Ashley Hicks, son of Lady Pamela Hicks and grandson of Lord and Lady Mountbatten, on his family's relationship with India: From his grandfather holidaying there with the Prince of Wales to his grandmother's platonic love affair with the former Prime Minister of India... And the new film, Viceroy's House, about his grandparents, starring Hugh Bonneville
This was Christmas 1968, outside the front door of Broadlands, my grandparents’ home in Hampshire, where we spent every Christmas until my grandfather died. I am the five-year-old boy who is not looking at the camera but instead admiring his cousin Philip Knatchbull, who because he was older, was my great hero.
In the picture are a mixture of relatives and staff. Next to me is my sister, Edwina, and in the centre of the group under the doorway is my grandfather, Louis Mountbatten. My mother, Lady Pamela Hicks, is at the very end on the left. (My dad had been standing next to her but took this photograph, hence the gap.)
My mother had a conventional early childhood, but then her parents took her out of school and said, ‘We need you to come to India. You’ll be able to help us to win over the young people, and it will be a marvellous experience for you.’
My family has a long relationship with India and when my grandfather went there in 1921 with the Prince of Wales, my grandmother Edwina (who was dead by the time this photo was taken) bought herself a ticket to Delhi, aged 20, which is fairly brave.
The Prince of Wales even lent them his room to have a drink in so my grandfather could propose.
They returned to India in March 1947, when Mountbatten became Viceroy. It was the great dramatic event of my mother’s life and she was unique among any Viceroy’s children in that she saw some Indian culture.
They had Indian food in the Viceroy’s house for the first time and my grandmother insisted on at least half the guests at meals being Indian.
Prime Minister Nehru was my grandmother’s great friend – they had a platonic love affair. Nehru’s sister told me that it was impossible that he and my grandmother could have had sex because he was impotent – and had been for years.
I think that is probably true, but they had this intense, romantic feeling for each other.
Last year we had dinner with Hugh Bonneville, who is playing my grandfather in the film Viceroy’s House.
The first thing Hugh said was, ‘Lady Pamela, I have to apologise because your father looked like a movie star and I’m afraid I don’t.’
After lunch, my mum said to him, ‘Now Hugh, just salute, will you?’ So he saluted, and she said, ‘Oh no, a little bit quicker, a bit nearer the forehead…’ She was trying to get him to do a proper naval officer’s salute, the way that my grandfather would have done – it was the only thing she was really concerned about.
Viceroy’s House is in cinemas on March 3