President Kennedy at Westminster Cathedral, London 1961

 

People tend to repeat again and again that they know exactly where they were when John F. Kennedy was shot. To be honest, I have no idea where I was at the time and only remember the event from the endless news coverage after it happened. However, I do remember seeing President Kennedy when he visited London in 1961, when I was eleven years old.

 

It happened on Monday 5 June 1961 when President Kennedy visited Westminster Cathedral, my parish church at the time. He had come to London on a private visit because Jackie Kennedy's sister, Lee Radziwell, had a baby girl called Anna Christina Radziwell (b.18 August 1960), and the christening was to take place in Westminster Cathedral.

 

At the time I was an eleven year old primary school pupil. My school had moved me from its old buildings in Great Peter Street to a new modern building close to the side wall of Westminster Cathedral. In fact, the side wall of our playground was the side wall of the Cathedral.

 

One day, we were all told that President Kennedy was to visit the Cathedral and were let out of school to see him. No one said exactly why he was coming to visit us. These things tended just to happen. So I stood at the side of the road outside my school and I remember how I caught a glimpse of a tall man in the back of a black limousine, looking out towards me as the car swished past. I am sure it was him, though I sometimes wondered if I had the wrong car and it was just a security guard! But I have recently studied old video footage of the event and I am confident it was him.

 

The historical events we experience first hand are interesting in the way they seem to give value to our own little lives. We can say "We were there!" with some pride.

 

 

Kennedy_at_Westminster

This photograph shows Kennedy and Jackie arriving at the modest entrance to the Cathedral Clergy House in Francis Street, which is at the east end of Westminster Cathedral. The figure in the centre of the picture is, I believe, Cardinal William Godfrey (1889–1963). Jackie Kennedy has just stepped out of the car and is holding the hand of the two-year old Anthony Stanislaw Albert Radziwill (1959-1999), brother of the girl who is about to be christened.

 

Although this visit to London involved being received by the Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan, and having lunch with the Queen at Buckingham Palace, it was really a private visit in that the purpose was to attend the christening of Anna Christina Radziwell (b. 18 August 1960), the daughter of Lee Radziwell, Jackie's sister.

 

This is where the problems start. An initial love of history and of the historical events one has witnessed leads understandably to questions about who exactly these people were? Who are or were these people we look at with amazement and feel we are experiencing something special? Once we start to track them down and ask obvious questions about who their parents were, who their siblings were and who their children were, we are inexorably drawn into a world of snobishness. It starts somehow to matter that so-and-so is the offspring of so-and-so, rather than just seeing each of them as a person in their own right.

 

Jacqueline Bouvier and her sister Lee Bouvier were the daughters of John Vernou Bouvier III and Janet Norton Lee. Here below is a picture of their parents taken around 1930.

 

Radziwill Parents

John Vernou Bouvier III ( May 19, 1891 - August 3, 1957) and Janet Norten Lee (December 3, 1907 - July 22, 1989) at the Southampton Riding and Hunt Club. He is wearing a trendy suit with long cut jacket, slim around the shoulders but widening out at the hem, slanting pockets and cuffs turned up, and baggy trousers, while she is wearing traditional jodpurs and riding boots, with long jacket and polka dot scarf. Both have ensured the bottom jacket button is left undone, as good taste requires. All very fashion conscious and a prime example of studied casual.

 

The Bouvier family had two daughters, Jacqueline and Lee. Here is a picture of the daughters Jackie, on the left holding the dog, and Lee as young girls.

 

Jackie and Lee

 

Both girls grew up to become well known socialites. Lee married a man of Polish nobility called called Prince Stanislaw Albrecht Radziwill (21 July 1914 - 27 July 1976). He became a British citizen, which explains why his daughter, Anna, was chistened in Westminster Cathedral in London.

 

Lee was also keen on the arts and popular culture, so she associated with artists like Andy Worhol and pop icons like Mick Jagger. Here is a press photo of her and Andy Warhol.

 

lee and warhol

Lee Radziwill with Andy Warhol, and tiny dog. Notice the way she has instantly spotted the camera and very rapidly tries to present herself in an attractive manner, sweeping her hair back and giving a professional smile. At the same time she has not noticed that her toy dog has lost its footing and is being dragged along on its backside.

 

And here she is looking happy with Mick Jagger and Bianca Jagger, enjoying a bright sunny day somewhere in the south of France.

Lee, Mick and Bianca

Photo of Lee, on the left, with Mick Jagger, centre, and Bianca Jagger, right. Note the way polka dots are back in fashion.

In the mean time, her sister, Jackie, had married John Fitzgerald Kennedy, who became President of the United States, thus creating a dynasty that we are all aware of.

 

It is this build up of relationships and marriages and friendships that can captivate us and lead us into something that could be called snobishness, often hidden behind the phrase "celebritry culture". The photographs above illustrate the cultural shift towards this new kind of snobishness that has influenced our social lives over the last sixty years.