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A Remarkable Life: In Conversation with Lady Glenconner

June 5, 2020 | Holkham voices | 5 minute read

4 lady-glenconner

Lady Glenconner was set to give an author’s talk at Holkham this summer, speaking about her extraordinary life experiences. As this event has been postponed, we’re delighted to share an interview between Lady Glenconner and Daska Davis (editor of the Holkham Gazette) this Spring.

Holkham has a rich and magnificent history and for Lady Glenconner it has touched every aspect of her life. Born the eldest daughter of the 5th Earl of Leicester on 16th July 1932, Anne Veronica Coke was a regular playmate of young Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret, neighbours at nearby Sandringham House. Together they made the corridors of Holkham Hall and surrounding grounds their playground.

In 1956, she married The Hon. Colin Christopher Paget Tennant, son of the 2nd Baron Glenconner, at St Withburga’s Church on the estate, wearing a wedding dress designed by Royal designer Norman Hartnell. As a young woman, she maintained links with the Royal family, both as Maid of Honour at the Queen’s 1953 Coronation, and subsequently as an Extra Lady-in-Waiting to Princess Margaret.

Today she lives a short distance from Holkham, which provides the start and end of her memoir, Lady in Waiting which was published last year. “It’s been absolutely amazing,” says Lady Glenconner about the public and critical acclaim which the book received.

“One of the most touching aspects has been receiving letters from those who have suffered abuse or lost children. I have never written anything before but I’ve always told stories and I met a publisher who said I should write a book, so I said yes! It took three months and it was very hard work – I sat in the farmhouse where I live and recorded my life history, then an editor and I worked together to create the book.

“It was rather like going to a psychiatrist and was quite an enjoyable experience! My children and grandchildren are so pleased as there are things detailed in the book that they didn’t know about. It also offers an insight into how society has changed over the decades.”

Her appearance on The Graham Norton Show to promote Lady In Waiting was one of the series’ highlights, and a wonderful moment for Lady Glenconner who gave a highly entertaining interview. “It boosted the book hugely,” she says, “and it helped that I knew fellow guest Helena Bonham Carter, plus Olivia Colman is a Norfolk girl. I came on at half time, and I knew they wanted me to talk about my honeymoon night with Colin. Afterwards, the American actor Chadwick Boseman said to me, ‘Gee whizz, lady, you’re a natural storyteller!’

“I’m having the time of my life at 87 and it really has been a wonderful experience. It was the journalist Tina Brown who gave me the confidence to write the book as I had sent her a draft and her response upon reading it was, ‘You’ve done it, you’ve got a classic!’”

The memoir very much shines the light on Holkham. “Holkham is at the heart of everything,” she says. “It comes out in the book and is very much a part of me. It was wonderful to be brought up there and, although we were sent to live in Scotland during the war, afterwards I remember coming back and we couldn’t go on the beach in case of unexploded bombs and there was a prisoner of war camp of Italians in the park.

“As children, my sisters and I were put to good use at Holkham, helping my grandfather to clean the books in the library and we would play in the attic. At my coming out dance I wore a dress made out of an old parachute. I got married on the estate, I have such fond memories. Today I live close by the estate and it makes me so happy to see the wall of the park from my window.

“The book has gone down extremely well with the wider family – cousins who I haven’t seen for years have got in touch to say how much they enjoyed it. Lord Leicester has been very positive and said that he was so moved that he had to take a moment in the lay-by as he listened to the end of the audio book, which was very touching.

“I thought of my life as fairly run-of-the-mill until I started to write the book, but I have been fortunate in so many ways – I was extremely lucky to be born a Coke, to be part of the Queen’s Coronation, to marry Colin which took me away to Mustique – but the thing which runs throughout is Holkham and it always feels like coming home when I return to north Norfolk. I love looking down the Long Avenue towards the Obelisk, and seeing the Hall always gives me a thrill.”


With one best seller under her wing, Lady Glenconner is already pondering a second book. “It’s definitely on the cards as there are more stories to be told,” she says. “I already have a fictional work mapped out, it’s a whodunit! as I would love to be the new Miss Marple…”

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