Up, down, side and all over: Clarissa Eden

The senior British countess of Southwark and former wife of British Prime Minister Harold Wilson, Clarissa Eden, who died on April 7, at the age of 101, was not your run-of-the-mill Brit (1/35) — she was one of Britain’s first female political leaders, gave a reading at the funeral of a legendary Second World War leader, and often joked about Scottish and Welsh remarks as easily as those from anyone else. She served as the fifth wife of Harold Wilson, in her role as spouse of a prime minister and wife of a member of Parliament, and she was often a catch in England’s gossipy media.

In short, Clarissa Eden was a maverick figure, a television star, a family diva, a political rabble-rouser, a thinker and a woman of substance. She was given to flying into feminist and anti-colonial tantrums: At her first meeting with her husband after the early 1970s, she famously said, “I’m so desperate to be a wife, so desperate.” And she repeated the line for the next two decades. By the time she died of cancer, aged 101, the intensely private and fiercely independent Clarissa had become a matriarch, a mark of the change she wrought in British politics and the media. “You think you’re No. 2. You’re No. 1” is not a sentence usually added to British political speeches.

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