ESCAPE FROM THE 'HAUNTED HOUSE'
Trevor Horn's wife has been in a coma ever since she was accidentally shot at home by her son a year ago. Now the music mogul behind some of Britain's biggest hit records is selling their cursed £10m mansion
ARRIVING AT Hook End Manor, a stunning Elizabethan country house near Henley-onThames, is like entering another world. Occupying a 25-acre estate in the most beautiful Oxfordshire countryside, there is stabling for horses, one of the largest monkey puzzle trees in the country, a gym, a sauna and a large covered swimming pool.
Each of the 11 bedrooms is decorated according to a theme and the internationally famous artists who come to use the multi-million pound residential recording studio at the end of the private drive can choose which one they want to stay in, including the Second World War Room, or the Oriental Room, designed by Dave Gilmour of Pink Floyd, a previous owner.
But it was the close-knit family who lived there together until June last year who effortlessly made the rambling old manor house into a home. They may have been worth millions but Trevor Horn – one of the most famous pop music impresarios in the world – and Jill Sinclair, his wife of 26 years, were still deeply in love.
Despite their fabulous, self-made riches, they had taught their children to show courtesy and respect towards others and they doted on their son and three daughters.
Yet this week, Hook End Manor is up for sale – a house haunted by a freak shooting accident nearly 12 months ago which has shattered the family idyll and left Jill in a coma from which she shows no sign of emerging. Now Trevor finds the associations that the manor holds too unbearable to live with.
The couple, torn apart by that tragedy, were never ostentatious about their wealth and had managed to keep their feet on the ground, shopping in Sainsbury’s together once a week and sharing the spoils of their success with friends as well as employees at ZTT Records, the company they had founded together in 1983 and which boasted such massive musical successes as Seal, Frankie Goes To Hollywood and Pet Shop Boys.
Favoured record company staff were invited every couple of months to have “the run of the place”: a dip in the pool, a game of tennis, a walk in the grounds and dinner in the evening.
“There was an amazing level of elegance to that place, a certain oldfashioned beauty about it,” recalls Jonathan Wingate, a former employee. “I remember the first time I went there it was like walking into another world: this palatial, rock star world. As guests you were treated amazingly but the fact they were willing to share it all with their staff was very indicative of them as people.”
He remembers that it was around Jill that the house, like the business, revolved. “She was a natural hostess with an outgoing, fun personality,” says Jonathan, who now works as a music journalist and broadcaster.
And while her more introverted and publicity-shy husband is recognised as a creative genius, it was Jill who originally spotted Trevor Horn’s potential and was able to facilitate his illustrious career, coaxing him out of his shell when necessary.
While he was holed up in one of his four state-of-the-art recording suites in London and Oxfordshire, furiously twiddling buttons and obsessing about each texture and tone on a track, Jill deftly ran their private and professional lives.
THATmeant everything from talking money with Hollywood producers such as Jerry Bruckheimer, for whom Trevor produced the score for Toy Story, to popping along to Portobello Road market on a Friday afternoon to stock up with flowers and fruit for another weekend at Hook End Manor.
However, it is a long time since the house rang to the sound of a happy family.
Nearly a year ago the couple’s 23-year-old son Aaron was at home from university, shooting at targets in the garden with an air rifle. He was unaware that his mother was nearby.
A stray pellet struck her in the neck severing an artery and Jill suffered massive blood loss.
Having been rushed to hospital, she was put under deep sedation and into an induced coma. Since then Jill, now 55, has shown little improvement.
“She remains unresponsive in a coma and continues to receive 24-hour nursing care at a rehabilitation centre in South London,” says a friend. “Trevor has been devastated by this terrible accident and now wants to get rid of the place associated with it.”
Whether Jill will ever emerge from what is now described as a “natural coma” – and whether she will be brain damaged if she does – are questions that her distraught family must ask themselves every day. Since the acci- dent the house has been available for hire as a venue for music industry gatherings but Trevor and his children feel unable to cross the threshold.
Now, for an asking price of £10million, it is on the market.
As a music mogul, Trevor, 57, was never naturally cool but Jill changed that.
With his bespectacled, bankmanager’s demeanour, he started off playing double bass with his father in dance bands and his first appearance on TV came accompanying the stars of Come Dancing. He was catapulted to
national attention as a songwriter in the late Seventies with The Buggles and their electro-pop classic Video Killed The Radio Star. He wore huge bottle-top specs for the song and reached No 1 in 16 countries. He also sang for rock band Yes.
Then he met Jill, a former maths teacher who was running a recording studio. She tried for three months to sign him up and they gradually fell in love.
“She pushed him to become who he was,” says Jonathan Wingate. “She was also the one who gave him the confidence to put his head outside the studio door. She saw and heard in him things he didn’t see in himself. She was the spark that made him come alive.”
Finally, a year after they married in 1980, Jill became his manager and later banned him from singing.
“My wife was brutally honest. Fifteen seconds after I appointed her she told me I would have to give up trying to be an artist and concentrate on being a producer,” he once said proudly.
“She thought I could be the biggest in the world. It’s great when people say stuff like that because you get fired up.” She also proved uncannily accurate about her hus- band’s potential as he pioneered new mixing techniques and a “highgloss, synthesised, signature sound” that changed the face of musical history.
He won a Grammy Award for cowriting Kiss From A Rose with Seal and was regarded for much of the Eighties as the best producer in Britain. He produced the charity group Band Aid and their enormous hit Do They Know It’s Christmas? He has also been a producer for Sir Paul McCartney, Tom Jones, Cher and Tina Turner.
As a couple, the secret of their success, said Trevor, was how dif- ferent they were. “She drives fast and takes lots of chances. I tend to be much more careful and leave a distance. We work well together because Jill runs the business and I make records, though we are always discussing.
“One of her best qualities is that she’s never afraid to say what she thinks. Jill has always been full of life. The time to watch out is when she’s quiet.”
Devastatingly, for the past 12 months Trevor has been forced to cope without her counsel. He has done this, say friends, by throwing himself into work. Jill may have fashioned a reputation as an extremely tough businesswoman but Jonathan, who worked as ZTT’s head of press for nearly three years from 1999, says that what was less well known was her warmth.
HERECALLS: “She is very endearing and has a very motherly quality.” He says he can quite imagine that at the moment she was shot she was probably bringing her son a cold drink or something to eat.
“Jill, like me, is Jewish and she knew I had lost both my parents at quite a young age,” he adds. “The day I moved in to my new flat, several months before I started working for ZTT, she biked around a mezuzah inscribed with a portion of holy text.
“You pin it to the outside of your door to protect the occupant – in my case, a lapsed, 30-year-old Jewish boy, and because Jill knew I didn’t read Hebrew and she is quite religious, she had translated the prayer you are meant to say when you move in.
“She had taken the time to buy the scroll and find out my address and do this.
“It was a very sweet thing – she knew I needed someone to watch over me.”
The sad thing is that, as Jill’s family and friends continue to watch over her and pray for her recovery, they have no way of knowing whether they will ever reach her.
TALENT: Trevor produced Frankie Goes To Hollywood, above, and sang with Yes, below, second right