Before social media enabled the rise of “celebrities”, magazines and tabloid newspapers intensely scrutinised the goings-on of the rich, titled and purportedly glamourous “personalities” of whom perhaps the most egregious were the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. These, like celebrities today, had achieved nothing or contributed next-to-nothing to the well-being of their fellow human beings or the planet, but, instead, served to fascinate the less well-off with wholly superficial “life-styles” of conspicuous consumption and idle distraction. This coffee-table book, “the fully authorised biography” of one of these, Princess Ira von Fürstenberg, a minor, landless German aristocrat (b.1940) lays out, mostly by photographs, a life lived in the public eye, with its own miseries as well as splendours. A high-society European plutocrat who, with fairly decent looks enhanced by expensive cosmetic treatments and wardrobes, Ira spent her time flitting around famous resorts to be seen by the “right” rich people, two of whom she married. She spent some time as a fashion model, a B-movie actress, a London socialite (shown here in her Mayfair house, in London in the 1980s: “I led an interesting life in those days…I had a lot of men who were my friends…), a girl friend of Prince Rainier of Monaco and finally as an artist, the creator of bling-some works in semi-precious stones, rock crystal, bronze and porphyry. For a puritan like me, there is something incredible about her life. Were it not here in incontrovertible photographs, I could only have imagined her to be a work of chicklit.
- Nicholas Foulkes, Ira: the Life and Times of a Princess, HarperCollins, 240pp, £50 (hb)