Jockey at centre of 'schooling case' was a compulsive socialite, but he was also full of charm, says Charles Lysaght
Published 08/05/2011 | 05:00
Sometime champion amateur jockey and lifelong bon viveur Gay Kindersley became a public figure when, as a 13-year-old schoolboy in 1943, he was the subject of legal proceedings between his estranged parents in the Irish courts.
When war was declared in September 1939, his mother, the former Miss Oonagh Guinness, at that time remarried to Lord Oranmore and Browne, had settled in Wicklow at Luggala, the scenic home her father the Hon Ernest Guinness had bought her as a wedding present when she married Philip Kindersley, scion of a London banking family. Gay was spending his summer holidays with her. She declined to return him to school in England and sent him to Castle Park Preparatory School in Dalkey, where he spent four happy years.
He was 'down' for Eton but his mother thought it risky to send him to England and entered him at St Columba's College. This was too much for his father, then a prisoner of war, who, hearing that Irish was taught at St Columba's, was sure that his son would become a Sinn Feiner.
The Kindersley grandparents took legal proceedings and a unanimous Supreme Court dismissed the mother's concern for her son's safety and ruled that he should be taken away from St Columba's and sent to Eton. Protesters gathered when Gay was led away to the boat. His mother's counsel, the then leader of the Bar, Cecil Lavery, is said to have remarked: "I've had an interesting week; one of my clients was sent to jail, another to Eton."
So it was that Gay was brought up as an English boy and had to lose the "soft Dublin accent" he had acquired at Castle Park. His Guinness grandfather wanted him groomed for a career in the brewery and got him a place at Oxford to read chemistry, which he hated. He lasted only two terms and then, after a stint in the Hussars and a brief sojourn as a roughneck on an oil rig in Canada, he devoted himself to horses and socialising.
He enjoyed some success as a jockey, generally riding his own horses. In the 1959-60 season he notched up 22 wins over fences and won the amateur jockeys' championship. He had lots of pluck, surviving many accidents -- he broke his back twice. In 1965, his final season, he had a mount in the Grand National, but fell at the third fence.
He then set up as a trainer in East Garston in Berkshire. In the 1985 National his horse, Earthstopper, finished fifth only to collapse and die immediately afterwards. Insulated from the realities of life by his wealth and somewhat naive, he was easy prey for the chancers of the equine world. He gambled recklessly. "Good old Gay," said one hanger-on, "he'll fall for anything."
A compulsive socialite, he mixed easily with everybody from the Queen Mother to ordinary folk such as Terry Wogan. Always the soul of the party, he sounded off with Slattery's Mounted Foot at every opportunity. He was an on-for-anything daredevil -- he once almost drowned swimming across the Thames for a bet. It all kept him centre stage, which he enjoyed, as did his generosity with the near million he inherited from his industrious Guinness forebears when he was 25.
When he turned 60 in 1990, he commissioned Robin Roderick-Jones to write his biography. It was entitled Flings Over Fences: the Ups and Downs of Gay Kindersley'. It gave a blow-by-blow account of his daredevil life, with copious detail of his philandering and infidelity to two wives.
The book names many of his lady loves, some of them Irish, while others are thinly disguised under nicknames like 'the flying fornicator'. On his own account, he was never denied except by an Irish nurse in London who, having eaten his dinner, kept her legs firmly clasped together.
He was a regular visitor to Luggala where his mother gave riotous parties mixing the well-born and well-heeled with celebrities like Brendan Behan. One of his filial duties was to help temporarily loveless ladies of his mother's generation through an otherwise lonely night.
Irresponsible and self-indulgent he may have been, but he was so devoid of malice and full of charm that he commanded forgiveness. This may explain why his first marriage to Magsie Wakefield lasted almost 20 years while his subsequent one in 1976 to Philippa Harper endured for the rest of his life.
He is survived by both wives, by two sons and two daughters of his first marriage and by two sons of his second marriage. His eldest son Robin is a long-distance runner. His younger daughter Tania is a novelist.