Com­ing home to sta­bil­ity

He’s the feisty front­man of one of the great­est rock bands. And through it all, his rock-solid fam­ily and Sus­sex home have been his sanc­tu­ary

Sussex Life - - Front Page -

He’s fa­mous for that scream on Won’t Get Fooled Again, the fu­ri­ous re­bel­lion of My Gen­er­a­tion and a whole lot of bare-chested, mi­cro­phoneswing­ing. But to­day Roger Dal­trey – singer, ac­tor, for­mer trout farmer and phi­lan­thropist – is sit­ting qui­etly in the cor­ner of a cosy, softly-lit room in a gen­teel Ge­or­gian ho­tel in cen­tral Lon­don.

He stands up to shake my hand and greets me with a warm, slightly crooked smile (he broke his jaw as a child). He’s 74 and still in great shape, look­ing sharp in a crisp black shirt with slim-fit­ting black jeans, a full head of curls and his blue-tinted glasses.

So how did he bal­ance his rock ca­reer and home life? “Some of my friends in the busi­ness found it hard to read­just to a nor­mal fam­ily ex­is­tence af­ter the mad­ness on the road. Me? No prob­lem. I lived in the mo­ment. If the mo­ment in­volved stand­ing in front of thou­sands of peo­ple with a drum­mer passed out on his drums, I’d deal with it. If it in­volved host­ing 100 aunts and un­cles, nieces, third cousins and neph­ews twice re­moved, no prob­lem,” he says. “I used to im­port the whole fam­ily by coach on Christ­mas Day, about 60 of them, to have a beano in Sus­sex. I re­mem­ber Christ­mas 1976 when Dad looked me in the eye and said, ‘Isn’t it grand?’ He was happy and that meant the world to me.”

He seems very down to earth, happy in his own skin. He’s the only mem­ber of The Who who never got into hard drugs and he’s been mar­ried for a mighty 51 years. “Heather and I were in the first flush of mar­riage when the kids started com­ing along: Rosie and then Wil­low three years later. When we had our son Jamie in 1981 I got to have a go at the hands-on dad rou­tine. It didn’t mat­ter how crazy things got on the road, I knew I was al­ways com­ing back to sta­bil­ity,” he says.

Home for the last 48 years has been Holmshurst Manor near Bur­wash. Dat­ing back to 1610, it’s a Ja­cobean Grade II listed manor house with 20 rooms, 12 stone fire­places and stained-glass win­dows by the pre-raphaelite artist Ed­ward Burne-jones. It’s sur­rounded by beau­ti­ful farm­land and not far from Rud­yard Ki­pling’s house, Bate­man’s. The Cure’s Robert Smith is a neigh­bour.

Roger re­mem­bers the spring day in 1970 when he and Heather first set eyes on Holmshurst. “The hall­way was black as pitch, there was damp, the kitchen was ter­ri­ble. Then we walked up to the front room and I saw the view. The house is on a hill look­ing across the val­leys and vil­lages of the High Weald of East Sus­sex. You can see for miles and miles and miles and miles. I stood open-mouthed and knew I had to live there. We moved into the place that would be our home for the rest of our lives on 26 June 1971. Holmshurst is a very spe­cial house and it grounded me. It was built for a Quaker. There’s noth­ing fancy about it. It’s a sim­ple, func­tional place which suits me.” Un­der his care (“You never own a listed house, you are a care­taker”) the es­tate has grown from 35 to 420 acres and is now home to 230 cows, and four lakes which Roger and a friend cre­ated.

“It took me ten years to dec­o­rate Holmshurst. At some point the own­ers had de­cided to stain all the beams black and it took seven sum­mers to get them back to their orig­i­nal honey colour. When I wasn’t

scrub­bing, I was dig­ging. The lake was not much more than a muddy pud­dle. So I en­listed the help of Her­bert, the son of the publi­can who ran our lo­cal, The Kick­ing Don­key. We spent happy weeks dig­ging out the silt and rais­ing the dam un­til I had a proper lake.

“I ended up with four in­ter­con­nected lakes and could in­vite all my old work­mates from the sheet metal fac­tory to come fish­ing. They would sit there by the wa­ter and tell me it was crim­i­nal, Rog, to keep all this to your­self. And of course they were right. So I opened Lake­down Trout Fish­ery to the pub­lic and met lots of peo­ple who were more in­ter­ested in fish than rock star Roger,” he smiles.

I ask if be­ing in na­ture is a sanc­tu­ary for him. “Yes, it al­ways was,” he replies. He spent his

again af­ter a year. Lor­ries have to drive down part the road with one wheel in the other lane. With the hedges cut back these roads are barely wide enough for trucks to pass each other. There are two schools and a rail­way sta­tion along the road. It has all the in­gre­di­ents for a hor­ren­dous ac­ci­dent. The coun­cil need to write to the landown­ers and tell them to cut their hedges.”

When Sus­sex Life ap­proached East Sus­sex County Coun­cil a spokesman said: “Over­hang­ing hedgerows does cause a dan­ger to mo­torists and pedes­tri­ans and we have worked with part­ners in­clud­ing the Na­tional Farm­ers Union to high­light this is­sue. While our ste­wards can ad­vise, it is the duty of landown­ers, in­clud­ing home­own­ers, farm­ers and busi­ness own­ers, to cut back trees and hedges which over­hang the pub­lic high­way. Last year we resur­faced 71 miles of road in East Sus­sex and our con­trac­tor al­ways strives to do the best pos­si­ble job.” The coun­cil added that any­one aware of any spe­cific is­sues should con­tact them.

Roger is equally pas­sion­ate about giv­ing some­thing back to teenagers – the peo­ple who gave The Who a ca­reer. He’s raised more than £25m for the Teenage Can­cer Trust and also launched Teen Can­cer Amer­ica. He’s pa­tron of the Bri­tish and Ir­ish Mod­ern Mu­sic In­sti­tute (BIMM) based in Brighton and Wealden Works, a scheme to en­cour­age 16-24 year olds in ru­ral ar­eas into fur­ther ed­u­ca­tion, vol­un­teer­ing, work ex­pe­ri­ence and ul­ti­mately paid em­ploy­ment. “Young­sters with­out am­bi­tion or drive or with prob­lem­atic fam­i­lies find it so hard,” he says. He seems to have a spe­cial em­pa­thy with young­sters. “I re­mem­ber that time of my life be­ing the most dif­fi­cult. We need to start to un­der­stand that age group a lot bet­ter.”

I ask if he’s hav­ing a big fam­ily Christ­mas at home this year. “Yep. We can get 12 or 14 round the din­ner ta­ble. We’ll be with the grand­kids.” And are there any fam­ily Christ­mas tra­di­tions? “My youngest grand­child, by my daugh­ter Wil­low, al­ways stays the night here on Christ­mas Eve. He’s started the mum­ble pe­riod!”

And how does he stay look­ing so trim and well?

“I try and keep the weight down and I like to work. I stay busy. It keeps you alive.”

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