One soon learns, and then takes for granted, that Newport is an epicenter, in an understated way… truly a destination for many fascinating individuals. And often they bring stories that provide another perspective on our magical town. India Hicks was one such person.
Guest speaker at the Newport Flower Show in June, she began her riveting and entertaining talk reading on her cell phone an exchange between herself and her mother…
“During the war, my mother had spent time in Newport. She and her sister being of both Jewish and German descendants had been evacuated to America and went to stay with Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt. Aunt Grace, as they had to call her, was possibly not the coziest person, but she had a few space houses to host two small English refugees, including a mansion in Newport. “What was it like?” I asked my mother. “Oh darling, you are asking me to think back nearly 80 years. But the house, Beaulieu, was on Bellevue Avenue, and very near to where the Lindbergh baby had been kidnapped some months earlier” she said. I had a run along the cliffs, boated around the harbor, was treated to a very English tea, had cocktails wearing bellies and dinner in the Candy Store. And this morning, just before leaving, I was able to stand on the lawn of Beaulieu and think about my mother’s ending to this. She told me that arriving back into her English boarding school the wicked headmistress called her up onto the stage in-front of the entire school, “this is the little Mountbatten girl who ran away during the war.”
The Beaulieu that is a few houses down the street from where we were all sitting, the Beaulieu that has a chapter in my first book, Private Newport: At Home and in the Garden.
India is a lady of many facets, beginning with her heritage…granddaughter of the Earl Mountbatten, Viceroy of India (who, himself, was grandson of Queen Victoria); daughter of noted English designer, David Hicks; and bridesmaid in Princess Diana and Prince Charles’s wedding.
And including her adult years spent on Harbour Island in the Bahamas — a proud entrepreneur, lifestyle guru, mother of 5, and author. A memoir-inspiring life (to say the least) engagingly related in her latest book, A Slice of England.
I enjoyed the opportunity to experience this personally when I hosted India for tea following her talk (though I have to confess that I took a gulp when she mentioned at the podium how daily tea at her mother’s home included a silver kettle, with the flame underneath for hot water, then a teapot for China tea and another for Indian tea).
My Earl Grey offering well-sufficed, but truth be told it was the island’s freshly picked strawberries (and English roses) that carried the day, very welcome after a stroll through the gardens dodging raindrops.
It was a delightful time in conversation, ranging from comparing experiences on housebuilding to whether the weather would permit her a run on the Cliff Walk (and an aside that she had the same Herend china that I was using for tea.) I did remember to mention that I was a big fan of her father, designer David Hicks, and took her off to the mud room to find his book on garden design (of which she took a picture of). He also was the source of many amusing anecdotes which India relates in a witty, self-effacing, and tender prose that is at the heart of this tome.
Both the perspective on her life, and her writing style, are a delicious and thoughtfully authentic pairing, proving A Slice of England to be the perfect companion for a quick summer read. The story of 4 houses, from her glamorous grandfather’s, Broadlands, to her newly built family home in Oxfordshire, is enriched by her family’s storied past.
The book’s raison d’être will also resonate with many of us. “The past…its texture, tastes, and visions, are what shape us. In revisitation and remembrance, we bring back that which is not always fresh in the mind but always familiar to the heart,” in India’s own words.
A Slice of England, about reinterpreting her English tradition and making it her own, will draw you to each page…
as well as the humor and sense of fun to be found along the way (like her partner’s mother’s swimming caps, framed in lucite, for their own nod to Pop Art). Enjoy yourself…