Hector's house shuts to hippies
by Richard Kay Last, dailymail.co.uk
March 8th 2011
From the day he inherited 6,000-acre Tapeley Park in Devon, he has run the Georgian mansion, its woodland and parkland as a hippy commune, not least because of the guilt Hector Christie felt about inheriting such a grand place.
But the Old Etonian’s louche lifestyle and hedonistic parties, as well as the rag-tag of travellers in caravans who descended on his stately pile, are finally a thing of the past.
For Hector, 49, son of Glyndebourne founder Sir George Christie, has succumbed to a makeover by a reality TV show.
Channel 4’s Country House Rescue team approached Christie last year, offering him the help of their restoration expert Ruth Watson. And instead of sending the producers packing, Hector welcomed them in.
‘I wanted to learn how Tapeley could be run profitably,’ Hector tells me. ‘The hippies have left — over the years there were just fewer and fewer people coming. And I wanted to change things. Ruth has given the house the kick up the backside it needed.’
Gone are the days when he welcomed all and sundry, thinking he was making a philanthropic gesture by inviting strangers to come and live on the land — one young woman memorably announced that she would pay her board through prostitution.
On another occasion, Sienna Miller’s older sister Savannah spent a week at the commune, having new age treatments.
Now, ordinary tourists are being drawn to the estate instead. ‘The TV team improved our organic gardens and got us to introduce display boards at the entrance explaining the house’s history.’
One, for example, charts Hector’s life as a wild child, with photographs of his legendary all-night parties. More soberly, another tells of his great grandmother Rosamund who was involved with the Socialist League.
‘We’re also going to put a shop inside the Orangery Tea Rooms so that people can buy our jams and other organic produce. They may seem small things but it has made a difference.’
The show is being broadcast on Sunday but Hector tells me that the estate’s past alternative lifestyle has not entirely been erased.
‘We still have one remaining hippy,’ he says. ‘He is shoe-less and has been for many years. But I don’t like to call him a hippy any more because he actually does a lot of work at Tapeley.’
Prince Charles has always thought that the solution to the ‘Prince Andrew Problem’ was for his younger brother to work for him. ‘Once he got the hang of it he might have been quite useful,’ an aide says. ‘The only problem, the prince used to say, was that “my brother wants to be me”. ’
Going for a Burton? Not Alice
Fashion designer Phillipa Lepley might have lost out to Sarah Burton of Alexander McQueen in her bid to design Kate Middleton’s wedding dress, but at least she got a consolation prize.
At the weekend one of Phillipa’s creations was being worn by lovely PR girl Alice Dawson for her Gloucestershire wedding to Tom Naylor-Leyland, grandson of the colourful late Lord Lambton. ‘It was long, lacy and absolutely beautiful,’ says Alice.
‘Still, I am pretty impressed with Kate Middleton choosing McQueen’s designer for her gown - it’s terribly edgy of her.’
Guests at the wedding in Ham included the Marquess of Northampton’s frisky daughter Lady Louisa Compton - pop crooner James Blunt’s old flame - socialite Violet von Westenholz and former Tory donor Johan Eliasch’s ex-wife Amanda.
Says 24-year-old Alice: ‘I had 12 bridesmaids and page boys, all of them were children of friends and family and they were very small - I think there is something a bit American about having grown-up bridesmaids.’
Where is she going on honeymoon? ‘I have absolutely no idea,’ admits Alice.
‘I’m packing but I’ve absolutely no idea where I’m going. ‘It’s all going to be a great surprise.’
Nearly 48 years after Harold Macmillan stood down because of the Profumo scandal, his grandson the Earl of Stockton tells me he is looking forward to regaining his seat in the House of Lords. Yesterday, as I predicted, he declared himself as a candidate in this month’s by-election following the death of hereditary Labour peer Lord Strabolgi.
Banished from the Lords in 1999 when the Labour government expelled all but 92 hereditary peers, ex-Tory MEP Stockton tells me: ‘Despite the efforts of Tony Blair to destroy and discredit the hereditary peerage, it represents, ironically, the only democratic element in the House of Lords.’
Of his son, Viscount Macmillan, currently dating Sienna Miller, Stockton revealed he had ‘no interest in politics at all. He is an artist and an entrepreneur.’ So this election represents one of the last chances for the Macmillan political dynasty to continue.
Pippa's pottery clue to Kate's gift list
In a break from tradition, Prince William and Kate Middleton have asked most of their wedding guests not to bring gifts to next month’s nuptials, but instead donate to charity.
However, close friends and family are thought to have been circulated a private list for a handful of presents.
And now chums are wondering if the sight of Kate’s sister, Pippa, 27, browsing in the china department of Peter Jones on Chelsea’s Sloane Square at the weekend, may have given the game away.
The pretty brunette (pictured), who is to be Kate’s maid of honour, was accompanied by boyfriend and ex-cricketer Alex Loudon, 30, and a fellow shopper tells me: ‘She was looking over pieces of china, discussing each piece as she picked them up before replacing them.
‘They didn’t buy anything and it crossed my mind she may have been checking things out for her sister.’
At the ages of 69 and 79 respectively, the divorce of royal party planner Lady Elizabeth Anson and her husband, Sir Geoffrey Shakerley, was always going to be civilised, not least because they lived apart for more than 24 years.
As I disclosed, the couple decided to make their long-time separation permanent last year, after society photographer Geoffrey began introducing his companion of the past two years, Patricia, as the new love of his life.
Now Liz, who is busy organising some of the Buckingham Palace parties for the Royal Wedding, has revealed that she had no need of expensive lawyers for the divorce.
‘My husband and I divorced last year. We did it with a do-it-yourself kit from Rymans,’ she says.
The cost? A modest £12.
Actor Edward Fox didn’t have to search far for the ragged wardrobe he sports as an eccentric recluse in an upcoming episode of Midsomer Murders - he dug out some of his own clothes.
Fox, 73, who wears jumpers with their elbows out and patched trousers, admits: ‘I am so mean I save shirts until they are almost threadbare and wear them in the garden.
'I knew they would be perfect for my character, William Bingham, so I brought them in and they came in handy.’
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