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19Sep

Ready for Absolutely Nothing by Susannah Constantine review – the naked truth

From boarding school through the Sloane years to her turn as Anton Du Beke’s worst-ever Strictly partner, the former TV style guru’s memoir is sometimes borderline deranged, often haphazard, but never dull

Like some great Renaissance artist, Susannah Constantine’s life may be divided into three distinct eras. Early Constantine was high Sloane; she dated David Linley, the son of Princess Margaret, and went to Balmoral, where she witnessed Mrs Thatcher battling with the Queen for control of a Brown Betty teapot. Middle period Constantine is mostly all about her television career, when she and her friend Trinny Woodall made a living out of telling women what not to wear (in this capacity, she once explained to me that I had “saddlebags” and should immediately burn the coat I was wearing). Finally, there is the current epoch: late Constantine. At 60, her focus is on her family, on her “exceptional” home in the West Sussex countryside, and on her writing. This memoir is her third book; she has also written two novels. “A modern-day Nancy Mitford,” says Elton John encouragingly.

She and John, of course, have known one another for eons. She first met him in the early 1980s, at the Queen Mother’s home, Royal Lodge, in Windsor, where he performed at the piano after dinner in a ringmaster’s tailcoat, balloon trousers, bejewelled spectacles and a cap accessorised with a sapphire brooch the size of a baked potato. And yes, he exaggerates wildly. Constantine is no Mitford. But this isn’t to say she can’t write. Ready for Absolutely Nothing is often haphazard and sometimes borderline deranged; possibly because its author is academically insecure, it also comes, for no reason I can fathom, with occasional footnotes (one quotes from a cultural history of menstruation). But it’s also pretty funny. Never forget: Sloanes are intensely scatological creatures. Constantine does her class proud with her lavatory-related anecdotes. One stars Jerry Hall. The other involves Princess Margaret, a cubicle at the Royal Naval College in Greenwich and a purloined cake slice.

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