Jonathan Keates (review date 9 November 1996)
SOURCE: "Oh to Be a Little Freddie Ashton from Lima, Peru," in The Spectator, November 9, 1996, p. 53.
[In the following review of Secret Muses, Keates observes the private and professional features of the figure of Frederick Ashton that emerge in Kavanagh's biography.]
Lurking within the exotically bedecked, lavishly appointed saloons and antechambers of this palatial work, a novel or a film script eternally seeks to escape. At its opening a small boy watches a famous ballerina dance in a South American theatre and yearns to be the very creature who has so entranced him. By the close, having understandably failed to dance like Pavlova, he has instead gained celebrity as the creator of a brilliantly idiosyncratic choreography whose elegance and wit, entrancing to audiences, have given the Royal Ballet a memorable identity. In the space between, as if this were not already crammed enough with the hero's evident dedication to his art, he contrives to develop two very different private and public faces. As Fred he is the restless pursuer of attractive though not always available men, who may or may not love him in return, while as Freddie he becomes one of those beguilers of tedium, picnic guests and boon companions over cocktails within the orbit of royal intimacy at Clarence House and Kensington Palace.
'Freddie', his grander acquaintances keep assuring Julie Kavanagh (and protesting rather too much in the process), 'wasn't a snob', but a pardonable sense of having made it socially was undoubtedly enhanced by some fairly ordinary family beginnings as the son of a farmer's daughter married to a post office clerk turned business manager. A childhood in Peru lent the required touch of glamour, however, and the positively casebook homosexual formation of dressing up in mummy's frocks, amitiés amoureuses with little girls next door, a joyless stint at a Kent boarding school, was completed with Ashton père's mysterious suicide in Guayaquil when his son was 19.
George Ashton's hopes for Fred can scarcely have involved ideas either...
(The entire section is 874 words.)