As a child I never really found anyone who I wanted to idolise. Pop stars were too stratospheric (even the Spice Girls), iconic designers too bourgeoisie and TV stars simply weren’t 3D. In my late 20s, I have finally found someone – Jean Alys Barker, Baroness Jean Trumpington, born 23 October 1922. Disclosure: post contains affiliate links – but is no extra cost to you.
Many people live normal lives, loving their families, working as close to a 9-5 as they can get away with, holidaying in the sunshine and trying to stay out of trouble. That wasn’t ever going to be the case for Jean Trumpington (as told in her memoir Coming Up Trumps.). Educated privately to a Major in the Bengal Lancers and an American Heiress, she left school aged 15 having never taken an exam before being sent to Paris to study art and literature. Her family moved in circles of privilege (which included the then Prince of Wales, later the Duke of Windsor, and his paramour Wallis Simpson) before the Wall Street crash dampened their fortunes slightly. By her Mother’s standards anyway.
She worked as a Land Girl on David Lloyd George’s Sussex arable farm, at Bletchley Park (home of the Alan Turing war code-cracking Enigma Machine) because of her language skills, served as a headmaster’s wife, mayor of Cambridge, a government whip and as a health minister. Then, when most people are beginning to settle into their comfortable 80s, she famously flicked a V-sign to her colleague Tom King during a Lords debate. To be absolutely fair, he was teasing her about her age and deserved it. She became a minor sensation as the UK media seized upon her inimitable response and relayed it over TV networks and social media sites.
After her stint at Bletchley Park (including an infamous incident being stuffed into a washing hamper and pushed flying down a long corridor to end up on a commanding officers desk) America, the land of her mother beckoned.
“I had an absolute longing to go there,” she explains. “In the end, I went with four pounds in my pocket. I had a job but I didn’t realise it would take two weeks before I was paid. So I was very much thinner by the time the two weeks were ended and full of potato crisps.”
Surviving in a strange land by the skin of her teeth, and the pulling of many cheeky networking strings, work as a Secretary was poorly paid and boring, hanks to well-heeled friends, she partied at the Stork Club, knew Walter Annenberg, later to become US ambassador to Britain, and tap-danced on a table at a shindig in Philadelphia.
“I think I’ve been incredibly lucky in many ways. I had a fantastic time during the war, doing a job that was very worthwhile, having fun when I went out on the town in the little time we off that I we were allowed and living life to the full whenever I got the chance.”
“And I still certainly do.”
As a castaway on Desert Island Discs in 1990 she chose as her luxury item the Crown Jewels in order to maximise her chances of being rescued. Now Baroness Jean Trumpington is someone to have as an idol.
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