WHY NOT SAY WHAT HAPPENED?, A Memoir by Ivana Lowell




In this site:




 Robert Lowell          080104.html




Caroline Blackwood - 101202.html





Li o livro de fio a pavio em dois dias. É uma leitura apaixonante e está muito bem escrito, embora um pouco desorganizado. Os acontecimentos nem sempre seguem a cronologia e não são referidas datas. O leitor é que tem de se organizar. Suponho que estes dados podem ajudar:


Maureen Guinness (1907 - † 3-5-1998)

Robert Lowell  (1917 – 1977)

Caroline Blackwood (1931 - † 14-2-1996)

                Natalya Citkowitz – (1960 – 1978)

                Evgenia – n. 1964

                Sheridan – n. 1971

                Ivana – n. 1966

                                  Daisy – n. 16-7-1999 









Ivana Lowell: I´m a survivor

Ivana Lowell


Why Not Say What Happened? is out now (Bloomsbury, £25)


I come from a fabled family. My grandmother Maureen was one of the three heiresses the society pages dubbed 'the glorious Guinness girls'; my mother, Lady Caroline Blackwood, was a writer, model and muse to her first husband, the painter Lucian Freud, and my stepfather, the poet Robert Lowell. On paper it all looks so glamorous, so privileged, so interesting. And yet dysfunctional does not even begin to describe my upbringing. 'Gosh,' my latest therapist said to me. 'You've been so bumped and knocked about, it's amazing you' re still standing.'

Yes, so when I became a mother in 1999 I knew I had to do it differently. I started looking back and trying to make sense of the past and I poured it all into a memoir with a title taken from a bleak Robert Lowell poem: Why Not Say What Happened? My maternal grandmother Maureen, Lady Dufferin (she married Basil, the 4th Marquess of Dufferin and Ava), was a vivacious hostess, mentioned in Noël Coward' s song 'I went to a marvellous party': 'We played the most wonderful game/Maureen disappeared/And came back in a beard/And we all had to guess at her name!' She would sometimes greet guests wearing false teeth and a monocle, disguised as her alter ego, a crude Irish maid called Mabel. Mabel would

hustle visitors towards the lavatory, asking if they wanted to go now or later. Maureen was friends with Evelyn Waugh, Frederick Ashton and the Queen Mother (whom everyone called 'Cake' after she once exclaimed the word rather too loudly at a wedding). Maureen had the joie de vivre of the Bright Young Things. But she was also a selfish mother who often left her children in the care of the staff at the family estate, Clandeboye in Northern Ireland. It had a man-made shamrock-shaped lake and was stuffed with treasures brought back from India by my great-great- grandfather, the former Viceroy, but it was a cold and lonely place for children and my mother grew up cripplingly shy.

At my mother's coming-out ball, attended by Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret, my grandmother 'overserved' herself champagne and slipped on the dancefloor, cracking the priceless shamrock-shaped family tiara. She never drank again. However, for others of us it was not so easy, drink being 'the family failing' as my mother used to put it, as well as, ironically, the source of our fortune. It is sometimes said there is a curse on the Guinness family. I'm not so sure – look at any large family and you will find tragedy – but for us the combination of money, flamboyancy, alcohol and talent has been, in some ways, a recipe for disaster.

Neglect and carelessness blighted both my childhood and my mother's. She wrote a short story about a creepy groom she had known as a child, called Never Breathe a Word. We don't think he actually molested her, but when I was six, the husband of my nanny started to pay me bedtime visits. We were living in Milgate Park, a huge, gloomy Georgian house in Kent: me, my mother, my stepfather Robert Lowell, whom I adored, my elder sisters Natalya and Evgenia, and my little half-brother Sheridan Lowell. I dreaded going off to my distant bedroom and once I tried an experiment, screaming and screaming to see if anyone could hear me. No one could. When the abuse started, I almost welcomed it. My nanny's husband's visits were wrong, I knew, but I also used to look forward to them. He would tell me I was beautiful and threaten to set his German shepherd on me unless I complied with his sexual demands. It was utterly abusive but it was attention and I think children mistake attention for love.

Our house was hopelessly chaotic, with broken furniture and peeling wallpaper. If a television broke, a new one would be dumped on top of it. When he was four, my brother pulled a heavy Venetian lamp down on himself. 'Gave him a little bit of brain damage,' my mother used to remark jokingly. Nothing was childproof. Aged six, I was running through the kitchen, playing a game with one of the staff called Off Ground He, when I caught the lead of a kettle with my foot. Seventy per cent of my body was burned by scalding water. I remember looking down and just seeing my skin evaporating.

In a specialist burns hospital in East Grinstead, where Battle of Britain bombers had been treated, I was kept in a hermetically sealed cold room. My mother and Robert lay on the floor outside the room all night hoping I would survive. I did, but when I left hospital with emaciated, charred limbs, I had to learn to walk all over again. When I got home, my nanny and her husband had moved away: the abuse stopped. A therapist once suggested to me that the accident was my attempt to stop the abuse – it covered the same area of my body. If it was, it was entirely unconscious. The burning was far worse than the abuse.

I longed for normality. When Robert and my mother took me to start school at Dartington Hall, a liberal establishment in Devon, mid-termtime in a rusty old jalopy (cars were one of my mother's few frugal-ities because, as she always said, 'No one has cars these days'), I just knew all the other children had been dropped off by normal parents in normal cars. When we were sitting waiting outside the head-master's office, Robert absent-mindedly picked up one of the milk bottles sitting on the doorstep and started drinking from it. Fortunately, I loved my boarding school, it made me feel safe, and I adored the routine and security.

But back at home, Lady Caroline and her mad poet probably frightened our neighbours. At the end of our drive, a family lived in a mock-Tudor house with a kidney-shaped swimming pool, immaculate lawns and two cars in the garage. To me it represented perfection. I pleaded with Mum to let us visit them, thinking I might be allowed to swim in their pool. It couldn't have gone worse. My mother was drinking again and Robert, frequently in and out of psychiatric hospitals, was entering one of his manic phases. The visit ended with a frigid goodbye. Soon after, our carthorse Paddy (who had once belonged to the Queen) escaped, bolted on to their land and fell into their pool, thrashing about until he was winched out by a fireman's sling, but not before he had managed to smash most of the pool's delicate tiles. 'Magnificent steed!' said Robert proudly.

Soon after, Robert died suddenly of a stroke at 60. He was crossing New York in a taxi, with a portrait of my mother by Lucian Freud in his arms. The next sudden bereavement was my sister Natalya, who developed a drug habit at our 'progressive' boarding school and died, aged 18, of a heroin overdose. She had been poised to enter rehab the next day. The sense that we were doomed was pervasive. For the darkest times, my mother and I found a catchphrase: 'It's too bad, even for us.'

By my late teens my mother and I were best friends and drinking companions. Early in life I learned that if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. Her attitude was never maternal. She would not have recognised the verb 'to parent'. We never had cooked meals at home, though in town, Harrods Food Hall often delivered. I recently met the writer Paul Theroux, who told me he visited us at Milgate when I and my siblings were little and he wondered how we survived when he saw a fridge with nothing but vodka in it.

I remember falling weeping to the floor of John Lewis once because I wanted regulation nametapes so badly. When I ran away from another boarding school (Cranborne Chase), I was terrified and thrilled: it was like escaping from prison. When I arrived home, my mother simply said: 'Oh, hello, darling, I'm just going out for dinner but don't worry, we'll talk about it tomorrow.'

Perhaps most perniciously, my paternity was left in doubt. I grew up believing my genetic father was my mother's second husband, the composer Israel Citkowitz, although Robert Lowell was a loving adoptive father and gave me his surname (as well as the poem Ivana). Bob Silvers, a friend of my mother, was always a kind fatherly presence, but another candidate was the writer Ivan Moffat, with whom I felt not much affinity, despite the fact we both worked in film (for a time I was an actress, and was Bob Weinstein' s girlfriend, as well as running the Weinstein brothers' Miramax literary arm, publishing books such as a Like Water For Chocolate cookbook). When I became pregnant with my daughter Daisy, now 11, I was 32 and married to Matthew Miller (an interior designer). I decided, finally, that a paternity test was imperative. I needed to know my child' s genetic inheritance – and I also needed something better to say than 'Um… Which one?' when therapists asked me about my father. The result was an anticlimax in a way because nothing changed. Ivan Moffat, it transpired, was my father (the clue, I suppose, was in my name). But there was no Hollywood ending, no joyful reunion.

Daisy has a close relationship with her father. We are no longer married but we are both really proud of the fact we have such a good friendship. I missed my father – it's so important she knows and loves hers. We live in my mother's former home in Sag Harbor in the Hamptons and Matthew is close by; he has retrained as a fly fisherman and keeps me in fish.

When I set up home with my daughter I decided to be 'disgustingly normal'. Our house is cosy – we have heating! – and Daisy's nametapes are preordered and sewn into her clothes. If she starts summer camp, she finishes it: running away is not an option. It's essential to try to put right the mistakes that were handed down through the generations, but it's hard to strike the right balance. When she is online I find myself peering over her shoulder. Sometimes I embarrass her like my parents embarrassed me. 'Mummy, you can't go out like that,' she recently told me. 'You look like Lady Gaga!' I was wearing Alexander McQueen boots, very high with a very spiky heel, a short dress and a feather in my hair. I suppose a sense of drama runs in the family. Look at my cousin Daphne, who is famous for her wonderfully outlandish dress sense. My grandmother Maureen' s look was drag queen-meets-aristo. She loved huge, tacky, gaudy earrings – always costume jewellery, though she had 'good stuff' at home – and she loved jewels with a naughty twist, like monkeys who, on close examination, are copulating. My mother was quite different. She was very beautiful when she was younger but she rejected fashion; she was completely without vanity. I never saw her put on so much as face cream. I hope I strike a happy medium.

People talk of the Guinness family curse. My great-grandfather Arthur Guinness fired up his private plane and flew off while a mechanic was still working on the wing; the mechanic died instantly. There have been terrible incidents certainly. But they cannot continue. Slowly but surely, we are breaking that curse.



Saturday, 4 December 2010

Ivana Lowell: So, who was my father?

Ivana Lowell's childhood was punctuated by disaster, including sexual abuse. But worst of all, she says, was finding out that her father wasn't who she'd thought


Had Ivana Lowell decided to turn her life into a novel, so far-fetched and brimming with disaster would it be that nobody would have believed it. Even a new therapist who asked Ivana to summarise significant events in her life – maternal neglect, sexual abuse, a near fatal childhood accident, losing her father, stepfather and sister before the age of 13, marriage to a drug addict, years of alcoholism and rehab, and finding out that the man she thought was her father was not – looked at her and said: "Oh my God, that's one of the worst stories I've ever heard."

As Ivana's mother liked to say every time some new tragedy befell the family: "This is too bad, even for us." Then they would laugh about it, which is how they always got through.

"In the cab on the way back from the shrink," remembers Ivana, sitting straight-backed in a hotel bar in London, her wide eyes a little nervy, "I remember thinking: You know what, I think I am pretty amazing to have survived that. I had never thought of myself in those terms before." It was partly that realisation a few years ago that made Ivana decide to write her memoir, Why Not Say What Happened? (the title comes from a line in a poem by her stepfather, the American poet Robert Lowell), which is bookended by the discovery – and then the truth – that her real father might not be the man she thought he was. It begins at lunch in February 1996, in New York, the day after her mother had died, when her mother's friend says to Ivana, somewhat out of the blue: "Of course, you do know who your real father was, don't you?"

She was born Ivana Citkowitz in 1966 in New York. Her mother, the writer, muse and society beauty Caroline Blackwood, was on her second marriage, to the Polish composer and musician Israel Citkowitz; the first, to the painter Lucian Freud, had lasted just three years. Her marriage to Citkowitz had collapsed and Blackwood brought their three daughters – Ivana the youngest – back to London. Citkowitz followed and was installed in an apartment nearby, but died when Ivana was six. By then, Blackwood had married Robert Lowell and as her memories of Citkowitz had all but disappeared, Ivana regarded Lowell as her father. It was Robert who slept outside the hospital room where Ivana, aged six, lay close to death, 70% of her body covered in burns after an accident with a boiling kettle. She was in hospital for nine months and left with terrible scars.

Robert Lowell was a manic depressive and alcoholic, whose poetry was famously bleak, but his stepdaughter remembers him differently. "He was so sweet," she says. "He was like a little child and to a seven-year-old he was really fun. I used to run in and interrupt his poetry and we would read out loud to each other. He was very cosy, very sweet. I really wanted to show that side of him." But his terrifying breakdowns are also related in the book, and she remembers him being carted off in ambulances.

For the most part, they lived in a grand but decaying house in the Kent countryside, which Lowell describes as chaotic and, because her older sisters were at boarding school and her new younger brother just a baby, isolating. Once, she screamed at the top of her lungs for 10 minutes in her bedroom in one wing of the house just to see if anyone would hear her. They didn't. So when the six-year-old Ivana began to receive regular visits at night from her nanny's husband, she writes that she almost welcomed the attention, although she felt such shame that she didn't reveal the abuse until much later.

Caroline wanted her daughter to take Robert's name, so she became Ivana Lowell-Citkowitz; it was such a mouthful that she later dropped the last name. In 1977, when Ivana was 12, Lowell died of a heart attack in the back of a taxi in New York. Less than a year later, her 18-year-old sister Natalya died of a heroin overdose. "That was awful," is all she says. Her mother's drinking worsened and it felt as if there was no hope after that. "I always felt I had to look after my mum a little bit," she says. "I was scared – she was all I had now."

Looming over all this was the presence of her grandmother Maureen, Caroline Blackwood's mother, Marchioness of Dufferin and Ava, spoilt and demanding Guinness heiress and crashing snob. Though monstrous, her appearances in her granddaughter's book provide its funniest moments, including her cringeworthy friendship with the Queen Mother, and practical jokes (she liked to turn up to parties wearing a comedy nose in the shape of a penis and with a fart machine hidden under her dress). When her distressed granddaughter called her after that lunch in New York, Maureen was thrilled with the news that Citkowitz might not have been Ivana's father. "She said, 'Oh good, darling. You might not be part-Jewish after all. That means you've got a much better chance of getting married.'"

Ivana didn't push the family friend for details about who her father was. She was still reeling from her mother's death, and this new information was hard to take in. "I didn't really want to think about it, and I also thought it didn't matter," she says.

She remembers a lunch when she was about 17 with her mother and Robert Silvers, the editor of the New York Review of Books, a close family friend and former lover of Caroline. "After lunch I remember my mum saying, 'You know he thinks you're his daughter, don't you?' I just said: 'Stop it; he doesn't. He must know he's not.' She looked all serious and strange, but I just thought it was Mum being Mum – she loved to make things up and cause trouble."

Silvers wasn't the only one who thought he was Ivana's father. After her mother's death, Ivana was invited to lunch with another of Caroline's former lovers, Ivan Moffat, a British screenwriter who worked in Hollywood. Barely two mouthfuls in, Ivan turned to Ivana and said he believed he was her father. Ivana downed her wine, said she didn't believe him and demanded that he take a DNA test. She was furious, she writes – with him, and with her mother. She phoned Silvers, who had become a reliable presence in her life. "I told him that Ivan seemed to think he was my father, and Bob said: 'Absolutely not. I am.' He said it completely directly. He said: 'Your mother told me, but she asked me not to tell you. I'm convinced, and I'll do a DNA test if it makes you happy.'"

Caroline had told both Moffat and Silvers that they had fathered Ivana but made each promise not to say anything to her – for whatever reason, she wanted her three daughters to have the same father. And as far as Ivana was concerned, Citkowitz was her father. "I did think that that was what I was genetically. He was a composer, a pianist, Jewish, Polish. I had a sense that half of me came from that, although I always wondered why I wasn't that musical. That was my identity; he was my father." Did he know he wasn't? "I think he did," she says quietly, "and he agreed to act as if I was his."

Despite these men coming forward to claim her, Ivana did nothing about it. "I just hadn't let it bother me," she says. "Life had gone on, I had got married, I was happy not knowing. I said to my husband: '[My father] is Israel, there's no way anyone would have kept this from me – it's too big a thing.'" It wasn't till she became pregnant with her daughter Daisy in 1998, and doctors asked about her family medical history, that she decided to ask Silvers and Moffat to take a DNA test.

Her sister Evgenia lived in Los Angeles, where Moffat lived, and took a testing kit to him. Ivana met Silvers in New York and they went to a testing specialist together. "The whole thing was so weird. It was my identity. But I wasn't sure if it would change anything anyway." A few days later, Silvers called with the result and sounded disappointed: "Seems it's not me. It's that Moffat fellow."

Ivana was disappointed too – she had wanted Silvers to be her father. Moffat was arrogant and mean, and liked to tell sniping anecdotes about her mother. "I was sad. I loved Bob – he had been part of my life. He had acted as though he had some kind of interest in me. I said to him recently: 'I love you and it doesn't make any difference to me [that you're not my biological father].' He said: 'I know, honey, same for me.' It was nicer than the reunion I had with Ivan – I think he wanted me to go, 'Oh, Daddy!' But I wasn't feeling it at all." She called Moffat and had a strained conversation. "I can't remember what I said, but it was something like 'So – the results are in.' It was very strange, and it didn't feel real. I just felt nothing. It didn't change me in any way."

Her mother, Ivana believes, probably thought it was easier not to know. "She probably never thought that I would do a DNA test. Bob would carry on thinking he was my father and Ivan would maybe think it but not be sure. Maybe she liked the idea of me having lots of different fathers – the more the merrier. If Bob wanted to think he was my father, then let him. She liked him and thought he would have been a good dad."

The other possibility: "I don't know if she even knew."

Ivana smiles when she says this, but she admits she was furious and felt betrayed by her mother. "If she did know then I think it was terrible not to say, to let me believe something else. How could she not tell me? I thought we told each other everything. Especially when I thought about my name: Ivana-Ivan. It was so obvious – such a clue. I thought she was more subtle."

There was no big emotional reunion. Ivana had other things to cope with. Her marriage to Matthew, an interior designer, was imploding. He was a drug addict and alcoholic, and prone to violent rages. Ivana was also an alcoholic, and in and out of rehab.

Then, when her daughter Daisy was a toddler, she decided to invite Moffat to stay at her house in upstate New York, which she had inherited from her mother (and where she lives now). "He said he was thrilled," she remembers. "When he came, he said: 'I always loved you.'" Ivana felt it was time to get to know him better, but it was a painful week. "I was still angry and in shock, and I wasn't sure about the whole thing. I wasn't that nice to him."

The way Ivana tells it now sounds rather understated – it is as though all her years of therapy have given her a detachment from her life – although in the book it sounds more dramatic. During a dinner party with some mutual friends, she blurted out to Moffat that she wished she had never found out that he was her father, and Bob Silvers was. Then she burst into tears. "It wasn't good," she says now, "and I had a nasty feeling about it when he went back to California."

Two months later, Moffat had a massive stroke. Ivana got on a plane to LA and made it to his bedside before he died. "I squeezed his hand and I think he knew who I was, so hopefully it was OK," she says in a suddenly quiet voice. After everything, it wasn't meant to end like this. "I had known him a little bit throughout my life. I liked him as Ivan. It was only when I found out he was my father that I felt it didn't fit. Once my original anger and shock had subsided, I think we could have [had a father-daughter relationship]. The timing was so bad."

Still, just before I leave, she admits that she might have been happier had she never known. Who does she think of as "Dad" now? "Robert Lowell," she says without hesitation. "He was the closest that I loved as a father figure, and he was there. And then Bob Silvers after that – and he's still there. The Ivan thing is genetics, it doesn't really mean anything." But then she talks about her new family – Moffat had three other children, and she has known his son Jonathan since they were teenagers – which clearly does mean something to her.

Ivana says that, finally, she feels more settled – she doesn't drink now and sees a therapist occasionally. She has a good relationship with her ex-husband, who sees his daughter Daisy regularly. "[Being a mother] is very much trial and error for me. Nobody ever taught me – my role models were so shaky. But I always had that idea in the background, that was the goal. I'm there for her as much as possible."

Why Not Say What Happened? by Ivana Lowell is published by Bloomsbury at £25.


W Magazine


Ivana Lowell: Girl, Interrupted

In a juicy new memoir, Guinness heiress Ivana Lowell searches for the truth about her roots.

By Jenny Comita

October 2010


Ivana Lowell’s new memoir, Why Not Say What Happened?, is one book that certainly lives up to its title. Lowell—a Guinness heiress and daughter of Lady Caroline Blackwood­—says, among other things, what happened when she attended the 1997 Oscars with her then boyfriend, Bob Weinstein (he told her she looked like a “ridiculous old lady” in her Galliano fishtail gown, and ordered the hotel housekeepers to hack four inches off the bottom minutes before the ceremony); what happened when she underwent a pubic-hair transplant after a burn accident left her bare down there (her mother, who was meant to pick Lowell up afterward, had passed out drunk, stranding her at the doctor’s office in a post-anesthesia fog); what happened in the months following her 1999 wedding at the Rainbow Room, which was planned by social queen Mercedes Bass and featured in W (the marriage turned violent and quickly dissolved); and most significant of all, what happened when she visited a DNA specialist known for his regular appearances on Jerry Springer (she found out, at age 32, that the man she’d always thought of as a not particularly likable family friend was, in fact, her father).

Sitting at the kitchen table in her rambling, shabby-posh home in Sag Harbor, New York, Lowell—striking and rail thin, with a halting voice and upper-crust marble-mouth accent—says she didn’t consciously set out to reveal her darkest secrets and deepest humiliations to the world. Raised in a literary family (Blackwood authored nine books and was married to poet Robert Lowell, who unofficially adopted Ivana when she was six), she grew up writing to process her feelings, a practice that was encouraged during three stints in alcohol rehab. Two and a half years ago, a visit to a new therapist required Lowell to discuss her twisted family history, and, she says, the book “just sort of spewed out.” Uber agent Andrew Wylie, who had represented her mother, showed the first 50 pages to a few publishers, and, says Lowell, “They got into bidding, which was wonderful. Only now that it’s going to be published, it’s like, Oh, God!”

The book, out this month from Knopf, will no doubt raise eyebrows. Lowell spares few details in recounting her dysfunctional childhood, which was spent in grand houses and fancy apartments, where the family lived more like hillbillies than titled Brits. “I have a photo of me as a small child perched on an old broken sofa next to several defunct TV sets and other pieces of unidentifiable furniture,” she writes. “I look confused and out of place, as though I had just been dumped and left in some builder’s scrap yard. It is only when I look closely at the picture that I can tell that I am, in fact, in our drawing room.”

The living conditions were certainly not due to lack of funds. Blackwood’s father was a marquess, and her mother, Maureen, was one of a trio of sisters known as “the glorious Guinness girls.” Along with the family fortune, however, came the family propensity for alcoholism and eccentricity. Maureen, a friend of the Queen Mum’s who circulated in the highest orbit of London society, “would often arrive at social events wearing a false penis on her nose and a hidden ‘fart machine’ between her legs. She would let the machine rip at opportune moments,” writes Lowell. Blackwood, a reluctant debutante who came out with Princess Margaret, rebelled by marrying a series of men who horrified her mother: first, painter Lucian Freud; then, composer Israel Citkowitz; and, finally, Robert Lowell, who suffered from extreme bipolar disorder. In between she carried on romances with New York Review of Books editor Robert Silvers and screenwriter Ivan Moffat.

Lowell had always been told that, like her two older sisters, she was a Citkowitz, but after Blackwood’s death in 1996, friends began to hint that Moffat was actually her father, a rumor confirmed by the aforementioned DNA test. While her grandmother Maureen was thrilled—“She said, ‘Oh, great! You’re not Jewish after all. Make sure you tell everyone!’” Lowell recalls with a laugh—the revelation left her disoriented and angry at her mother. “And it really is annoying to be cross at a dead person,” she says.

There is much, it would seem, to be cross about. Beyond deceiving her daughter about her paternity, Blackwood, a lifelong alcoholic, was not exactly a hands-on mom. She didn’t notice, for instance, that six-year-old Ivana was being regularly molested by a family acquaintance. The abuse stopped only after Ivana stumbled over an electric kettle, resulting in third-degree burns on 70 percent of her body. The nine months she spent in the hospital and the decades of follow-up care resulted in a deep bond between mother and daughter, she says, though the rest of her childhood was no less dark. Citkowitz died when Lowell was seven, Robert Lowell three years later, and her eldest sister, Natalya, a year after that, from a heroin overdose. Lowell made it through, she says, thanks in part to the dark sense of humor she shared with her mother. “We used to laugh and say, ‘Oh, this is just too bad—even for us.’”

Happily, the past several years have been brighter. Lowell has made peace with her ex-husband, who lives nearby and helps raise their 11-year-old daughter, Daisy, and she is close with her “new” half brother, Moffat’s son Jonathan. (Petrifyingly, the two nearly had an amorous relationship as teens.) And the process of writing her memoir has given her at least a modicum of closure. “I wasn’t light and dancing with joy when I finished writing,” she says, “but it definitely gave me a much better understanding of my mother and everything that went on.” At this point, she insists, she has few regrets—even about the tell-all nature of her book. “And believe it or not, there are things I left out that I now wish I had put in,” she says. “Stay tuned for volume two".



Little Girl Lost and Found

If Guinness heiress Ivana Lowell had a fairy-tale childhood, it was the kind seemingly shadowed by evil spells and a profound confusion about just who she was. Her memoir is a triumph of hope and human spirit.

By A. M. Homes | October 28, 2010


Ivana Lowell’s Why Not Say What Happened? is a particularly lucid memoir of growing up in simultaneous extremes of privilege and neglect. The book is a riveting history of a family that folds in on itself, consuming generation after generation with money, power, alcoholism, and profound selfishness and emotional disconnection. Lowell’s compact, finely tuned paragraphs render the saga with brave urgency and courage, and while the import and impact of events is horrifyingly clear, there’s an absence of melodrama to the telling and a deep compassion— call it love—for those who failed the author so miserably.

I sat down with Ivana in the Sag Harbor, New York, house she inherited from her mother, Caroline Blackwood, whom I knew during the last years of her life. The house is now a much more placid establishment than it was under Caroline’s reign, when it was always charged with drama— who was coming, who had just gone—all of life lived as if on a precipice about to crash into a storm-tossed sea. Ivana does share with her mother a rather profound intensity, though her eyes are a deep and forgiving brown and not the famous terrifying blue that Caroline would focus upon you like X-ray specs. Despite the memoir’s self-exposure, in person Ivana has an English affect, saying less rather than more.

Ivana’s “mum,” Caroline, was the daughter of Basil Hamilton-Temple-Blackwood, the Fourth Marquess of Dufferin and Ava, and brewery heiress Maureen Guinness—one of three sisters renowned in the 1930s as the “Golden Guinness Girls.” The multigenerational prominence of the Guinness family includes today a high-profile role in the fashion world: Ivana is cousin to style icon Daphne Guinness as well as model Jasmine Guinness.

Lady Caroline was a brilliant author of 10 books and was often described as a muse. She was first married to painter Lucian Freud and then to composer Israel Citkowitz, with whom she had three daughters: Natalya, Evgenia, and—for many years it was assumed—Ivana. Later, Lady Caroline married the American poet Robert Lowell, and Ivana took his name. (Ivana’s two sisters declined to make the name change.) The day after Lady Caroline’s death in 1996, Ivana was told by one of her mother’s oldest friends that her father was not Citkowitz but screenwriter Ivan Moffat, or perhaps Robert Silvers, the editor of The New York Review of Books, who had long played a paternal role in her life. The surrounding confusion and subsequent DNA tests confirming that Moffat was her father got Ivana writing. “It wasn’t so much cathartic, but in putting it out there and reading it, instead of being so angry, I really missed everyone. I wished they were here.”

Author Andrew Solomon (The Noonday Demon), a longtime mutual friend, describes Ivana’s family as “the original marriage of brilliance and madness, impossibly glamorous and terrifyingly unreliable. I have never laughed as much with anyone as I used to with Ivana and her mother, but I have also been only seldom in touch with someone who could be as casually cruel as Caroline. Her good and bad qualities were so tightly entwined that you could no more separate them than you could a person’s heart and brain.”

Ivana also endured sexual abuse by her nanny’s husband, which stopped only after a horrible kitchen accident in which Lowell was scalded by boiling water so badly that she was not expected to survive. She recalls liking the specialness of those “awful evening visits” and “realizing now as the parent of a young daughter how truly awful it was. I knew it was something that…was to be ashamed of, and I didn’t want to fess up. It was my guilty secret. I was 13 when I finally said something.”

Ivana spent months in a burn unit, her mother and Robert Lowell at her side. Much later, reading her mother’s work from that time, Ivana says, “It was hard to read her writing. It was very dark—wonderful but dark. I read some short stories, one about a burns unit, and I said, ‘Mum, you’re writing about me.’ She said, ‘Oh, no—it’s another burns unit.’ ” Lowell laughs and recollects how kind her stepfather was during this period. “It’s a side of him that no one ever writes or hears about,” she says, “so sweet, so cozy and considerate.”

More often one hears about Robert Lowell’s madness and his being carted away in ambulances. “Mum was very good about hiding it from us,” Ivana says, “but a couple of times I saw him act really odd.” Lowell famously died of a heart attack in 1977 in the back of a taxi from JFK airport in New York while returning to his previous wife, the writer Elizabeth Hardwick, clutching in his arms a painting of Caroline—a portrait by her first husband, Lucian Freud. Ivana remembers shopping for dresses for Lowell’s funeral at Harrods with her older sister, Natalya, as one of the “good moments.” Just a year later, Natalya was dead of a drug overdose at 18, and the family was never the same.

Andrew Solomon elaborates: “By and large, the one recompense for people who are neglected is that they look pathetic and everyone treats them with compassion. If you come from one of the most glamorous families in England and are neglected, the compassion can be in short supply. So I think that combination is a very dangerous one. Ivana was a much-loved child. She had so much of what most impoverished lives lack, and lacked so much of what even impoverished lives contain, and other people had a hard time understanding that. Most of us have scars on our faces, but hers were in the most hidden places.”

Ivana doesn’t push back against her family’s history. She seems enthralled with all its twists and turns, raising the question—can one get free of the past rather than be damned to repeat the same mistakes? “I don’t think you’re ever free,” she says. “Writing the book, I did get a better understanding, and I did feel quite proud. Everyone’s very interesting, eccentric, scary—I don’t think I would have preferred having a ‘normal’ family. I do associate normal with boring, which is really bad.” No stranger to the family battle with alcohol, Ivana has been to rehab five times.

Adding to the family’s literary legacy, Ivana’s younger sister, Evgenia Citkowitz, who is married to actor Julian Sands, also published a promising first book of short stories last spring, titled Ether. In her finely crafted stories, one sees the threads of family connection—adults paralyzed by denial and alcoholism, the sense of things being perpetually on the verge of collapse. Citkowitz declined to be interviewed for this piece, and there is clearly tension between the sisters. Ivana says only, “I love my sister very much. We have been through quite a lot together, and she has always been there for me. I don’t think she has read my book yet, but I thought her short stories were very powerful, and I am so proud of her.”

Our meeting is brought to a perfect end by the arrival of Daisy, Lowell’s 11-year-old daughter by ex-husband Matthew Miller. Lowell’s current beau, the writer Howard Blum, is somewhere in the house. As we say our goodbyes, Lowell is preparing to take her daughter and Blum to Ireland to meet the family. Growing up in the United States has spared Daisy a certain amount of family drama, and Blum has met some of the cousins but “hasn’t seen them in their natural habitat,” Lowell quips. She is cheerful about the trip, looking forward to visiting her mother’s surviving sister, Perdita, and showing Daisy the house where she grew up and thinking about what she’s going to write next—more about the family. When asked whether her life now feels more of a piece, she smiles, strokes Daisy’s hair, and says, “It’s really nice when you can appreciate things in the moment.”





29 Oct 2010

The pain and the privilege: interview with Ivana Lowell

In her new memoir, the Guinness heiress Ivana Lowell tries to make sense of her disaster-filled upbringing as the daughter of the bohemian aristocrat Lady Caroline Blackwood




'Why Not Say What Happened’ (Bloomsbury, £25)


I wanted it to be my truth,' Ivana Lowell says of her new memoir, Why Not Say What Happened?. 'So much has been written about my mother that I wanted to set the record straight.' We are sitting in the Tiffany-blue parlour of the rambling clapboard home that she shares with her 11-year-old daughter, Daisy, in Sag Harbor, a former whaling port at the eastern end of Long Island, about 100 miles from New York. The elegant Federal-style townhouse, known as the Summer White House when it was occupied by President Chester A Arthur in the late 19th century, was left to the Guinness heiress by her mother, Lady Caroline Blackwood, who moved here towards the end of her life when she was suffering from cancer.

Nearly 15 years after her death, the presence of the bohemian aristocrat is everywhere. Above the fireplace hangs a copy of Girl in Bed, her first husband Lucian Freud's 1952 portrait of her, painted around the time she and Freud eloped to Paris, while on the mantelpiece is a photograph of her at 19, all limpid blue eyes, taken by the English screenwriter Ivan Moffat, with whom she carried on an open-ended affair during her second marriage, to the pianist and composer Israel Citkowitz.

On a corner table is an early 1970s photograph of a glowering Blackwood with her third husband, the American poet Robert Lowell, and their son Sheridan, in the drawing-room of their Georgian house in Kent. At the far end of the room French doors open on to a paved terrace, a scimitar-shaped swimming-pool, and a path leading past a profusion of hydrangeas, rhodo­dendron bushes and hostas to the far end of the garden where, under a pine tree, lie Blackwood's ashes. 'After my mother left the house to me I wasn't sure I could ever live there so close to her. I associated it so much with her, with all sorts of good times, bad times, every kind of time,' Lowell says. But after the 9/11 attacks the house became a blessing. 'I came straight out here with Daisy and it didn't feel weird, it felt really nice, and I was so glad, it felt so safe.'

She had not planned to write a tell-all memoir, but when she began to see a new psychiatrist in the dark days after her mother's death – 'I've always been "in therapy," ' she says drily – she was required to recount her history. 'I was recounting it by rote,' she tells me later, over a lunch of mussels and salad in the clubby dining-room of Sag Harbor's Amer­ican Hotel, 'and at the end of it she just looked at me and said, "Oh my God, it's amazing you're still standing". On the way home I thought, yes, it is amazing I'm still standing, and I was feeling quite chuffed and thought, OK, I'm going to start writing this down, to make sense of it myself.'

Lowell, who at 43 is slender and striking looking, with enormous brown eyes that give her the same wide-eyed, fragile look of her mother, can be forgiven the confusion: the story of her life is almost Gothic in the scope of its horrors. In telling 'what happened' she spares no details of her dysfunctional childhood, her rudderless teenage years, and her rackety, if glamorous, life as a girl-about-town in London and New York, including a doomed relationship with the Miramax chief Bob Weinstein and a brief, disastrous marriage to the interior designer Matthew Miller, all increasingly passed in an alcoholic fog. At its heart, Why Not Say What Happened?, whose title comes from one of Robert Lowell's final, bleakest poems, is a portrait of a family in freefall, a mother and her four children floating through a dizzying succession of grand but rotting houses while enduring absent fathers, sexual abuse, mental breakdown, severe injury, alcoholism and the deaths of loved ones. The only thing fending off complete devastation is the author's gleefully black sense of humour, which both Lowell and her mother have in spades.

'We had an expression we liked to use jokingly when things were a bit grim: "It's too bad, even for us!" ' she writes, and it becomes a common refrain as seriously bad events – including a pubic-hair transplant after a kettle of boiling water crashes over a teenage Ivana, leaving her with third-degree burns over 70 per cent of her body – are borne with good cheer, and vodka. 'The transplant took about two hours. After coming out of the recovery room I waited to be picked up. I waited and waited, but no one arrived. Eventually I called my brother, and he came and took me home. My mother apparently had found the idea so upsetting that she had got drunk and passed out.'

Dominant throughout is the brilliant, hard-drinking, hard-living Blackwood – not the ice-blooded succubus of Nancy Schoenberger's un­­authorised biography, Dangerous Muse: The Life of Lady Caroline Blackwood, but a beloved matriarch up close and personal: loyal, witty, terrific fun, monstrously self-absorbed, often drunk, always centre stage. Blackwood herself had endured an isolated, unhappy aristocratic childhood that had produced in her an unremitting cynicism and a macabre humour. 'We were good at gloom,' Lowell writes. 'When something really awful happens, I still think, Oh, Mum would have loved that.'

As her daughter reports, Blackwood's dark humour never deserted her, even in her final days. When the writer Anna Haycraft, a devout Catholic, visited her best friend on her deathbed she attemp­ted an 11th-hour conversion but was rebuffed with aplomb. 'Anna had brought a flask of holy water that she had especially blessed for Caroline in Lourdes. When she thought Mum was sleeping, she sprinkled the water all over her head. My mother sat up as if she had been stung. Shivering, she said crossly, "That will be the death of me!" ' When the end did come, Lowell was bereft. 'Nowhere seemed safe or normal or recognisable any more. I no longer had any sense of home, because in her own shambolic, heartbreakingly inadequate way, Mum had always been home.'

In the dark, disorienting days after her mother died in the spring of 1996, one of Caroline Blackwood's closest friends took Lowell out to lunch. 'Of course, you do know who your real father was, don't you?' the woman asked, and Lowell realised to her horror that things were about to get a whole lot worse. It turned out that she was not, as she had believed her whole life, the daughter of Israel Citkowitz, but of someone else entirely – a story that had been doing the rounds among her mother's set for years – and the memoir is partly a whodunnit, the question of her father's true identity dogging the author throughout. Is it Robert Silvers, the founding editor of the New York Review of Books, an adored friend and eminently suitable for the position? Or is it the unlike­able family friend Ivan Moffat, the thought of which she finds profoundly disturbing?

The problem is that both men believed themselves to be the culprit, arising from the fact that Black­wood's love life was complicated in the extreme. When Lowell was born in 1966, Blackwood was 33 and at the end of her marriage to the much older Israel Citkowitz, but involved with Bob Silvers, both men part of a pattern of intellectuals and artists to whom Blackwood became companion and muse throughout her life. A magnetic figure, she had grown up in an Anglo-Irish aristocratic clan at Clandeboye, the Gothic family estate near Belfast. She and her siblings, Perdita, Lindy and Sheridan, were raised by staff while her parents, Basil Hamilton-Temple-Blackwood, the 4th Marquess of Dufferin and Ava, and the acid-tongued brewery heiress Maureen Guinness, one of the 'glorious Guinness girls', stayed in London to enjoy the hedonism of postwar society, an abandonment that she never forgave.

After coming out as a debutante at the end of the 1940s, Blackwood refused the convention that she should marry well by eloping with the painter Lucian Freud at the age of 22, and thereafter circulated in the highest orbit of bohemia, moving with a patron-and-artist set that included Francis Bacon, her cousin Doone Plunkett, Ann Fleming and Stephen Spender. When her marriage to Freud failed she left London for New York and acting school, and then for California. Working in Holly­wood at that time was Ivan Moffat, the son of the English poet Iris Tree, who was enjoying great social success having written the screenplays for Giant and A Place in the Sun. He and Blackwood began an affair, which was left open-ended when she decided to head back east. In New York she met the handsome musical prodigy Israel Citkowitz, and a year after her marriage to Freud was annulled they wed. She bought a brownstone in New York's Greenwich Village and embarked on motherhood, bearing Citkowitz three daughters: Natalya, Evgenia and, it was assumed, Ivana.

By the time Ivana was born, Blackwood had begun a relationship with Bob Silvers, who had come to live with them in the West 12th Street townhouse. Soon it was all change again: while Silvers stayed in New York to edit the Review, Blackwood moved her young family to London, where she bought a house in Redcliffe Square, and a Mayfair flat for Citkowitz, who had followed them over. The Redcliffe Square house was tall and divided into four flats, each with its own front door and lock, a layout that suited Blackwood perfectly: she ensconced herself in the top-floor apartment while the girls and nannies were scattered throughout the rest of the house. At this point she met Robert Lowell, the most famous of the so-called 'confessional' poets, at a London dinner party. After their coup de foudre, both moved quickly. Lowell left his wife, moving from America to England to be with Blackwood, and after their divorces came through they married and set up home together at Milgate Park in Kent.

It is Robert Lowell whom Ivana considers to be the most important father-figure in her life, a benign and loving presence in her early years. Contrary to the popular image of the poet as a depressive plagued by episodes of mania, she remembers him as a tall, teddy­bearish presence, who was 'really gentle and funny. He wasn't con­descending – I always felt that I was equal. He'd read me poems and I didn't have a clue what they meant, but I knew it was important that I listen to his poetry, and we'd read out loud and take parts in plays, Oscar Wilde and so on, and it was lovely. I loved reading and I loved acting after that.'

Lowell nicknamed Ivana 'Mischief' and unofficially adopted her when she was six; on her mother's urging, she later took his name. But underneath the surface of domestic bliss cracks were forming. Milgate Park was a decaying house full of draughty rooms and ramshackle furniture with no domestic routine whatsoever. Friends would come over, 'and they'd look in the fridge and there were just bottles,' Ivana recalls. 'Paul Theroux said, "I came and stayed in Kent and there was no food; I never thought her children would ever make it." '

With both her sisters away at boarding school and her mother hardly hands-on, Ivana was left to her own devices, her isolation compounded by her bedroom being situated at the end of one wing of the house while the adults occupied the other. 'The house felt uncosy and I hated going to bed, really hated it, and I felt if I screamed and screamed no one would hear.' Such was her loneliness that when the nanny's husband began to molest her sexually at night, she welcomed the attention. 'I kind of looked forward to it, and he had a television in his room, so I'd watch it while it was all going on,' she says. Only later, when she was 12, did she tell her mother. 'She couldn't believe it, she was amazed and I said how could you not know?' Ivana shakes her head. 'She was really horrified and guilty.'

Worse was to come. Arriving home from school one day Ivana tripped over the dangling electric cord of a kettle and got drenched in scalding water. Suffering severe burns and near death, she was rushed to hospital, where Blackwood and Lowell spent the night sleeping on the floor outside her door. The next nine months in hospital and subsequent weeks of rehabilitation and skin grafts were so gruesome that Ivana considers the accident far more catastrophic than the abuse. Blackwood later wrote Burns Unit, her account of maternal hysteria in the hospital where Ivana was treated, and in the years following she would take Ivana to virtually every well-known plastic surgeon in the world.

'In a weird way it did make my mother and me closer, because we had this thing that we were trying to rectify. We'd hear there was a new burn technique and we'd rush off. And she felt responsible.' Did she ever get over her guilt? 'Probably not. I mean, she'd say it doesn't matter, you're lovely, but at the same time she was the kind of person who liked everyone to be beautiful and good-looking. It was a theme, because her mother was very [that way] – they really minded that you were beautiful.'

For Ivana, boarding school brought some respite from the chaos, but at home Lowell and Blackwood were falling apart, the poet suffering from increasing episodes of mania and Blackwood pickled in drink. In the autumn of 1977 Lowell flew to New York to his first wife, the writer and editor Elizabeth Hardwick, and suffered a fatal heart attack in the taxi on the way in from the airport; Hardwick found him in the back of the cab clutching Lucian Freud's Girl in Bed painting. Five years earlier Israel Citkowitz had died. Then, a year after Lowell's death, Ivana's sister Natalya died, aged 18, from a heroin overdose. 'That was it, there was no hope,' Ivana says of the effect of the pile-up of tragedies on the family unit and Blackwood's drinking. 'There wasn't very much parenting [anyway], but if there was any that was kind of it, because my mother gave up then. She always remained a friend, but she couldn't be a mother.'

Ivana Lowell's life is in many ways an object lesson in maternal neglect, a common theme to the English upper classes of that era. When I say that she does not seem unduly angry about the kettle incident, she sighs. 'It was bad, because now with everyone "parenting" you know you shouldn't leave kettles with wires. I mean, to leave a child with a kettle like that, that is neglectful. But there was so much chaos. And she was self-absorbed and into that whole muse thing, she was very much the man she was with. It was all-consuming. And her work as well, she was writing herself.'

With all the loneliness, the drinking, the continual moving of schools and houses, there is much to be angry about, but Lowell says it is 'the Ivan thing' that really enraged her. When Robert Silvers and Ivan Moffat finally took DNA tests, it was Moffat who turned out to be Ivana's real father, her name being the clue all along, perhaps. 'I just felt so deceived and betrayed, because I was so close to her.' Why did her mother not tell her? She heaves a sigh. 'I don't know if she even knew. I think she wasn't sure and I think she thought that Ivan wouldn't have been a great father. He told me that she had said, I don't want you to have anything to do with her. And I think she was very adamant that I took Robert's name, that he adopted me. I don't know… There were all these times when we'd have lots of drinks and talk about everything, I thought she would say something.' She pauses, and then says in her halting voice, 'I was also angry that she died and left me, and then I was left with a drinking problem. I had been abandoned in my struggle, now I'm all alone in this.'

Alcoholism is a legacy bequeathed to her by the Dufferins, 'the family weakness', she says. Her grand­mother, Maureen Dufferin, became so drunk at her own society party that she fell flat on her face in front of the Queen Mother, crushing the family tiara, an event that so mortified her she never touched a drop again. 'That wouldn't have worked for me,' Ivana says wryly. 'I've been lower than that.' She grew up drinking with her mother – 'there was always champagne', she says. 'It was our cure-all for everything. "Good news, let's go and have a drink", "Bad news, let's go and have a drink", "We've got to make a decision, let's go and have a drink," ' she recalls. 'There was a restaurant in Sag Harbor we used to call Indecision, because it was where we would go and have lunch when we had a decision to make and I'd have lots of wine, she'd have her vods.'

For Lowell, the wake-up call came when she became pregnant with Daisy. 'I thought, I just can't be like my mother, I can't do this.' She has been through rehab on a number of occasions and is in Alcoholics Anonymous. 'I go to AA meetings. I'm learning to like them,' she says, wrinkling her nose.

Writing her memoir has taken three years, 'on and off', she says. 'Little breaks here, a little break for rehab.' There have been many times when she has sat shaking and sobbing with the remembering of it all. But the process has also given her a greater appreciation of her family. 'I really missed everyone, more than anything. There was one point when I was really angry – you know, why did my mother lie to me, and why didn't anyone tell me, and I felt that I'd been treated really shabbily. But then when I was writing I found myself laughing and remembering stories and just missing people.'

This past summer she took Daisy to Ireland to stay with her cousin Desmond Guinness at Leixslip Castle, and they visited her Aunt Perdita and her Aunt Lindy, who still lives at Clandeboye. 'I really wanted her to see it and get a glimpse of that era. It seems so archaic.' Daisy now has a real idea of her roots. 'She has a great sense of her family and she knows a lot about my mother and I just wished that she'd been able to meet her. And Daisy's so pretty. She would have loved her so much.'

Lowell is also on good terms with Jonathan, Ivan Moffat's son. She remains close to her sister Evgenia, who is married to the actor Julian Sands and lives in California, and sees her half-brother Sheridan in New York, though infrequently. 'He's a Communist and it involves a lot of demos, a lot of marching. He's incredibly busy because there are so many things to right in the world.' For the past two years she has been seeing the writer Howard Blum, who is a great support to her in her writing and to whom she dedicates the book (along with Daisy and her mother), and she enjoys a good relationship with Daisy's father, Matthew Miller, who lives around the corner in Sag Harbor and works
as a fly fishing guide. 'He comes for Christ­mas, for Thanksgiving, and I have my boyfriend there. It's all very modern, very civilised.'

Now that she has settled in Sag Harbor permanently, with Daisy enrolled at school nearby, life is far more stable and peaceful. 'It's just me and Daisy. Much quieter and much cosier than New York. We cook and watch movies.' She pauses. 'It's as if I've almost got this normal life I was hoping for. I can't believe it. A friend of mine came to my house and looked in my fridge and said, my God, Ivana, there's actually food in there. And Daisy's happy and beaming and I'm really proud of that. Sometimes I feel I've just got to appreciate this. Recently there have been times – I don't dare say it because I think I'm going to jinx it – but it's like, this is really good.'

So not too bad, even for them.


November 19, 2010

Shaking the Family Tree




A Memoir

By Ivana Lowell

Illustrated. 285 pp. Alfred A. Knopf. $27.95


This summer, an idealistic young New Yorker spent several weeks working with poor children in India. Just before she left, a little girl ran up and pinched her so hard she drew blood. When a translator asked why she’d hurt someone who’d been kind to her, the girl explained, “This way she won’t forget me after she leaves.” That startling child already knew the inscriptive power of pain.

In her memoir, “Why Not Say What Happened?,” Ivana Lowell, the Anglo-Irish Guinness heiress and the daughter of the glamorous, troubled writer and writer’s muse, Lady Caroline Blackwood, shows she also learned that lesson early. When she was 6, living in the British countryside in a grand, damp Georgian pile called Milgate Park, Lowell overturned a kettle of scalding water on herself, covering 70 percent of her body in third-degree burns. Her mother and stepfather, the American poet Robert Lowell, slept on the floor of a hospital corridor as she fought for life. Lady Caroline was a self-­dramatizing alcoholic, Lowell a manic-depressive genius. Their lives were consumed by creative productivity and social mingling with intellectuals, aristocrats, poets and artists. But in this instance, Ivana was their focus. She appreciated the attention.

In a sonnet to his stepdaughter, Lowell wrote, “Though burned, you are hopeful, accident cannot tell you / experience is what you do not want to experience.” In her book, whose title comes from her stepfather’s poem “Epilogue,” Lowell takes stock of the physical and emotional wounds that have shaped her: “It would be intolerable if one’s nerve endings and memory were in tune.” She surveys her scars with pride — as if they were hard-won badges, marking an unending battery of personal endurance tests.

There was the sexual abuse she endured as a child from an odd-jobs man who worked at Milgate Park. There was the sudden death of her stepfather in 1977, of a heart attack, as he sat in a taxi in New York, clutching an old portrait of Lady Caroline painted by her first husband, Lucian Freud. There was the sudden death, in 1978, of Lowell’s older sister Natalya (daughter of the pianist Israel Citkowitz, their mother’s second husband), of a heroin overdose. In 1996 came the death of her mother, of cancer, at the Mayfair Hotel on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, in a suite of rooms arranged by Lowell’s boyfriend at the time, Bob Weinstein of Miramax. The author describes the scene as “a bit of a circus,” which is putting it mildly. One visitor, the singer Marianne Faithfull, showed up in tight leopard-skin pants, “sprawled across my mother’s bed, dislodging all her tubes,” and belted a version of the song “Surabaya Johnny.” (“Was that rather wonderful,” Lady Caroline asked afterward, “or was it really, really awful?”)

Three years later, in 1999, came the fiasco of Lowell’s wedding at the Rainbow Room, which took place during a union strike. Her half-brother Sheridan (son of Robert Lowell) joined the picket line in black tie, shouting at the guests. Their cousin Desmond Guinness took in the ruckus with glee, exclaiming, “I haven’t seen a crowd this angry since my mother married Oswald Mosley!” The groom, who had been sober — as far as the bride knew — for more than a decade, took this occasion to become “completely high.” Their baby was due in four months. If Lady Caroline had been alive on the wedding day, she probably would have joined her daughter in their favorite refrain: “It’s too bad, even for us!”

Despite the grimness such a litany might bespeak, Lowell clearly feels some triumph at her survival of these ordeals, and admires her mother’s achievements in spite of her addiction: “No matter what kind of night she had passed, stomping around, drinking and ‘catastrophizing,’ in the morning she would get up early, pour herself a strong cup of coffee and sit down with her notebook to write.” Caroline Blackwood was the author of 10 books, notably “The Last of the Duchess,” an account of Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor, and her maniacal protectress, the lawyer Maître Blum, who guarded access to her in her final years. Lowell calls that book “funny, ghoulish and sharp.” The same can be said of the gallows humor she brings to her own history.

Lowell does not so much condemn as commemorate her afflicted mother and the alcoholism — “the family problem,” she calls it — that plagued them both. “In her own shambolic, heartbreakingly inadequate way, Mum had always been home” to Lowell, she explains; and the alcoholic atmosphere that permeated that home looms too large in the author’s memory for her to abjure it. Drinking, for her, has been “the only time I ever felt O.K., as if I were acceptable,” she writes. “I was powerless over alcohol long before I ever had my first drink.”

As an adult, Lowell has been in and out of rehabs, detox programs and emergency rooms: “I was good at being in rehab. Rather like boarding school, it felt safe and uncomplicated.” But she agonizes about the consequences her ups and downs may have on her daughter, Daisy (who is now 11). “I wanted so much to give my daughter the sense of stability that I never had, but when you are drowning yourself, how can you keep someone else afloat?” Her own mother hadn’t been much of a life preserver, but Lowell had kept her chin above the waves. She hoped Daisy would evince similar fortitude: “I prayed she would be able to navigate an easier path than I had managed.”

Soon after her mother’s death, Lowell also lost her father, in a way. She learned that Israel Citkowitz, the father of her older sisters, Natalya and Evgenia, was not her own biological parent. She’d long heard hints that her “real” father might have been either Ivan Moffat (a British screenwriter who told her “spiteful” anecdotes about her mother’s missteps in Hollywood in the late ’50s) or Robert Silvers, the editor of The New York Review of Books (a “wise and sane presence” in her childhood, who sent her care packages of books when she was at boarding school). Investigating, she learned that both Moffat and Silvers believed themselves to be her father. “Why had they stood on the sidelines?” she wondered. Eventually, a DNA test put the mystery to rest. “I had done quite well without them — well, no, I hadn’t actually. But having an ‘official’ father wasn’t going to change anything now.” Whatever her paternity, she remained her mother’s daughter.

In “Why Not Say What Happened?” Lowell movingly shows how a child’s love can transcend a parent’s flaws. Her empathy with her mother may be her greatest gift. “I realized that whatever she was feeling was unbearable,” she confesses. “Pain, whether physical or emotional, is something that is all-consuming.” And she suggests that her mother’s mental anguish resembled her own burns: “It was as if her mind was being constantly scalded.” How, she asks, “can you convey a physical sensation to someone without actually administering a dose of the same pain?” In the pages of this memoir, she comes close.

Liesl Schillinger is a regular contributor to the Book Review.



The Observer

Sunday 21 November 2010

Why Not Say What Happened? A Memoir by Ivana Lowell – review

It might be poorly written, but Ivana Lowell's account of life inside the Guinness clan is impossible to put down


Rachel Cooke


Why Not Say What Happened?: A Memoir

by Ivana Lowell


Sometimes, even truly bad books can be gripping, and Ivana Lowell's Why Not Say What Happened? is one of them. Clunky, repetitive and disorganised – you will search in vain for a single date among its pages – her prose is also fatally hamstrung by the weird incontinent blankness that is so typical of those who have spent too long in rehab. In the therapy room, Lowell, a Guinness heiress, has learned to be unflinching: to face up bravely both to her own failings, and to those of people close to her. Coy she is not. But the more appalling the events she describes, the more inadequate and cliched her prose starts to seem. She quotes the best-selling novelist Josephine Hart – "Damaged people are different" – with a reverence you or I might reserve for Shakespeare; she kills her funniest anecdotes at 100 paces; her metaphors are so bad, they make you cry out in pain. And yet I could not put her book down. Never before has so much bad behaviour by people who should have known better been crammed into so few pages. To fall back on a cliche myself: you really couldn't make it up.

Even by the standards of the Guinness clan – a family beloved of the tabloids for its higher than average tendency to abuse drink and drugs – Lowell's childhood was toxic. Her narrative is dominated by two women: her spoilt grandmother, Maureen Guinness, the late Marchioness of Dufferin and Ava, and her mother, Maureen's eldest child, Caroline Blackwood, the gothic novelist and noted muse. Maureen, a Dame Edna Everage lookalike who enjoyed a close if somewhat competitive friendship with the Queen Mother, was a vacuous snob; her idea of fun was to turn up at the houses of society hostesses wearing a comedy penis nose, a fart machine carefully hidden between her legs. She and Caroline, who had a brain, disdained her mother's snobbery, and was keen to join a more bohemian world, did not get on, and the misery that trails Lowell like a noxious cloud can mostly be traced back to their relationship: Maureen's neglect of Caroline was duly succeeded by Caroline's neglect of Ivana. It is not just that Blackwood, a raging alcoholic, was not one for the domestic arts (though she travelled with garlic in her handbag; most cooks, in her opinion, were apt to stint on this particular allium, cloves of which she liked to chew). Far less forgivable than the Steptoe-like mess of her various grand but rotting houses was the fact that she could not be bothered to tell Ivana the truth about her father.

Blackwood had enjoyed an early but disastrous marriage to Lucian Freud (she is the subject of some of his most famous early paintings). With her second husband, the composer Israel Citkowitz, she had three daughters, Natalya (who died of a heroin overdose at 18), Evgenia (now married to the actor Julian Sands), and Ivana; with her third husband, the manic-depressive American poet Robert Lowell, she had a son, Sheridan. Ivana was fond of Lowell, with whom the girls lived until his death in 1977. She felt sure he would have been furious had she told him that the family odd-job man, Mike, was sexually abusing her (only she never told anyone), and when, at the age of six, she suffered third-degree burns over 70% of her body having accidentally collided with a boiling kettle, Lowell devotedly slept on the floor outside her hospital room until it was clear she would survive. But she always felt sure that her father was Citkowitz. Only after her mother died of cancer in 1996 did she discover that Caroline had led two other men to believe that Ivana was their daughter: Robert Silvers, one of the founders of the New York Review of Books, and Ivan Moffat, the Hollywood screenwriter. There followed the humiliation of DNA tests, and Moffat was established as Daddy. Granny, who died in 1998, was gleeful. A non-Jewish granddaughter would have a far better chance of getting married. Ivana was despondent. She preferred Silvers.

Lowell takes the reader through a chaotic childhood and then on into an even trickier adulthood (she is now 43). Among other piteous humiliations, when a boyfriend is alarmed by the effect her burn scars have had on her body, she agrees to undergo a pubic hair transplant. It fails save for "a few lonely sprouts". Later, when she is dating Bob Weinstein, the Miramax movie mogul charmingly asks a hotel employee to set about Ivana's new Galliano gown, which he dislikes, with a pair of scissors. She ends up attending the Oscars in what looks like a "shapeless black pillowcase". When she eventually marries, she chooses – what else? – a junkie, and their wedding at the Rainbow Room in New York is ruined by a workers' picket line outside, a demonstration that Ivana's brother, by now some kind of beret-wearing communist, duly joins once the vows have been exchanged. She and Moffat try to forge a relationship, but she can't help herself: she is mean to him. By the time remorse sets in, however, it is too late: Moffat has had a stroke, and is on his deathbed.

Those who want the full dish on Caroline Blackwood should probably read Nancy Schoenberger's unauthorised biography, though I relished Lowell's description of Marianne Faithfull's visit to her deathbed ("Surabaya Caroline, we all love you Caroline," sang Marianne croakily, before making a swift exit: "I really can't bear long goodbyes, darling."). But there is, as yet, no biography of Maureen, whom Cecil Beaton once described as the "biggest bitch in London" – and for the batty marchioness alone, I would buy Lowell's memoir. Truly, they don't make them like her any more. I'm sorry for the coastal shelf of misery she helped to carve, but I laughed out loud at the letters she wrote to guests who broke her house rules. Among these "guests" was her own granddaughter: "It really is too path [pathetic] that you have grown up to have such bad manners, just like your poor mother. Love from a broken-hearted and sad Maureen." Ivana gamely tries to stick up for her, but the truth is that Granny was a monster in a tiara. Now she has it all down on paper, her granddaughter should get on and enjoy whatever money she inherited from her with alacrity and a clear conscience.



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25th November 2010


The Guinness that's not so good for you

By Christopher Hudson

Why Not Say What Happened? by Ivana Lowell (Bloomsbury £25)


The House of Guinness, like the House of Usher in the Edgar Allen Poe story, is haunted by a curse - or so Ivana Lowell, one of the Guinness heiresses, occasionally suggests in this strange, fascinating, self-pitying memoir. 

Her grandmother married the Marquis of Dufferin and Ava, and the Guinness inheritance added vast wealth to aristocracy, ensuring that the merry-go-round need never stop. But the curse was there, and for Ivana Lowell it all began with Granny.

Maureen, the Marchioness was an insufferable snob. The highlight of her year was the annual black-tie dinner she gave for the Queen Mother which had to be perfect down to the last orchid. Behind her blue, cat-shaped, diamante spectacles was a penetrating, unforgiving gaze which missed nothing, including the little laugh with which the Queen Mother would tilt her emptied glass over her right shoulder, at which instant a man with a cocktail shaker discreetly refilled the glass and disappeared.

At dinner, everybody had to follow the direction in which the Queen Mother was chatting, to her left or right, even if it meant the diners having to change mid-sentence, so that dinner guests looked like spectators at Wimbledon.

With snobbery went vulgarity. Maureen wore fake jewellery with big glass balls and dangling silver monkeys in risque poses, and was notorious for arriving at London parties with a false penis on her nose and a hidden ‘fart machine’ between her legs.

Her daughter Caroline, Ivana’s mother, violently rebelled against Society and debutante balls. Heartbreakingly beautiful, Caroline reinvented herself as a Bohemian, the precursors of Sixties hippydom, and stormed off to Paris where she married the painter Lucian Freud. He drew and painted her in bed, whereas Picasso only got to paint her fingernails, and those, frustratingly, washed off.

No way to cap that but to move to Hollywood, where she studied acting with Marlon Brando. He was disappointing in bed, apparently, because all he wanted to do was hug.

In LA, Caroline worked on screenplays and had an affair with a suave, spiky English screenwriter named Ivan Moffat - but frustrated at not being centre stage, she shifted to New York where she found two other lovers: Robert Silver, the editor of the New York Review of Books, and celebrated Polish pianist Israel Citcowitz. Him she took home to England and married.

But well before Ivana came on the scene the music had died away, and Caroline took the family to live with the poet Robert Lowell in a mansion in the Kent countryside.

This is when Granny’s curse begins to kick in. Caroline was in many ways a mother from hell, careless, vain, self-centred, consciously Bohemian and addicted to drink (another legacy from Granny although the Marchioness had had the strength to give it up). 

Although these years with Lowell were the happiest of her life, and Ivana, the youngest of the three sisters, adored Lowell, the place was a nightmare. Lowell was regularly treated for manic depression and Ivana, shut away at the back of the house, could never have been heard during the years she was sexually abused by the husband of her nanny.

Then, playing a game, she spilled a kettle of boiling water over herself and nearly died. She was in hospital for nine months, and the lasting scars on her stomach and thighs, after many operations, caused her mental anguish for years.

Robert Lowell’s death in 1977 destroyed the family. Caroline, who had taken up writing under the name Caroline Blackwood, drank herself senseless most nights.

When Ivana’s elder sister Natalya fatally overdosed on heroin aged 18, their shattered mother moved to Ireland, leaving Ivana at Dartington School where she developed a taste for drinking scrumpy. Thereafter she took after her mother - sleeping around, smoking dope and dosing the pain of life with pills and alcohol.

If she wanted anything, Mum would take wads of £50 notes out of her handbag. Ivana’s stints in various rehabs are described with the wry lacerating honesty which pervades this memoir and sets it aside from most ‘poor little rich girl’ stories. There are even rehabs for people who pleasure themselves with stuffed animals.

Somewhere along the line Ivana got married to a handsome, attentive man called Matthew who turns out to be more self-absorbed than she, coldly narcissistic and, one gathers, not altogether presentable.

Inevitably much of the pain has been assuaged by the Guinness millions. Ivana Lowell now lives comfortably with her daughter Daisy in one of the nicest beachside addresses on Long Island. But the road has not been easy, and nobody without inner toughness could have held down, for some years, a job working with Harvey Weinstein at Miramax and resisted his advances.

Not until Caroline’s death from cancer several years ago did Ivana solve the mystery, which frames the book, of her paternity.

There were two possible contenders from Caroline’s first foray through Hollywood and New York - Moffat and Silver. DNA tests unveil her true father, and Ivana reacts with shock, rejection, drunkenness and shame. Just like her mother.

Just what her Granny would have expected.




26 Nov 2010


Lorna Bradbury delves into the misery of Ivana Lowell's privileged life, reviewing her memoir, Why Not Say What Happened?



Why Not Say What Happened?: a Memoir

by Ivana Lowell

285PP, Bloomsbury



What must it be like to be Ivana Lowell? If you read this memoir, the only answer is: dreadful.

Her early life was lonely, as she was shunted between a succession of makeshift father figures and caught up in the self-obsession and alcoholism of her mother, Caroline Blackwood, the novelist and Guinness heiress. And she only found out her true paternity after demanding DNA tests once her mother, who had kept it a secret all her life, had died.

Though she is not a blood relation, she carries Robert Lowell’s name because the “tall teddy-bearish” poet was married to her mother and was a steadying force in her fractured childhood for a few short years until his death in 1977. Her book, chaotic and guileless, is driven by gratitude at the stability he provided during the calm periods of his manic depression and, above all, by suspense over the identity of her father.

But it’s not very difficult as a reader to have this one clocked early on. Her mother might have muddied the waters with various husbands and lovers, but the fact that one of the contenders, the screenwriter Ivan Moffatt, not only acts as if he has something to hide, but more or less shares a name with the woman we later discover is his daughter does seem like a bit of a clue.

If Lowell’s book is artless and short on self-knowledge – it reads like a series of notes for an analyst – it is hard not to be moved by the misery of her early life. She was sexually abused by her nanny’s husband when she was six, and then only just survived when a kettle of boiling water toppled over, causing third degree burns over 70 per cent of her body.

A sense of desperation persists as she grows up, and her mother’s alcoholism – the “family problem”, as Lowell puts it – extends to herself too. She is an increasingly sad figure in middle age, defined by drinking and unable to forge a settled life for herself or to be a proper mother to her young daughter. Her life is punctuated by spells in rehab – a place, she acknowledges, that is safe and uncomplicated, like the boarding school at which she was briefly happy, away from the chaos of her family.

When she was at school, friends called her the “performing seal” because she could be whatever anyone wanted her to be. “Take away the alcohol,” she writes, in one of the many moments when the vocabularies of therapy and creative writing are melded together, “and I was just a damaged body sewn together with stitches of fear and pain.”

‘It’s too bad, even for us” is the mantra that runs through the book – and gloom is the certainly the dominant flavour. If Lowell's childhood was a litany of disasters, this only intensifies as she gets older. Her eldest sister, Natalya, dies of a heroin overdose at the age of 18. Lowell’s acting career stalls before it even gets going, when an illness prevents her from graduating from drama school. Her marriage, to an alcoholic interior designer, ends quickly in divorce. Even her wedding day is a fiasco, with the guests having to cross a picket line to get into the Rockefeller Centre for the ceremony (the caterers had sacked a number of staff), and Lowell’s brother, Sheridan, a member of the Communist Party, joining the strike. The answer to all these crises is champagne – and lots of it.

Lowell’s grandmother, Maureen, one of three sisters described by the society pages as “the glorious Guinness girls”, provides much-needed moments of levity. She brushed shoulders with the high life of London – from Cecil Beaton to the late Queen Elizabeth, known fondly as “the Cake”. And she is renowned for her strikingly unfunny practical jokes, arriving at social events wearing a false penis on her nose, setting off a fart machine hidden between her legs and answering the door of her grand house in Belgravia to dinner guests disguised as a drunken Irish maid.

One moment stands out from this bleak but oddly captivating book: the poem by Robert Lowell that is quoted at the end, which eloquently sums up the misery his step-daughter has tried so hard to pin down:

Small-soul-pleasing, loved with


even through the cro-magnon

tirades of six,

the last madness of child-gaiety

before the trouble of the world

shall hit.










20 November 2010

Childhood burns over most of her body were 'such a bore' for the stoic Ivana Lowell.


By Lee Randall

"It's a wonder you survived at all." While that's not the most professional reaction you'd hope to hear from a shrink, for Ivana Lowell, it was a most inspiring one. She went home and began untangling her personal history. The resulting memoir, Why Not Say What Happened, is both laugh out loud funny and sad enough to make you weep.

Lowell writes, "On paper it all looks so perfect, so glamorous, so privileged, and interesting. I come from a fabled background." Her grandmother, Maureen, was one of the fabulously wealthy "glorious Guinness girls". She married the Marquess of Dufferin and Ava and numbered the Queen Mother among her intimates. Lowell's mother, Caroline Blackwood, was an author, but even more renowned for marriages to painter Lucien Freud, composer Israel Citkowitz and poet Robert Lowell. As for Lowell's father. . . well that is the mystery driving this narrative forward.

Lowell inherited her mother's mordant sense of humour and huge, questing eyes. As we talk, I sense how mesmerising it must have been if you were on the receiving end of Blackwood's undivided attention. Now 43, and impeccably turned out, Lowell is the poster girl for a lifestyle that's light years away from the chaos that characterised her upbringing, when the family inhabited a succession of grand homes, but treated them like squats.

"I have a photo of me as a small child," she writes, "perched on an old broken sofa next to several defunct TV sets and other pieces of unidentifiable furniture … It is only when I look closely at the picture that I can tell that I am, in fact, in our drawing room."
Blackwood and Citkowitz had two daughters, Natalya and Evgenia, but by the time Ivana arrived, the marriage was effectively over. Blackwood's paramours from that era included English screenwriter Ivan Moffat, and Robert Silvers, editor of The New York Review of Books. Each man later insisted that he was Ivana's father.

But throughout her formative years she lived with her mother, Robert Lowell, and her half-brother, Sheridan Lowell. "My older sister had already left home and my other sister was already at boarding school."
She was extremely close to Lowell and adored him. "He is always portrayed as a monster, a crazy manic depressive, egotistical genius. I loved him. It's rather sad that the person in my life who was my rock was in and out of mental homes," she says with a wry smile. "But he was very cosy, very childlike – like a big teddy bear. He didn't care if I interrupted him mid-poem, he actually liked it. He'd read out loud what he'd written. I didn't really understand it, but it was entertaining and I loved the sound of his voice. Sometimes I was allowed to read out loud, and we'd take roles in plays. There was nothing grand about him."

There was no mistaking his fragility, though, and when Lowell, aged six, was sexually abused by her nanny's boyfriend, she told no one, especially not Robert. "He was one of my confidantes, but I sensed that he was too frail and wouldn't be able to cope. He did have little spells. Various trips in ambulances … I didn't know what was happening. I knew that he would go away and saw various signs of the mania setting in. He would think he was someone else – Mussolini addressing the troops. My mother hid that side of it as much as she could, but I got glimpses"

The six-year-old was so lonely, sequestered in a remote room away at the back of a vast house, that she once screamed her head off for ten minutes. "I realised that no one could hear. Nobody came to my rescue."
So the abuse was almost welcome, because it meant someone was paying attention to her. "That's more common than people think. You know there's something wrong about what's happening, and yet the attention feels nice. If someone is telling you you're beautiful, even if it's in a scary way, you want to hear it. I hated turning out the lights and going to bed – it was scary. So I got used to (the abuse] and almost welcomed it in a horrible way. Then you feel guilty because you think that somehow you encouraged it and you're complicit. I couldn't face telling my mother. I was ashamed and scared, and you have that thing that no one will believe you, it's my word against an adult's. When you're six, adults seem so big."

That same year she collided with the cord of an electric kettle and suffered devastating burns across 70 per cent of her body that nearly killed her. She describes watching her skin melt away, and how, after nine months in the hospital, she had to relearn how to walk. "That was just such a bore! It reminded me of my grandmother. She'd had a hip replacement and had to have a physiotherapist take her to the park. And she'd go, 'One, two three f***!'" Lowell giggles. " This old woman walking around (Knightsbridge] going, 'One two three f***!' She hated it as well."

Lowell's accident brought her closer to Blackwood, and as she got older, the pair spent years doing the rounds of plastic surgeons. "There's nothing they can do, the area's too big. Afterwards we'd have these boozy lunches to console ourselves."

Alcoholism was another family inheritance. Ivana's sober now, but from her teens, she was Caroline's drinking buddy. Like many children of alcoholics, she instinctively adopted the caretaker's role. Blackwood was prone to suicide threats, though always recanted when she sobered up. They didn't faze Lowell. "They were so over-dramatic. I didn't think she'd kill herself, but I thought she might have an accident. There was always that feeling that something bad was going to happen. I felt completely responsible. I was really protective of her. You want everyone to be all right and you get hyper-vigilant. That's why it was great relief when I went to boarding school. Suddenly I was being looked after and I could be a child again. And there were routines and food."

But she doesn't bear a grudge. This book is a marked contrast to the harsh portraits so many have penned about her mother, notably Nancy Schoenberger's Dangerous Muse: The Life of Lady Caroline Blackwood. Lowell hasn't read it but, shrugging, says, "I'm sure it was fascinating, because she was a great subject."

If the neglect was forgiveable, the one crime that got under Lowell's skin was her mother's lie about her paternity. The day after her mother's death a family friend broke the news that Citkowitz wasn't her father. Of course, there had been hints.

"Because I was so young and had never really lived with Israel, Robert had wanted to adopt me. Both my sisters felt this would be a betrayal of Israel … My mother wanted me to take the Lowell name, yet I didn't want to upset my sisters." She hyphenated, instead. "I was Ivana Lowell Citkowitz. When I went to boarding school I dropped the Citkowitz, and my mother encouraged that. I don't know whether it was because she knew about my paternity."

Lowell, close to Robert Silvers, hoped he would be the one, but DNA testing undergone while she was pregnant with Daisy, now 11, proved that Moffat was her actual father. The clue was there in her name all along. Still, she speculates that her mum might not have known for sure. "She had a lot of affairs at that point and things were probably quite blurry."

Blackwood may also have been trying to protect her. "Ivan wasn't great father material. I think she thought there wouldn't have been any point, it wouldn't have made my life any better. In the end, it was more problematic, because it was 'what do I do about Ivan?' He was getting older and you suddenly have all the responsibilities of a child, without any of the relationship."

Moffat was part of the old Hollywood elite, and came from an illustrious lineage himself. His mother was the actress and poet Iris Tree, and his grandfather, Herbert Beerbohm Tree, established RADA. "Everyone says I have the same smile. And he was a great raconteur and came from this big theatrical family. When I found out I thought, 'Oh, maybe that's why I like acting so much, and am so dramatic'. But then everyone else in our family's pretty dramatic, too."
When the time did come, Caroline Blackwood faced death with stoicism and dignity. Her family hid the news that her cancer diagnosis was terminal, but a doctor spilled the beans, Lowell recalls. "He said, 'I think you should know the truth. Lady Caroline, in the last few months that you have left to live. . ' And then it became weeks, and she said, 'They keep taking my months away.' But she faced it incredibly bravely."

And with her trademark black humour. Some of the funniest anecdotes in a book that's not short on entertainment feature the goings on at New York's Mayfair Hotel "headquarters for operation 'Lady Caroline Dying'." She was phoned or visited by her exes and some memorable friends, besides. "Marianne Faithful came in, threw herself across the bed, getting tangled in my mother's tubes, and started singing 'Surabaya Johnny' as 'Surabaya Caroline – Goodbye'." Afterwards, Blackwood looked up and remarked, "Was that rather wonderful or was it really, really awful?" Her oldest friend, Alice Thomas Ellis splashed holy water around when she thought Blackwood was sleeping, prompting the patient to rise up, glowering, to complain, "That will be the death of me!"

If it's true that whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger, then Ivana Lowell is one of life's iron women. She says, "My childhood wasn't all bad. I wouldn't be able to laugh about it if it was. Laughter is a good way of dealing with things. Even when I was living through them, I'd say, 'You can't make this up'. I've done a lot of touchy feely things, all the therapy and rehab, but this was therapeutic to write. It was fun bringing everyone back and living with these people again. And then I was really sad, because of my mum. But after it was done, it was okay. When the finished books came I said to Daisy, 'That was that part of my life and we can write the next bit, what comes next'."

It'll be great for Daisy to have this to contrast with what others have written about your family, I say. Lowell laughs heartily. "Exactly! And then when she goes to therapy, she can bring this to the therapist, it'll save him a lot of work!"

Why Not Say What Happened is out now from Bloomsbury.