Champers & conspiracy theories

Writer Una-Mary Parker has had an impossibly glamorous life - but you really can have too much of a good thing
Novelist Una-Mary Parker has lived in a Georgian town house a stone’s throw from Harrods for more than 50 years. She greets me immaculately dressed, with jewels sparkling in her ears, on her fingers and around her neck. At her feet lies Toffee, a chocolate-brown poodle who excitedly scratches at her ‘nylons’. As she affectionately shoos him away, and sits with one ankle tucked neatly behind the other, there is no question that she harks back to a lost age.

Una-Mary made her name writing novels of romance and intrigue in the 1980s and 1990s (which are now, to fit in with the modern age, being converted into eBook format) but the story of her life is enough to rival any literary blockbuster. By her own admission, her childhood was ‘terribly similar to the Queen’s upbringing’.

‘I think she and I were the last people in the country who didn’t go to school,’ she says, with crisp enunciation. ‘I had these ladies who came to the house – two English governesses, one French, and a piano teacher.’

It was these governesses who fostered her love of writing. ‘I was encouraged to write essays. The first story I ever wrote was The Tragedy Of Laura,’ she tells me with a smile. ‘I was a bit nervous even then because Laura got buried under the stones, and my mother’s name was Laura! But my family thought it was hysterically funny.’

Her passion for the written word endured, leading her to the London School of Journalism as a young woman, then on to become the social editor of Tatler. The party scene was a whirlwind of glamour and excitement, which provided ample fodder for her future novels.

‘During the season, I was doing five parties a night, and all my clothes were evening dresses,’ she laughs. ‘The first five years were terrific fun because one was given the best seats for every new production, every film premiere, wedding, concert, opera – you name it. There was a certain amount of going abroad to write up hotels in, let’s say, Monte Carlo.’

She was accompanied on every engagement by her then husband, the photographer Archie Parker, whom she met at a debutante dance. ‘I didn’t know anybody at the table so I got chatting to the young man on my right. I married him 18 months later.’

It sounds impossibly glamorous, but Una-Mary gradually discovered one can have too much of a good thing. ‘Toward the end of the 10th year [of being social editor], I thought I just can’t go on doing this. I knew everybody. I knew all the venues, and I knew all the florists, the caterers and the toastmasters. It was just a repeat, and it was driving me mad.’

She also discovered there was a somewhat sinister edge to all the frivolity and fun. ‘Hostesses would come up to me and say: “We are very disappointed that you didn’t write about our party the other night.”

‘I pointed out that I didn’t go to their party because they didn’t send me an invitation.’

It transpired that the same man was turning up to different parties, purporting to be her deputy. Una- Mary confronted him on the telephone, and he subsequently rang up Harrods funeral department claiming she had died. ‘They called my home wanting to know how many cars were needed for the funeral of Una-Mary Parker!’ she says. A scary situation at the time, it is clear she now rather enjoys the drama of the tale.


She goes on to say that the man – something of a professional blackmailer – came to a very ‘strange’ end. ‘He got on a breakfast programme and said: “What nobody seems to know is that the Queen Mother had two relatives who were absolutely bonkers. They were put in an asylum and nobody talks about them.”’

Una-Mary, ever the storyteller, pauses for effect. ‘Not long after, he opened the door to somebody he apparently knew, and was found dead from poisoning the next morning.’

This scandalous tale forms part of one of her novels, The Palace Affair. ‘My American publishers wanted me to say that the Royal Family through MI5 had ordered his death. Well, of course I couldn’t possibly say that,’ she adds, entirely without guile.

This is just one anecdote of many that Una-Mary tells with aplomb. Yet just as her life on the party circuit began to wind down, so did her life with her husband. ‘We got divorced after 22 years,’ she says. ‘I think the problem was we were working together 24 hours a day. We had nothing to say to each other at the end of the day.’

It was her second great love, Edward, who encouraged her to start writing novels. ‘He was an actor, and I was with him for 20 years,’ she says, picking up a framed black-and-white photo of a handsome man.

‘I miss Edward,’ she says. ‘I also miss the days of my husband, you know, in a nostalgic way, but I always call myself the classic walk-alone. I was an only child and I love being on my own, and I wouldn’t want to live with anyone as such any more.’

She continues to live and work in her beautiful home, and is regularly visited by her two children, seven grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. It is evident, as she chats away, that she is a naturally contented person. ‘I’ve always known what I wanted and always worked for it,’ she states. ‘I wanted to get married as a priority. My grandmother brought me up and I didn’t have a great relationship with my mother [the aforementioned Laura], so I thought if my granny dies before I am married, I will be at the mercy of my mother.

‘So I wanted a marriage first, children second, somewhere nice to live, and to be a writer. And they have all happened! I have had a very good marriage, I have had a wonderful love affair, I have had a boy and a girl, and I have been in this house for over 50 years. You can’t really ask for more.’

At a sprightly 84 years old, she has certainly seen a change in the way we live and she does not think it is for the better. ‘When I was a little girl everything was very simple. Peggy the horse came round every morning with the milk and I would give her a lump of sugar. A man would ring the bell with a wooden tray on his head carrying muffins. It was charming.

‘Now technology is taking over! People don’t talk to each other. They are on Facebook or tweeting. We are losing the knack of living properly.’

She looks thoughtful as she scratches Toffee’s head, gazing out of the window on to the pretty square.

‘Yes, I am very glad to have lived when I have.’

Una-Mary Parker’s novels are issued as eBooks through Headline. For more details: