Diana Alexander fills in the story of the unknown Mitford sister
Cotswold writer and former Wilts and Glos Standard journalist Diana Alexander had a busy end to 2012, with her first book published, The Other Mitford: Pamela’s Story. It sold out its first print run within three weeks.
Charlotte Shepherd found out why Diana was in such a unique position to tell this story.
STANDARD readers will remember Syde resident Diana Alexander, for her insightful features in this paper and her humorous column Harcombe about daily goings-on at the farm she shares with husband Malcolm Whitaker.
But what they may not know is that prior to this in 1974, as a mother with two young children and a donkey to feed, Diana worked as a cleaning lady to one Pamela Jackson, nee Pamela Mitford, who was living in the Cotswold village of Caudle Green.
“I had no idea at the time that she was one of the famous Mitford sisters,” explained Diana. “The penny started to drop. She had the terribly posh Mitford voice but she wasn’t grand at all. We became very close friends.”
Diana knew at the time that she was in a unique position, as both cleaning lady and a writer, watching the comings and goings of Pamela’s sisters including Deborah (Debo), now Dowager Duchess of Devonshire and novelist Nancy. She hoped that one day she would tell the story of the most unassuming of the famous Mitford sisters.
And nearly 40 years later Diana has kept her promise and is causing a stir in literary circles with her newly published book The Other Mitford: Pamela’s Story, which is the first book to tell the untold story of Pamela Mitford.
“I felt that the Pamela story needed telling,” said Diana. “I believe that no one had written about her because she wasn’t the flamboyant sister.” Flamboyant she may not have been, but Diana’s book guides us through a life which, although ordinary by her sisters’ standards, still saw her motor alone all over Europe in the 1930’s and become one of the first women to fly across the Atlantic in a commercial aircraft.
Readers who are new to the Mitford family saga will be pleased to see that the book also touches upon the fascinating lives of the rest of the family, including the imprisonment of Diana and her husband Oswald Mosley and Unity’s controversial friendship with Adolph Hitler.
It is apparent throughout the book that Pamela fulfilled an important role in the Mitford family. “Pamela was the practical sister and the one other sisters relied upon,” said Diana.
Nowhere is this more apparent in the book than in the chapter ‘Pam’s War and its aftermath’ which begins with the story of Pamela taking in Diana and Oswold Mosely’s two young children for almost two years when their parents were imprisoned. “There was a myth that she wasn’t good with children but my children absolutely adored her. She treated children as adults. I loved her and my children loved her too.”
This love and affection comes through in the book and Diana is able to offer insights that few others would have seen of Pamela’s contentment with her life as a country woman, with details of country walks that they took together with an assortment of animals.
Cooking was also one of Pamela’s great pleasures. “Pamela was a brilliant cook,” explained Diana “and for this reason I have included some of her recipes at the back of the book.”
Some 18 years after Pamela’s death, Diana believes that the time is right for people to know a little more about this Mitford sister.
And the reception to the book so far has been very favourable. Members of the Cotswold Writers Circle, of which Diana is a member, have been particularly supportive. “They have been very encouraging and so lovely,” Diana said.
So is there another book in the pipeline for Diana? The answer is very definitely ‘watch this space’.
“This book has been with me for the last three years and when I finished it I said never again but I am possibly getting itchy feet now,” admitted Diana.
• The book is available from most booksellers including Octavia’s and Waterstone’s priced £15.99