Born: 20 July, 1918, in Roxburghshire
Died: 3 May, 2004, in Hampshire, aged 85
MEG Colville was a woman of independent mind and a clear and active brain who, although brought up in a sheltered and privileged background in the Borders, adapted to a new and much changed society with enthusiasm. Her marriage to Sir Jock Colville gave her a place at the heart of government and society, and she fulfilled all the demands placed upon an ambassador’s wife with grace and charm. She was a devoted servant to the Royal Family, first as lady-in-waiting to the young Princess Elizabeth and then as an extra lady-in-waiting to the Queen Mother. Her discretion throughout was total and her keen sense of humour relieved many a sticky moment.
Born Margaret Egerton, the fifth daughter of the 4th Earl of Ellesmere was brought up on the family estate at Mertoun House; she had one brother, who later became the Duke of Sutherland. Educated privately at Mertoun, she spent much of her youth fishing the Tweed. After the London season, Lady Margaret (always known as Meg) joined the Kelso Auxiliary Territorial Services but only told her father when war broke out. Rather than being appalled, he sent her off to his tailor to ensure she had a uniform that fitted.
Her first posting was to Edinburgh Castle as a clerk at Scottish Command. In front of a promotion board, she was asked about her duties and replied: "I type all morning and rub out all afternoon." She was given her commission and trained recruits in Edinburgh and Orkney. In the victory parade along Princes Street, Meg proudly led the ATS and gave a typically enthusiastic salute at the foot of the Mound to the Lord Provost.
She was appointed a lady-in-waiting to Princess Elizabeth, the Duchess of Edinburgh (to give her full title) and accompanied her on a tour to South Africa. The tour was a big success but tensions ran high. Princess Elizabeth had already met her future husband, Philip; Princess Margaret met Peter Townsend on the trip; and Meg met Jock Colville, Elizabeth’s private secretary, who had been Churchill’s secretary at the end of the war. Clearly, romance was in the air.
Lady Margaret proved a most discreet adviser to the young Princess Elizabeth and helped in her first major public engagements. She was also in attendance at the future Queen’s marriage and provided much support in the heady days prior to the ceremony.
Meg and Jock were married at St Margaret’s Westminster in 1948 - Princess Margaret was a bridesmaid. He returned to work at the Foreign Office and the couple were posted to Lisbon. In 1951, they were home on leave and at Newmarket races when Colville was called to the phone and asked to return to No 10 to take up the post of Churchill’s principal private secretary.
It was not an easy appointment. Churchill was ailing and hard of hearing and preferred to busy himself with international affairs: domestic matters rather bored him. However, he found much relaxation with Lady Margaret as they both had a love of bezique and played it long into the night. In Churchill’s declining years, the Colvilles were among the few who regularly visited him. They also paid their respects to the former prime minister on his deathbed at the request of the family.
Meg and her husband had been friends of the Queen Mother for many years (they were regular guests at Birkhall) and when Sir Jock died in 1987 the Queen Mother suggested that Lady Margaret assume the position of Extra Woman of the Bed Chamber at Clarence House. Every year at the time of the Queen Mother’s birthday, cards poured into Clarence House with personal greetings. Lady Margaret was at her desk late most evenings, signing thank-you letters. She was an ideal companion for the Queen Mother: they shared a love of long walks on the moors in all types of weather and were both keen anglers. They also loved to relax and reminisce about old times.
Lady Margaret, who was made a CVO in 1994, devoted much time and energy supporting the Friendly Almshouses and Cecil Homes charities. Recently, she had been editing a further collection of her husband’s diaries.
This vibrant woman retained her down-to-earth and no- nonsense approach to life to the end. Lying in considerable pain in hospital a week before she died, she heard a fellow patient groaning throughout the night. She mumbled to a nurse: "I just pretend I’m in the Highlands, and he’s a rutting stag."
Lady Margaret Colville is survived by a daughter and two sons.