A lady not for turning


Now this one needs to be handled with the greatest care. Lady Colin Campbell is exceptionally well-informed in the laws of libel and has successfully brought a considerable number of cases against British newspapers. Writing about her at all, therefore, requires skill, caution and discretion - plus, it would appear, access to a substantial bank account.

From childhood onwards, the lady has been the cause of some confusion arising from speculation over her gender. Retaining her former husband's name may have helped her socially and professionally, but it has also added further to the misunderstanding; after all, there cannot be very many women who are accustomed to being addressed as Lady Colin.

A male first name is something to which she is well used, having been called George throughout her youth. Born into a Lebanese Christian family resident since the beginning of the century on the island of Jamaica, Lady Colin was registered as male on her birth certificate due to a cosmetic malformation of the genitals. Until she was 21, such remained the case. Then an operation in New York confirmed her female status and George officially became Georgia. For many years, Lady Colin was somewhat coy about her past, understandably insisting the details were nobody's business but her own. No such reticence is evident in her autobiography, where she freely gives a graphic account both of the original physical malformation and its correction - a sequence of pages the squeamish would be advised to forgo.

She appears equally blase about discussing the impressive succession of lovers enjoyed once she had become a woman, and their physical accoutrements are as thoroughly itemised as her own. Since many of these men are still alive, they must presumably feel unperturbed that their association with Lady Colin is now common knowledge. Let this be a warning to those who imagine the concept of kiss and tell to be an outmoded one. In particular, she has absolutely no scruples about listing the horrors endured while married to her former husband, Lord Colin Campbell, younger son of the eleventh Duke of Argyll. The Duke was notorious for divorcing his third wife Margaret in a sensational case involving nude photographs of her and a never identified lover. After the revelations in this book, Colin Campbell will probably enjoy equal notoriety although for somewhat different reasons. According to his ex-wife, the couple married on impulse barely days after being first introduced and with almost no knowledge of each other's character. As any marriage counsellor would advise, such behaviour is hardly conducive to successful long-term happiness, and indeed within a year the Campbells had parted acrimoniously.

The tone of her remarks - "I had to face the fact that I would never be rid of the malevolent presence of my ex-husband", is one of her more benign comments - suggests that Lady Colin neither forgives nor forgets. Certainly, if she quotes correctly conversations held more than 20 years ago, her memory is remarkable. So, too, are the number of controversies in which she has been involved. Some people seem to attract trouble irresistibly. A Life Worth Living jumps from one spat to the next as the doughty Lady Colin continues to battle the injustices which somehow persistently come her way. She expresses a desire to be "allowed to lead my life in peace, free from the invasiveness that has characterised so much of it".

Perhaps she has not helped her pursuit of privacy by writing books such as this, or for that matter her previous works including a Guide to Being a Modern Lady and Diana in Private. Nor has associating with infamous publicity seekers including the Duchess of York and Ivana Trump done much to ensure that her own name remains unknown to the general public.

At the end of this none-too-slim volume, she says her two adopted sons now come before everything else. For their sakes, if not her own, she might now like to consider the option of dignified silence. Robert O'Byrne is an Irish Times columnist