Nannies are so beloved in upper-class British society that Prince William invited his childhood nanny to every major royal event, including his wedding, and then dropped everything to attend her funeral last year. For more than six decades, Brenda Ashford was that person to hundreds of her charges. As the quintessential nanny, she swaddled babies, instilled manners into children and earned the respect of parents. Now she’s passing on her hard-earned wisdom in the most charming of biographies, which also proves why she earned a “very good” mark in storytelling from Norland College. Ashford entered the legendary nanny-training school in 1939 at age 18. Her father’s business had collapsed and she needed to work. There she learned everything from housewifery and pram shining to nursery rhymes and the proper way to launder diapers. She and her classmates even cared for sick babies and children at the famous Great Ormond Street Hospital.
When war broke out in 1939, she looked after terrified inner-city children who’d been separated from their parents and evacuated into the strange world of country life. As her confidence grew, so did her belief that clearly outlined and consistent rules were the best way to raise children. Snacking between meals was forbidden, as was the answer “no”—instead she’d offer an alternative solution or an explanation for her refusal. And along the way she saw the transformative power of love, affection and cuddles. She passes along her Mary Poppins-esque knowledge under headlines such as “bake the best apple pie ever,” which includes a mouth-watering recipe, and “have treasure chest fun,” while roundly criticizing today’s electronic obsession.
It was a vocation of long hours and low pay. Her daily schedule, given at the start of each chapter, often started at 7 a.m. and ended at 10 p.m. Though she had a few romances, Ashford, now 92, never married. Her charges were her life. The love was mutual. She’s still flooded by visits and cards from those now-grown children.