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Posted by on Aug 2, 2013 in Blog, Book Reviews, Facing the Firing Squad | 0 comments

Facing the Firing Squad: Tony Holden




Tony Holden

British author Anthony Holden has long been one of my very favorite dining and drinking companions — which is really saying something given the royal court of personalities who have shared my table.  For instance, I rarely drink Merlot.  However, since Holden inexplicably prefers Merlot, I will drink Merlot only in his presence (especially when he’s picking up the tab).  Such is the totality of my respect for this 66-year-old wordsmith from Oxford.  

Alas, Holden’s extraordinary gift for creating non-fiction narrative is exceeded only by his unrivaled diversity of personal interests, partially reflected in the three dozen books he’s written.

To most poker players, Holden is probably best known for his watershed creation titled, “Big Deal:  A Year as a Professional Poker Player,” one of the first-ever insider accounts of what the offbeat poker scene was like during the formative period before what later became the boom era.  While creating “Big Deal,” Holden enjoyed one of the most unique experiences imaginable for a writer normally accustomed to interviewing people with “Sir” as a salutation.  The book turned into an international best-seller that captured many larger then life personalities and the true essence of the game during the late 1980’s.  Twenty years later, he created an experienced a redux of sorts, known as “Bigger Deal:  A Year on the Poker Circuit.”

But poker only scratches the surface of what’s been a busy literary workshop spanning four decades featuring biographies of Queen Elizabeth, Prince Charles, and Lady Diana — to name just a few.  In fact, Holden has authored 13 books in all on English royalty, earning him the trademark throughout the U.K. as the (unofficial) “royal biographer.”  Consider just a few of his adventures, which includes earning the ire of the Prince of Wales for his account of events.  In typical Holden fashion, just as with poker sometime later, he once went behind the scenes to capture the real story behind the illusion known as the monarchy.  That became “A Week in the Life of the Royal Family,” published in 1983.

As if royalty and poker weren’t enough to keep him writing full-time, Holden has also penned four books relating to William Shakespeare, two on Sir Laurence Olivier, one more on Tchaikovsky, as well as several other fascinating people and subjects.  Holden’s latest literary project — expected to be published next year — is a collection of poetry hand-selected by many of the world’s most famous people, with these guest authors revealing to readers why certain poems and lietary passages held special meaning in their lives. 

As for biography, Holden has previously lived and worked in both Washington, DC and New York City, but now once again calls his native England home.  He lives and does most his writing from a breathtaking flat overlooking the Thames River in central London.  No doubt, that’s from where the following answers came, marinated by a bottle of Holden’s favorite Merlot.


What are some of the things you stand for?

Honesty, laughter, fatherhood, friendship.


What are some of the things you stand against?

War(s).  Dishonesty, bigotry, officiousness, pomposity.


What living person do you admire the most, and why?

Nelson Mandela.  Also, Malala Yousafzai, the teenage Pakistani girl shot in the head by the Taliban, now campaigning for girls’ education worldwide — with whom I was privileged to have dinner in NYC the night I left Vegas this year (2013).  She addressed the UN next day, her 16th birthday (also Malala Day in NYC).  And at the moment, of course, whistle blower Ed Snowden.


What historical figure do you admire the most, and why?

Thomas (“Tom”) Paine — a British-born pamphleteer who helped start the American revolution and foment the French one.  A writer prepared to risk his life for his views.


What living person do you despise?

I’m not a great hater — but I’ll name Rush Limbaugh for Americans and Jeremy Clarkson for Brits — right-wing blowhards who make an ugly living pandering to the worst instincts of their fellow men.


If money were not an object, what profession would you choose?

A musician, preferably a concert pianist.  And/or a better poker player than I am.


What is it about yourself that you are most proud of?

Treating other people honestly and decently — my children absurdly so.


What is it about yourself that you’d like to change?

Gullibility — trusting other people, sometimes too much.  (And I don’t mean just at the poker table).


What’s the most exciting thing you’ve ever done?

Apart from watching my first wife deliver my three sons — I dunno, maybe a gossipy, laughter-filled lunch at Kensington Palace with Princess Diana, one on one, six months before she died.


What’s the most unusual time and place you’ve ever visited?

The Oval Office — three times — during the presidencies of Nixon, Carter and Reagan. (I choose this, of course, just to top McManus.…)


Name a place you’ve never visited where you still want to go.

Bora Bora. (open to offers).


Favorite book, favorite movie, and favorite musician.

Collected Shakespeare; Citizen Kane; Mozart (or, depending on mood, Leonard Cohen or Randy Newman).


What upsets you the most?

People who are late. (I’m obsessively punctual).


What bores you?

People who say they’re bored. They don’t seem to realise it’s because they themselves are b-o-o-o-o-r-i-n-g.


Do you believe in an afterlife and why do you believe it so?

Nope, sadly, because there are countless people I’d like to see again, countless conversations I long to continue….



Photo courtesy of PokerStars blog

List of Writings by Tony Holden (from Wikipedia page):

Aeschylus’ Agamemon (1969) translator and editor
Greek Pastoral Poetry (1973) translator and editor
The Greek Anthology (1973) contributor
The St Albans Poisoner: The Life And Crimes Of Graham Young (1974, reissued 1995 as The Young Poisoner’s Handbook)
Charles: Prince of Wales (1979) as Prince Charles (US)
Their Royal Highnesses, The Prince and Princess of Wales (1981)
A Week In The Life Of The Royal Family (1983)
Great Royal Front Pages: A Scrapbook of Historic Royal Events from Queen Victoria to Baby Prince William (1983)
Anthony Holden’s Royal Quiz (1983)
Of Presidents, Prime Ministers And Princes (1984)
Queen Mother (1985)
Don Giovanni: The Translation (1987) with Amanda Holden
Laurence Olivier: A Biography (1988, reissued 2007)
Charles: A Biography (1988) as King Charles III (US)
The Last Paragraph. The Journalism of David Blundy (1990) editor
Big Deal: A Year as a Professional Poker Player (1990)
The Queen Mother: A 90th Birthday Tribute (1990)
A Princely Marriage: Charles & Diana, the First Ten Years (1991)
Behind The Oscar: The Secret History of the Academy Awards (1993)
H.M. Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother In Private (1993)
The Tarnished Crown (1993), Viking Publishers, ISBN 0-670-84624-4.
Tchaikovsky (1995)
Diana: Her Life and Legacy (1997)
Charles at Fifty (1998)
William Shakespeare: His Life and Work (1999)
Liber Amicorum for Frank Kermode (1999) editor with Ursula Owen
The Mind Has Mountains: a.alvarez@lxx (1999) editor with Frank Kermode
The Drama of Love, Life and Death in Shakespeare (2000)
Shakespeare: An Illustrated Biography (2002)
Wit in the Dungeon (2005) biography of Leigh Hunt
Lorenzo Da Ponte, The Man Who Wrote Mozart (2006)
Olivier (2007, Max Press)
Bigger Deal: A Year on the New Poker Circuit (2007)
Holden on Hold’Em (2008)




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