Sunday, August 12, 2007

Remember Lord Moyne? Assassinated by Lechi?

Well, he's popped up in a story about a fashion queen:-

Jock’s wife, Vera, went off with Walter Guinness, Lord Moyne, and they travelled together around southeast Asia, the Pacific islands and the frozen north. Lord Moyne produced two books, with photographs by Vera Broughton – Walkabout and Atlantic Circle – before he became a government minister, and in 1944 he was assassinated in Cairo by Zionist extremists.

Who was Jock?

But Issie’s grandfather Sir Henry Delves Broughton, known to all as Jock, had indulged himself so much that he had been forced to start liquidating assets, selling off land in sizable chunks to finance his horses, his gambling, his estates in Ceylon, his travels in East Africa and elsewhere, and his idle life of bridge, croquet and extravagant weekend house parties, when he hired a band to entertain guests on the train up from Paddington. The parties were sometimes written up in Tatler. In those days the family appeared in Tatler rather than worked for it.

Jock was said to have raised and spent £1.5m, a colossal sum in the days before the second world war. By 1939 there were less than 4,000 acres left. Jock’s wife, Vera, went off with Walter Guinness, Lord Moyne, and they travelled together around southeast Asia, the Pacific islands and the frozen north. Lord Moyne produced two books, with photographs by Vera Broughton – Walkabout and Atlantic Circle – before he became a government minister, and in 1944 he was assassinated in Cairo by Zionist extremists.

Jock and Vera had two children: a daughter, Rosamund, and a son, Evelyn, who would become Issie’s father. With Vera gone, Jock met and married an aspirant blonde socialite, Diana, who was younger than his own son, and together they went to start a new life in Kenya, joining the dissolute white aristocratic settlers known as the Happy Valley set, who drank, took drugs and swapped partners for sex, apparently oblivious to the fact the Nazis had begun a world war and the old days of empire were all but over. Within three weeks of Jock and Diana’s arrival in Kenya in late 1940, she had begun an affair with Lord Erroll. Less than two months later, on January 24, 1941, Lord Erroll was shot and killed in his car.

Jock was tried and acquitted of the murder and returned home to England. His son, Evelyn, confronted him about his excessive spending, which was effectively cheating Evelyn out of his inheritance. Jock was said to have chased his son out of his study with a riding crop. Jock was now also suspected of two insurance frauds, arranging for the theft of pearls and paintings he owned and claiming for them on recently enhanced insurance. He must have been desperately broke.

Jock killed himself just before Christmas in 1942, overdosing on the barbiturate medinal at the Adelphi hotel in Liverpool, where he had evidently gone to commit suicide, asking not to be disturbed in his room. The writers Cyril Connolly and James Fox wrote about the murder of Lord Erroll in this magazine in 1969. Connolly referred to medinal as oblivion’s boarding card. Fox went on to publish an account of the case, White Mischief, which became a film with Charles Dance and Greta Scacchi, and Joss Ackland playing Issie’s grandfather Jock.

Who is Issie?

Isabella Blow she is, er, was.

Helen gave birth to Issie in 1958, followed by Julia in 1961, John in 1962, and Lavinia in 1965. John died in a freak accident in 1964 at the age of two, which Issie always described as a drowning but, according to the records, was actually a result of choking on food. Somehow the boy fell in some shallow water – possibly fresh rainwater in an otherwise empty pool – in the garden of his house on the estate, while his parents were elsewhere. The water caused him to regurgitate his lunch of baked beans, and one or more beans lodged in his throat so that he choked to death.

According to Issie, John died in her arms while their mother, Helen, had gone to put on some red lipstick for a family photograph, and this was the origin of her own fascination with red lipstick and vivid overdressing. Helen has never given her version of events except to say it was different from Issie’s remembering. Helen would not talk to me for this article.

Issie became a fashion person, more exactly, the fashion director at Tatler, arranging and styling photo shoots and spreads (Isabella Blow, a British fashion editor, aristocrat and aesthete whose gift for identifying and promoting new talent was occasionally overshadowed by her own Surrealist plumage, as the NYT has it), but her end was sorrowful:-

She escaped again from the Harrow clinic, using her old Condé Nast taxi account to call a cab to take her to Cheshire, near her old family home. She went to a hotel, undressed, took pills and vodka and lay naked on the bed – “like Marilyn Monroe”, as she later put it – waiting to die. Frantic phone calls by Philip and others traced her via the taxi firm to the hotel. The manager was called. As she described it, she was interrupted by this gentle knocking at the door and a weak little English voice: “Isabella, Isabella, is everything all right in there?”

“Everything’s fine, thank you. Go away.” But the manager persisted, and she eventually had to abandon suicide and get up and open the door. She ended up being taken by the police back to hospital in Harrow, furious with Philip on the phone at one in the morning for stopping her.

She texted friends from her mobile and signed herself “Miserabella”. She sometimes started to walk off Tube platforms, and would have to be pulled back. She once filled a sink and tried to drown herself by immersing her face in the water. “Oh God,” she would say. “I so want to die.” Then she would burst out laughing. She repeatedly asked one friend to get her a gun. Sometimes, he told me, he became so exasperated with her that he just wanted to give her a gun and say: “Go on, go ahead, do it.”

...She went to Kuwait for a shoot with Sheikh Majed al-Sabah, the owner of the Villa Moda fashion stores. The assignment became difficult and, rather than being the easy return to work her friends had hoped, it led to a new suicide attempt and a spell in hospital, during which a suspected cancerous growth on her ovaries was discovered. Back in England the doctors decided there was no cancer, only cysts that needed to be removed. During that operation a widespread ovarian cancer was identified after all. Many people believed Detmar had made up or exaggerated the cancer to disguise Issie’s true cause of death, but he insists she was “riddled” with it, and though it was not necessarily life-threatening it would have needed chemotherapy.

“It wasn’t caused by smoking,” said Issie, a confirmed B&H smoker when the cancer was discovered. She loved the Cigar Bar at Claridge’s, and was never happier than when sitting there in a revealing black dress with a glass of champagne, wreathed in smoke, holding forth on her latest theme or obsession. “She was clever, eccentric, elegant. She would have amused every century,” said Kamel Belkacemi, a French stylist who was close to Issie in her last months. “She was really an artist.” Issie would have liked hearing that. She planned a party at Hilles for the first weekend in May. Haluk was invited but couldn’t go. Otherwise it was just Detmar, her sister Lavinia, and Philip Treacy with his boyfriend, Stefan Bartlett. Issie decorated the rooms with flowers and placed a book on Wallis Simpson by Philip’s bed. But by the time he arrived she was in hospital, having swallowed weedkiller on Saturday morning, just as Detmar’s father, Jonathan, had done in the same house 30 years earlier.

Detmar spoke to Issie on the Sunday for about two hours. “We both knew, but talked of art, fashion, cooking, a white pony and sunshine. It was very special.”

She died on Monday morning.

Ah, the English, the eccentric English.


No comments: