How a New York DJ Turned Earl Revived an English Manor
Techno DJ Nick Ashley-Cooper suddenly became the 12th Earl of Shaftesbury—with a disintegrating English estate on his hands. He undertook a major renovation.
By RUTH BLOOMFIELD
Oct. 8, 2015 9:57 a.m. ET
For Nick Ashley-Cooper, the restoration of his family’s 17th-century estate is a happy ending to a family tragedy of almost Shakespearean proportions.
In 2005, the second son of the 10th Earl of Shaftesbury was a successful techno DJ living in New York. Then two cataclysmic events changed his world: The body of his murdered father was discovered, and his older brother died suddenly of a heart attack.
Mr. Ashley-Cooper, who had never anticipated inheriting the family title, found himself the 12th Earl of Shaftesbury—with a monumental problem on his hands. St. Giles House, the family seat on a 5,000-acre estate in the county of Dorset on England’s southern coast, was in a grave state. Its roof was disintegrating, ceilings had fallen on heirloom paintings and furniture, and dry rot was spreading.
The house had belonged to the family since 1651, but Mr. Ashley-Cooper’s father, who became the 10th Earl in 1961 (upon the death of his own father) had decided not to move into St. Giles. Mr. Ashley-Cooper—now 36 and called Lord Shaftesbury—had grown up in the Dower House, another property on the estate.
Even during his childhood, St. Giles was on a downward trajectory. It had been last used during World War II as a school for girls evacuated out of bomb-ravaged London. After the war, the house was haphazardly maintained.
“It became like a perfect dumping ground for stuff,” said Lord Shaftesbury. “A relative would die and we would clear out a house and put all the stuff in here. It really was a whole mix of different belongings; some really amazing family stuff—my great, great-grandparents’ clothes were still in the wardrobes—and a good amount of junk.”
Lord Shaftesbury became custodian of this dumping ground after the death of his father. The 10th Earl had moved to the South of France where, in 2002, he married his third wife, a French Tunisian prostitute named Jamila M’Barek. This relationship, detailed in the murder trial, lasted two years and was fueled by its fair share of drink, drugs, partying and lavish spending. Ms. M’Barek, now 53, and her brother are currently serving prison sentences for murdering the 66-year-old earl.
As the older son, Anthony Ashley-Cooper succeeded his father as the 11th earl, but within weeks he suffered a heart attack and died. He was just 27.
“It was really very surreal,” said Lord Shaftesbury. “What became very clear was that I couldn’t stay in New York. I had to come home and be with my family. It was a real stepping-up moment.”
In 2010 he married Dinah Streifeneder, a veterinarian who is now 35. The couple began shuttling between a modest apartment in Earl’s Court, West London, and their stately home in Dorset. During these visits, Lord Shaftesbury began to realize the scope of the task ahead. St. Giles was damp and rotting, its plumbing was antique, and the “12 or 13” bedroom suites on the first floor didn’t have electric lighting.
Brutal: The 10th Earl pictured shortly before his death with his murderous third wife, Jamila M'Barek
THE ARISTOCRATIC MURDER THAT SHOCKED THE FRENCH RIVIERA
The murder of the 10th Earl of Shaftesbury by his third wife Jamila M'Barek and her brother Mohammed is one of the most shocking crimes of recent years.
In 2000, the Earl, who had been hit hard by the death of his mother in 1999, unexpectedly divorced his second wife and the mother of his sons, Christina Eva Montan, and relocated to France.
Although nominally based in Versailles, he spent much of his time on the Cote d'Azur where he earned himself a playboy reputation thanks to his party lifestyle and pursuit of younger women.
One of them was Tunisian Jamila M'Barek, a former prostitute two decades his junior who, in 2002, became his third wife.
The mother-of-two moved in with the Earl and enjoyed a lavish lifestyle, with the couple spending most of their time living in Cannes.
But by April 2004, the relationship had soured and the couple separated, with the Earl initiating divorce proceedings.
Then, in November 2004, the Earl, who had been scheduled to meet with his estranged wife, disappeared.
The ensuing furore resulted in a number of increasingly bizarre theories for his disappearance being put forward, including kidnap by the Russian mafia.
In reality, the Earl had been savagely beaten and strangled by Mohammed M'Barek, Jamila's brother, who had been paid £100,000 for the murder.
Things began to unravel swiftly for M'Barek, who was arrested in February 2005 after telling Cannes police of her brother's role in the murder.
He was also arrested and in April 2005, the Earl's body was discovered at the bottom of a ravine in Théoule-sur-Mer on the outskirts of Cannes.
The siblings were both charged with murder and their trial began a year later, in May 2006, with both pleading their innocence.
Once again, their stories swiftly unravelled with M'Barek finally convicted after the recording of a conversation in which she set out her plans to pay her brother and blame him for the murder was played to the court.
Sentenced to 25 years in prison for the murder, the term was later reduced to 20 years following an appeal.