I knew the story of Jennie Jerome, the American lady who came to these isles and produced the dominant figure of 20th century British politics, Winston Churchill. It transpires that we returned the favour – what goes around, comes around. Although I was, until recently, ignorant of the story. I shouldn’t have been. Twice we have spent the day at Minterne House and Gardens, in a small village in West Dorset. Not so far from our home in Bournemouth. It’s here that the story began, as a young Pamela Digby, the daughter of Baron Digby, grew up in the family home.
She too married a Churchill, the son of the war time PM. She produced an heir. And then she went her own way, crossing the Atlantic from east to west, to shape American politics in the 1980s and 1990s. And, arguably, she indirectly played her part in the shape of American politics today. Her life is a truly incredible story, which was told in a recent Channel 4 documentary. It’s worth watching, if you can get around the regional digital blockade. If you are from the other side of the Atlantic, you might better know her not as a Churchill, but as Pamela Harriman. The architect of the Clinton era.
Minterne Gardens is a wonderful place to spend a warm summers day. There are rolling wooded hills. There’s the storybook sparkling stream. And a shimmering lake, complete with arched wooden bridges, that has jumped straight from the pages of a Kenneth Grahame novel. Then there’s the pièce de résistance, the fabulous mass of flowers, wild and tamed, for you to walk amongst. What a childhood she must have had, to be able to call this place home. I wonder if ever she came back to visit, or did Minterne live on only in her memories?
I wonder how she identified herself? Pamela the Churchill? The Harriman? The Democrat? As an American? Or did she always see herself as the girl from Minterne? I also wonder how her life fits in with the modern narrative, in the world of #metoo. There are greater men that the Bill O’Reilly’s of this world who she would no doubt think of as little more than hors d’oeuvres. She played the game, the one that the woman of today is, rightly, calling time on. But she did more than survive. She was the exception. She triumphed. I think we need a simpler hashtag for Pamela. She belongs to a more exclusive female club. Here’s to Pamela, the original and the unrepentant #me.