“Yas, Queens (and Kings)! History’s Most Scandalous Queer Royals” is a weeklong series in celebration of LGBTQ History Month chronicling both queer erasure and monarchal shenanigans of the past.
If any lesson can be gleaned from the life of Prince George, the Duke of Kent and the uncle of Queen Elizabeth II, it’s never trust anyone named Kiki. Or maybe it’s more like: Have a kiki with Kiki, but don’t make it a habit.
George was the debonair and charming younger brother of Edward, the Duke of Windsor, who infamously abdicated the throne to be with noted palace-wrecker Wallis Simpson. Before sending the House of Windsor into a tailspin, the brothers turned 1920s London all the way out, with George sleeping around with, like, half the town. After meeting American socialite Kiki Preston, George got addicted to cocaine and heroin, and that’s when shit got dark.
But first, a little background. Prince George was the fourth son of King George V and Queen Mary, and by general consensus he was the best one. He was the smartest, the most talented, and the most loved as a child.
As he got older, he grew dissatisfied with a life of no challenges and no expectations. He half-assed his way through the Royal Naval Academy since he had no affinity nor stomach for the sea. After World War I, George’s brother and best friend Edward was living it up on the social scene in London, so George joined him in hanging out with the Bright Young Things. As handsome and debaucherous princes, they were stars on the scene.
George shined especially bright, as “the most interesting, intelligent, and cultivated member of his generation.” Whereas Edward was kind of an egocentric douche-bro, George was excellent company. He could speak five languages, and was a talented mimic and a great dancer. He once joined a tango competition under an assumed name and won. But for all his social graces, George also became notorious for his sexual appetite. At the time it was said, “He is not safe in taxis with either sex.”
George reportedly had a 19-year affair with the playwright Noël Coward. According to the 2005 documentary The Queen’s Lost Uncle, George met Coward through the actress Gertrude Lawrence, who found the young prince backstage trying on her wigs. George and Coward seemed to be fond of a good hairpiece, and legend has it that they were spotted by the British security services clickity-clacking down West End streets in drag, and that they were once even arrested under suspicion of prostitution. As homosexuality was still illegal in England, George’s increasingly queer and cavalier behavior was becoming a real threat to the royal family.
Among George’s long list of alleged lovers were African-American cabaret star Florence Mills, English actress Jessie Matthews, banking heiress Poppy Baring, art historian and Soviet spy Anthony Blunt, Prince of Prussia (and his distant cousin) Louis Ferdinand, and a couple sons of various Argentine ambassadors. The Duke of Kent also apparently had a threesome with one of those sons, Jorge Ferrara, and good old Kiki Preston.
Because of her fondness for drugs, Preston was known as the “girl with the silver syringe.” (Sidenote: The 1920s sounded like a gorgeous shitshow.) Preston got George, who had only a passing acquaintance with boundaries, into cocaine and heroin, so much so that his older bother Edward had to take a rare break from thinking about himself to ween him off the junk. The Duke of Windsor locked the Duke of Kent away at a secluded country retreat where he was forced to undergo a painful rehabilitation program.
George and Kiki were eventually forced apart, though rumors abound that they had an illegitimate child together, Michael Temple Canfield, who went on to become Lee Radziwill’s first husband. After finally getting that horse off his back, George began to settle down. He fell in love and married someone his family actually approved of, unlike his brother Edward.
He and Princess Marina of Greece and Denmark married in 1934 and had three kids. George even found some direction in life when the Second World War broke out, joining the Royal Air Force. In August 1942, on a mission to Iceland, his plane crashed, killing 14 people including the 39-year-old Duke of Kent.
As for Kiki? She died four years later when she jumped out the fifth-story window of her Manhattan apartment.