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On being an only child


My astonishing mother
John Julius Norwich Writer
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She [my mother] was absolutely astonishing by any standards, she really was. Did you read the letters she wrote... the Darling Monster, the letters she wrote to me? They're marvellous.

[Q] Yeah, she's such a good writer...

Wonderful writer.

[Q] And I've been dipping around on and off into her...

Yes. No, she was really very, very extraordinary.

[Q] Was it... you know, one does wonder what it would be like to be, I don't know, Jean Simmons' daughter or something. Did it have a distorting effect?

No, I don't think so. She was my mother, you know, and that was the important thing to me, much more than... I mean I never thought she's the star of The Miracle or she's this famous society beauty. In fact, I could ever see her beauty at all because I think one can't when it's your mother. You see it every day of your life. And people would say, 'What's it like to have such a beautiful mother?' And I would say, 'I don't know.' I really couldn't see the beauty at all until once, very shortly before she died. She was in bed – she spent her last three or four years in bed – and she was in bed and suddenly I came in and I remember the light was particularly good and I suddenly saw the beauty of this face on its pillow. But this was when she... I mean, it had taken me 70 years to do it. Well, not 70, 55 or 6 years to do it; I was, what was I? I was 56 when she died. But it always... everybody said she's so beautiful but I say it was only really then that I could see it myself.

John Julius Norwich (1929-2018) was an English popular historian, travel writer and television personality. He was educated at Upper Canada College, Toronto, at Eton, at the University of Strasbourg and on the lower deck of the Royal Navy before taking a degree in French and Russian at New College, Oxford. He then spent twelve years in H.M. Foreign Service, with posts at the Embassies in Belgrade and Beirut and at the Disarmament Conference in Geneva. In 1964 he resigned to become a writer. He is the author of histories of Norman Sicily, the Republic of Venice, the Byzantine Empire and, most recently, 'The Popes: A History'. He also wrote on architecture, music and the history plays of Shakespeare, and presented some thirty historical documentaries on BBC Television.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is an independent documentary producer who has made a number of films about science and scientists for BBC TV, Channel Four, and PBS.

Tags: Darling Monster, The Miracle

Duration: 1 minute, 49 seconds

Date story recorded: 2017

Date story went live: 03 October 2018