Mobbed by the masses, lionised by the aristocracy, courted by royalty and lusted after by patrons of both sexes, the child actor William Henry West Betty was one of the most famous people in Georgian Britain.
At the age of thirteen, he played leading roles, including Romeo, Macbeth and Richard III, in theatres across the country. Prime Minister William Pitt adjourned the House of Commons so that its members could attend his debut as Hamlet at Covent Garden. Then, as rivals turned on him and scandal engulfed him, he suffered a fall as merciless as his rise had been meteoric.
The Young Pretender takes place during Betty’s attempted comeback at the age of twenty-one. As he seeks to relaunch his career, he is forced to confront the painful truths behind his boyhood triumphs. Michael Arditti’s revelatory new novel puts this long forgotten figure back in the limelight. In addition to its rich and poignant portrait of Betty himself, it offers an engrossing insight into both the theatre and society of the age. The nature of celebrity, the power of publicity and the cult of youth are laid bare in a story that is more pertinent now than ever.