John Woolf has won the Biographers’ Club Tony Lothian Prize 2017 for an uncommissioned first biography for his proposed book Queen Victoria’s Freaks: The Performers at Buckingham Palace.
Woolf received the prize at the Biographers’ Club Christmas party, held on Tuesday night (12th December) in London. His proposal offers the untold story of the "freaks" summoned by royal command to Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle for the entertainment of the monarch, her family and her royal guests.
According to the judges, by resurrecting the "triumphant and tragic" lives of the 'freaks' who met Victoria, Woolf "humanises the inhumane" and portrays the freak show (a world that permeated all aspects of Victorian culture) across the 19th century.
The judges of the £2,000 prize were: Alex Clark, journalist and broadcaster as well as artistic director for Words and Literature at the Bath Festival; Lindsay Duguid, a former editor at the Times Literary Supplement and a judge of the Duff Cooper Prize; and Edmund Gordon, teacher at Kings College London and author of The Invention of Angela Carter: A Biography (Chatto).
Woolf fought off competition from a shortlist that also included Lin Rose Clark, nominated for the story of her grandfather Robert ‘Bob’ Hilliard who met an early death fighting with the International Brigades against Franco in The Boxing Parson of Killarney; Oli Hazzard, for his book Enter a Cloud: A Book On/With/For/After W.S. Graham, depicting the life of the 20th-century poet through imagined interviews, fictionalised encounters and unpublished archival materials; Susan Kelly, in the running for Willibald’s Journey, the story of the 10-year pilgrimage to Rome and the Holy Land of Willibald, born in Anglo Saxon England in AD700; and Philip Ward, for his biography of 1920s literary sensation Michael Arlen, Every Other Inch a Gentleman: The Lives of Michael Arlen.
The prize, which is sponsored by the Duchess of Buccleuch in memory of her mother, Antonella, Marchioness of Lothian, OBE (1922-2007), last year crowned Sarah Watling its winner, who went on to secure a deal with Jonathan Cape.