I'm so broke I'm trying to get a job as a lorry driver: Earl of Cardigan on moving out his stately pile and why he's living on benefits
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The Earl poses in front of Tottenham House, part of the 4,500 acre Savernake Estate in Wiltshire
The Earl appointed the trustees — one of whom was a trusted friend of more than 30 years — several years ago to help him manage the estate’s complex affairs. But now the Earl says the trustees are refusing to give him access to his own money.
Couldn’t he simply sell off Savernake After all, 4,500 acres of prime Wiltshire land, a stately home and numerous other properties would surely sell for a sum that would ensure he never had to deliver a pot of caviar to Heathrow Airport again.
But he says: ‘That is unthinkable. I was put on this earth to take care of Savernake. It has belonged to my family since 1067. I will never let it go.’
His dispute with the trustees goes back to April 2011, when he returned from a self-imposed exile in America with his new bride to discover that the trustees had removed around 25 valuable paintings from Savernake Lodge, against his wishes.
They intended to sell them, they said, to fund his divorce settlement from his first wife Rosamond, Countess of Cardigan. A desperate legal battle by the Earl to have the portraits returned was unsuccessful, and most have now been sold.
The Earl was accused of attacking a trustee of his estate who he claims sold paintings without his permission
Since his return, he says the trustees have refused to give him a penny from the estate. Last October, he launched a fresh claim at the High Court to seek the removal and replacement of the trustees.
The case has yet to be heard but the trustees deny any wrongdoing and are defending the Earl’s claim.
Understandably, given the background, relations between the Earl and trustees are extremely tense. One of them, John Moore, has made a number of complaints to the police against the Earl, which has resulted in Lord Cardigan making several appearances at court.
The most recent was on Tuesday at Swindon Crown Court, on a charge of criminal damage and theft at Savernake. The Earl denied damaging six pheasant feeders, worth 66, and the theft of a battery and electrical power unit, worth 80. No prosecution evidence was offered and the Earl agreed to be bound over to keep the peace for 12 months.
Five days earlier, on Thursday last week, the Earl was acquitted of assaulting Mr Moore, who had accused him of spitting at him and waving a stick in his face. Salisbury Magistrates Court rejected his version of events.
The Earl does, however, admit calling Mr Moore’s wife an ‘ugly sow’. ‘Yes, of course it’s very childish but I only said that after he told my wife she needed to lose weight,’ he says. ‘John Moore had one of my staff hide a camera up a tree in order to see me “steal” this second-hand car battery. What actually happened was that I picked it up and moved it a few feet away off the path, out of range of the camera.
‘It has been in the same spot ever since. John Moore didn’t want me to return from America — he wants to control the estate. He was a friend of mine for 30 years.’
As an aristocrat who can’t afford hot water, the Earl is full of contradictions — a curious but engaging mix of hauteur, biting wit and vulnerability. Today he is also rather tetchy.
His parents — the Marquess of Ailesbury, now 86 and a retired stockbroker, and his first wife Edwina de Winton-Wills, who is a member of the Wills tobacco family — divorced when he was six. The Earl, who was the eldest of the couple’s three children, says he then was ‘passed between my mother and father like a household pet’. So how is his wife, the Countess, coping with the daily drama of being married to the Earl of Cardigan
Joanne, as she prefers to be called, is as calm as her husband is uptight. This week she has her mother staying with them to support her through her husband’s latest court date.
Five days earlier, the Earl (left) was acquitted of assaulting John Moore (right), one of the trustees
Mother and daughter spend most of the day in the kitchen, reading and talking. Joanne says she would like to work but is unable to because she has a tourist visa and cannot afford the 900 for a permanent one.
She and her mother rarely venture into the drawing room, where bare hooks and chains — once secured to valuable paintings — remain in mournful testimony to happier times.
Some of the works were by Sir Joshua Reynolds, the 18th-century portrait artist, and Sir Peter Lely, the 17th-century painter, and portrait artist to Charles I and Charles II.
Joanne admits: ‘It’s been hard, it’s stressful. I joke to David that I should have married a plumber because that way at least I’d have hot water. We’ve heard that the paintings raised about 300,000 — but only about 15 per cent of that was left once they’d paid off Sotheby’s and all the tax. It really wasn’t worth it.
But I’m very proud of David for going out and getting what work he can. He could have been all snobby about it but he said: “I need to put food on the table, I need to work.”’
Joanne first met the Earl in 2006 in
dramatic circumstances. He and his then wife Rosamond had flown to
Arizona to visit their daughter Lady Catherine at a rehab clinic, where
she was being treated for drug problems. Today, Lady Catherine is
better known as the 28-year-old singer Bo Bruce, who was a popular
finalist on BBC1 talent show The Voice last year.
At the rehab clinic, Rosamond informed the Earl that their 25-year marriage was over.
and traumatised, he checked into The Life Healing Centre in Santa Fe,
where he met Joanne, who was being treated for addiction to anti-anxiety
prescription pills. She was married with a son who is now 15, but says
the marriage had been unhappy for some time.
she left the clinic she returned to her husband but the marriage
collapsed within a year, and she and the Earl, who had stayed in touch,
got together. ‘I found David very British, very proper,’ she says. ‘He
was very funny — he made me laugh.’
Family: From left, the Earl's daughter Bo, his former wife Rosamund, the Earl of Cardigan and his sonThomas, Viscount Savernake, outside Tottenham House on the family's estate
For a few years they lived in Arizona then, on their way back to England, they got married in Italy in 2011.
The Earl, conscious of his custodianship of Savernake, said he wished to return to the family seat, and they moved into Savernake Lodge, a five-bedroom house on the estate where he’d lived with Rosamond.
Awkwardly, she was living nearby in another house on the estate.
Then last year, events took a tragic turn when Rosamond was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and died in July, aged 63. On the day of her funeral, the Earl had to attend court in relation to the charge of the theft of the car battery. And, because of various bail conditions attached to the charge, he was unable to attend the service, held at the church where they married in 1980.
Since Rosamond’s death, his two children Bo and Thomas have moved into the house where their mother lived post-divorce. They have no contact with their father and have not met his new wife.
The Earl says he would dearly love to be reconciled with them. ‘We would be in a much stronger position as a united family, he explains.’
And he does need strength to continue to fight to save Savernake for future generations. He had hoped to redevelop Tottenham House as a luxury hotel but the American company that bought the lease to the property a few years ago put the scheme on hold because of the global economic crisis.
Offspring: The Earl's daughter is Bo Bruce, a pop singer and contestant on the BBC's The Voice talent show
VIDEO His pop star daughter Bo Bruce auditions on The Voice
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Just this week, says the Earl, he learned that the trustees appeared to be planning to put Tottenham House up for sale.
‘Ever since I got back from America I have been trying to get them to disclose the estate finances, and this week we finally got them,’ he says. ‘I see they have paid 33,000 to Knight Frank, which I have established was for developing a marketing strategy and having a valuation.
‘But they will not sell that house. They’re not maintaining it as they should. One part of the roof in the stable block has just collapsed — that’s where the spa was going to be, where the ladies would have their toenails painted.’
His war with the trustees continues unabated. The documents detailing Savernake’s finances, finally shown to the Earl after many requests to see them, indicate a number of payments to the trustees.
The Earl says the papers show that 101,000 was paid to John Moore and 293,000 to a firm run by the other trustee, Wilson Cotton. The Earl claims that as a lay trustee, Mr Moore should not have received any payments, and that while Mr Cotton can be remunerated as a professional trustee, the payment to him is excessive.
The Earl is now asking the court to amend his legal claim to introduce new claims based on these payments.
The trustees are refusing to comment on ongoing court proceedings. But yesterday a spokeswoman for Mr Cotton said: ‘We reiterate that the allegations against Mr Cotton are contested, and we regard all the allegations made to be scurrilous.’
Despite it all, the Earl says he hopes and believes that peace will one day be restored at Savernake.
‘My mother-in-law has a saying, “this too shall pass” and I believe that,’ he muses. ‘We’re going to come through this.’