Saturday 21 October 2017

Grande dame is still giving high society plenty of cause for gossip

At the age of 98, the dashing Lady Killearn and her antics provide us with the perfect distraction from the realities of market turmoil and credit crunches, writes Cassandra Jardine

Jacqueline, Lady Killearn is just what we need in these dark, depressing days of January. The often bejewelled 98-year-old, who is currently embroiled in an entertaining industrial tribunal with the butler she sacked, may appear on the evidence to be "the unacceptable face of the aristocracy'' to some. Even her son, 66-year-old Lord Killearn, described her to me -- affectionately, of course, and without wishing to amplify -- as "an absolute nightmare''. But to anyone in need of a distraction as financial markets implode and credit crunches, she's pure heaven.

There are far too few really dashing old ladies around who are prepared, as her butler tells us, to jump into a white van and be driven 1,700 miles to Switzerland and back just to pick up some antique furniture. There are even fewer women of her age who would do all that and share a bedroom with Robert Hay, a married man 30 years her junior. She sounds as delightful/dreadful as Aunt Augusta, the wicked old lady who added a little zip to the life of her dull nephew, Henry Pullings, in Graham Greene's Travels With My Aunt.

Doubtless such an outspoken woman -- she allegedly called the butler, Paolo Sclarandis, "a toad'', a "monster'' and a "selfish prat'' -- may not be the easiest of employers: we can imagine her face when he served her what she claimed was virtually raw meat and pasta drenched in olive oil. He in return calls her a "despot'' who thinks she is "living in the last days of the British Empire" (when he arrived, he found a Sikh sleeping in the kitchen in return for cooking her breakfast), as well she might, having been the wife of the late Lord Killearn, the British Ambassador to Cairo during the Second World War.

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