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It’s Barbara Cartland’s birthday! Nige celebrates Britain’s most multi-’talented’ Dame….

Had she not been cruelly plucked from us at the age of 98, Dame Barbara Cartland – socialite, celebrity, figure of fun, self-appointed expert on many things, tireless self-publicist and staggeringly prolific romantic novelist – would have been 113 today. She is still the third biggest-selling author ever, behind only Shakespeare and Agatha Christie. The upper estimate of her worldwide sales is one billion, and her published titles number 722 (23 of them in the annus mirabilis of 1983 alone). Apparently, as with Agatha Christie, her worldwide success owed a lot to the fact that her books – with their simple style and vocabulary and formulaic structures – are very effective tools for learning English, though heaven knows what idea of our national life students would gain from reading Cartland and Christie…

Cartland’s early work was avowedly inspired by the racy novels of Elinor Glyn (of It Girl fame) and she belongs in the tradition of Marie Corelli, Ouida, Ethel M. Dell, and indeed the fictional Angel - a tradition that surely died with Dame Barbara. She also seems at one time to have drawn rather heavily on Georgette Heyer (a very much better writer), who in 1950 threatened a plagiarism suit.

To her credit, Dame Barbara did much good public work – especially during the war, when she served in the War Office in various charitable capacities, as well as being very active in the St John’s Ambulance Brigade. Less well known is her contribution to aviation, as a pioneer of aerotowing (gliders towed by planes), a technique which was to play a part in winning the war.

Her daughter Raine’s social success exceeded even her own, as she married Earl Spencer and became stepmother to Diana, Princess of Wales. Barbara and Diana didn’t get on, and the Princess did not invite her step-grandmother to her wedding, but the pair had apparently made up by the time of Diana’s death. Cartland reportedly said of the Princess: ‘The only books Diana ever read were mine, and they weren’t awfully good for her.’

I shall draw a veil over Dame Barbara’s singing career – but, if you must, you can sample her warbling here…


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  1. malty on Wednesday 9, 2014

    Staggering achievement, keeping up the glam, without recourse to the scalpel, her secret, two gallons of mascara and a pair of black widow spiders, pin up girl for the blue blazer-grey slacks golfing brigade. She must have spent a fortune at the dog groomers. As for her daughter, hurling herself beneath misc toffs seems to have enhanced her lifestyle.

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