The new Lady Lucan
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