Taunted with the Duke of Kent, she married the Aga Khan

Rosemary Hill

  • Last Curtsey: The End of the Debutantes by Fiona MacCarthy
    Faber, 305 pp, £20.00, October 2006, ISBN 0 571 22859 3

In the chilly spring of 1958, with war still a vivid memory and rationing an even more recent one, queues were a familiar sight. But the line that formed in front of the railings of Buckingham Palace on 18 March was peculiar enough to attract a small crowd of onlookers. There, shivering in silk and chiffon, the debutantes waited with their mothers and fathers to curtsey to the queen. After this initiation ceremony, dating back to the reign of George III, they would be officially ‘out’, launched into the world, the London Season and the marriage market. It was, as Jessica Mitford wrote two years later, ‘the specific, upper-class version of the puberty rite’. Or rather it had been, for 1958 saw the last such presentations; this was the year of the last curtsey.

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