Mary Woodward’s autobiography is both familiar and remarkable. Many New Zealanders will have similar memories of childhood holidays and wild adventures at the beach – in her case on the West Coast of Auckland. As a cash-strapped student recruited by the local Lions Club and lured by prize money of two hundred pounds, she ended up becoming Miss New Zealand 1949 – to her astonishment. She describes herself as “short and with few pretensions to glamour”. Back then she was able avoid those humiliating swimsuit episodes now associated with such events and was clearly chosen for her potential as an ambassador for New Zealand. Reading her descriptions of travelling to post-war Britain, we understand why she was the perfect choice. She was a breath of fresh air in gloomy times, intelligent, curious about the world, ‘radiating charm’ and without pretension. They loved her. ‘She’s so natural’ proclaimed the British media.
But natural charm was no protection for later tragedies in her life, beautifully told yet inherently distressing. Her struggle to make sense of these terrible times, which enabled her to “come to a place of acceptance of myself and my life, without bitterness or regret” is what makes this book truly remarkable.