Book review: Queen of the Rising Sun by Nanny Pat

Pat Brooker was never cut out to be a pub landlady – a woman who is quiet, shy, naive, prefers family to strangers and doesn’t drink shouldn’t go anywhere near the ‘other’ side of the bar.

So how did Pat, better known as Nanny Pat and one of the much-loved stars of the popular ITV reality series The Only Way is Essex, find herself queen of the Rising Sun in the tough East End of 1960s London?

All is revealed in the second down-to-earth instalment of the Cockney nan’s eventful journey from a cash-strapped childhood in Bow to matriarch of the Wright clan and shining star of the fly-on-the-wall TV series known affectionately to viewers as TOWIE.

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Pat became the darling of the show when she called round at the flat of her grandson Mark with his weekly ‘food drops,’ including her now famous sausage plaits, a family recipe which is included in her new book as a special bonus for readers.

Pat, who has five children, fourteen grandchildren and six great-grandchildren, began her life story in her first book, Penny Sweets and Cobbled Streets, and now she transports us back to the Swinging Sixties when, together with husband Charlie and their five young children aged between four and eleven, they took over the Rising Sun in Bromley-by-Bow.

They had no experience of the pub trade but Charlie, a jack of all trades, could turn his hand to anything and owning a pub was one of long-cherished dreams. So, on a wing and a prayer, the family upped sticks from Canning Town and began a new adventure.

In between working shifts at Tate & Lyle’s sugar factory, Pat got to grips with dispensing their staple drinks – beers and spirits (no wine or cocktails at the Rising Sun!) – stocking up on extras like cigarettes, crisps and arrowroot biscuits (an East End favourite) and using a till that didn’t ‘do maths.’

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As Pat became accustomed to the daily running of the pub downstairs and caring for her children who slept 30 steep steps away on the top floor, she also learned to cope with troubled and troublesome customers, and even the occasional visit from the Krays’ henchmen seeking a bit of protection money.

Her only real ‘free’ time was a weekly visit to the hairdressers where she had her famously red hair wound and pinned into a fashionable ‘beehive’ making her a distinctive figure in the Bow area.

In this charming and revealing memoir, Pat vividly evokes the East End community she served in the 1960s, the extraordinary characters she encountered along the way and the changes that swept through 1960s and 70s society.

She also reveals why she and Charlie eventually moved to Essex, and just what it felt like to become a star of The Only Way is Essex in her seventies.

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A widow since 2007, Pat has been supported by her large, close-knit family and with their encouragement and the arrival of TOWIE, she hasn’t just got on with life... ‘I have really lived it!’

(Pan, paperback, £7.99)

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