Looking back, which experiences, jobs and personality traits do you think have really helped you? I worked in a public library shortly after leaving school, which gave me good access to so many of the books I needed – not least of all, access to the reserve collection of older titles not on the publicly accessible shelves. Studying Librarianship for two years at Ealing also helped me to find my way around getting hold of the really rare books for research. Also a good memory for dates and similar trivia (well, it’s trivia to some people, I suppose!).
What inspired you to start writing? I was always interested in Kings and Queens of England from a very early age. I think that was partly down to an old copy of a book of rhymes by Herbert and Eleanor Farjeon about all monarchs since the Norman Conquest which my mother was given for Christmas in the early 1930s, and which she handed down to me.
What were some of the most important moments when writing ‘Alfred; Queen Victoria’s Second Son’? By far the most important was contacting John A.S. Phillips of the Prince Albert Society in Germany to ask if he could recommend me any sources about Alfred’s life in Coburg. He told me that a lady in Denmark, Bee Jordaan, was also writing a life of Affie and looking for a publisher. We got together and wrote the original book, ‘Dearest Affie’, between us in 1982-83. Sadly she died in 1990. I should add that ‘Alfred’ is a major rewrite and expansion of the original.
What was the most interesting thing you discovered when writing ‘Alfred; Queen Victoria’s Second Son’? Uncovering the rather murky and sad story of Alfred’s young son and namesake, who died in 1899. Also, on a brighter note, Alfred’s schoolboy journal from his earlier days.
What do you admire most about Prince Alfred? He was a man of very varied interests, mechanically-minded yet quite artistic and a connoisseur of the arts, a self-taught violinist (though it seems his skills deteriorated in his last years), and his fascination with philately.
Do you have a favourite museum or art gallery? At the risk of sounding predictable, I love spending an hour or two in the National and National Portrait Galleries in London. I love the paintings in the Wallace Collection nearby as well.
Do you collect anything? I used to be a devoted collector of British stamps, coins and royal commemorative pottery and porcelain. Although I have retained part of each collection, lack of space and finance, and time, gets in the way of my continuing to add to them any more.
What is something that most people might be surprised to know about you? People who don’t know me personally may be startled to know that for several years I played guitar and harmonica and sang in rock groups, and alternated this with working as a disc jockey in local clubs and pubs. I have also written a few books on rock music, notably on my favourites Mungo Jerry, Roy Wood and Jeff Lynne.