Fairlady - - CONTENTS - By Liesl Robert­son

Heiress Pa­tri­cia Cavendish O’Neill on her child­hood, the loves of her life and los­ing her for­tune

The sign out­side the old Cape Dutch house in Somerset West reads: ‘Dan­ger. Gi­ant apes, fierce dogs, wild aga­pan­thus. All these and other species may be loose on the es­tate. En­ter at your own risk. Close all win­dows.’ It’s not an ex­ag­ger­a­tion: Broad­lands is home to ba­boons, vervet mon­eys, 10 dogs, hun­dreds of feral cats, and a mul­ti­tude of ducks and geese. (Not sure about the aga­pan­thus.) ‘The stink in my bed­room is be­yond be­lief, be­cause all the cats and ducks and geese come in to be fed,’ laughs Pat, who has lived there for more than 30 years. ‘And I’ve still got my beloved chimp, Kalu. She was also a res­cue. I got her in 1990, when she was about 10 years old. They live as long as peo­ple – they are not even one gene re­moved from be­ing hu­man.’

Pat – or The Hon­ourable Pa­tri­cia Cavendish O’Neill, which is her for­mal ti­tle – grew up sur­rounded by an­i­mals of all species and sizes. She is the daugh­ter of the late Brigadier Gen­eral Fred­er­ick ‘Caviar’ Cavendish and Enid, Count­ess of Ken­mare, who loved an­i­mals just as much as her daugh­ter does.

‘She had over a hun­dred dogs at one point,’ says Pat. ‘And she had two tame sil­ver foxes that slept on her bed. Just to lie be­side her, I’d have to chase away the foxes and the dogs. She had a pet chee­tah too; I used to be so jeal­ous of the bloody chee­tah. We had a Rolls Royce at the time, and they had two lit­tle seats in front in those days, and I’d have to sit in one of the seats while the chee­tah lay on Mummy’s lap. And we’d have to walk the chee­tah in Hyde Park every day. Ev­ery­body used to stare, and I couldn’t bear it. I didn’t want to be part of this ter­ri­ble spec­ta­cle.’

Pat men­tions her mother Enid of­ten, and with clear af­fec­tion. ‘I adored my mother. When she was

‘She had over a hun­dred dogs at one point. And she had two tame sil­ver foxes that slept on her bed. Just to lie be­side her, I’d have to chase away the foxes and the dogs.’

trav­el­ling, I used to sleep with her pho­to­graph. I had the most fan­tas­tic child­hood, be­cause I had the most won­der­ful mother. She was Aus­tralian, and one of the most beau­ti­ful women in the world. Peo­ple used to wait out­side their houses to catch a glimpse of her. She was also very lov­ing; she gave so much of her­self to us chil­dren, and to her an­i­mals. And ob­vi­ously to the men in her life.’

Hav­ing mar­ried four wealthy men and out­lived them all, Lady Ken­mare had cheek­ily been nick­named ‘Lady Kill­more’ in the press, a ru­mour fu­elled by a glib com­ment she made to re­porters about mur­der be­ing prefer­able to divorce, as it was much less messy. This com­ment, ‘an ob­vi­ous joke’, ac­cord­ing to Pat, got her into quite a bit of trou­ble, but ‘Mummy thought it was funny,’ says Pat. Enid had no sense of dan­ger, and en­cour­aged her chil­dren to be just as fear­less. Pat even re­calls watch­ing bombs drop on Lon­don from their bal­cony with­out ever know­ing there was any risk.

Pat’s fa­ther died when she was six, but he shared her mother’s be­lief about fear­less­ness. ‘I could ride be­fore I could walk,’ she says. ‘When I was six, my fa­ther let me go on a steeple­chase. My legs were too short to fit into the stir­rups, so I had my feet in the leathers, and it was ab­so­lutely won­der­ful, go­ing over all these jumps at top speed. He was quite cuckoo, but it was fan­tas­tic. And this is why I could live with wild an­i­mals; they can pick up on your feel­ings, and if you’re afraid they know about it. I was never afraid.’

Pat was ed­u­cated at home, fol­low­ing the cur­ricu­lum her half-brother Rory Cameron (who she doted on) had come up with. It in­volved ‘a lot of an­cient his­tory and not a lot of arith­metic,’ she says. She also spent most of her child­hood trav­el­ling the world. ‘My mother had a house in the South of France, the Ba­hamas, in Lon­don, in Kenya, in Egypt… any­where with a hot cli­mate. She didn’t like cold weather.’

Pat and her mother also reg­u­larly trav­elled to Aus­tralia via cruise liner to visit Enid’s fam­ily. On one such jour­ney, 23-year-old Pat met Olympic swim­mer Frank O’Neill. ‘I was com­ing down the stair­case with my mother – in full evening dress – and he saw me and made a bet with his friends that he’d be en­gaged to me by the end of the voy­age.’ True to his word, the two were be­trothed by the end of the trip, and wed a year later. ‘We didn’t get mar­ried in a church,’ says Pat. ‘I never wanted to feel tied down.’

The mar­riage lasted just three years. ‘I di­vorced Frank be­cause I fell in love with Ayman,’ she says. That’s Count Ayman de Roussy de Sales – who she met in a night­club. ‘Frank had so many girl­friends that I couldn’t see that it re­ally mat­tered,’ she laughs. ‘I was brought up by my mother never to be jeal­ous, which was lucky be­cause my hus­band slept with every­one. But it never both­ered me.’

Pat’s par­ents taught her three things. ‘Never be afraid, never be jeal­ous, and never com­plain when you are ill.’ The first two have served her well enough, but the third nearly cost her her life. ‘It nearly killed me, be­cause I had an ec­topic preg­nancy and never did any­thing about it,’ she says. ‘I didn’t re­alise there was some­thing wrong un­til it was nearly too late.’ Pat and her then-hus­band Ayman were stay­ing with friends in Lon­don when she woke up in the mid­dle of the night and dis­cov­ered she was bleed­ing. ‘I was in such pain, I had to crawl on my hands and knees to the toi­let. I fi­nally thought to call Mummy, and she told me to phone Dr Gold­man.’

By the time the doc­tor ar­rived, Pat had col­lapsed. ‘I could hear them say­ing, “She’s bleed­ing to death!” They saved my life but I could never have chil­dren af­ter that. But I think it was meant to be be­cause I would never have been able to live the life I have if I had chil­dren.’

At 31, with two mar­riages be­hind her, Pat went to Nairobi to visit her brother Caryll and re­ceived an un­ex­pected gift. ‘We were greeted by this man who used to take us around while we were in Kenya, and in the palm of his hand he had a tiny lit­tle lion cub. He said: “I know you love an­i­mals – this is for you. Its mother was shot on the Tana river.” So I called her Tana. But I couldn’t go back to Mummy and live

in the South of France with a lion. So she bought me a place in Kenya, which was an hour’s drive to the near­est vil­lage.’

Even though Kenya was in po­lit­i­cal tur­moil, Pat never felt threat­ened. ‘I was to­tally safe, be­cause, ac­cord­ing to the lo­cal Ma­sai, I was sup­posed to be the big­gest witch doc­tor in Kenya. I was the only per­son in the area with Western medicine and I was able to help peo­ple when they were ill. And I had a tame lion that slept in my bed – they all thought it was magic. When peo­ple had a curse on them, they used to bring them to me, and I would get Tana to walk around them while I mum­bled words and then I’d say, “Now you’re fine” and they would get up and walk away. So we used to “undo” the curses, Tana and I.’

Her boyfriend at the time, how­ever, con­vinced her to have a se­cu­rity fence put up around her home. She agreed, but as they were erect­ing it, she was struck by an un­easy feel­ing. ‘I was in the bath­room, wash­ing the chim­panzee – it was a hot day – and I could feel Tana’s rage. I rushed out and spot­ted her on the roof, just about to leap on one of the men build­ing the se­cu­rity fence. So I screamed and that stopped her, and I told the men to leave the fence, that I didn’t need it.’

‘Ten days later, in the mid­dle of the night, Tana starts pac­ing next to the win­dow. I could see she was try­ing to tell me some­thing.’ Pat drove to the near­est po­lice station, an hour away. When she got back later with a po­lice es­cort, there was a huge up­roar. ‘The Mau Mau had just ar­rived. My lioness had picked up on their feel­ings and she was able to warn me that they were com­ing. And the leader of the gang was the man who’d been putting up my fence – the one Tana had been about to jump on.’

Pat’s mother, mean­while, had been per­suaded by her doc­tors that the al­ti­tude in Cape Town was bet­ter for her heart, and Pat fol­lowed her in 1968, leav­ing her beloved lioness be­hind – a de­ci­sion she re­grets to this day. ‘If I could have done things dif­fer­ently, I would have stayed with Tana,’ she says. ‘It was the hap­pi­est time of my life. I never knew what hap­pened to her in the end, be­cause she’s re­ally a peo­ple’s lion, not a lion’s lion. She grew up in bed with me, with my dogs and my chim­panzee, Joseph.’ [This par­tic­u­lar chimp, says Pat, was the first one Jane Goodall ever came into con­tact with.] But at the time, I just couldn’t let Mummy be at the other end of Africa. I never left my mother, even when I mar­ried. Hus­bands and lovers, they had to stay with Mummy. I only left her when Tana came into my life, and even then she’d spend half the year with me in Kenya.’

Pat and her mother moved to Broad­lands, the farm where Pat lives to this day. ‘I trained race­horses for my mother and hus­band.’ Pat re­mar­ried Frank in 1974, but they are now sep­a­rated. ‘We’re still mar­ried but he’s liv­ing with his girl­friend in Aus­tralia now,’ she says.

When Enid passed away in 1972, she left her daugh­ter a vast for­tune. ‘She left me £66 mil­lion when she died,’ says Pat. Today, there is noth­ing left. ‘I am lit­er­ally pen­ni­less. The ac­coun­tant and so-called friends took it all,’ she says. ‘My mother wasn’t good with money – she just dealt it out, re­ally. If I wanted any­thing, I just had to ask. But I wasn’t the kind of per­son who wanted a lot of things. I just wanted to be with my an­i­mals.’

‘If you’ve never han­dled money, you don’t sus­pect peo­ple. So they took all my money. But that was my own fault for not re­al­is­ing.’ When pressed about why she hadn’t pur­sued le­gal ac­tion, Pat re­sponds vaguely, that ‘noth­ing could be done about it’. For­tu­nately for Pat, her friends came to her aid. She was forced to sell Broad­lands, but a lawyer friend of hers ne­go­ti­ated a deal that al­lowed her to stay in the house. ‘I’m very lucky. I have won­der­ful friends who give me an al­lowance, and Abe or­gan­ised it so I could live here for the rest of my life, with my an­i­mals.’ The thought of dy­ing does not seem to faze her. ‘Chris Barnard was a great friend of mine, and he said, “One of the loneli­est times in life is death, be­cause there is no­body to go with you.” But I’m sure there is an af­ter­life, be­cause I’ve had the most in­cred­i­ble ex­pe­ri­ences of that.’

The first was with her beloved half-brother, Rory. ‘He was ter­ri­bly ill, so I went over to France and helped the nurses and lay be­side him. He was get­ting weaker and weaker, but I was forced to leave be­cause I needed to at­tend to the breed­ing on the farm.

‘We had booked the tick­ets to go back two weeks later, and I was plan­ning to bring a heart spe­cial­ist with me, in the hope that he could do some­thing for Rory. Then one morn­ing I came back into my room and found Rory sit­ting at my dress­ing table. He had al­ways been very good-look­ing, but he had looked ter­ri­ble when I’d left him. On that morn­ing, he looked mar­vel­lous. He was wear­ing a blue shirt, and I no­ticed the whites of his eyes were that bluey-white, like chil­dren’s eyes. I said, “My gosh Rory, you look won­der­ful,” and he said, “Yes, Pat, I feel won­der­ful.” When he got up to leave, he said, “By the way, you can can­cel your trip, I feel fan­tas­tic now, you don’t need to come.” And then he kissed me and said, “I love you,” and closed the door.’

Pat phoned the doc­tor to tell him there was no longer any need to go to France. ‘His wife, who had taken the call, phoned her hus­band and said, “Syd­ney, you’d bet­ter rush over to Pat, she’s gone cuckoo.” But he just said, “This means Rory’s died; it’s hap­pened with one other per­son.”

‘The same thing hap­pened with my mother. I was des­per­ate with­out her when she died, but she ap­peared to me one day and she was laugh­ing and said, “Oh Pat, I’m hav­ing the most won­der­ful time up here with hus­bands and lovers.”’ She smiles. ‘So I know there is an af­ter­life.’

Right: A younger, very beau­ti­ful Pat, at 20 This pic: Still beau­ti­ful at 92

Above right: The en­trance to Broad­lands Above: Pat’s fa­ther, Gen­eral Fred­er­ick Cavendish

Pat and Frank


Pat with her lioness, Tana Pat and Kalu

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa

© PressReader. All rights reserved.