The rest is his­tory…

Book fairs crop up ev­ery­where, but none is so glam­orous, or high­brow, as Natalie Liv­ing­stone’s new Clive­den Lit­er­ary Fes­ti­val. By Sally Wil­liams. Pho­to­graphs by To­bias Har­vey

The Daily Telegraph - Telegraph Magazine - - CONTENT - clive­den­lit­er­aryfes­ti­val.org

Af er a che­quered past, Clive­den House en­ters a new chap­ter, as the venue of a smart-set lit­er­ary fes­ti­val. Sally Wil­liams meets its founder

Odd to do an in­ter­view in a shower c ubi­cle . But then Natalie Liv­ing­stone is full of sur­prises. She came into the pub­lic eye when her hus­band, Ian, a bil­lion­aire prop­erty de­vel­oper, bought Clive­den House, the coun­try ho­tel in Berk­shire, for £30 mil­lion in 2012. He and his brother, Richard, had been qui­etly build­ing up a global prop­erty em­pire worth more than £4 bil­lion since set­ting up busi­ness in the early 1990s. But Clive­den, back­drop to the Pro­fumo Af­fair, pro­pelled the cou­ple on to the diary pages.

Three years later Liv­ing­stone was in the news again with her book The Mistresses of Clive­den: Three Cen­turies of Scan­dal,

Power and In­trigue. It re­vealed the house as a site of ‘scan­dals, par­ties, fun and ex­cite­ment’ long be­fore that chance meet­ing in 1961 be­tween John Pro­fumo, then Sec­re­tary of State for War, and Chris­tine Keeler, 19 years old and naked in the pool.

The sex­ual ap­petite of Anna Maria Tal­bot, Count­ess of Shrews­bury, for whom Clive­den was orig­i­nally built in the 1660s; the dra­matic duel to the death be­tween the 2nd Duke of Buck­ing­ham, who built it, and her hus­band, the Earl of Shrews­bury; the se­vere squint of El­iz­a­beth Vil­liers, Clive­den’s sec­ond mistress – Liv­ing­stone writes about it all. Even the low sex drive of Nancy As­tor, Bri­tain’s first fe­male MP and Clive­den’s fi­nal mistress. She was re­volted by sex, says Liv­ing­stone, de­spite hav­ing six chil­dren, and would ‘bite into an ap­ple to dis­tract her from the dis­taste­ful busi­ness’.

And now Liv­ing­stone is fur­ther spread­ing the word with the launch of the Clive­den Lit­er­ary Fes­ti­val – at which speak­ers will in­clude Robert Har­ris and Michael Gove. On top of this, Liv­ing­stone, 40, has also spear­headed the cre­ation of two fra­grances for Clive­den’s re­vamped spa. No 1 is in­spired by Nancy As­tor (‘fresh and crisp’); while the Anna Maria-in­flu­enced No 2 range is ‘strong and sen­su­ous’.

‘It ’s re­ally de­li­cious,’ Liv­ing­stone says, as we stand in a shower (clothes on) in the spa’s treat­ment rooms, smelling Anna Maria-scented sham­poo. She has hit a rich vein, and yet Liv­ing­stone does not rate her­self as a busi­ness­woman: ‘En­trepreneurial? I have no dis­cernible en­trepreneurial side at all!’ She prefers to be con­sid­ered a his­to­rian. But Clive­den, she says, ‘has in­spired me in so many ways’.

Clive­den House is set in 376 acres, com­plete with walled gar­dens, stat­ues, wind­ing paths and a maze. We had ar­ranged to meet in the Great Hall, a mag­nif­i­cent dark-pan­elled room with 18th­cen­tury ta­pes­tries, but when I ar­rive the place is heav­ing with peo­ple hav­ing af­ter­noon tea. The prop­erty be­came a lux­ury ho­tel in the 1980s and the gar­dens are owned by the Na­tional Trust.

I even­tu­ally find Liv­ing­stone there with a plate of smoked salmon. She jumps up; slim, blonde, cour­te­ous and warm. She wants to give me a guided tour – she loves point­ing out the ‘push­ing stick’ used by ser­vants to help an ail­ing Har­riet, Duchess of Sutherland, walk around the grounds in the 1860s; the French Din­ing Room, the con­tents of which were trans­planted from Madame de Pom­padour’s din­ing room in the Château d’as­nières, Paris, by Wil­liam Wal­dorf As­tor in the 1890s; and of course the swim­ming pool in the walled gar­den.

When you first swam in the pool, I ask, did you think about what hap­pened? ‘Of course,’ Liv­ing­stone replies, ‘ev­ery­one does.’ The Pro­fumo scan­dal, she points out, ‘em­bed­ded Clive­den in the na­tional con­scious­ness. But ac­tu­ally the story of Clive­den is much richer and more in­ter­est­ing than just that of a 19-year-old call girl step­ping out of a pool naked and into the eyes of a politi­cian.’

Liv­ing­stone says she im­me­di­ately felt the house’s al­lure the day her hus­band brought her to lunch af­ter buy­ing it. ‘ We drove up the drive­way and it was al­most like a spell had been cast on me.’

In 1942, Wal­dorf As­tor, son of Wil­liam Wal­dorf As­tor, gave the house and gar­dens to the Na­tional Trust un­der the pro­viso that af­ter the As­tors no one fam­ily could ever live in the house. ‘So it had to be op­er­ated as some kind of com­mer­cial ven­ture,’ she ex­plains. It has had many in­car­na­tions since, in­clud­ing as an out­post for Stan­ford Uni­ver­sity from 1969 to 1983.

Liv­ing­stone’s home is in Not­ting Hill, a house pre­vi­ously owned by the PR ex­ec­u­tive Matthew Freud and his then wife, Elis­a­beth Mur­doch. She lives there with her hus­band, their three daugh­ters – Grace, 13, Alice, 11, and El­iz­a­beth Rose, one – and a cavapoo (a cross be­tween a cav­a­lier King Charles spaniel and a poo­dle) called Tol­stoy. They have a sec­ond home in Los An­ge­les.

She is proud of the fact that her hus­band is a self-made bil­lion­aire and not from the same back­ground as Clive­den’s many aris­to­cratic own­ers: he is the son of a den­tist from Eal­ing. ‘I think it’s ab­so­lutely won­der­ful that a self­made Jewish man can be­come in­volved in a prop er ty pre­vi­ously owned by a vir­u­lent anti-semite like Nancy As­tor. In that sense, this house rep­re­sents the chang­ing face of Bri­tish so­ci­ety. It ’s more of a mer­i­toc­racy.’ Ian and Richard Liv­ing­stone own the Park Lane Hil­ton, the Em­pire Le­ices­ter Square and the fives­tar Fair­mont ho­tel in Monte Carlo, among many others.

When you frst swam in the pool, I ask, did you think about what hap­pened?

‘The story of Clive­den is much richer than just that of a 19-year-old call girl step­ping out of a pool naked and into the eyes of a politi­cian’

Natal i e Liv i ngst o ne i s of­ten de­scribed as the new ‘c hat el a i ne’ o f Cl i ve den, which an­noys her in­tensely. ‘In no way am I a chate­laine,’ she says. ‘I am the wife of a hote­lier. Clive­den is op­er­ated as a ho­tel.’

Nor, it turns out, is she a so­ci­ety host­ess, de­spite look­ing the part with her beauty, taste in de­signer hand­bags and love of stag­ger­ing heels. Does she hold big din­ner par­ties? ‘Good­ness me, no, I still can’t cook prop­erly. We mainly have roast chicken, grilled fish; sim­ple things that are dif­fi­cult to screw up.’ I as­sume she is be­ing disin­gen­u­ous but then she adds that she’s rub­bish at gar­den­ing too – any­thing, in fact, that re­quires her to be ‘prac­ti­cal’. She still can’t drive, de­spite hav­ing taken her test seven times, most re­cently at a res­i­den­tial course in Mar­gate. ‘I failed for driv­ing on the wrong side of the road.’ She thinks she might be dys­praxic.

She says that un­like Nancy As­tor, say, who held din­ners with as many as 64 guests, ‘we keep our­selves to our­selves. We’ve got a col­lec­tion of very old, very loyal friends.’

Liv­ing­stone’s own rou­tine in­cludes reg­u­lar jogs with her sis­ter Laura, 35, who is study­ing for a psy­chol­ogy de­gree (her other sis­ter, Caro­line, 38, is an events plan­ner in New York). Quiet writ­ing pe­ri­ods (she is work­ing on a sec­ond book, but at the mo­ment will only say it is ‘about the women in a big fam­ily’) are in­ter­spersed with more so­cia­ble spells pro­mot­ing Clive­den; the rest of the time she is a hands-on mother.

Liv­ing­stone grew up in Finch­ley, north Lon­don. Her fa­ther was a suc­cess­ful tex­tile mer­chant, and her Hun­gar­ian mother a house­wife. She de­scribes her­self as ‘very shy, very book­ish, ab­so­lutely ob­sessed with his­tory’. Ed­u­cated at the City of Lon­don School for Girls and then the Uni­ver­sity of Cam­bridge, she has a first-class de­gree in the sub­ject.

She met her hus­band at a fundrais­ing event or­gan­ised by Sh­muel ‘Sh­mu­ley’ Boteach, the Ortho­dox Jewish rabbi, TV host and au­thor of 31 books, in­clud­ing Kosher Sex. Liv­ing­stone was in her sec­ond year at Cam­bridge; Ian, 14 years her se­nior, was al­ready a suc­cess­ful busi­ness­man hav­ing built up the David Clu­low chain of op­ti­cians and started his prop­erty em­pire. ‘I walked across the room, bumped into my hus­band and that was it,’ she says. They were mar­ried four years later.

Af­ter a brief spell in ad­ver­tis­ing, she went into jour­nal­ism,

with stints at Vogue and Tatler be­fore go­ing free­lance. She says it was partly writ­ing her book that gave her the idea for the Clive­den Lit­er­ary Fes­ti­val. ‘I did the whole round of lit­er­ary fes­ti­vals and it gave me a real taste for how won­der­ful it is to be able to hear your favourite writ­ers speak about their craft. I want to know how Robert Har­ris struc­tures his day. How does he get his in­spi­ra­tion? Does he have Post-it notes ev­ery­where? That sort of thing fas­ci­nates me.’

And then, of course, there is Clive­den’s own lit­er­ary his­tory. ‘Jonathan Swift was a close friend of El­iz­a­beth Vil­liers. He wrote in his diary that once they spoke for nine hours non-stop. Ten­nyson was of­ten a guest of Har­riet, Duchess of Sutherland. Nancy As­tor hosted any num­ber of fa­mous writ­ers, from Ge­orge Bernard Shaw and Win­ston Churchill to Rud­yard Ki­pling, so for me this fes­ti­val is all about re­viv­ing that lit­er­ary tra­di­tion.’

She has cer­tainly gath­ered well-known names for next month’s in­au­gu­ral event: Tina Brown, Ian Mcewan, Se­bas­tian Faulks, An­to­nia Fraser. ‘I want to cre­ate an­other chap­ter for Clive­den with this fes­ti­val,’ she says. ‘I fell in love with the house and I wanted to find out more, and the more I find out, the more ex­cit­ing it be­comes.’

A por­trait of Nancy As­tor by John Singer Sar­gent hangs in the house

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