How did a Sydney boy end up becoming Master of the Queen’s Music and just how did it all go so horribly wrong?

In 1977, as the Queen of England celebrated 25 years on the throne, the Sex Pistols’ punk take on the anthem ricocheted through the land. By contrast, music by the Queen’s official composer was nowhere to be heard. For the third time in a year he’d swallowed almost enough pills to kill himself.

Malcolm Williamson had the previous year bagged himself a CBE and the honour of Master of the Queen’s Music. Now his career teetered in the balance. He’d been in and out of hospital, one alcoholic binge after another. He’d left his wife of 16 years and their three children to live with his new partner Simon. Friendships were fraught and finances tight. The nadir came later that year. The London Philharmonic was due to premiere his long awaited Jubilee symphony but, lacking a first movement days before the concert, dropped it in favour of an Elgar overture. The press swooped and for the next 25 years, the remainder of Williamson’s life, no new royal commissions emerged.

How did the fortunes of Australia’s most famous...