Thursday, 20 February 2014

John Hervey, the 7th Marquess of Bristol ... decadence and self-destruction.

 The Satanic Marquess: She flushed three kilos of his cocaine away, but the wife of John Hervey still couldn't save him from self-destruction

To the world at large, he was a man with everything. But the real life of John Hervey, the 7th Marquess of Bristol, was one of chronic addiction - to sex, drugs and alcohol. In the second part of our riches-to-rags tale, his friends describe how they looked on helplessly as his self-destructive streak spiralled out of control - crashing his helicopter because he ignored the fiuel gauge, or driving at 140mph on the hard shoulder of a motorway. His inevitable demise caused much rueful shaking of heads among acquaintances, but - perhaps surprisingly in view of his appalling behaviour - also real sorrow among employees and locals ...

The guest list was as glittering as one might expect for the wedding of 29-year-old John Hervey, one of Britain's most eligible and flamboyant bachelors.
Eighties icons Bryan Ferry and Wayne Sleep mingled with John's society friends, Jasper Guinness and Dai Llewellyn among them, plus a selection of his former lovers - both male and female. George Melly and Joe Loss led the music.
This was, without doubt, going to be an occasion to remember - although not, perhaps, in the way the young bride, Francesca Fisher, had hoped.
The wedding ceremony earlier in the day had passed off uneventfully; the evening would add another lurid chapter to John's extraordinary reputation - even if memories differ as to what exactly happened as the 400 guests began to drift away from Ickworth, John's spectacular Suffolk mansion, towards the sanctuary of bed.
One version of events suggests that, at around 3am, the groom and what one guest calls his 'inner circle' had migrated to his private quarters in the east wing of the house - without the bride - for some unspecified purpose.
Francesca herself recalled, 20 years later, that after searching frantically for her new husband in the small hours of the morning she had finally tracked him down to an upstairs room, where she found him inhaling cocaine with a group of friends.
One of John's former male lovers remembers a slightly different sequence. In the early hours, he says, he and another close friend had joined John in the morning room. John locked the door behind them.
There they remained, talking; there were no drugs. Eventually they heard the door being thumped. Francesca appeared. John was the first to speak. He kept it brief. 'F*** off,' he had said.
'I want to go to bed now, John,' said his bride.
'Go to bed then,' he replied.
'John, it's my wedding night,' Francesca had protested.
'I love these two more than I'll ever love you,' John cackled - a sound his former lover had heard so often before. Then there were just two other sounds - Francesca crying and her retreating footsteps.
Perhaps the omens had been clear during John's stag weekend a week earlier. The groom-to-be had, it was said, spent around half an hour in his private helicopter hovering above Ickworth in the company of a picturesque young man - thereafter assuring his friends that this would be 'absolutely the last time' that he would go in for 'that kind of thing'.
It was not to be, however. Neither did John - even after he became the Marquess of Bristol on his father Victor's death in 1985 - find the inner strength to be able to conquer the demons of drink and drug abuse that had plagued him for years, as he had vowed to do.
Within two years, the marriage was over. Yet John's friend Tim von Halle remembers Francesca to this day as 'a great woman' - the person who 'almost turned John' around.
'I can remember her going through rooms [at Ickworth] chucking out drugs and all sorts of things,' says the wife of another of John's friends.
Francesca herself recalls an especially productive sweep which ended with her putting 'three kilos of cocaine down the loo”.
After his wedding, John had initially appeared to be in better shape, says one friend, 'always very polite, correct. Arguably, that was his facade'.
But in other company, cracks had begun to appear. He was now beginning to attract a new strain of hanger-on in addition to his usual entourage: those craving a fix of his notoriety.
Francesca particularly remembers 'a little guy with black hair, called The Rat, and his sidekick, Wiggy'. This pair were occasionally joined by another friend, Paddy McNally, at whose Verbier residence Francesca endured a difficult weekend.
'All they talked about was Fergie [Sarah Ferguson] because she was going out with Andy [Prince Andrew],' says Francesca.
'It was such a big deal that Paddy had been her previous boyfriend.'
John, it seems, took against McNally's house in some way - 'he ripped it apart, and then we left' reports Francesca.
But he continued to see his new circle of friends in London, particularly over lunch at one Chelsea restaurant from where he would return to his young bride 'coked up'.
Despite these lapses, she knew her husband was fighting a battle he was desperate not to lose.
In an interview shortly before his wedding, he spoke of his desire to have children, and of his wish that they should have a happier, more conventional upbringing than his own.
'I was acutely aware,' John explained, 'that when I was growing up my father was quite old and was never able to do any of the things with me that I'd like to have done as a child.'
Randle Siddeley, a friend from Suffolk, says that, for once, John had erred on the side of understatement. 'John could never do anything right,' he says. 'His father was forever castigating him, always coming down on him from a great height, just persecuting him.'
He recalls, for example, John receiving 'the bollocking of a lifetime' one Sunday lunchtime, while the guests in the Ickworth dining room sat in appalled silence.
'Victor just humiliated John in front of everybody,' he says. 'It was cruelty personified.'
'He wasn't really brought up by anybody - staff excepted,' says Imogen von Halle. 'For a lot of the time, he brought himself up.'
But by the mid-1980s John had convinced himself that he was ready for parenthood. Francesca, however, was not - at least not until confident that John had got the better of his addictions.
'I wanted him to clean up for a few months,' is how she puts it. As long as John was at Ickworth, that seemed possible.
He was fine the first year,' she says. 'It was when he went back to New York to sell his house there that everything got really out of control.'
She did not accompany him. 'He was only going for a few days, but then he stayed quite a long time: long enough to do himself a lot of harm. A major binge.'
Nearly 20 years later, she reflected that she had been lucky to have John 'on pretty good form' for as long as she had, a time when she felt loved and happy. She reiterates the point today, describing John as 'amazing'.
Without her, John's life speedily unravelled. On October 6, 1988, John was jailed for a year for possession and importation of drugs. He emerged on April 28, 1989, released early for good behaviour, apparently unscathed.
Announcing that he had made £4 million 'buying and selling property in the North of England' while inside, he said it felt fantastic to be free and when asked what he had learned about drugs, he replied: 'Don't carry them on your person.'
By now John was entering the final stage of his brief and tragic journey.
By then, say friends, it was nothing out of the ordinary to find him banging against the roof of their cars with the undercarriage of his helicopter. 'You just accepted it,' says one. 'That was normal.'
It was normal, too, that John should feast on cocaine, grab a shotgun and repeatedly fire it into the air while howling abuse at those members of the public who had paid to visit Ickworth's gardens ('****ING PEASANTS, ****ING NATIONAL TRUST'), and just as normal that those lunching with him should not bat an eyelid.
His friend Henry Wodehouse describes how as a 17-year-old he attended a never-to- be-forgotten shooting weekend at Ickworth.
In the first drive after an 11 o'clock break for alcohol, he says, John had swung his gun enthusiastically at a hare, fired and instead hit Wodehouse just below the right knee, 'four pieces of shot, like four hornet stings'.
'Bugger, missed it,' John said.
'No, you bloody didn't. You got me instead.'
'Oh, sorry, old boy, better luck next time.'
Fizzing with pain and rage - but aware that John, still drunk from the previous night, was past the point of rational communication - Wodehouse spent the remaining three drives 20 yards behind the line of guns, out of immediate danger.
Many years on, such reckless behaviour was eating away at him. It seemed normal that John's movements should become jerkier as his alcoholism and addictions caught up with him, making 'his appearance sinister, his hair longer and oilier'.
It seemed normal that he should have 'five suits made each week in materials more suited to soft furnishings'; and that he should entertain 'frantically, seven days a week, as though he could not bear his own company'.
It became normal that disdain for the fuel gauge should send his Hughes 500 helicopter plummeting from the sky into a ploughed field, as it did with John's secretary Angela Barry on board: ('Where's the ****ing telephone?' shrieked John on reaching the nearest farmhouse, through which he stamped mud, oblivious of its owners); normal that a visitor (George Milford Haven) should be greeted by the news that John had blown the door off the fridge the night before (courtesy of the shotgun once more); normal that he should habitually smash up the furniture at Ickworth, some of it priceless; normal, too, that he should become the object of police attention and should, in consequence, suffer periodic seclusion in clinics and a second custodial sentence in 1993.
A terrible toll was being taken on his body. His nose, remembered his friend Nick Ashley, appeared 'to have assumed a life of its own' and his hands had become 'gnarled and twisted'.
His body clock adhered to a nocturnal pattern or no pattern at all. What nobody knew was that in 1986, the year his marriage fell apart, he had been told that he was seriously ill.
Like many promiscuous men of that era, he had contracted HIV Aids - though it was never publicly acknowledged.
'He was too proud to talk about it,' says Nick Ashley, who would not learn of the diagnosis until much later.
'I think a lot of the drug-taking, the massive drug-taking, was denial,' says another friend, James Whitby.
A third reflects that John 'knew he was not long for this world'.
Cocaine and heroin were no longer a pleasure but had mutated into crutch and cradle, life becoming insupportable without them. 'He was usually in bed, asleep or with cold turkey; he just didn't want to be bothered,' remembers Whitby.
John's driving had always been erratic. Roger Lane-Smith, John's solicitor, recalls how over the years he had often received urgent phone calls from John seeking advice. 'He was always in trouble,' says Lane- Smith. 'He rang one day and said: "I've just had an incident with the Ferrari." '
The solicitor sought elaboration.
'Oh, I was coming up the M11,' said John, 'and there was a lot of traffic in front of me, and I got very, very irritated with all this traffic. I floored the accelerator, I just overtook everything, must have got up to 140 mph, then the police stopped me.'
Lane-Smith had heard worse. 'That's bad, John, but you know ...' he began.
'You don't understand,' John explained. 'I was on the hard shoulder.'
Negotiating gridlocked traffic via the hard shoulder at twice the legal speed limit had obvious appeal, but even this dimmed in comparison with the special challenge that unfailingly greeted John at Ickworth, once the cattle grid had been crossed and the National Trust's 20mph signs confronted.
A friend recalls the experience: 'The drive at Ickworth - he'd do 100mph with me in the car, screaming. In a Ferrari. This was during the day, with National Trust visitors wandering around, not at 4am. People with dogs and children. He was completely bonkers a lot of the time. The more you screamed, the more he liked it.'
Another friend recalls the triumphal phrase habitually uttered after each return to Ickworth: 'I did the last stretch at 120mph.'
Speeding, particularly when taken to potentially suicidal or homicidal extremes, was a cause for satisfaction, a reminder to himself, and a demonstration to others, that rules were for little people.
By the 1990s - and when not banned from the road - John's driving took on a terrifying new dimension, especially when at the wheel of his Aston Martin, which had been 'tweaked' by Formula 1 specialist Cosworth.
'Every time he had a rush of heroin, the car would slow down from 180mph to 30mph; every time the coke dribbled down the back of his nose, he went from 30mph to 180mph,' says James Whitby.
'You felt you were in a sort of steam catapult on an aircraft carrier, permanently being pulled backwards and forwards.'
In his helicopter, a delay followed each lift-off while John paused for cocaine (snorted off his flight map), a stimulus thereafter regularly supplemented by shots of vodka Collins.
In 1998 John sold the remaining lease on the east wing of Ickworth to the National Trust, reportedly for just under £100,000. The Trust was now outright owner of the whole property. 'I want a totally financially hassle-free life,' John explained.
It was not to last long. His fortune dissipated and his body ravaged by disease, he died on January 9, 1999, surrounded by long-time members of his staff, in whom he had inspired extraordinary levels of devotion.
Local coroner Bill Walrond announced that John's system had contained a cocktail of legal drugs and cocaine, leading to multiple organ failure.
Recording a verdict of 'dependence on drugs', he said: 'This is a particularly tragic case. But I suspect that Lord Bristol is as deserving of sympathy as he is of censure.'
Many of the residents of his village would agree. At the time of John's death, one of them, a retired bank manager and former church warden, then in his 90s, spoke to the village's new rector, Brian Raistrick.
'If you'd known how he was treated as a child, how he was expected to behave as a child, you would understand,' he said.
It was a sentiment, Raistrick learned, shared by all 'who had known John for years, from childhood, not his friends, but ordinary people'.
When John's will was published, his beloved half-brother George issued a brief statement to the Press.
'We all know he was quite a flamboyant character and he pretty much lived the way he wanted to,' it read.
'He made the most of his life - he packed more in his 44 years than most people do in their whole lives.'
Others close to John disagree with this generous and loving verdict. In the words of John Knight, who had known the family for 50 years, the tragically early death had been 'a dreadful, wicked waste: something that should not be'.
It seems that John himself had understood something of this. 'You can buy something that is self-gratification,' he had once said poignantly to an interviewer. 'But self-gratification does not last long enough and it does not turn into happiness.'
But enlightenment had come too late.
Extracted from Splendour & Squalor: The Decline And Fall Of Three Aristocratic Dynasties by Marcus Scriven, published by Atlantic Books on December 1

 The end of the peer
At 16, he inherited £1m. At 21, another £4m, a sheep station in Australia and four oil wells. But by 44, consumed by his insatiable appetite for alcohol, drugs and rent boys, he was dead. He'd blown £30m. So why did flamboyant aristocrat John Jermyn, seventh Marquess of Bristol, devote his life so spectacularly to self-destruction, asks Anthony Haden-Guest
Anthony Haden-Guest

The driver taking me to Ickworth from Bury St Edmunds station has only jolly memories of John Hervey, the seventh Marquess of Bristol. 'We would pick him up at half past one or two in the morning. He would just get in. He didn't need to say where he was going,' he says. 'He was very funny. Even when he'd had one or two. It's a £10 or £12 ride. He would hand over £50 and say keep the change. He was a good bloke.' He says his mother had worked at the house, so had seen Hervey up close, and she had liked him, too.

At our destination, a group of local journalists is assembled. This Palladian space station of a country house was built in 1795 for Frederick Bristol, the wildly eccentric Earl Bishop, and this tour is to show off the National Trust development which - I quote the release - 'will provide fantastic visitor facilities, including a new shop and restaurant, interpretation about the Hervey family and a stunning venue for functions, weddings, conferences and special events'.

It is a mild, drizzly day, squelchy underfoot. All around is the great park with sheep as close to the ground as silver fridge magnets, symmetrical oaks, a blasted tree beside the drive.

The interior is minimalist. 'We haven't tried to do pastiche. We haven't done country house,' Richard Hill, the project manager, says, as he conducts us around. 'This is what used to be - and still will be - the Orangery... behind this wall is a new hibernaculum for the bats ... '

It is one Brideshead moment after another.

I feel like saying, 'I have been here before,' but keep my trap shut and continue on the tour.

It was Cristina Zilkha, the singer, and sharp-tongued lyricist, who introduced me to John Jermyn, as he then was, and as his friends would always call him. It was in Manhattan at the end of the Seventies. She took me to a lunch he was giving at 21, the club on 53rd Street. He was pink, tall, sleek, in a green velvet suit, and crackled with an odd mix of watchfulness and obstreperous confidence. I liked the over-the-topness. Viscount Jermyn indeed seemed a handy addition to the Brit pack - who, according to Manhattan lore, could hardly be cajoled into paying for a lunch, let alone giving one - then part of the European wave swamping New York.

On future occasions Jermyn would frequently be wearing a coronet tiepin of cartoony size, something you might expect to find in a fancy Christmas cracker.

Jermyn was, in short, a throwback to a time before aristocrats had taken to disguising themselves as middle class, and could be as flashy, overbearing and whimsical as any oligarch today. Even in Disco Manhattan he stood out. A cobblestone street led to his townhouse, which looked out on to the East River, and it was typical of the tales he cultivated around himself that he'd claim that watching jumpers was a favourite diversion. He was a master of the cutting line, the heartless anecdote. He was gay, but not camp, and the friends with whom he seemed most comfortable were straight.

Jermyn was an excellent host and his small get-togethers were remarkable, both for the guests - I ran into Mick Jagger there, the Andy Warhol entourage, le tout Eurotrash - and for the provisions. Even in the Studio 54 VIP basement, drugs would tend to be consumed in small, cliquish groups. Here, cocaine and heroin were catered like flowers. Jermyn, in short, was a man of huge appetites, apparently under control. It seemed a rare working model of excess.

In all this Jermyn was living up to a family history - that history of which the National Trust promises an 'interpretation' - which is as darkly extravagant as any. Lady Mary Wortley Montague, the bluestocking wit, famously observed: 'The world consists of men, women and Herveys.' John, Lord Hervey, son of the first marquess, is merely the best known, thanks to being Alexander Pope's target as 'Sporus':

'Satire or sense alas! Can Sporus feel?

Who breaks a Butterfly upon a Wheel?

Yet let me flap this Bug with gilded wings

This painted Child of Dirt that stinks and stings.

The sexuality of Sporus also preoccupied Pope:

'Fop at the Toilet, Flatt'rer at the Board,

Now trips a Lady, and now struts a Lord.'

Jermyn would blame a family disposition to depression - he called it 'bad blood' - when things began tumbling out of control. He had come into £4m when he was 21 and inherited 16,000 acres of farmland and woods in three counties. He was at one time perhaps worth as much as £30m. In 1999, when he died of 'multiple organ failure' at the age of 44, on drugs to assuage an insatiable neediness, everything had gone up, more or less literally, in smoke.

It would be facile, though, to see Jermyn purely in terms of his whole family, of which the two kickiest current members are his younger mediagenic half-sisters, Lady Victoria Hervey, who appeared on the reality TV show The Farm, and her younger sister, Lady Isabella, who did her reality stint on Celebrity Love Island. His relationship with his father seems more relevant.

A handsome sociopath, Victor Hervey was briefly a career criminal. He and two confederates collaborated with Soho professionals on a couple of jewel robberies. According to the Daily Mirror, the July 1939 trial was attended by 'expensively gowned Mayfair women, some wearing dark glasses and heavy veils'. Victor, then 23, and the nephew of the fifth Marquess, got three years. The court recorder observed: 'The way of the amateur criminal is hard. But the way of the professional is disastrous.'

Victor Hervey did his time in Brixton, Wormwood Scrubs, Maidstone and Camp Hill on the Isle of Wight, getting a year off for good behaviour. This is positively the last good behaviour that was to be attributed to him. He treated his son and heir with indifference and contempt. 'John had an unhappy childhood,' says a close friend, Patrick Donovan. 'His father was ghastly to him,' says Robin Hurlstone, a former lover.

Hurlstone says Victor sent his son a telegram to announce he was marrying his secretary, Yvonne, a woman his son loathed. It read: 'I hope you are happy.'

'He hurled a glass,' Hurlstone says.

After Jermyn's death, the Marquess of Blandford, who knew him from Harrow, told a reporter: 'Victor created the monster that John became.'

Ickworth had been surrendered to the National

Trust in lieu of death duties in 1956, when Jermyn was two, and at the insistence of his grandfather's widow, who had forebodings of its fate. The deal was that the family got to occupy the East Wing. Jermyn went to Harrow, where he modelled himself on Oscar Wilde, inherited a million at 16 and was soon drinking half a bottle of vodka a day. After Harrow, he went to work though. He took over a garage on Fulham Broadway, set to renovating classic cars and was shortly doing well enough to focus on houses. He had a sharp business brain.

In 1975, Victor Hervey put a tranche of the Ickworth goods and chattels on the market and moved to Monte Carlo, a tax exile. Jermyn moved into the East Wing and bought back the furniture. At 21 he came into £4m, plus a sheep station in Australia and four oil wells in Louisiana. He also entered upon a grown-up liaison. 'I was in the same house as his brother Nicholas at Eton,' Hurlstone says. 'He looked at me and told Nicholas: he's the one I want. I was 18. He was 21.'

Soon Jermyn followed his father into tax exile in Monte Carlo, but found it dreary and moved to Paris. To convince the tax authorities that he was doing his time in the principality he'd send Tom Foley, his manservant, down to switch the lights off and on, and to use the telephone. Patrick Donovan first met him at the racing event, the Arc de Triomphe: 'There was this chap standing in front of me. He had long fair hair ... a shiny suit ... patent-leather shoes ... a coronet stickpin ... he looked like a used-car salesman.' They bonded anyway. Sebastian Taylor, another friend, a backgammon player turned commodities trader, says, 'John wanted to be thought of as a used-car dealer. It turned him on. He was Byronic in the sense that Byron hung around with boxers and street people. He loved low-life.'

Jermyn took a flat in the Rue de Bellechasse, installed trompe l'oeil paintings by a fashionable muralist, and shelves of books. 'Some of them were quite good,' Donovan says, but found they had been bought by the yard by George Renwick, a decorator of the time. 'John had no interest in art. He never read a book,' Donovan says.

Hurlstone believes that it was in Paris that the rot began to set in. 'He was a boy who craved attention. He had this Byronic aura. There was a sense of danger,' he says. 'He kept his foot down hard on the self-destruct pedal. Everything began to go out of control. It was horrible for his friends to watch. But there was nothing one could do.' Other furnishings in the Rue de Bellechasse included a four-poster bed above which hung a heavy, gilt-wood coronet. Jermyn dearly loved coronets and coats of arms and plastered his - a snow leopard - wherever it took his fancy, which was everywhere. He would boast that this particular coronet once toppled when he was hard at it, nearly squashing a rent boy.

Manhattan in the Studio 54 era was the next obvious destination and intimates say that it was here that Jermyn segued from alcohol and cocaine into heroin and freebasing. These began to affect his judgment. I had written a piece for New York magazine about New Yorkers who had constructed small working aircraft in their apartments. Jermyn was particularly intrigued by one fellow who had constructed a pilotless drone. He was fascinated by the fact that it would fly below the radar and wanted to meet the plane-maker. I procrastinated. It didn't happen.

On 19 May 1983, Jermyn was arrested at seven in the morning, for trafficking in $4m worth of heroin. Actually, Jermyn's real offence had been living high with no visible means of support. He hired Thomas Puccio, the lawyer who had previously represented Claus von Bulow. Charges were reduced to a misdemeanour. But it had cost Jermyn a cool million and Monaco had dropped him like a hot coal.

He returned to Ickworth. And a new life. Cleaning up, marriage, an heir.

Francesca, the daughter of Douglas Fisher, a Chelsea property developer, met Jermyn when a friend, Mark Cecil, took her to Ickworth for the weekend. Francesca Fisher was elfin. 'She doesn't arrive. She alights,' says a friend, Aoife O'Brien.

Jermyn had just come back from spending time with Christina Onassis. 'Christina wanted to marry him,' Francesca says. 'That was the rumour. He couldn't handle that one. He always used to laugh about that.' The Onassis union, supposedly the brainchild of the Argentinian polo player Luis Basualdo, never came close to gelling. But Francesca had caught Jermyn's eye. 'Apparently, after I left he told his accountant, "I'm going to marry that girl,"' she says.

In September 1984, a week before Jermyn's 30th birthday, they were married at Ickworth. She was 20.

Francesca found herself alone on their wedding night. She found him freebasing with his intimates. One of them tells me simply, 'I don't remember a thing.'

The two were in love, though. At first things went well. The ogreish Victor died the following year and Jermyn was now the seventh marquess. He also persevered at something that didn't come easy: unstimulated contentment.

'I was lucky to have him on pretty good form for the first two years,' Francesca says. 'But after that I was pretty glad not to be around.'

What went wrong?

One close friend speculates that Jermyn was despairing of parenthood. Then he got an offer on his New York house.

'He went back to sell the house and he went on this massive binge. He didn't know how to stop. And that was when he got involved with ... I don't know what. A lot of rent boys,' Francesca says. One friend remembers Jermyn showing him the cover of a porn cassette, calling the director, and having the star flown up from Los Angeles. 'He liked fresh-faced all-American boys in chinos,' the friend says. Not just all-Americans. Toby Young, the journalist, recalls Jermyn hitting on him at the Cafe de Paris. 'I had all my hair then,' Young says, wistfully.

Francesca walked out of Jermyn's life with the art dealer, Roberto Shorto.

At Ickworth, I sensed a new extravagance in his demeanour. His moods were volatile, he was reckless at the wheel of a car. And apparently at the controls of his helicopter. 'He was an inspired pilot. I would let him fly me any time,' a close friend says. 'He couldn't do radar, though. He would steer by an AA map on his knees, while snorting coke off the map. And he would order that all the lights at Ickworth be turned on when he was getting back.'

Sebastian Taylor says: 'He didn't have fuel at Ickworth so he bought an army-surplus tanker, which sat there, full of fuel. And he used to go from Ickworth to see his mother, who was in Newmarket, for Sunday lunch. He would get in his helicopter and use it just like that.

'Once, after a major bender, he was completely fucked up, he had taken everything. It was Sunday, he went out to his helicopter, he didn't bother to check anything, he got into it and just went straight up. He didn't notice that there were clouds. And once you're in the clouds you're fucked. You can't see anything, you're completely disoriented. So he went straight up and came out at the top. There he was, sitting in a helicopter with a blanket of white puffy clouds beneath him.

'Most people would be dead after this,' Taylor says. 'He said he looked around, put it on auto-pilot. He had a cocktail shaker in the cockpit, so he shook himself a Bloody Mary, had a couple of lines of coke and called the control tower in Cambridge. And somehow he came down, going sideways at 150mph and, without crashing into the control tower, he landed.'

But this luck had begun to run out. The chronology turns to a morbid drumbeat.

In 1986, a friend, Andy Pierce, who had been trying to break a heroin habit, and who was staying with Jermyn at a rented villa in Porto Ercole in Tuscany, fell and killed himself. A Sunday Times headline read: 'Marquess linked to socialite "murder"'.

Nothing came of this, but what had seemed colourful excesses became increasingly dark-toned. The hybrid, half-shy, half-peacock was becoming wholly unbridled. He claimed he had enjoyed 2,000 of the rent boys he called 'twinkies'.

In 1986, a close friend tells me, he learned that he had contracted Aids. His behaviour started to become increasingly aberrant. 'It was then that he started doing those things like shooting at punts,' the friend says.

In 1988 the Jersey police found 13g of coke in his helicopter at St Helier. He did seven months in the island jail, La Moye. So now two Herveys had been jugged.

In 1991, he was deported from Australia. In December 1992, he got 10 months for possession of narcotics. It was noted in court that he had burned through £7m in 10 years. In May 1994, he was released from Downside Open Prison after serving five months. In June he started selling up.

Nick Ashley, a close friend, who had the title of estate manager, says: 'For four years I was presiding over a daily fire-sale. I used to think about the first Hervey arriving on this land in 1475. And how in a way it was my duty to see that the Herveys stayed here for another 500 years.'

But everything was melting. The goods and chattels went for £2.5m, and 2,300 acres of farmlands and woods for £3.5m. That same year, the National Trust started trying to evict him from the East Wing, citing his crazy driving and his two out-of-control Irish wolfhounds. His friends were also melting away from a house now nicknamed 'Sickworth'. The last house parties would be composed of 'twinkies', mostly with a whiff of the street. Finally, he sold off what was left of his lease to the National Trust for £100,000. In June 1996, he left the house for the last time.

'I was there the last day,' Nick Ashley says. 'It was a Friday. The sale was on Tuesday and Wednesday. Sotheby's had people everywhere, running cables, putting up marquees. There was a bloke at the bottom of the steps. I think he was wearing a Sotheby's smock. He was eating a banana.

'John said, "Can you ask Dalmeny to tell that man not to eat his lunch outside my house?" Lord Dalmeny being the Sotheby's grand panjandrum.

'It was amazing the way that John could simply blot out unpleasantness,' Ashley says. 'I didn't see him after 1996. I was the estate manager. And there was no more estate to manage.'

I can no longer remember precisely when John Jermyn last telephoned, or why. I was in London and went around to see him in a house off Eaton Square. He was less ebullient, but didn't seem in noticeably poor shape. The place was in no way down-at-heel, but he was complaining about money. A first. At least, to me.

I spotted an oblong Warhol on one of the shelves, a small painting of the sort Andy would sometimes present to people whose company he valued: a silkscreen of a dollar bill. I picked it up and noticed a few prick-holes. Jermyn said carelessly that he sometimes threw darts at it. He was no aesthete. I suggested that he sell it, and called Sotheby's for a rough valuation: $20,000. So I took it back to New York where a dealer handled the sale.

I would sometimes call Jermyn on subsequent visits. He would sound frail, distant. It was said that he had become reclusive, that he was dying, that he was resting up in the Bahamas, that his rooms were filled with hi-tech security, including camera surveillance, and that he would order his drugs on multiple, constantly charged mobile phones. 'He was lost in coke paranoia,' says a friend.

He was said to be thin, stooping, aged, walking with a stick.

He died on 10 January 1999 at Little Horringer Hall, once part of his estate. From there you can see the dome of Ickworth.

He left most of his estate to his companion of 11 years, James Whitby, and £25,000 to his chauffeur. The loyal Foley also got £25,000 or 'repayment of his mortgage, whichever the greater'.

Lady Isabella, Lady Victoria and the eighth Marquess, his half-brother, were left little or nothing.

There was just £5,000 in the estate. This was soon engulfed by expenses. The will was perhaps John Jermyn's last folly.

 Ickworth House is a country house near Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk, England. It is a neoclassical building set in parkland.
The house built between 1795 and 1829, was formerly the chief dwelling of an estate owned by the Hervey family, later Marquesses of Bristol, since 1467. The building was the creation of Frederick Hervey, 4th Earl of Bristol and Bishop of Derry who commissioned the Italian architect Asprucci to design him a classical villa in the Suffolk countryside. The Earl died in 1803, leaving the completion of house to his successor.
In 1956, the house, park, and a large endowment were given to the National Trust in lieu of death duties. As part of the handover agreement, a 99-year lease on the 60-room East Wing was given to the Marquess of Bristol. However, in 1998 the 7th Marquess of Bristol sold the remaining lease on the East Wing to the National Trust. This wing is now a 27-bedroom hotel.

The 7th Lord Bristol sold the remaining lease of Ickworth back to the National Trust in 1998. He was succeeded by his half-brother Frederick William Augustus Hervey, 8th Marquess of Bristol (born 19 October 1979). The National Trust refused to sell the remaining lease term back to the 8th Marquess, thereby contravening the Letter of Wishes which states that the head of the family should always be offered whatever accommodation he chooses at Ickworth.
The family's once private East Wing is now run as The Ickworth Hotel and apartments on a lease from the National Trust. The apartments are in Dower House which is in the grounds.[2]
The West Wing at Ickworth House went uncompleted until 2006, when a joint partnership between the National Trust and Sodexo Prestige led to its renovation and opening as a centre for conferences and events. The first wedding in the property's history took place in 2006.

Ickworth House, the ground floor. 1: Library; 2: Drawing Room; 3: Dining Room; 4:Entrance and (inner) Staircase Hall; 5:Smoking Room; 6:Pompeian room; 7: Orangery & (unfinished) West Wing; 8: East (Family) Wing; 9: Portico; 10: Topiary Garden.

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