Born in Bromley, England, Helen Rappaport fell in love with Russian while attending Chatham Girls’ Grammar School and studied for a degree in Russian Special Studies at Leeds University. After graduating she rejected suggestions of a career in the Foreign Office, having been heavily involved with student theatre as an undergraduate. She opted instead for the insecurities of the acting profession. After appearing on British TV and in films and commercials until the late 1980s, she abandoned acting and embraced her second love – writing history.
She had by then begun contributing to biographical and historical reference works for publishers such as Cassell, Reader’s Digest, and Oxford University Press, as well as working as a freelance editor for Blackwell in Oxford. Between 1999 and 2003 she wrote three books back-to-back for ABC-Clio, a leading US reference publisher: Joseph Stalin: A Biographical Companion, the award-winning An Encyclopedia of Women Social Reformers and Queen Victoria: A Biographical Companion. Her first trade title was No Place for Ladies: The Untold Story of Women in the Crimean War (2007 ). She followed this with Ekaterinburg: The Last Days of the Romanovs (2008), which became a best seller in the USA as The Last days of the Romanovs: Tragedy at Ekaterinburg. She then followed with Conspirator: Lenin in Exile, (2009; US edition 2010). Her next title was a new departure - a Victorian true-crime story: Beautiful for Ever: Madame Rachel of Bond Street - Cosmetician, Con-Artist and Blackmailer published in 2010.
Helen returned to the Victorians in 2011 with Magnificent Obsession; Victoria, Albert and the Death that Changed the Monarchy a study of the impact of the Prince Consort’s premature death in 1861 on England, the monarchy, and Queen Victoria, and covering the first terrible ten years of her retreat from public view. The book was published the USA in 2012, closely followed in 2013 by UK and US editions of Capturing the Light - a collaboration with photohistorian Roger Watson on the birth of photography.
In 2014 Helen had a major international best seller with Four Sisters, published in the USA as The Romanov Sisters. In the UK the book was a Sunday Times bestseller in non-fiction; in the USA it was in the New York Times Top 20 non-fiction chart for twelve weeks. It also won the Good Reads Best History & Biography of 2014. Foreign rights have now been sold to nine territories: Estonia, Spain, Brazil, Serbia, Netherlands, Poland, China, Hungary and Russia.
Helen’s 12th book is Caught in the Revolution: Petrograd 1917 – a major tie-in book for the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution in 2017. The book has already sold to the USA, Netherlands, Brazil, Norway and Russia.
Her 13th book The Victoria Letters has been written to tie in with the ITV drama series and will be published in the autumn of 2016.
Helen’s only foray into fiction, so far, has been a collaboration with William Horwood on a historical thriller, Dark Hearts of Chicago published in the UK in 2007.
Helen is a fluent Russian speaker and a specialist in Russian and and Victorian history covering the period 1837–1918. Her great passion is to winkle out lost stories from the footnotes and to breathe new life and new perspectives into old subjects.
In 2005 she was historical consultant and talking head on a Channel 4 documentary The Real Angel of the Crimea about the Jamaican nurse, Mary Seacole. In 2010 she was talking head on Mystery Files documentaries about the Murder of the Romanovs and Rasputin for National Geographic channel, and more recently she has appeared in the BBC2 documentaries Queen Victoria’s Children, Fit to Rule, The Genius of Invention, and Sky Atlantic’s series, The British. She is historical consultant and talking head on a two-part documentary about the Romanov sisters Russia’s Lost Princesses, that was transmitted on BBC2 in the summer of 2014.
In 2014 Helen appeared in an episode of Tony Robinson’s Walking Through History talking about Queen Victoria’s love of Scotland and in a Channel 5 documentary, The Last Days of Rasputin.
In 2016 she discussed the work of the Jamaican nurse Mary Seacole in a special feature for The One Show.
Helen has also had considerable radio experience talking on Victorian and Russian history for: BBC Radio Oxford, Radio Berkshire and Radio London; ABC Australia; RTE Radio Ireland; BBC Radio 4: Woman's Hour, Start the Week and the Today programme. In December 2011 she appeared on a Radio 2 programme on the history of the Royal Albert Hall and on Peter Snow's Random Edition about the death of Prince Albert for Radio 4. In 2012 she appeared in several episodes of the major 8-part Radio 4 series The Art of Monarchy.
Since the mid-1970s Helen has become well-known as a Russian translator in the theatre, working with British playwrights - such as David Lan, Kevin Elyot, Nick Wright, Tom Stoppard, David Harrower and David Hare - 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. She lives in West Dorset, where she likes nothing better than to walk by the sea, tend her garden and soak up the English countryside that means so much to her. On the 13th July 2017 Helen was awarded an Honorary Doctorate by her old alma mater, Leeds University.
Helen has contributed to “The Romanov Royal Martyrs Project” by offering advice and sharing information.