The new Lady Lu­can

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Living - - PEOPLE -

The fam­ily name comes with tragic — and scan­dalous — over­tones but Anne-sofie, the Count­ess of Lu­can, wants to write a new chap­ter in the his­tory of the dy­nasty, writes Guy Kelly

‘THE thing you have to re­mem­ber is that I’m a Vik­ing!” An­neSofie Foghs­gaard ad­vises, slap­ping her leather trousers with pan­tomime gusto. “I’m Dan­ish! From Den­mark! Roy­alty and things like that don’t mean any­thing like as much to us as they do to Bri­tish peo­ple. So when I mar­ried my hus­band, I re­ally never thought about the ti­tle.”

All things con­sid­ered, that’s prob­a­bly just as well. Two years ago, when Anne-sofie — a 40-year-old Dan­ish heiress, en­tre­pre­neur and shooting en­thu­si­ast — mar­ried the in­vest­ment banker Ge­orge Bing­ham in Lon­don’s Hanover Square, she of­fi­cially be­came the 8th Count­ess of Lu­can. Or the new Lady Lu­can, if you’d pre­fer.

As an outsider, Anne-sofie (known as ‘Fie’ to friends) con­sid­ers the Lu­can fam­ily name to be “so beau­ti­ful” — and it’s one she’s de­lighted to take and pass on to Lady Daphne, her oneyear-old daugh­ter with Ge­orge, the 8th Earl. It’s a source of such pride, in fact, that Lu­can is the name of the shooting-in­spired out­door-cloth­ing brand she has re­cently started with the tai­lor Ti­mothy Ever­est.

To most peo­ple, though — par­tic­u­larly to those sen­tient in the 1970s and 1980s — ‘Lu­can’ isn’t im­me­di­ately as­so­ci­ated with any­thing as harm­less as “tweed jackets that re­ally pop”. Not yet, any­way. In­stead, it’s syn­ony­mous with one of the most en­dur­ing and mys­te­ri­ous crimes in re­cent his­tory — a story so bloody, tragic and seem­ingly never-end­ing that it sounds like fic­tion. To put it mildly, there’s fam­ily bag­gage, and then there’s Lu­can fam­ily bag­gage. Bet­ter do a re­fresher, then, be­fore get­ting back to those jackets.

On Novem­ber 7, 1974, Anne-sofie’s father-in-law, Richard John Bing­ham — the 7th Earl of Lu­can, a pro­fes­sional gam­bler and gen­eral man-about-town — dis­ap­peared with­out a trace. On the same night, at the fam­ily home in Bel­gravia, the Lu­cans’ nanny, 29-year-old San­dra Rivett, was blud­geoned to death with a ban­daged lead pipe in the dark of the base­ment kitchen. Ge­orge and his sis­ters, Lady Frances and Lady Camilla, were up­stairs, as was their mother, Lord Lu­can’s es­tranged wife, Veron­ica.

When Lady Lu­can in­ves­ti­gated the com­mo­tion, she, too, was at­tacked. She ended the beat­ing by grab­bing her as­sailant’s tes­ti­cles, be­fore es­cap­ing and, cov­ered in blood, rais­ing the alarm in the nearby Plum­bers Arms pub.

The killer fled, but Lady Lu­can soon iden­ti­fied him as her hus­band. Given that Rivett hadn’t been ex­pected to work that night, it is widely be­lieved Veron­ica was the in­tended vic­tim. It cer­tainly seems like it was Lu­can who­dun­nit. He was nowhere to be seen, for one, but there was also the dis­tressed tele­phone call to his mother, ask­ing her to col­lect his chil­dren and take them to her home in St John’s Wood near Re­gent’s Park — close to where Ge­orge and Anne-sofie live now. Then there was the fact that Lu­can’s bor­rowed Ford Cor­sair was found abandoned at the port of Ne­whaven in Sus­sex. The car was spat­tered with blood, and had a ban­daged lead pipe cov­ered in Rivett’s and Lady Lu­can’s DNA in the boot.

The po­lice de­clared Lu­can the prime sus­pect, and with no clue as to his where­abouts, the news­pa­pers were left to have a field day — or rather, many, many field days over decades. And why not? This was the story of a dash­ing aris­to­crat with a love of fast cars and con­nec­tions to roy­alty, mur­der­ing the wrong woman in Lon­don’s most ex­clu­sive area, within yards of his young chil­dren, be­fore seem­ingly head­ing over­seas to live out the rest of his days in hid­ing.

It was Cluedo, but with less re­lat­able char­ac­ters. It was an Agatha Christie tale with an in­vi­ta­tion for the read­ers to dream their own end­ing. It was all great fun, ba­si­cally, ex­cept if you were in any way in­volved.

Anne-sofie, who had no idea about the fam­ily his­tory when she met Ge­orge at “a Vik­ing-themed party at some­where like the Dorch­ester” more than a decade ago, thinks it is high time we got some­thing else to ob­sess over.

“Yes, be­cause it’s in­cred­i­bly bor­ing,” she says, with a sigh. “It was a very, very dark time for my hus­band, be­cause he lost a nanny, he lost a father and he also lost a mother. They [the three chil­dren] were re­moved, and made wards of the court. So­cial ser­vices took them from the care of their mother. Ev­ery­body would like to just move for­ward.”

We will, but let’s fin­ish the story first. De­spite dozens of false alarms, the 7th Earl has never been seen since that fate­ful night. Or has he? Over the years he was ‘spot­ted’ in Colom­bia, Gabon, France and count­less other places, while an ex-scot­land Yard de­tec­tive traced Lu­can to Goa in 2003, but that turned out to be Barry Halpin, a folk singer from Mersey­side. Four years later, in New Zealand, a Bri­tish ex­pat liv­ing in his Land Rover with a goat named Camilla and a pos­sum called Red­fern was forced to deny be­ing the mur­der sus­pect live on tele­vi­sion. The Sun­day Sport re­ported a def­i­nite sight­ing of him rid­ing Sher­gar, his equine equiv­a­lent; and through­out the 1980s Spit­ting Im­age had a pup­pet Lu­can ap­pear in the back­ground of sketches set any­where vaguely abroad. Some­times he would be a waiter, some­times a bar­man, and once, mem­o­rably, his head popped up from in­side the trousers of for­mer MP and al­leged sex of­fender Cyril Smith.

The Lu­can chil­dren — Ge­orge, his elder sis­ter Frances, now a lawyer, and his younger sis­ter Camilla, a QC — have never ac­cepted their mother’s ver­sion of events, and main­tain their beloved father’s in­no­cence. He was de­clared legally dead in 1999, and 17 years later, in Fe­bru­ary 2016, a death cer­tifi­cate was fi­nally granted, and Ge­orge in­her­ited the earl­dom.

Ge­orge and his sis­ters were raised pre­dom­i­nantly by their aunt, Veron­ica’s sis­ter, af­ter their mother’s fail­ing mental health con­trib­uted to so­cial ser­vices step­ping in per­ma­nently. Once sep­a­rated, the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the dowa­ger count­ess and her chil­dren fell apart. For more than 40 years she lived as a recluse in the Bel­gravia house once oc­cu­pied by her hus­band, never speak­ing to her fam­ily and giv­ing only the oc­ca­sional in­ter­view — in which she would gen­er­ally in­sist Lord Lu­can “did the no­ble thing” and killed him­self. Last Septem­ber, aged 80, she was found dead at home. It was “un­ex­plained”, the po­lice said, but there was no sug­ges­tion of foul play. In the end, she never patched things up with Ge­orge, met Anne-sofie or saw Daphne, her grand­daugh­ter.

“Her death was very hard for the whole fam­ily be­cause she was their mother. And I was very sad too. I was grate­ful to Veron­ica be­cause she gave birth to Ge­orge, but there’s some­thing very tragic about hav­ing a mother-in-law who doesn’t want to see you, who doesn’t want to see her grand­chil­dren and doesn’t want to see her own chil­dren,” Anne-sofie says. “I know for a fact that Ge­orge and his sis­ters, and Veron­ica’s sis­ters and mother, tried per­sis­tently to get in touch with her, but she ig­nored them.”

‘One thing that I re­ally ap­pre­ci­ate about Bri­tish so­ci­ety is its fair­ness...’

Anne-sofie ex­tended an olive branch too. She hand-de­liv­ered let­ters, in­vited her mother-in-law to the wed­ding, and she and Ge­orge once asked her for tea at the Gor­ing ho­tel, two streets away from Veron­ica’s home.

“I never heard any­thing. It’s very sad, be­cause it would have been won­der­ful if I could have met her, and won­der­ful if Daphne could have.”

As for the case, Anne-sofie won’t spec­u­late on what re­ally be­came of her father-in-law, but she’s un­wa­ver- ing in her sup­port for Ge­orge and his sis­ters’ po­si­tion.

“Frankly, I don’t re­ally care [what hap­pened], in the sense that time moves on. This gen­er­a­tion is not in­ter­ested in those things, but be­ing a for­eigner, one of the things that I re­ally ap­pre­ci­ate about Bri­tish so­ci­ety is its sense of fair­ness. And this fair­ness to me is em­bod­ied in the ju­di­cial sys­tem,” she says, quickly and firmly. “John, Ge­orge’s father, never stood trial, and I firmly be­lieve that ev­ery­body is in­no­cent un­til proven guilty in a court of law. It’s so long ago, it’s time to let go and fo­cus on some­thing else.”

She looks around her beau­ti­ful flat to find that some­thing else to fo­cus on, set­tling on Ever­est, who is sit­ting next to her and mod­el­ling an elegant Nor­folk jacket from their cloth­ing ven­ture. “Like this!” She ges­tures wildly. “Like this amaz­ing col­lec­tion we’ve done with Tim. That’s a much bet­ter thing to fo­cus on, isn’t it?” Oh, all right. The sybaritic and ad­mit­tedly very im­pres­sive col­lec­tion — made up of coats, jackets, vests, capes, trousers and caps — was spurred by Anne-sofie’s love of both shooting and the Bri­tish coun­try­side. She is the daugh­ter of a mil­lion­aire Dan­ish in­dus­tri­al­ist who once owned Scot­land’s most ex­pen­sive lux­ury es­tate, the Spott Es­tate in East Loth­ian, and moved to Bri­tain when she was 16, later at­tend­ing the Cour­tauld In­sti­tute of Art.

Grow­ing up more of an eques­trian fan, she re­sisted shooting un­til she was 23. “A fire in­stantly lit up in my heart,” she says, in her Scandi-soaked English, of that first trig­ger-pull. “It was ex­cit­ing, and a chal­lenge. Ev­ery de­mo­graphic of per­son is on a shoot, and you get to see the coun­try­side and be in na­ture. It’s a won­der­ful day.”

She turned out to be a ter­ri­fy­ingly nat­u­ral shot, and soon be­came a rare fe­male ‘gun’ (pro­fes­sional shooter), tak­ing part in var­i­ous dis­ci­plines in com­pe­ti­tions all over Europe. In 2012 she won a Euro­pean cham­pi­onship for box-pi­geon shooting, and has rep­re­sented Team GB and France, as well as cre­at­ing her own shooting-events busi­ness, Fie’s Club.

To­day, she still gets out with a ri­fle as much as pos­si­ble. She owns around a dozen guns (“I could al­ways have more. It’s never enough”), smokes cigars and eats what she kills. That which she can’t cook, she do­nates to friends. Her GP in Lon­don is a fan of pheas­ant.

“When­ever I see him for an ap­point­ment at the surgery, I go with about 40 birds,” she says, laugh­ing a lot. “I’m not even kid­ding.”

Af­ter meeting Ever­est, who went on to make her wed­ding dress, four years ago, the pair be­came firm

Ge­orge Bing­ham, son of miss­ing Lord Lu­can, with Anne-sofie Foghs­gaard

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