I was lying on the daybed in Bloomsbury Towers smoking a Senior Service last night when up popped the BBC’s much-vaunted documentary All Change at Longleat. The story is pure Evelyn Waugh. ‘Loins of Longleat’ Alexander Thynn, 7th Marquess of Bath, has passed the baton to his son-and-heir Ceawlin Thynn, Viscount Weymouth. Weymouth has married his childhood friend the actress Emma McQuinston whose father is Nigerian making her the first African Viscountess in the history of the British aristocracy.
Lord Bath’s estranged wife the Marchioness apparently cast aspersions on Ceawlin for tainting a bloodline centuries old and neither the Marquess nor his wife attended the 2012 wedding at Longleat. Awkward! As you know, Longleat is the most magnificent Elizabethan country house in Wiltshire if not the entire kingdom so it is a prize that understandably raises familial blood pressure considerably.
Now here’s the thing. Lord Bath may have been educated the old fashioned way, at Eton and Christ Church, Oxford, where he was president of the Bullingdon Club. However, he chose to pursue a bohemian life in Paris as an artist, poet and musician in the 1950s. He married in 1969 but being a trippy, hippy free-lover-boy, Lord Bath was a complete stranger to monogamy. When he inherited the title in 1992, it was basically like the cast of Hair descending on Longleat.
Every Duke, Marquess or Earl seeks to stamp his authority and taste on the family seat. Lord Bath went so much further. With over seventy notches on his bedpost, he installed the shady ladies he called his ‘wifelets’ in estate cottages surrounding Longleat and set about re-decorating. And how!
Lord Bath’s artistic style is best described as a threesome between Wilhelm de Koenig, Andrew Logan and Linda Lovelace. He daubed murals as thick as pudding batter on any surface he could assault. The subject matter included portraits of the wifelets, ‘Heaven & Hell’ and the Karma Sutra. Guest bedrooms were painted floor-to-ceiling in crude renderings of The Joy of Sex. The nursery was painted with psychedelic tableaux that would be enough to give a child nightmares for the rest of his life.
Bearing this in mind, Viscount Weymouth appears to have turned out rather well. He was christened Ceawlin though it could have been worse. Imagine the 8th Marquess of Bath being called Hendrix Joplin Woodstock Thynn. Rather unforgivably for an Eton man, Lord Bath sent his heir to a comprehensive. God only knows what the poor boy discovered in the Play Room when he woke after one of Lord Bath’s parties. His father’s choice of wifelets was almost as bizarre as the harem that surrounds Simon Cowell.
I found the documentary fascinating not least the controversy surrounding Viscount Weymouth’s decision to take down some of his father’s more hideous, amateur, self-indulgent daubs. I’m with Ceawlin on this one. If Lord Bath has chosen to cede control of the estate, it is the heir’s prerogative to restore Longleat to its former glory and stop touring parents from suing for their children’s emotional trauma.
I visited Longleat with Jasper Conran – cue namedrop like a falling chandelier – many moons ago and must admit I was horrified by Lord Bath’s ‘interventions’. The man positively raped some of the staterooms with his crude graffiti. If I were Viscount Weymouth, I would have torn down or painted over all of his father’s murals. Obviously he can’t while Lord Bath still has apartments at Longleat.
I thought Ceawlin Thynn was terribly endearing in the documentary. He doesn’t have his father’s hypnotic charisma and that is why he will be such a worthy heir to the title and estates. Genuine dirty smelly hippies live on communes. They do not have the luxury of a stately home in which to entertain lady friends and basically jeopardise the family’s legacy.
Having never met Lord Bath, I can’t say whether he was a masterful estate manager and mighty guardian of Longleat. Perhaps he, like the groovy Duke of Bedford at Woburn Abbey, saved Longleat with public opening and safari parks. But I do think that Viscount Weymouth is the man for the moment. Of course the lady who came across with the utmost style and grace was the Viscountess, Emma.
Viscountess Weymouth is a little Hello in dress and never misses an opportunity to be photographed for the glossies in sequin gowns and cute mini dresses. But after all, dear, what does the English aristocracy need other than a glamour puss with brains and beauty? The Viscountess is evidently a good-hearted cove and knew her husband since they were knee high to a Rembrandt. In 2014 she gave birth to a son, the Hon John Alexander Ladi Thynn, and for this alone the aristocracy consider her a success.
I see the Viscountess as a charismatic future Marchioness of Bath with true star power. She appears to rise above the unfriendly fire coming from her in-laws who did their best to deface Longleat and discredit the title. It is so gratifying to see a well-presented couple who understand their responsibilities as guardians of Longleat. Would I have welcomed the cameras in? Well, a Viscount hasn’t proposed to me as of writing so how could I judge? All I do know is that in the apparent battle between old and new regime, the pragmatic Viscount Weymouth and his wife will win. Lord Bath is the Jeremy Corbyn to his son’s George Osborne. Until next time…