Looking back at the life of Lady Anne Glenconner as she turns 91
A childhood friend of Queen Elizabeth whose ‘King of Mustique’ husband beat her with a shark-bone walking stick. The remarkable life of Princess Margaret’s lady-in-waiting Anne Glenconner as she turns 91
- Anne Glenconner’s husband tried to teach her about sex in a brothel
- Her astonishing life was revealed in brilliant autobiography
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Lady Anne Glenconner celebrates her 91st birthday on July 16, and like many people, she might find herself reflecting on years gone by.
And she certainly has plenty to look back on, having enjoyed an uncommonly eventful life.
Lady Anne was one of Queen Elizabeth II’s six maids of honour at the late monarch’s 1953 Coronation.
Her royal connections do not end there – as well as enjoying a childhood friendship with the late queen, she was lady-in-waiting to the monarch’s sister Princess Margaret.
Lady Anne (pictured, right) with Princess Margaret (pictured, centre) and Lord Colin Tennant (pictured, left) waiting on the jetty at Mustique to greet Queen Elizabeth II in 1977
As well as being a childhood friend of Queen Elizabeth, Lady Anne was a maid of honour at her coronation (pictured L-R: Lady Moyra Campbell), Lady Anne Glenconner), Lady Rosemary Muir, Lady Mary Russell), The Baroness Willoughby de Eresby, Lady Rayne, Queen Elizabeth II
And she married a high profile individual as well, tying the knot with Colin Tennant, later the 3rd Baron Glenconner, in 1956.
Unfortunately, it would not be a happy union, as Lady Anne revealed in her 2022 autobiography Whatever Next?.
She revealed that her husband Colin, who she met at a debutante’s ball at the Ritz during the Summer of 1955, was physically and emotionally abusive.
Lady Anne described her role as his wife as being about ‘doing what he wanted, sorting out his messes and appearing cheerful while I did it. That much had been made very clear’.
She says she ‘soon fell in love’ after they met, describing him as ‘very good-looking, charming, a marvellous dancer’, and adding that ‘best of all, he talked about more than shooting and fishing’.
And part of Princess Margaret’s set, Colin, who died in 2010, knew many glamorous people, including writers and artists.
According to Anne, when the pair tied the knot less than year after they met, she was ‘totally ignorant about sex’.
However, her hopes that her more experienced husband would help her learn with ‘gentleness and kindness’ would not come to fruition.
And the problems showed up early: it was on their wedding night that Colin had a tantrum that, Anne said, left him exhausted.
When they did consummate the marriage, it was ‘awkward, painful and not particularly enjoyable or romantic’, which he blamed on her.
Things would only get worse, when he took his bride to a brothel a couple of days later to watch a private sex show.
The experience felt humiliating to Anne, who felt as though her husband was telling her she was ‘hopeless’, and that she should watch the show to get tips.
Their sex life would never improve, and would be marked with ‘criticism and disappointment’.
According to Anne: ‘He used to get very cross with me, which of course made things worse and I used to dread going to bed with him. I tried to be enthusiastic but it never worked between us. For a very long time, I felt I must be to blame.’
Although Anne quickly fell for Colin, problems were quick to appear in their marriage (pictured: Lady Anne and Colin on their wedding day)
Lady Anne Coke and Colin Tennant pictured as they announce their engagement, December 16 1955
Lady Anne, then 23, in her wedding dress as she married Colin Tennant in 1956
Colin Tennant, 3rd Baron Glenconner, and his wife Anne, on the island of Mustique in March 1973
Colin took an extreme step in order to enjoy sex with his wife, arranging to have her drink spiked one night, with what she suspects was LSD.
Having visions and hallucinations was a terrifying experience, but the couple ‘ended up making passionate love’, which was energetic and uninhibited.
When Colin told Anne that was how he ‘wanted [her] to behave all the time’, she simply replied that she had felt awful at time – and still did.
As well as struggling with their sex life, Colin was also violent throughout the marriage, with Anne saying his violent rages and outbursts were ‘just his character’.
However, she has described being married to him as ‘frightful at times and very, very difficult’, thanks to his hair trigger temper.
The violence followed a trajectory, starting with screaming and moving to spitting, shoving and throwing things.
He beat her once, she revealed, during an outburst that was severe, Anne feared he would kill her.
However, she has said there were moments of levity during the union as well as these dark episodes.
According to Anne: ‘Even so, as time went on, there would be moments of vivid happiness. Dancing was one of them; we loved jive and rock and roll and would let rip in various clubs.
‘To me, those were really magical times when I could forget myself and all the tensions between us.
‘I also learned to treasure the many moments of joy and laughter we shared with our family and friends, and appreciate the times Colin was at his best, charming the people around us.’
One of the worst times, however, came after he had famously bought Mustique in 1958, which she decribes as ‘a great leap into the unknown’.
And while she had some good times in the West Indies, it was not, according to Anne, good for Colin, who ‘regarded himself as the King of Mustique and behaved accordingly’ after spending much of his own fortune into the island.
He built a new village, installed electricity and created a lot of well-paying jobs, improving the lives of islanders.
But the hubris meant he felt entitled to attack people physically, which Anne says was ‘simply accepted…as what white men did’ by the islanders, who accepted Colin’s behaviour because he’d been generous in other ways.
Then one November night in the late 70s, as they were celebrating the birthday of their twin girls, Anne was the focus of his ire.
After speaking with clients at a bar at Colin’s request, Anne excused herself to return to the twins.
She was soon approached by her furious husband, who physically grabbed her, before driving back to their house. He shook with rage during the entire 10 minute journey.
According to Anne: ‘Drawing up at the house, I got out of the car and before I knew what was happening, he hit me across the head from behind with his shark-bone walking stick. It knocked me straight to the ground. And then he launched in on me.
‘I lay there, trying to protect my head and begging him to stop.
‘He didn’t: he was in a frenzy, quite out of his mind. I was utterly terrified, convinced he might actually kill me.
‘I have no idea how long it lasted, but eventually he tired himself out. I lay there until I heard his car drive off, then crawled into the main house and locked myself into the bedroom.’
Party people: Princess Margaret (pictured, centre) with the Glenconner on Mustique in 1986
Colin Tennant and Princess Margaret, at the gold themed 50th Birthday Party of Colin Tennant on Mustique in 1976
She was terrified he would return to ‘finish [her] off’, but later learnt that he had returned to the bar where he told a mutual friend he had ‘just given Anne a thrashing’.
The next day, Anne knew something was seriously wrong, and was suffering from terrible ear pain.
It would transpire that her eardrum had burst, leaving her deaf in that ear ever since.
That beating was, according to Anne, the first time Colin knew he’d gone too far. He apologised, promising not to do it again in the only show of remorse she’d ever seen from him.
Colin moved to St Lucia in 1987, after investing in an undeveloped 480-acre estate which he wanted to develop into somewhere as spectacular as Mustique.
However, the venture failed, and he found himself living alone.
When he was seriously ill with prostate cancer in 2010, Anne spent some time in the West Indies looking after him as he refused to return to England for treatment.
She described seeing him so frail as being ‘desperately upsetting’, and one night, after returning to her bedroom (they had separate rooms) she wept quietly to herself.
Colin, hearing her weep, came in and hugged her. He said: ‘It wasn’t all bad, was it, Anne?’
‘No, Colin,’ I said. ‘Of course not.’
Lady Anne Glenconner (pictured) served as Princess Margaret’s lady-in-waiting for three decades
She returned to England soon after, and would never see him again – his death devastated her.
As did he decision to leave everything to his valet, which she says she ‘experienced…as one last flourish of his sadistic side, the side that revelled in the distress of others and which at times had made any sort of marriage to him seem an impossible burden’.
‘I could not and would not be broken by him from beyond the grave, any more than I would allow it when he was alive,’ Anne has said
‘I made a conscious decision not to dwell on that final act of cruelty.
‘Our marriage had lasted for 54 years. I can now look back and feel proud that I managed to find a way to stay married to Colin – and even to agree with him that it wasn’t all bad.’
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