A short story…

Edward VIII (later Duke of Windsor, obvs) very bored by this poor deb's curtsy.
'Are we nearly there yet?' A debutante poses in her car while waiting.
And another one. Note the people staring in through the window. Too good.

A few weeks ago, Hello! asked if I’d write them a short story which made me panic a bit. I’d never written one before and had no idea how to go about it. Also, part of me feared that short stories were for the extremely talented likes of Zadie Smith and Roald Dahl. Dare I try my own? Maybe…

I started thinking about where I could set it. A contemporary dinner party scene where somebody’s drunk and boorish, another’s groping the hostess under the table and there’s a dramatic revelation from a guest? That felt my kind of area. But nah, too obvious. Then my brain started going back in time. A ball scene? A grand Victorian party of some sort? (I suspect this came from the fact I was watching Belgravia.) The train of thought led me to Queen Charlotte’s Ball, the ball that used to be thrown for debutantes who were coming out and being presented to the king/queen. I started researching it and learned that queues for this ball used to stretch down the Mall as debutantes and their mothers waited in line, at first in carriages, later in cars, to be summoned through the Buckingham Palace gates. Worse still, nervous debutantes felt like zoo animals because the spectacle drew crowds, hundreds of people, who’d gather to gawp at the debs in their white dresses (had to be white dresses, white gloves along with three ostrich feathers in their hair). I then found some Path√© clips of this performance, debs smiling coyly at the camera. They brought cards to pass the time and played bridge, the racier ones drank champagne, hairdressers apparently scampered between cars primping while bobbies tried to keep control of the more ribald onlookers.

I worry a bit about what happened if you needed the loo? Three hours to wait on a nervous stomach is too long. (When Nancy Mitford was presented in 1923 she had to go in a chamber pot behind a screen in Buckingham Palace, those apparently being the only ‘facilities’ available, which seems remiss of the Royals?) But apart from lavatory concerns, I LOVED the idea of writing about this, of writing about an 18-year-old sitting in her car outside the gates, waiting for them to pull through so she had to go through the whole ludicrous rigmarole of curtsying to the monarch.

So that’s what I wrote about and I set it in 1936, a few months before Edward VIII abdicated because I like the sense that everyone was on the precipice of change at that moment. Not only was the monarchy about to be rocked but war wasn’t far off. Plus, Edward VIII (as he was in the summer of 1936) found the whole debutante presentation so boring and stuffy that he’d shifted them forward from the evening to the afternoon in an effort to make them less formal, and also moved them outside to the Buckingham Palace gardens. Although according to eye-witnesses, the king looked so bored throughout one afternoon in 1936 that some thought him asleep, and then it rained which, according to one blog I found on the topic,¬†‘put an abrupt end to the proceedings and gave rise to a number of irate comments from mothers who thought their daughters had been cheated of an opportunity to experience the same ceremony as they did, or thought that the garden party court was a poor substitute for the traditional evening one.’

Right, that’s enough since the above is practically longer than the story I subsequently wrote but useful background. My story below, thank you to Hello! for publishing. Also, on the v slim off chance any production companies are reading this and interested in developing further then get in touch as the historian in me would love to write more about it and there’s stacks of good material…



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