HOW LADY LUCAN LOST IT ALL
Her children shun her and she lives as a sad, obsessive recluse on a state pension in the Belgravia home her murderous husband used as a bolthole. So why is Lord Lucan’s widow still so utterly defiant?
DAYLIGHT does not penetrate the small mews house in Belgravia, central London, where Veronica, the Dowager Countess of Lucan lives.
A heavy blind shuts out the sunshine on the spring day when I visit. It has been closed, to deter snoopers, for almost 40 years. The pervading gloom in the sitting room is broken only by a shaft of light from the front door, which remains open a few inches as we talk.
But as I sit in daylight, Lady Lucan remains enveloped in deep shadow.
The room, too, is almost unchanged since her husband John Bingham, 7th Earl of Lucan, notoriously disappeared on the night of November 7, 1974, after bludgeoning to death 29-year- old Sandra Rivett, their children’s nanny, in the mistaken belief that she was his wife, then assaulting Lady Lucan herself.
You might imagine Lady Lucan would have wanted to expunge her husband from her memory, yet his portrait looms over us as we talk, while photos of the children hint at familial closeness. But nothing is as it seems. Lady Lucan, 79, is estranged from her daughters Frances, 52, and Camilla, 47, and son George, 50, as well as her sister Christina Shand Kydd (who was distantly related, by marriage, to Princess Diana). The bitter rift that divides them has persisted for almost four decades.
She has five grandchildren but has met none of them. Neither does she even know the identity of her eldest daughter’s husband.
‘Frances didn’t tell me she was married,’ she says, without apparent concern, ‘but she was, recently. I don’t really know to whom, because I have no contact with them at all.
‘Camilla told me when she was engaged but I wasn’t invited to her wedding [in September 1998]. I happened to be walking past the church in Eaton Square, on the way to Marks & Spencer to buy a cardigan, when a photographer spotted me, rushed over and said: “Lady Lucan, it’s your daughter’s wedding!”
‘I put my umbrella up and rushed home, but not before he’d photographed me.
‘I wasn’t hurt at all that I hadn’t been invited. It just reaffirmed my belief that keeping away from my children was the safest thing to do.
‘Time has passed and my life has carried on in a quiet, untroubled manner. I cannot see any advantage in seeing them.
‘I don’t think about my sister either. She’s no longer in my life.’
Quite why Lady Lucan is so obdurately alienated from her closest family is among the abiding conundrums of the Lucan affair, which remains one of the most compelling and enduring mysteries of recent history.
LADYLucan is both defined and imprisoned by a past she chooses not to escape. The two-bedroom mews cottage in which she lives — bought as a guest house during her ill-fated marriage — provided a temporary home for her husband when they separated after he lost a bitter battle for custody of their children.
She moved into it three years after his disappearance. It is just a stone’s throw from the fivestorey family home in Lower Belgrave Street where Sandra Rivett was killed.
The story in which the countess plays a central role continues to fascinate, perplex and give rise to myth and speculation.
Now, as she nears her 80th birthday, Lady Lucan is giving a rare interview following the serialisation in the Mail of a frank, unsparing book she has written about the mystery.
She told unflinchingly of her joyless marriage to Lucan, a professional gambler, describing her constant anxiety over the vast sums he lost at the gaming tables. She recounted, too, how driven by loneliness — her frequently absent husband was taciturn and remote — she sought solace in a platonic friendship with another man.
When Lucan found out and the man was warned off, she fell into a profound depression and was prescribed powerful anti-psychotic drugs, the dire side- effects of which convinced her, and her family, that she was losing her mind. Twice, she recalled, she was taken to psychiatric units against her will; and twice she escaped.
There is lacerating honesty, too, in her admission that she taunted her husband about his ineptitude as a lover (he tape-recorded their rows to use as evidence against her in a custody battle for their children) and in her confession that he beat her for his own sexual gratification.
Significantly, she has also given her most detailed account ever of events on the night of Sandra Rivett’s death.
The consensus has always been that Lord Lucan, rather than a hired or unknown assailant, was her killer.
The inquest jury at a coroner’s court named Lord Lucan, in his absence, as the murderer of Mrs Rivett — making him the last person in Britain to be declared a murderer by an inquest jury (the procedure was later outlawed) — although he was never convicted in a criminal court.
Both his son George, a merchant banker, and younger daughter Camilla, a QC, have publicly made clear that their father should not therefore be assumed culpable. Lady Lucan is outraged by this.
She was in the house, watching TV in her bedroom, when Sandra Rivett was bludgeoned to death as she went downstairs to the unlit basement to make her employer a cup of tea.
The countess contends that she disturbed her husband after the fatal assault. He hit her four times with a length of bandaged metal piping before she grabbed his genitals. Then, after she’d persuaded her husband to get her a glass of water, she fled to a nearby pub and raised the alarm.
She recalls: ‘He told me, “I’ll go to Broadmoor for this”.
‘George and Camilla were seven and three when it happened, and asleep in bed.’
Lord Lucan was poised to forfeit everything he held dear when he fled the murder scene.
ALREADYliving apart from his family and on the brink of divorce, he had lost a ruinously costly and acrimonious battle for custody of the children and was mired in spiralling gambling debts.
He made his escape in a car he’d borrowed, and his body has never been found.
Over the years, fantastical theories about his disappearance have placed him in the Australian outback; as a hippy drop- out in Goa; even fed to the tigers at his friend John Aspinall’s zoo.
Although a High Court judge granted a death certificate last year, allowing George to inherit his title, this has provided neither resolution nor a conclusion to the mystery, whose complexities and permutations continue to baffle and frustrate even the most assiduous researcher.
However, Lady Lucan remains closer to the truth than anyone.
She believes that the note he left, with the poignant sentence, ‘Please tell those that you know, that all I cared about was them (the children)’, was proof her husband intended suicide.
That night, he called at the home of friends in a Sussex village, before leaving in the early hours.
Explaining the events of that evening to them, he said that he had, by pure chance, happened on an attacker hitting his wife as he passed the family home.
His version of the story was that his wife had accused him of hiring a hitman to kill her, and this did not bode well for him.
His plan, he told them, was to ‘lie doggo’ for a while.
Three days later, his borrowed car was found abandoned and
blood-splattered — with a section of bandaged lead piping in the boot — at the cross-Channel port of Newhaven, East Sussex.
There has been no concrete clue to his whereabouts since. If still alive today, he would be 82.
But Lady Lucan believes: ‘He got on a ferry and jumped off mid-Channel, and was chopped up by the propeller — which is why his body was never found.’
She says that as a powerboat racer he had a detailed knowledge of propellers (she produces a letter in which he assesses the merits of various types), and would have known precisely where to jump so his remains were destroyed.
You may think a tragedy of such magnitude would unite any family. In fact, it fragmented the Lucans.
Whether or not she was a good mother is a question she evades. But she insists that her children were always well turned-out and advanced in their schooling. She resolutely denies that she was ever psychotic, though she concedes: ‘I was pushed to the brink of madness. I was manipulated psychologically so I began to think I was mad.
MYHuSBaNd had a campaign to destroy me. I was a nuisance. He was an imposing character, an earl, and the doctors believed all he told them about me.
‘I, in turn, just accepted what the doctors said. I had injections (of anti-psychotics) and their sideeffects were horrible. I had hallucinations, restlessness — I walked for miles and miles – and drug-induced Parkinson’s disease.’
Lucan requested that his brother- in-law Bill Shand Kydd and sister-in-law Christina looked after the children in his absence, and apparently the children, too, preferred this arrangement.
‘When they were 12, 15 and 18, I received an affidavit from my son saying that it would be more “congenial” for them to live as part of their aunt and uncle’s family,’ their mother recalls. ‘There was a [family court] hearing that I didn’t attend. George was old enough to make the decision himself.
‘It was a shock, and the legal context made it more serious. and I didn’t, frankly, like my sister and brother-in-law, which added to my distress.’
Today, however, she seems surprisingly equable about the continued alienation from all those who should be dearest to her. a petite, elegant woman who looks far younger than her years, she measures her answers carefully.
Is she lonely? ‘I don’t feel so now,’ she says, ‘although I was lonely in my marriage.’
The fact she lives frugally on a scant old-age pension and her few savings is evident: the chocolate she offers with coffee is a supermarket brand, and, although staunchly Tory, she says she is ‘horrified’ by plans to withdraw the winter fuel allowance from all but the poorest pensioners.
‘My heart sank when I heard I wouldn’t be eligible for the £300 fuel payment when I turn 80.’
The private doctors, the paid home-helps, the expensive holidays and meals out all belong to a distant past. Lady Lucan doesn’t own a computer and has to use one at the local library, where she walks every morning. ‘ It’s a wonderful resource and they’re always so helpful!’ she says.
She contends that she is in robust good health and takes no medication. Her days are spent quietly: she wakes early, breakfasts, and after her library visit returns home to do her washing and ironing while listening to LBC radio, before walking in nearby Green Park. Her friends from the old days are gone. ‘all dead!’ she says.
I wonder if there have been romances. ‘Oh yes,’ she says, ‘but there is none now. There was love, but it faded. When you get older, that happens. I still see the man and we’re great friends, but we’re not in love. and no, I’ve never considered marrying again.’
She says she can’t recall how many men she’s had sexual relationships with — ‘although that could be misinterpreted!’ a rare smile lights up her face. ‘I don’t mean that I’ve had thousands of lovers; just that sometimes you forget it ever happened.’
during her marriage to Lord Lucan, she was faithful to him, and he to her, she says.
I ask why she criticises him in her book for his lack of sexual prowess. She replies: ‘You do that when you’re annoyed. It’s a sensitive part of a man. actually, we had perfectly reasonable sex.’
WHENI question if she regrets ever meeting her husband, her reply is a surprise. ‘I can’t say that I’m sorry I married him because I would not have had three beautiful children, would I?
‘I was never so happy in my life as when George was born.’
It is a rare admission of vulnerability; a moment of self-exposure so poignant that I wonder if the bravado about caring little for her children masks an abiding sadness.
She admits her biggest fear is of becoming sick and dependent.
‘I don’t fear dying alone — not at all,’ she says. ‘But I do fear dependency. I’d find that very depressing. It would be horrible to feel you were a burden.
‘Your faculties start to fade when you reach 80, so I’ve been thinking about my death. I’d quite enjoy the rest of my life if I knew it was not going to end in something horrific. I’ve given it some thought and I support the idea of assisted suicide.’
To prove this is not a whim, she fishes out a placard printed with the slogan Give Me a Choice Over My Own death. Indeed, she campaigns for assisted euthanasia and hopes herself to slip away peacefully before disease or dementia debilitate her.
Her resolve must have sharpened because there is no close family member she can turn to for support. So is there any hope of a rapprochement?
She considers the prospect and says carefully: ‘ a couple of years ago, George did invite me for tea at the Goring Hotel.
‘If he’d suggested we meet at his flat, I’d probably have said “Yes”, but I wouldn’t want to go to a public place where we’d be photographed or gossiped about.
‘People’s actions tell you when you should protect yourself.’
Yet it would be another tragedy for Lady Lucan if, through stubbornness, suspicion and her unwillingness to relinquish the grievances of her past, she denied herself now, in old age, the support of the son and daughters she fought so hard to keep with her in their childhood.
A Moment In Time, by the Countess of Lucan, to be published later this year. © 7th Countess of Lucan 2017.