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Sarah Gristwood

Historical biographer, former film journalist, royal commentator

After leaving Oxford, Sarah Gristwood began work as a journalist, writing at first about the theatre as well as general features on everything from gun control to Giorgio Armani. But increasingly she found herself specialising in film interviews – Johnny Depp and Robert De Niro; Martin Scorsese and Paul McCartney. She has appeared in most of the UK’s leading newspapers – The Times, the Guardian, the Telegraph (Daily and Sunday) – and magazines from Sight and Sound to The New Statesman. Turning to history she wrote two bestselling Tudor biographies, Arbella: England’s Lost Queen and Elizabeth and Leicester; and the eighteenth century story Bird of Paradise: The colourful career of the first Mrs Robinson which was selected as Radio 4 Book of the Week. She also published a book on iconic dresses, Fabulous Frocks (with Jane Eastoe); and a 50th anniversary companion to the film Breakfast at Tiffany’s, as well as co-authoring The Ring and the Crown, a book on the history of royal weddings. Her most recent non-fiction books are Game of Queens: The Women Who Made Sixteenth-Century Europe (2016) Blood Sisters: the Women Behind the Wars of the Roses (2012) and The Story of Beatrix Potter (2016). She has also published two historical novels, The Girl in the Mirror and The Queen’s Mary. A regular media commentator on royal and historical affairs, Sarah was one of the team providing Radio 4’s live coverage of the royal wedding; and has since spoken on royal and historical stories from the royal babies to the reburial of Richard III for Sky News, Woman’s Hour, BBC World, Radio 5 Live, and CBC. She has contributed to a number of television documentary series on cinema and fashion, as well as on history and the monarchy. Shortlisted for both the Marsh Biography Award and the Ben Pimlott Prize for Political Writing, she is a Fellow of the RSA, and founder member of the Women’s Equality Party.

Victoria & Abdul - Why Some Monarchs Give Good Movie

Kings, European ones, may be a difficulty here. Powerful and privileged white males most of their lives offer little scope for any story of winning against the odds, or overcoming difficulty. Except, of course, when they do have some particular, personal, problem to face - <em>The King's Speech</em>, anybody, or <em>The Madness of George III</em>?
13/09/2017 13:25 BST

Diana's Tapes - When Does The Past Become History?

It's the topic of the day - whether or not Channel 4 should broadcast the tapes the late Diana, Princess of Wales, recorded with her voice coach Peter Settelen. Speak of it on social media -never mind on the BBC - and you get a storm of comment, with opinion divided surprisingly evenly. The answer may be no, they shouldn't - but that's quite a strange thing for a historian to say.
01/08/2017 16:24 BST

Why The Royals Got It Right

The Queen got it right - and Theresa May got it wrong. Everyone agrees that Britain's 91-year-old monarch, going to meet victims of the Grenfell Tower disaster, responded much better to the tragedy than Britain's Prime Minister did.
19/06/2017 17:04 BST

Cross Dressing - The Real Question For Hillary

As Prime Minister of Great Britain May, is daring to dress - like Michelle Obama, like both Queen Elizabeths - in a way that adds to, rather than apologises for, her femininity. Hillary Clinton's advisors, take note. Because in these fraught times a female politician needs every weapon she can lay hands on.
06/10/2016 17:00 BST

The Bloody Difficult Brigade

Theresa May - said Kenneth Clark, caught unawares on camera - is 'a bloody difficult woman'. It was quite an endorsement, actually. Because when he added to Malcolm Rifkind that they had, after all, worked for Margaret Thatcher, the link in his mind was plain to see.
12/07/2016 10:10 BST

Treading in Diana's Footsteps

So the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are to end their Indian tour on Saturday by visiting the Taj Mahal? Well - why wouldn't they? They are famously a loving couple, and this has been a place for lovers through the centuries.
11/04/2016 16:45 BST

Winston Versus the Women

The film <em>Suffragette</em> opening later in October has a <em>Who's Who</em> of a cast list. Meryl Streep as Emmeline Pankhurst; Helena Bonham Carter; and Carey Mulligan as the foot soldier at the heart of the story. Buried a long way down the list (above the uncredited Jujitsu Lady and Lower Class Boy, but below Epsom Groundsman and Mrs Pankhurst's bodyguard) comes Ray Burnet as 'Churchill, Cabinet Minister'. Winston Churchill, that would be...
30/09/2015 15:29 BST

Long to Reign Over Us

On 9 September, 2015, Queen Elizabeth II becomes the longest reigning monarch in British history. She surpasses Queen Victoria - and guess what? There is no better way to appreciate Queen Elizabeth than to compare her with her famous, but often surprisingly feckless, forbear.
01/09/2015 17:35 BST

Royal Salute - The Real Story

Yes, there is a genuine historical interest in footage of Edward encouraging his niece to give the salute this early in the decade, when he was still expected to reign over the country. But I'm not sure it tells us much we didn't know before - it's elsewhere the real lesson of this story lies.
20/07/2015 11:40 BST

Charles - Shaking Hands With History

The headlines were all about a historic handshake, after Prince Charles met the Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams on Tuesday. Add in the landmark speech he made the following day, and the headlines were not wrong. This really was the heir to the British throne shaking hands not only with history, but also with his own personal destiny.
21/05/2015 14:41 BST

Princess Charlie

They're a couple who always do the right thing, and William and Kate have done it once again. Charlotte Elizabeth Diana - it's a name that ticks every single box, including some you may not even have thought of.
06/05/2015 11:30 BST

Spares and Heirs

Second time around, and are we as excited about another royal baby? Maybe we ought to be. The history of the British Isles has been littered with younger royal siblings who have done much to shape today's monarchy.
27/04/2015 12:17 BST