Ukip donor’s tribute to ‘fun-loving’ Tessa
The millionaire owner of Chilham Castle has spoken movingly of his late wife’s “mischievous” sense of humour including sending page 3 girls to his birthday lunch.
Stuart Wheeler, 82, who has owned the stately home since 2002, says he is getting to grips with running the castle which was looked after by Tessa, who died aged 72 just before Christmas.
He told the Standard newspaper that his wife had been initially reluctant to leave London for Kent but threw herself into it, hosting numerous parties and Ukip fundraising dinners after her husband became party treasurer.
Mr Wheeler, who made his fortune in the spread betting industry, once said the cost of running the Jacobean mansion was cripplingly expensive. “I completely underestimated the cost of refurbishing and furnishing it,” he said.
The couple met in Aspinalls Casino in Mayfair owned by the Kent zookeeper John Aspinall when Mr Wheeler used the glamour of highsociety London to woo the bohemian photographer Tessa Codrington.
They had three daughters, including the supermodel Jacquetta, who married at the castle in 2012.
Mr Wheeler, who once gave £5 million to Ukip and has also supported the Conservatives with donations, told how the couple were opposites, him a professional gambler and she more suited to outdoor life especially horses.
He told the Standard: “Tessa had a rare gift for getting on with people terribly well. If we had people to dinner, she’d launch off into a story with great energy and end it with a very nice laugh that I could recognise from the other end of the table.”
Mr Wheeler was “amazed” when Tessa agreed to move to Chilham, “which seemed a nice castle”. “She threw herself into it and as a wonderful host — there’s not much point having a big place like that and not putting some people in it.”
Mrs Wheeler had spoken about the challenges of turning around the dilapidated building “from roof to cellar” but finally completed the renovation in 2005 throwing a big party to coincide with her husband’s 70th birthday.
“We found the house in a sorry state. There was a huge amount of work that needed doing from roof to cellar,” she recalled. “The completion of the renovation coincided with Stuart’s 70th birthday in January 2005 and we threw a party to celebrate and thank all those involved.
“I’m happy to say Stuart’s dream has come true. Most weekends, the house is full of guests from many different strands of society. He loves to mix people up and give them the chance to discuss, argue, eat and drink in a private and relaxed atmosphere.”
Mr Wheeler told how he once considering arranging for a “ghost” to visit the castle but his wife who was “full of mischief” got her revenge in first by sending a stripagram nun to his office with a fake writ.
“On another occasion, Tessa brought page-three girls to my birthday lunch. She was good fun,” he said.
Regarding Ukip’s success in driving the outcome of the EU referendum, he admits to making thousands for a bet that the UK would leave but he never found out how his wife had voted.
In his interview he recalls with fondness his gifted and fun-loving wife, who battled cancer for 10 years. “She was a very likeable character,” he said.
“We were both undemonstrative so we didn’t tell each other how we felt but I was certainly proud of her.
“We were independent but I don’t think that stopped us loving each other very much.”
Tessa Wheeler with her beloved rescue dog Otto
FOND MEMORIES: Stuart Wheeler