I have seen many unusual passport photos over the years but this one of Lady Diana Cooper is the most unusual one.
Diana Olivia Winifred Maud Cooper, Viscountess Norwich (née Lady Diana Manners; 29 August 1892 – 16 June 1986), was a famously glamorous social figure in London and Paris. As a young woman, she moved in a celebrated group of intellectuals known as the Coterie, most of whom were killed in the First World War. She married one of the few survivors, Duff Cooper, later British Ambassador to France. After his death, she wrote three volumes of memoirs which reveal much about early 20th-century upper-class life.
She was officially the youngest daughter of the 8th Duke of Rutland and his wife, the former Violet Lindsay; but Lady Diana’s real father was the writer Henry Cust As early as 1908, various pamphlets were being circulated by a former governess claiming that Cust fathered Diana Manners, and Lord Crawford (a distant cousin of her mother) noted in his diary that the resemblance was striking. In her prime, she had the widespread reputation as the most beautiful young woman in England, and appeared in countless profiles, photographs and articles in newspapers and magazines.
She became active in The Coterie, an influential group of young English aristocrats and intellectuals of the 1910s whose prominence and numbers were cut short by the First World War. Some see them as people ahead of their time, precursors of the Jazz Age.
Lady Diana was the most famous of the group, which included Raymond Asquith (son of H. H. Asquith, the Prime Minister), Patrick Shaw-Stewart, Edward Horner, Sir Denis Anson and Duff Cooper. Following the deaths at relatively young ages of Asquith, Horner, Shaw-Stewart, and Anson—the first three in the war; Anson by drowning—Lady Diana married Cooper, one of her circle of friends’ last surviving male members, in June 1919. It was not a popular choice in the Manners household, since the bride’s parents had hoped for a marriage to the Prince of Wales. As for Cooper, he once impulsively wrote a letter to Lady Diana, before their marriage, declaring, “I hope everyone you like better than me will die very soon. In 1929 she gave birth to her only child, John Julius (now known as John Julius Norwich), who became a writer and broadcaster.
After working as a nurse during the war and working as editor of the magazine Femina, she wrote a column in the Beaverbrook newspapers before turning to the stage, playing the Madonna in the revival of The Miracle (directed by Max Reinhardt). The play achieved outstanding international success, and she toured for two years with the cast. Lady Diana subsequently starred in several silent films, including the first British colour films.
In 1924, Duff Cooper gained election to Parliament, while his wife continued as a society celebrity. Her reputation became even more celebrated in France as the centrepoint of immediate post-Second World War French literary culture when her husband served from 1944 to 1948 as Britain’s ambassador to France. During this period, Lady Diana’s popularity as a hostess remained undimmed, even after allegations that the embassy guest list included “pederasts and collaborators”.
Following Duff Cooper’s retirement in 1947, they continued to live in France at Chantilly, until his death in 1954. He was created Viscount Norwich in 1952, for services to the nation, but Lady Diana refused to be called Viscountess Norwich, claiming that it sounded like “porridge”. Following her husband’s death, she made an announcement in The Times to this effect, stating that she had “reverted to the name and title of Lady Diana Cooper”.
Lady Diana Cooper’s passport through the 1950s and 60s showed her in costume as Tiepolo’s Cleopatra, photographed by Cecil Beaton for the Beistegui Ball in Venice in 1951. In her 1960 memoir she wrote: “The frontiers still let me through with that picture on my passport. When they won’t I’ll stay at home.”
The most unusual passport photo ever – Lady Diana Cooper!