RELATIVE VALUES: Allow me to introduce my daughter, miss Bossy Boots

Lady Pamela Hicks, 82, the daughter of Lord Louis Mountbatten, and her daughter, India, 44, model and designer, who lives on Harbour Island in the Bahamas

30 October 2011
The Sunday Times

Pamela: My father, the last Viceroy of India, was most alarmed to hear my husband, David, and I were going to call our youngest daughter India. In 1967 you had to choose a Sloaney name like Portia. Certainly not India. “You can’t call her that!” he declared. Mummy said: “Well, thank God she didn’t have twins, or it would have been India and Pakistan.”

In our generation, if we were fortunate enough to live in big houses and have a certain amount of money, a nanny was essential. Of course nowadays parents handle every single thing and take their children everywhere with them. We would never have taken a child to a cocktail party, and we definitely would not have gone near the Ritz with our offspring. If you’re with your child the whole time it treats you as one of its own, so when you tell it to do something it argues, and when you insist, it tells you to kill yourself and all that nonsense.

India has four children and one foster child and I love having them to stay, but I do have to tell them off for silly things like not closing the door when it’s windy and for bringing mud into the house on the soles of their feet. I will not abide a muddy house. But they’re pretty good, aside from when they nearly knock you over in the doorway, and at mealtimes, when I have to say: “Darling. Your napkin. On your lap.”

As a child India was protective, caring and sweet with me, especially after my father was killed by an IRA bomb. On that day someone entered our summer home in Mullaghmore, County Sligo, and said there’d been an explosion on our fishing boat, and my father was probably dead. Tim, my sister’s twin son, who was on the boat, had been taken to hospital. The other twin, Nicky, hadn’t been found at that point [he died during the attack; Pamela’s brother-in-law’s mother died the following day].

At first, due to the shock, India and I had the same reaction of wanting to get away. The house is by the Atlantic and the cliffs are full of sand dunes, gussets of grass, places you can fall into. So when I realised, half an hour later, that India wasn’t in the house I did rather panic. I thought she would be crying so much she wouldn’t be able to see properly, and before she knew it she would be over the cliffs. The police eventually found her hiding in a sand dune.

So India celebrated her 12th birthday in Westminster Abbey at the funeral of my father. It was really not an ordinary childhood. The only relief for me was that I was so busy running in every direction and looking after the children there was no time to think.

Two years after my father’s death, India, who is Prince Charles’s goddaughter, was asked to be a bridesmaid at his wedding to Diana. India lived in jeans, due to her love of ponies, so the idea of a dress was penile servitude to her. But on the day I don’t remember any tantrums and she was splendid.

She went on to study photography and graduated with honours, so it was a surprise when she suddenly started appearing on the other side of the camera. My poor sister, Patricia, who had seven children — not one of them a model — was bored by me incessantly quizzing her if she’d seen this or that magazine with India on the cover.

I call India Miss Bossy Boots, as she makes me do all sorts of things I don’t mean to do. I would prefer to spend my life reading a book in a corner. She had a happy thought for my 70th birthday, a very unsuitable present for someone that age: hang-gliding. I freaked out! So we went swimming with dolphins instead. Right now she is making me write my memoirs. But I suppose, being the daughter of fascinating people and the wife of a fascinating person, one really should write about it.

india: My mother rarely shows emotion but I clearly remember the day her father and my cousin were killed. It was mayhem, with the press descending, helicopters flying around. My mother dealt with it in her own impeccable way by being resilient, practical, unemotional. But that night she came and lifted me into her bed, which I found very frightening. Up until then it had always been me climbing into her bed and I was instantly aware of the pain she was feeling.

I had an unusual upbringing. My father was one of the world’s most recognised designers in the ’60s and ’70s and our home was his laboratory, so there were lots of bizarre things going on. We had golden pheasants in a gigantic red lacquer cage, peacocks wandering around as pets. An extraordinary cast of characters came through the house: flamboyant, enormously inspiring people — from the crowned heads of Europe to the Noël Cowards of the world.

My parents travelled a great deal. I spent a lot of time in the care of nannies and housekeepers who I adored, and was driven to school in a chocolate-coloured Rolls-Royce — though in those times we really didn’t need to be educated because we could have just married a duke. I was asked to leave Gordonstoun school for having boys in my room, and my mother didn’t know what to do with me, so she gave me the gardener’s car — I’m not sure I even had a licence at the time — and I would drive around England.

I fell into modelling by mistake, and saw it as a way of being able to travel and see the world. It was fun. As a teenager I was messy, unbelievably disorganised. Anybody who knows me would be surprised, because now I’m phenomenally organised. I’ve five children in four different schools in two different countries. One has to be organised.

But my grandfather was Admiral of the Fleet and Governor-General of India, so the ability to multitask is in my DNA.

When I had my first child, 14 years ago, I thought: “Great, Mum can get involved.” I remember saying to her once: “I’m going to do some shopping. Would you mind babysitting Felix?” He was fast asleep in his pram and I told her to simply pick him up and hold him if he cried. When I came home my mother was sitting on the sofa, lost in a book and Felix was outside in a pram screaming his little heart out. “The baby’s crying!” I said to her, and she replied: “Really, darling? I thought it was a partridge.” It’s an unusual form of grandparenting.

These days I live two very different lives, trying to make them work in harmony. And my mother is the backbone to all of that. She is the oxygen I breathe, and I can’t even think how I am going to take another breath the day that pipe gets cut off. Sometimes I still feel like a 12-year-old, because for parts of the year I live in my mother’s house in Oxfordshire and I’m looked after by her. Then I have this other life in the Bahamas, with all the madness, responsibility and the endless decision-making that comes with being an adult, a mother and having several businesses.

My mother today lives a very calm, poised life. Each day breakfast is served in bed and tea is served at four. It’s a very gracious life but one she deserves. She still drives herself to London, she takes herself alone to the cinema a lot and she’s unbelievably broad-minded. When you think she was essentially born a German princess, she’s adapted so well to the times.