Sunday 25 August 2019

Obituary: Una-Mary Parker

High society journalist became social editor of 'Tatler' and a successful author

UNA-MARY PARKER,
UNA-MARY PARKER,

Una-Mary Parker, who has died aged 89, was a journalist and author who spent 10 years as social editor for Tatler before writing a series of steamy "bonkbuster" novels beginning with the bestselling Riches.

She and her husband, the royal photographer Archie Parker, were a high society couple of the 1960s and 1970s, and she regularly made headlines of her own wearing couture dresses by Franka and hats by Madame Vernier at Royal Ascot and smart parties.

Of Scottish and Anglo-Irish descent, she was born Una-Mary Nepean Gubbins in London on March 30, 1930. She came from a family of diplomats; her maternal grandfather, while stationed in Tokyo in 1890, compiled a Japanese/Chinese dictionary and a Japanese/English dictionary. Her uncle, General Sir Colin Gubbins, was the prime mover behind the establishment in 1940 of the Special Operations Executive.

Her childhood was not particularly happy - her father had a tendency to gamble and her parents broke up when she was young - and she was largely brought up by her grandmother. Remaining in London throughout the war she was educated at home, and as an only child, was used to entertaining herself.

She started writing when she was six and had her first story published in The Scotsman when she was 12. She also won competitions in local papers and magazines.

She took riding lessons in Hyde Park until she was 13, when the master exclaimed: "Oh dear, look at you now, and you promised to be such a pretty girl!" She was presented at Court as a debutante in 1947.

In 1951 she married Archie Parker, great-grandson of the Earl of Macclesfield. After her marriage she became a journalist, writing at various times for the Daily Mail, the London Evening Standard and Queen (before it merged with Harper's Bazaar to become Harper's & Queen). Meanwhile, she also helped her husband Archie in his photography business from the late 1950s. Their clients included Somerset Maugham, Pietro Annigoni, Nubar Gulbenkian and Yves Saint Laurent; often they photographed their subjects out of the studio, during weekends in Paris, the south of France and Italy, as well as in London.

In the early 1960s, they were commissioned by the British royal family to take official photographs, as well as portraits to mark the 15th birthday of Princess Anne and the first few birthdays of Prince Andrew.

During the 1970s and into the dawn of the booming 1980s she was social editor of Tatler, the magazine that chronicled the party-going of the rich and brash, and she wrote the social column there for 10 years. It was said that her address book held 5,000 entries.

After giving that up, she became an events organiser, arranging up to 19 charity bashes every year including the annual Poppy Ball, for the Royal British Legion, though she wound down the party-planning as her novel-writing took off.

It was in 1984, by which time her marriage had ended in divorce and she was living with the actor Edward Duke, that she fulfilled her lifelong ambition to write a novel. The result, published in 1987 by the newly-founded firm of Headline, was Riches, about Tiffany, a Park Avenue costume designer.

The doorstop-sized book became a bestseller on both sides of the Atlantic, though The Daily Telegraph's Patrick Gale observed that it was "worth reading only for its punctual sex scenes, which assume an air of metaphysical poetry in their striving after unusual verbs". A representative passage read: "Electric sparks seemed to fly whenever he held her close, and his groin was on fire. He wondered if she felt the same."

Nevertheless, the novel sold in large numbers and more in the genre followed, notably Scandals, and Temptations, which was "over the top, but deliciously entertaining", enthused the Telegraph's Anthony Looch in his regular Guide to Bodice-Rippers.

Joan Collins bought the film rights to Forbidden Feelings (set in the Scottish Highlands) and Broken Trust.

In all, Una-Mary Parker produced more than 20 books, translated into 11 languages and selling more than eight million copies. When asked how she researched the torrid erotic content of her fiction, she joked: "Does a writer of murder stories need to commit one?"

Una-Mary Parker had her own brush with criminal investigation when in 1993, in a widely reported episode, she was recruited by police to help in the surveillance of a network of suspected social security fraudsters occupying a nearby house in the Knightsbridge square where she lived.

She kept a discreet eye on her suspect neighbours while taking her two King Charles spaniels, Max and Lottie, for walks. "The dogs were a very useful decoy," she explained, adding that the experience had provided essential background for her books, one of which, A Guilty Pleasure, required a knowledge of police protocol.

She was also in demand as a royal pundit on radio and television, and reported through the night on the occasion of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, on August 31, 1997.

Una-Mary Parker, who died on April 11, was known for her irrepressible party spirit, her deep voice and for always being immaculately dressed and bejewelled: when staying with friends for country weekends, she could be seen striding across the fields in her silver fox coat and high-heeled boots. She would always wear full hair and make-up - "in case someone rings me".

Una-Mary Parker, who latterly lived with a poodle called Toffee, is survived by her two children, Buffy and Baba, seven grandchildren and nine great grandchildren.

© Telegraph

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