Joe Carstairs - mean anything to you? No me neither, until a couple of months ago. I pass her house on my Mayfair tour and of course I had to delve into her life. I was helped along by Kate Summerscale, Oxford Graduate, Journalist and sometime Booker prize judge, with her book about this enormously colourful character.
Joe was heiress to a bloody fortune. So what are you to do when you inherit an obscenely huge amount of money? Well, race powerboats, date some of the most gorgeous women film stars of the day, buy your own island in the Bahamas and basically act like you want without anyone telling you what to do. Now that sounds like my ideal life. I don't think my budget extends to buying an island though!
In later life, the irony is, she asks a gay man Hugh Harrison to move in with her as she says (and I quote) 'I've had it with these fucking women'. A sentiment I have echoed myself recently! Time to look for an appealing and very funny gay guy for my dotage me thinks (apply within please).
Carstairs was an enigma, she could be cruel and cutting and loving and extremely benevolent. Did she love? She says not, although her actions would say otherwise. The book tells of her brief but contentious relationship with Marlene Dietrich and her involvement with Greta Garbo but it is a manicurist from Miami called Jackki whose story I adore. One evening Jackki leaves work to find her car missing, in its place is a brand new Chevrolet, a present from Joe! It's the stuff of films surely? Why hasn't anyone made it?
The book is bursting to the seems with stories which are outlandish and laugh out loud moments. We need to preserve this character before she disappears entirely from the records, like so many other women who history has forgotten.
I recommend the book wholeheartedly. It's called 'The Queen of Whale Cay' by Kate Summerscale. A worthy winner of the Somerset Maugham Award.
Happy Women's History Month to you all. Book a tour now and hear stories like this fly off the page.