Born in Bromley, England, Helen attended Chatham Grammar School for Girls studied Russian at Leeds University but she opted initially for the acting profession.
After appearing on British TV and in films until the late 1980s Helen abandoned acting and embraced my second love – history and with it the insecurities of a writer’s life.
She started contributing to biographical and historical reference works for publishers such as Cassell, Reader’s Digest, Blackwell and Oxford University Press. Then worked as a freelance copy editor and proof reader for Blackwell and OUP and a researcher on all the flagship OUP quotations dictionaries. Helen later became a desk editor for Blackwell but then gave it all up to write full time in 1998.
Between 1999 and 2003 wrote she three books back-to-back for a leading US reference publisher:
2001: the award-winning An Encyclopedia of Women Social Reformers
2007: first trade title No Place for Ladies: The Untold Story of Women in the Crimean War (Aurum Press, 2007).
2008: Ekaterinburg: The Last Days of the Romanovs (Hutchinson 2008), which became a best seller in the USA, published by St.Martin’s Press as The Last days of the Romanovs: Tragedy at Ekaterinburg.
2009: Conspirator: Lenin in Exile, (Hutchinson, 2009; Basic Books US, 2010).
2010: Beautiful for Ever: Madame Rachel of Bond Street – Cosmetician, Con-Artist and Blackmailerpublished by novelist Susan Hill’s imprint, Long Barn Books, 2010. Vintage paperback 2011
2011: Magnificent Obsession; Victoria, Albert and the Death that Changed the Monarchy (Hutchinson UK; St Martin’s Press US)
2013: Capturing the Light – a collaboration with Roger Watson on the birth of photography, published in the UK by PanMacmillan an in the US by St Martin’s Press (November 2013);
Four Sisters, (PanMAcmillan April 2014) about the tragic lives of the daughters of Nicholas and Alexandra, to be published in the US by St Martin’s Press May 2014 as The Romanov Sisters: The Lost Lives of the Daughters of Nicholas and Alexandra
Her only foray into fiction, so far, has been a collaboration with William Horwood on a historical thriller, Dark Hearts of Chicago published by Hutchinson in April 2007 (an edited down version was published by Arrow as City of Dark Hearts under the pseudonym James Conan)
She is currently working on a project for the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution in 2017.
A fluent Russian speaker and a specialist in Russian history and 19th century women’s history, her great passion is to winkle out lost stories from the footnotes and to breathe new life and new perspectives into old subjects. Since the mid-70s Helen has also become well-known as a Russian translator in the theatre, working with British playwrights on new versions of Russian plays. She has translated all seven of Chekhov’s plays, including Ivanov for Tom Stoppard’s new version that was a huge critical success at the Donmar Season at Wyndham’s in 2008. In 2002 she was Russian consultant to the National Theatre’s Tom Stoppard trilogy, The Coast of Utopia.
A passionate Victorianist and Russianist, Helen is a member of Equity, the Victorian Society, the Society of Genealogists , the Society of Authors and The Biographers’ Club.
On 17 July 1918, four young women walked down twenty-three steps into the cellar of a house in Ekaterinburg. The eldest was twenty-two, the youngest only seventeen. Together with their parents and their thirteen-year-old brother, they were all brutally murdered. Their crime: to be the daughters of the last Tsar and Tsaritsa of All the Russias.
In Four Sisters acclaimed biographer Helen Rappaport offers readers the most authoritative account yet of the Grand Duchesses Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia. Drawing on their own letters and diaries, she paints a vivid picture of their lives in the dying days of the Romanov dynasty. We see, almost for the first time, their journey from a childhood of enormous privilege, throughout which they led a very sheltered and largely simple life, to young womanhood – their first romantic crushes, their hopes and dreams, the difficulty of coping with a mother who was a chronic invalid and a haeomophiliac brother, and, latterly, the trauma of the revolution and its terrible consequences.
Compellingly readable, meticulously researched and deeply moving, Four Sisters gives these young women a voice, and allows their story to resonate for readers almost a century after their death.
Rappaport is insightful in her analysis of Alexandra’s vulnerability [and] illuminates the precise influence of Grigori Rasputin . . . An astoundingly intimate tale of domestic life lived in the crucible of power. (Observer)
[Rappaport] brings to Four Sisters an encyclopedic knowledge of the minutiae of Nicholas and Alexandra’s family life . . . Four Sisters is a study in unity. It demonstrates resoundingly the strength of family ties. (The Telegraph)
A well-written gem . . . a fascinating, in-depth and comprehensively researched study of the imperial daughters. (Daily Express)
Evocative and beautifully researched and told, this is narrative history at its best. (Bookseller)
Poignant [and] well written … Rappaport’s sensitive portrayal of the doomed sisters draws the reader into an attachment to each one. (Mail on Sunday)
One of the greatest skills a historian can possess is to make readers feel as if they have stepped back in time to witness the characters, places and events they describe. In her stunning composite biography, Helen Rappaport achieves this to dazzling and, at times, almost unbearably poignant effect. (Tracy Borman BBC History Magazine)