Tuesday 27 December 2016

Speaking of the connection between Christmas breaks past and present, twenty five years or so ago in Tamworth, in addition to sunny afternoons in the neighbours’ pool, there would have been a lot of gossip magazines involved. I’m not sure now whether they were a long-time feature of my grandmothers’ life, or whether she suddenly got into them, because they just seemed to show up at some point. Woman’s Day and New Idea every week, Women’s Weekly every month (I at some point decided that there should be a Women’s Monthly that came out once a year). I never read them at home, gorging on them was a visiting tradition. I knew and maybe somewhere still know an awful lot about the lives of large multiple birth families, partying European royalty, and somewhat wholesome Australian soap stars of the early 1990s.

Well, clearly at some level I know it, because I managed to hook it all together reading yet another book about Everest and high altitude mountaineering, Michael Kodas’s High Crimes: the Fate of Everest in an Age of Greed (Having read High Crimes, the Into Thin Air controversies seem oddly gentle.) High Crimes mentions, briefly, the death by overdose of Constantine Niarchos in 1999, which was shortly after a successful Everest climb (from Niarchos’s point of view that is, one of his team-mates, Michael Matthews, died). Niarchos’s step-mother Tina Onassis Niarchos (who was also his aunt, his mother Eugenia’s sister) was the ex-wife of both Aristotle Onassis and the 11th Duke of Marlborough.

The Duke of Marlborough connection was itself interesting to me, because both the 9th Duke and the 9th Duke’s uncle Randolph Churchill played a starring role in Gail MacColl’s and Carol Wallace’s To Marry an English Lord: Tales of Wealth and Marriage, Sex and Snobbery, having both married American heiresses, Consuelo Vanderbilt and Jennie Jerome respectively. (Randolph and Jennie Churchill were Winston Churchill’s parents. I got about halfway through relaying this to my mother a couple of years back when she said something like “yes, of course, you should read Winston and Jennie Churchill’s correspondence, it’s really good”, which goes to show that I get any interest in historical gossip honestly). The intermarriages of ludicrous amounts of money and the English aristocrats didn’t end in the gilded age.

And then I wound my way back to Aristotle Onassis, or rather, his granddaughter Athina. Athina was the “poor little rich girl” of the 1990-era gossip magazines, because her mother Christina had only died in 1988, and she was still a really young child apparently showered in skiing holidays and new horses, and that time she may or may not have got a flock of sheep and a shepherd as a present after liking Baa Baa Black Sheep. Only Prince William (then a child of about 8) and his similarly aged cousins could be of as much interest, and the contrast of tragedy and wealth couldn’t be laid on nearly as thick with them. (This was all before, although not long before from this distance, Charles and Diana separated, and several years before she died.) So I went and caught up on Athina’s last 25 years, which have been less fairytale, and for that matter, while working the Onassis connection, realised how close in time the death of John F. Kennedy and Jackie Kennedy (later Onassis)’s son Patrick — who was born prematurely, and lived two days — was to his father’s assassination. Just a bit over 100 days.

In some ways, the world hasn’t turned so far since hot Christmas holidays in Tamworth in the early 1990s. In some ways it could stand to.