(Valerie Grove's article appeared in the Times of London, 1/2.)
Antonia Fraser on her affair with Harold Pinter
Their love affair scandalised 1970s society, but the details have stayed private — until now. From the reckless, champagne-fuelled first night onwards, the historian is finally revealing all
Few people in the limelight have been steelier in fending off personal inquiries than Lady Antonia Fraser. When a hapless Washington Post interviewer once dared to ask, “What is Harold Pinter like about the house? … I’ve always wondered”, she replied, with her Gioconda smile, “Keep on wondering”. Now, after 35 years of unwavering reticence, she is about to tell.
It is only a year and a week since Pinter died, on Christmas Eve 2008. Yet Fraser managed, in her first months of widowhood, to write her requiem. It was probably the only time she could have done so. Early in 2009 she summoned her agent, Jonathan Lloyd, and told him: “I have decided to write a memoir of my time with Harold.” Lloyd was astonished: like everyone he was intensely curious about how the Pinters’ legendary love affair began, but had never dared to ask. She knew it would be a healing process, to write herself out of the dark.
After seven years punctuated by vigils at her husband’s bedside, she could set aside her research on the life of Elizabeth I, and (plundering the diaries she had always kept) look into her heart and write.
It is exactly 35 years ago this week that the coup de foudre happened. Those who were around in the mid-1970s will recall what a shock it was, how scandalous and thrilling. Today’s celeb couples look puny and one-dimensional compared with Pinter and Fraser’s star quality. She had enchantment and mystery, the blonde Roman Catholic high-society historian and femme fatale; he was the enigmatic Jewish actor-turned-playwright and screenwriter from working-class Hackney, famous for pauses.
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