The Woman of Substance: The Secret Life That Inspired the Renowned Storyteller Barbara Taylor Bradfordby Piers Dudgeon
The definitive biography of Barbara Taylor Bradford, author of twenty-one top-of-the-lists blockbuster bestsellers, starting with A Woman of Substance
For the first time ever, take a fascinating look at the remarkable life of Barbara Taylor Bradford. Her first book, A Woman of Substance, is one of the bestselling novels of all time and has made/i>/p>/i>
The definitive biography of Barbara Taylor Bradford, author of twenty-one top-of-the-lists blockbuster bestsellers, starting with A Woman of Substance
For the first time ever, take a fascinating look at the remarkable life of Barbara Taylor Bradford. Her first book, A Woman of Substance, is one of the bestselling novels of all time and has made her one of the most successful authors in the world. Yet her rise to fame and fortune was not an easy one.
Barbara came from humble beginnings in Yorkshire, the only daughter of a laborer and a nanny. From an early age, her mother Freda had marked her daughter out for glory---at any cost. This drive, ambition, and desire to triumph helped Barbara take the Yorkshire Evening Post and Fleet Street by storm. But her biggest achievement was undeniably A Woman of Substance. The novel's unforgettable heroine, Emma Harte, was a powerful, success-fuelled woman whose rise from kitchen maid to international business woman was an inspiration to women the world over. Emma's life is a testament to Barbara's imagination but here, for the first time, Piers Dudgeon unearths amazing parallels in the lives of Barbara's fictional characters and her real-life family. More remarkable still is that Barbara herself was previously completely unaware of these deeply buried secrets. In this incredible story, fact and fiction exist side by side and art unwittingly imitates life.
This is the first time Barbara Taylor Bradford has collaborated on a memoir of her amazing life. Full of revelations, it's as absorbing a read as any one of her bestsellers.
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The Woman of Substance
The Secret Life That Inspired the Renowned Storyteller Barbara Taylor Bradford
By Piers Dudgeon
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2005 Piers Dudgeon
All rights reserved.
'The ambience in the dining room was decidedly romantic, had an almost fairytale quality ... The flickering candlelight, the women beautiful in their elegant gowns and glittering jewels, the men handsome in their dinner jackets, the conversation brisk, sparkling, entertaining ...'
Voice of the Heart
The Bradfords' elegant fourteen-room apartment occupies the sixth floor of a 1930s landmark building overlooking Manhattan's East River. The approach is via a grand ground-floor lobby, classical in style, replete with red-silk chaise longues, massive wall-recessed urns, and busy uniformed porters skating around black marbled floors.
A mahogany-lined lift delivers visitors to the front door, which, on the evening of the party, lay open, leaving arrivals naked to the all-at-once gaze of the already gathered. Fortunately I had been warned about the possibility of this and had balanced the rather outré effect of my gift – a jar of Yorkshire moorland honey (my bees, Barbara's moor) – by cutting what I hoped would be a rather sophisticated, shadowy, Jack-the-Ripper dash with a high-collared leather coat. If I was successful, no one was impolite enough to mention it.
One is met at the door by Mohammed, aptly named spiriter away of material effects – coats, hats, even, to my chagrin, gifts. Barbara arrives and we move swiftly from reception area, which I would later see spills into a bar, to the drawing room, positioned centrally between dining room and library, and occupying the riverside frontage of an apartment which must measure all of five thousand square feet.
The immediate impression is of classical splendour – spacious rooms, picture windows, high ceilings and crystal chandeliers. These three main rooms, an enfilade and open-doored to one another that night, arise from oak-wood floors bestrewn with antique carpets, elegant ground for silk-upholstered walls hung with Venetian mirrors, and, as readers of her novels would expect, a European mix of Biedermeier and Art Deco furniture, Impressionist paintings and silk-upholstered chairs.
This is not, as it happens, the apartment that she draws on in her fiction. The Bradfords have been here for ten years only. Between 1983 and 1995 they lived a few blocks away, many storeys higher up, with views of the East River and exclusive Sutton Place from almost every room. But it was here that Allison Pearson came to interview Barbara in 1999, and, swept up in the glamour, took the tack that from this similarly privileged vantage point it is 'easy to forget that there is a world down there, a world full of pain and ugliness', while at the same time wanting some of it: 'Any journalist going to see Barbara Taylor Bradford in New York,' she wrote, 'will find herself asking the question I asked myself as I stood in exclusive Sutton Place, craning my neck and staring up at the north face of the author's mighty apartment building. What has this one-time cub reporter on the Yorkshire Evening Post got that I haven't?' It was a good starting point, but Allison's answer: 'Well, about $600 million,' kept the burden of her question at bay.
Before long the river draws my gaze, a pleasure boat all lit up, a full moon and the clear night sky, and even if Queens is not exactly the Houses of Parliament there is great breadth that the Thames cannot match, and a touch of mystery from an illuminated ruin, a hospital or sometime asylum marooned on an island directly opposite. It is indeed a privileged view.
Champagne and cocktails are available. I opt for the former and remember my daughter's advice to drink no more than the top quarter of a glass. She, an American resident whose childhood slumbers were disturbed by rather more louche, deep-into-the-night London dinner parties, had been so afeared that I would disgrace myself that she had earlier sent me a copy of Toby Young's How To Lose Friends & Alienate People.
I find no need for it here. People know one another and are immediately, but not at all overbearingly, welcoming. In among it all, Barbara doesn't just Europeanise the scene, she colloquialises it. For me that night she had the timbre of home and the enduring excitement of the little girl barely out of her teens who had not only the guts but the joie de vivre to get up and discover the world when that was rarely done. She is fun. I would have thought so then, and do so now, and at once see that no one has any reason for being here except to enjoy this in her too.
It is a fluid scene. People swim in and out of view, and finding myself close to the library I slip away and find a woman alone on the far side of the room looking out across the street through a side window. Hers is the first name I will remember, though by then half a dozen have been put past me. I ask the lady what can possibly be absorbing her. I see only another apartment block, more severe, brick built, stark even. 'I used to live there,' she says. 'My neighbour was Greta Garbo ... until she died.' This, then, was where the greatest of all screen goddesses found it possible finally to be alone, or might have done had it not been for my interlocutor.
'Where do you live now?' I venture.
She looks at me quizzically, as if I should know. 'In Switzerland and the South of France. New York only for the winter months.'
Then I make the faux pas of the evening, thankful that only she and I will have heard it: 'What on earth do you do?'
Barbara swoops to rescue me (or the lady) with an introduction. Garbo's friend is Rex Harrison's widow, Mercia. She does not do. Suddenly it seems that I have opened up the library; people are following Barbara in. I find myself being introduced to comedienne Joan Rivers and fashion designer Arnold Scaasi, whose history Barbara peppers with names such as Liz Taylor, Natalie Wood, Joan Crawford, Candice Bergen, Barbra Streisand, Joan Rivers of course, and, as of now, all the President's women. Barbara and movie-producer husband Bob are regular visitors to the White House.
It is November 2002 and talk turns naturally to Bob Woodward's Bush at War, which I am told will help establish GB as the greatest president of all time. I am asked my opinion and once again my daughter's voice comes like a distant echo – her second rule: no politics (she knows me too well). Barbara has already told me that she and Bob know the Bush family and I just caught sight of a photograph of them with the President on the campaign trail. They are Republicans. When I limit myself to saying that I can empathise with the shock and hurt of September 11, that I had a friend who died in the disaster, but war seems old-fashioned, so primitive a solution, Barbara takes my daughter's line and confesses that she herself makes it a rule not to talk politics with close friend Diahn McGrath, a lawyer and staunch Democrat, to whom she at once directs me.
Barbara is the perfect hostess, this pre-dinner hour the complete introduction that will allow me to relax at table, even to contribute a little. There's a former publishing executive, one Parker Ladd, with the demeanour of a Somerset Maugham, or possibly a Noel Coward (Barbara's champagne is good), who tells me he is a friend of Ralph Fields, the first person to give me rein in publishing, and who turns out – to my amazement – still to be alive.
So, even in the midst of this Manhattan scene I find myself comfortable anchorage not only in contact through Barbara with my home county of Yorkshire, but in fond memories of the publishing scene. It was not at all what I had expected to find. I am led in to dinner by a woman introduced to me as Edwina Kaplan, a sculptor and painter whose husband is an architect, but who talks heatedly (and at the time quite inexplicably) about tapes she has discovered of Winston Churchill's war-time speeches. Would people be interested? she wonders. Later I would see a couple of her works on Barbara's walls, but for some reason nobody thought it pertinent until the following day to explain that Edwina was Sir Winston's granddaughter, Edwina Sandys. Churchill, of course, is one of Barbara's heroes; in her childhood she contributed to his wife Clementine's Aid to Russia fund and still has one of her letters, now framed in the library.
The table, set for fourteen, is exquisite, its furniture dancing to the light of a generously decked antique crystal chandelier. The theme is red, from the walls to the central floral display through floral napkin rings to what seems to be a china zoo occupying the few spaces left by the flower-bowls, crystal tableware and place settings. Beautifully crafted porcelain elephants and giraffes peek out from between silver water goblets and crystal glasses of every conceivable size and design.
There are named place-cards and I begin the hunt for my seat. I am last to find mine, and as soon as I sit, Barbara erupts with annoyance. She had specially chosen a white rose for my napkin ring – the White Rose of Yorkshire – which is lying on the plate of my neighbour to the right. Someone has switched my placement card! Immediately I wonder whether the culprit has made the switch to be near me or to get away, but as I settle, and the white rose is restored, my neighbour to the left leaves me in no doubt that I am particularly welcome. She tells me that she is a divorce lawyer, a role of no small importance in the marital chess games of the Manhattan wealthy. How many around this table might she have served? Was switching my place-card the first step in a strategy aimed at my own marriage?
I reach for the neat vodka in the smallest stem of my glass cluster and steady my nerves, turning our conversation to Bob and Barbara and soon realising that here, around this table, among their friends, are the answers to so many questions I have for my subject's Manhattan years. I set to work, both on my left and to my right, where I find Nancy Evans, Barbara's former publisher at the mighty Doubleday in the mid-1980s.
By this time we have progressed from the caviar and smoked salmon on to the couscous and lamb, and Barbara deems it time to widen our perspectives. It would be the first of two calls to order, on this occasion to introduce everyone to everyone, a party game rather than a necessity, I think, except in my case. Thumbnail sketches of each participant, edged devilishly with in-group barb, courted ripostes and laughter, but it was only when she came around the table and settled on me, mentioning the words 'guest of honour' that I realised for the first time that I was to be the star turn. I needn't have worried; there was at least one other special guest in Joan Rivers and she more than made up for my sadly unimaginative response.
Barbara tells me that Joan is very 'in' with Prince Charles: 'She greeted me with, "I've just come back from a painting trip ... with Prince Charles." A friend of hers, Robert Higdon, runs the Prince's Trust. Joan is very involved with that, giving them money. So she was there with Charles and Camilla and the Forbses at some château somewhere. She always says, "Prince Charles likes me a lot; he always laughs at my jokes." But Joan is actually a very ladylike creature when she is off the stage, where she can be a bit edgy sometimes. In real life she is very sweet and she loves me and Bob.'
Joan is deftly egging Arnold Scaasi on as he heaps compliments on Barbara from the far end of the table. At the very height of his paean of praise, the comedienne rejoins that Arnold's regard for his hostess is clearly so great that he will no doubt wish to make one of his new creations a gift to her. The designer's face is a picture as he realises he has walked straight into a game at his expense, in which the very ethos of celebrity Manhattan is at stake. The table applauds his generosity, while Arnold begins an interminable descent into get-out: Alas, he does not have the multifarious talents of Joan to allow such generosity, he cannot eat publicity, etc., etc.
I felt I was being drawn in to Bob and Barbara's private world. When we first met I had said to Barbara that I would need to be so, and she had begun the process that night. After cheese and dessert, coffee and liqueurs were served in the drawing room and one after another of her guests offered themselves for interview.
The evening reminded me of the glittering birthday party in the Bavarian ski resort of Konigsee in Voice of the Heart. The table setting was remarkably similar – the candlelight and bowls of flowers that 'march down the centre of the table', interspersed with 'Meissen porcelain birds in the most radiant of colours', the table itself 'set with the finest china, crystal and silver ... The flickering candlelight, the women beautiful in their elegant gowns and glittering jewels, the men handsome in their dinner jackets ...', and the conversation 'brisk, sparkling, entertaining ...'
In Act of Will the Manhattan apartment is added to the mix. As guests of Christina Newman and her husband Alex in their Sutton Place apartment, we, like Christina's mother, Audra Crowther (née Kenton, and the fictional counterpart of Barbara's mother, Freda Taylor), are stung by the beauty of 'the priceless art on the walls, two Cézannes, a Gauguin ... the English antiques with their dark glossy woods ... bronze sculpture by Arp ... the profusion of flowers in tall crystal vases ... all illuminated by silk- shaded lamps of rare and ancient Chinese porcelains'.
Barbara's passion for antique furniture and modern Impressionist paintings was born of her own upbringing in Upper Armley, Leeds. 'My mother used to take me to stately homes because she loved furniture, she loved the patinas of wood. She often took me to Temple Newsam, just outside Leeds [where the gardens also found a way into the fiction – Emma Harte's rhododendron walk in A Woman of Substance is Temple Newsam's], and also to Harewood House, home of the Lascelles family ... to Ripley Castle [Langley Castle in Voice of the Heart], and to Fountains Abbey and Fountains Hall at Studley Royal.' These were Barbara's childhood haunts, and it was Freda Taylor who first tuned her in to beautiful artefacts and styles of design, as if preparing her for the day when such things might be her daughter's: 'I always remember she used to say to me, "Barbara, keep your eyes open and then you will see all the beautiful things in the world."'
In A Woman of Substance the optimum architecture is Georgian, and Emma Harte's soul mate Blackie O'Neill's dream is to have a house with Robert Adam fireplaces, Sheraton and Hepplewhite furniture, 'and maybe a little Chippendale'.
In Angel, Johnny dwells on the paintings and antiques in his living room – a Sisley landscape, a Rouault, a Cézanne, a couple of early Van Goghs, 'an antique Chinese coffee table of carved mahogany, French bergères from the Louis XV period, upholstered in striped cream silk ... antique occasional tables ... a long sofa table holding a small sculpture by Brancusi and a black basalt urn ...' Costume designer Rose Madigan's attention is caught by a pair of dessert stands, 'each one composed of two puttis standing on a raised base on either side of a leopard, their plump young arms upstretched to support a silver bowl with a crystal liner', the silver made by master silversmith Paul Storr. There are George III candlesticks also by Storr dated 1815.
In Everything to Gain, Mallory Keswick feasts her eyes on a pair of elegant eighteenth-century French, bronze doré candlesticks, and her mother-in-law Diana buys antiques from the great houses of Europe, specialising in eighteenth-and nineteenth-century French furniture, decorative objects, porcelain and paintings.
For a dozen or so years leading up to publication of her first novel, Barbara wrote a nationwide syndicated column in America three times a week, about design and interior decor. She also wrote a number of books on interior design, furniture and art for American publishers Doubleday, Simon & Schuster and Meredith, long before the first commissioned A Woman of Substance. So, this design thing is, if not bred in the bone, part and parcel of her being.
But these mother and daughter trips out into the countryside had a more fundamental effect: they introduced Barbara to the landscape and spirit of Yorkshire, in which her fiction is rooted. In A Woman of Substance, Barbara sets Fairley village, where teenager Emma Harte lives with her parents and brother, Frank, in the lee of the moors which rise above the River Aire as it finds its way down into Leeds. 'It was an isolated spot,' she wrote, 'desolate and uninviting, and only the pale lights that gleamed in some of the cottage windows gave credence to the idea that it was inhabited.'
Today she will say: 'Fairley village is Haworth, but not exactly; it is the Haworth of my imagination.' It could be anywhere in the area of the Brontës' Haworth, Keighley or Rombalds moors. Barbara knows the area well. It lies within the regular expeditionary curtilage of her childhood home in Leeds.
Excerpted from The Woman of Substance by Piers Dudgeon. Copyright © 2005 Piers Dudgeon. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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Meet the Author
Piers Dudgeon is the author of fifteen works of nonfiction. He worked for ten years as a publisher before starting his own company and developing books with authors as diverse as John Fowles, Ted Hughes, Daphne du Maurier, Catherine Cookson, and Peter Ackroyd. In 1993, he moved to a village on the North Yorkshire Moors, where he has written a number of books. His books include The Woman of Substance and Maeve Binchy: The Biography.
PIERS DUDGEON is a writer, editor, and photographer. He worked for ten years as a publisher in London and then started his own company, Pilot Productions. He is the author of bestselling biographies of Catherine Cookson, Edward de Bono, the composer Sir John Tavener, and the novelists Barbara Taylor Bradford, Josephine Cox, J. M. Barrie and Daphne du Maurier.
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This biography takes a close look at popular women¿s fiction novelist Barbara Taylor Bradford, who has sold over seventy million books since her first novel, A Woman of Substance was issued in 1979. Ms. Bradford was born in Leeds over seven decades ago into a relatively modest background. Yet her mother, a nanny expected great things from her pushing her to succeed way beyond the daughter of a laborer or a nanny. Ms. Bradford does quite well at Fleet Street before marrying Bob Bradford and taking New York by storm. A Woman of Substance is the acme of her success feeding a mass of sequels and TV shows. This is a fascinating biography aimed at readers who enjoy British romantic fiction. Though Ms. Bradford is an interesting author, her fictionalized characters take charge of her bio as Piers Dudgeon takes his audience on tours of locales used by Ms. Bradford in her novels and compares those to the writer¿s home locations especially as a child. With over fifty illustrations to augment the text, fans of the author will appreciate this fine homage while others will pass.---- Harriet Klausner