The Daily Telegraph

Tessa Keswick

Kenneth Clarke’s political adviser, director of the Centre for Policy Studies, saloniste and Sinophile

- Tessa Keswick, born October 15 1942, died September 13 2022

TESSA KESWICK, who has died aged 79, was a well-known Society figure who surprised those who did not know her – and even some who did – by emerging in middle age as a far-from-grey eminence in the Conservati­ve Party.

She straddled both sides of the party in its bitter ideologica­l struggles. Her first appointmen­t was as political adviser to Kenneth Clarke, Chancellor of the Exchequer in John Major’s government, something of a “wet” and an arch-europhile.

But then, having served with this bête noire of the Tory Right, in 1995 she became director of the Centre for Policy Studies. This was the intellectu­al centre of the dry, freemarket­ing Right of the party, where the Thatcherit­e revolution had been given some of its theoretica­l sustenance.

Even then she was not easily branded in terms of wet and dry, Left and Right. She disapprove­d in theory of “perverse incentive”, as in: “If you pay single mothers benefit, why would they marry and relieve the state?”

And yet she was not heartless on this subject. For some difficult years, she had lived alone bringing up a family in far from ideal circumstan­ces, and this experience of “lone motherhood” gave her some sympathy with others in the same condition.

She was also disdainful of what she thought the Tory party’s traditiona­l misogyny. She herself had struggled with the party machine. The turmoil of 1973-74 having excited her interest in politics, she became a Conservati­ve member of Kensington council and wrote a pamphlet on child care.

But after she was allowed to fight a hopeless seat in the 1987 general election, she was not selected in 1992. After the 1997 Labour landslide she was dismayed that there were only 13 Tory women MPS, no more than in 1931. And she was contemptuo­us of those Tories who sneered at the 101 Labour women MPS as “Blair’s babes” or “quota women”.

“I can’t believe that I hear this argument,” she said. “It’s a typically sexist observatio­n that just because there are 100 Labour women they’re somehow no good.” These sentiments came from an unlikely source.

Annabel Thérèse Fraser was born on October 15 1942, the daughter of the 17th Lord Lovat, and into a family whose story was romantic but melancholy. The Frasers were Catholic highland chieftains who had once owned 250,000 acres, as well as their seat at Beaufort Castle in Invernesss­hire.

An earlier Lord Lovat and Macshimidh – the clan’s name for its chief – took part in the 1745 rebellion and was beheaded after its failure. The peerage was attainted, but revived in the next century.

Tessa’s father was a famous soldier, a DSO and MC who led his commandos ashore on D-day. He had married Rosalind, the only daughter of Sir Jock Delves Broughton, notorious as the acquitted defendant in the “White Mischief ” murder trial in wartime Kenya. Tessa later said that the case was “never discussed in our family when I was young”, but that: “We all thought he was innocent.” Politics was in the blood: “Shimi” Lovat was briefly a junior minister, his brother was Sir Hugh Fraser MP, and one of his sisters married Sir Fitzroy Maclean MP. But for all its social and political glamour, the family had many sorrows to come.

An old-fashioned education under a French governess, and at the Convent of the Sacred Heart in Oldingham and other convent schools in London, Paris and Madrid, left Tessa with fluent French though few formal qualificat­ions. She briefly worked as a trainee at J Walter Thompson, but for a girl of her class the immediate goal was marriage.

In 1964 she married another Highland chieftain, Lord Reay, head of the Mackay clan. They had three children, but the marriage did not prosper. As she later said, it was a mismatch between lowland Protestant and highland Catholic – “and they’ve been fighting for hundreds of years”. The marriage was dissolved in 1978.

She thus found herself alone with two young sons and a daughter, and looked for work. For a time she worked for an American oil magazine, then as a financial scout for the entreprene­ur Algy Cluff when he was forming a consortium to exploit North Sea oil. Her payment was in stock, and “luckily they struck oil the first time.”

In the 1960s Tessa had briefly worked selling advertisin­g for The Spectator. She became part of the magazine’s larger family again after 1975 when it was bought by the “taipan” Henry Keswick, scion of the Jardine dynasty whose fortune stemmed from Hong Kong, and an old friend of hers.

Friendship ripened, and in 1985 she and Keswick married. They soon became notable for their hospitalit­y at their houses in Westminste­r and Wiltshire, where Tessa Keswick establishe­d the nearest thing to a political salon seen in England for years.

She was a member of Kensington Council from 1982 to 1986, and sat on its housing and special services committees, as well as serving as a governor of two local schools. At the 1987 general election she stood quixotical­ly for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber, her own “airt” but unwinnable for a Tory.

Then in 1989 she joined Ken Clarke, Health Secretary at the time, as special adviser. It seemed an unlikely choice, with both political and social dissonance between aristocrat­ic High Tory and blokey, beer-drinking Europhile. Disparagin­g voices questioned her aptitude for this high-powered job. She was indeed more of a operator than an ideologue, but maybe for that reason it was a surprising­ly successful partnershi­p.

As she said: “We were very, very close and we were good fun together. He is a very, very funny man.” Neverthele­ss, in 1995 she abruptly left Clarke’s office, and, later in the year, became director of the Centre for Policy Studies.

In the 1990s Tessa Keswick’s family knew many sorrows. Her father died in great old age, but not before her brothers Andrew Fraser and Simon, Master of Lovat, had both predecease­d him, one attacked by a buffalo on African safari, the other succumbing to a heart attack while hunting. The family fortune dwindled, and Beaufort had to be sold.

But Tessa Keswick had the consolatio­ns of her own domestic life and her work as one of the Right’s less probable but more popular muses.

In 2013 she became a director of Daily Mail and General Trust, and was elected chancellor of the University of Buckingham, a post she held until 2020. That year, she published The Colour of the Sky After Rain, a memoir of the Chinese people and culture she had grown to love over 40 years of travelling in the region.

Lady Keswick is survived by her husband Sir Henry (he was knighted in 2009) and by a daughter and two sons from her first marriage.

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 ?? ?? Tessa Keswick: in 2020 she published a memoir of China, drawing on 40 years of friendship­s developed partly through her husband Henry Keswick, taipan of the Far Eastern trading house Jardine Matheson
Tessa Keswick: in 2020 she published a memoir of China, drawing on 40 years of friendship­s developed partly through her husband Henry Keswick, taipan of the Far Eastern trading house Jardine Matheson

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