of Windsor when he told young Georgie that the Queen Mother was the daughter of the family cook?
“He would have been in his early 70s.”
Was he a gossip?
“He was not a gossip. He was far more dignified than he is ever given credit for being. He and Wallis were completely and very effectively demonised from the moment he came off throne, by Elizabeth and the ossifiers [Georgie’s favoured term for the Queen Mother’s loyal, old-time, conservative supporters].
“But he was aware of the fact that his life had been seriously and unnecessarily derailed. Every agreement he struck with Bertie was dishonoured, and it bothered him, and he would talk about it. His dying words were, ‘The waste, the waste, the waste of it all.’
“So the subject would come up, you know, ‘We saw Cookie the other day.’ And of course it was a never-ending source of fascination to everyone else. It was this amazing ongoing saga, but the details were limited to a narrow circle. It never got out because the Queen Mother was alive and she was a brilliant operator. She had carved out a position of reverence and influence for herself, and nobody wanted to go up against her because if you did it was lethal and fatal. Anybody who crossed her ended up bleeding to death.”
How would she destroy people?
“She destroyed the Windsors by spreading the rumour that Wallis’s power over Edward derived from secret sexual practices she had learnt in bordellos in China. Completely untrue. But she got the government to investigate it.”
Much of Georgie’s book reads as a tract in defence of Edward VIII, arguing that his abdication was forced on him by Elizabeth.
“She was not just complicit in getting Edward off the throne, she orchestrated it.”
“My reading of it is that she was extremely ambitious. As early as 1929, she had her cohorts at the palace leaking to the American media. Time was writing in 1929 that David did not want to be on the throne, and that she and Bertie would be better.”
The details of how Elizabeth achieved her goal form the centrepiece of her fascinating book, showing how she recruited the Archbishop of Canterbury to her cause of insisting the king could not marry a divorcee, when there is no such constitutional impediment.
“The King of England can marry whomever he pleases, except a Roman Catholic.”
The way Georgie tells it, the King had no desire to abdicate, “The Archbishop wrote a letter saying, ‘We need to get him off the throne and we need to get him off the throne now and it needs to be done in such a way as it looks as if he has surrendered the throne of his own free will.’ You can see it in the archives at Lambeth Palace.
“A lot of what I have said in the book has never come out before, and I am rather amazed, because it has all been talked about for quite a long time. But of course, even 25 years ago, there were things it would never do to say publicly.”
And yet, now, she has let the cat out of the bag. Has she betrayed the omerta?
“I don’t think I have betrayed confidences, I think I am a groundbreaker as opposed to anything else. I did it with Diana and I have done it with Elizabeth. I did it with Diana because I wanted to adopt my children, so I did it for baby money. The Diana book started out as a joint project between Diana and me. We had meetings at the palace.”
Did she tell Georgie she was bulimic? “No, a friend who worked for her told me she was bulimic. I actually don’t think she was ever fully bulimic. That is not to say that she didn’t have nervous episodes related to bulimia, but for her it was not so intense and prolonged that it had physical side effects, like affecting her teeth, or her hair falling out. She told my friend, ‘I have discovered this great new way of dieting, eat all you want and then stick your fingers down your throat’, and that was more her attitude.”
Isn’t she afraid of being cut out of society after her latest broadside at the British establishment?
She laughs grandly. “What is the queen going to do to me? I don’t need their stamp of approval! I have a lineage going back to Charlemagne and William the Conqueror, and they can’t steal that from me. My membership of the club is entirely due to my own lineage. I am not a middle class arriviste desperate for recognition.”
Sixty years and hardly a slip.