Blanche Blackwell obituary
Blanche Blackwell, who has died aged 104, was a divorcee in her 40s when in 1956 she met Ian Fleming, her neighbour in Jamaica and the creator of James Bond; and soon they became lovers. Cracks had by then begun to show in Fleming’s marriage to Ann Charteris. Ann was ashamed of her husband’s success as a thriller writer (the Bond novels were “pornography”, she told friends), and had begun to stay away from their Jamaican home, Goldeneye.
Blackwell’s friendship with Fleming intensified when Ann began an affair with the politician Hugh Gaitskell. Ann became suspicious of “Ian’s Jamaican wife” after Anthony Eden’s wife, Clarissa, mentioned how helpful Blackwell had been at Goldeneye when the prime minister recuperated there in 1956 after the debacle of Suez. In an attempt to make Goldeneye more welcoming for the Edens, Blackwell had planted the garden with flowers; Ann later tore them out and threw them over the cliff.
Fleming wrote all 13 of his 007 novels in Jamaica, though only three (Dr No, Live and Let Die, The Man with the Golden Gun) were set partly on the island. Noël Coward, another neighbour, dubbed Fleming’s home “Goldeneye, nose and throat” for its lack of creature comforts. It was in this Spartan retreat that Fleming immersed himself in a Bond-like life of tropical oblivion fuelled by vodka and cigarettes (like 007, Fleming smoked 70 a day).
Impishly, he included sketches of his friends (and enemies) in his fiction. Blackwell was supposedly a model for Pussy Galore, the pilot and martial arts expert in Goldfinger; and in Dr No, the guano-collecting ship was named the Blanche. Blackwell claimed not to have read any of the books, though: “I don’t like violence.”
Daughter of Hilda (née Lindo) and Percy Lindo, cousins who married, she was born into a wealthy Jamaican family, descended from Sephardic Jews from western Europe who had settled in Kingston in the mid-18th century and came to control much of the island’s commerce. Her father had helped to consolidate the family fortune in Costa Rica – where Blanche was born, in San José – before returning to Jamaica, where he owned property and produced rum.
In 1936, in London, Blanche married Joseph Blackwell, a captain in the Irish Guards and heir to the Crosse & Blackwell foods fortune. Together they ran the family estates in Jamaica and owned a string of racehorses. In 1937 their son Christopher was born. Blanche was not happy in the marriage, however. The actor Errol Flynn (“a gorgeous god,” Blackwell called him) became one of her admirers.
By the time she and Joseph divorced in 1949, she had moved to Jamaica’s north coast, to a house equidistant between Coward’s and Fleming’s. “Noël became a special pal of mine,” Blackwell told me during an interview in 2007, and Coward was said to have based his play Volcano on island life, and one of its central characters, Adela, on Blackwell.
Fleming adored “Birdie” Blackwell and her darting, kingfisher mind. And Blackwell, in her turn, considered Fleming a “charming, handsome, gifted man”, but one plagued by self-doubt and self-hate. “Ian was an angel”, she told me. “Errol was another . . . Both lovely men – both exceptionally gifted and definitely not for domesticating.”
When Fleming died of a heart attack in 1964, Blanche was invited neither to the funeral nor the memorial service. For years, she kept watch over Goldeneye for Fleming’s son Caspar; and after Caspar’s death in 1975 the house was bought first by Bob Marley, and then by her son, Chris, the founder in 1959 of Island Records, who had “discovered” Marley.
Tough and good-humoured, in later life Blackwell wore her white hair bobbed round an animated, heart-shaped face. Her life, until she decamped in 2003 to a flat in Knightsbridge, London, had been one of island entertainments and literary friendships. Now, looked after by three Jamaican maids, Blackwell became an unlikely devotee of bingo. Each week her chauffeur took her to the Cricklewood Mecca to play. In Kingston, she had liked to bet on the horses, but London bingo was not without its thrills. “Cricklewood might seem a little dull to you,” she said. “It isn’t really. I could sit for hours in the Mecca. The tension as your number comes up. Bingbing-bingo!” She is survived by her son.
The heiress who became the ‘Jamaican wife’ of James Bond creator Ian Fleming and was supposedly the model for Goldfinger’s Pussy Galore.