London’s Living Lolita

British author Rosemary Kingsland has a secret she’s finally ready to share.

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LONDON — For nearly 50 years, the British novelist and ghost writer Rosemary Kingsland has been keeping a secret. Since her school years in London, she never talked about it to her family, to her friends — or even to the father of her three sons.

Now, she’s broken the seal. Kingsland’s memoir, “The Secret Life of a Schoolgirl,” arriving in the U.S. next week, chronicles her colorful — and completely dysfunctional — family. But it’s also a detailed account of her two-year love affair with the then-married Richard Burton, which began when she was 14 and he was 29.

“I couldn’t tell a soul. I thought I could keep getting away with it if my mother and school didn’t find out. My life in those years was almost schizophrenic,” says Kingsland, 62, over a glass of mineral water at the Covent Garden Hotel. “And I couldn’t stop. I was mindlessly aroused. The whole relationship was sexual, sensual and erotic. There was pure electricity between us.”

And after the affair ended, Kingsland says there was still no reason to talk about it. “I’ve never been a girlie type, I’ve never confided in my girlfriends.”

Kingsland, whose novels include “After the Ball Was Over” and “Cassata,” says she still views the affair with a sense of pleasure. “There’s no resentment. I wasn’t abused or wronged. I see it as an unusual and unique memory.”

Her adolescent fantasy sprung to life one chilly night after she escaped from a dance she’d been taken to by her philandering father, George, an officer in the British Army. She was already a Burton fan, having seen the matinee idol perform on stage at the Old Vic, and on screen.

That night at the Cave, a bar near the Old Vic that she knew Burton frequented, the two met. He took her walking by the river, spouting Shakespeare and Welsh poems, and regaled her with stories of ancient Egypt and Greece. Burton wasn’t just a pretty face: The Oxford graduate devoured mountains of books.

“It was very much a Professor Higgins and Eliza relationship,” says Kingsland. “He had never really been around young girls, and was wielding his power — not in an exploitative way — but for his ego. Richard knew he could hold an audience of one, and that his ego could shine brighter when he was the only one performing.”
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