How can one medium-sized 58-year- old tartan body have done so much. A veritable Renaissance man. Then, of course, there's the recreation he used to include: 'making love'. We'll doubtless come to that. Meanwhile, where to start?
Forester and landscape gardener: well, that's easy to prove. Out of the windows of his stately home, Fordell Castle near Dunfermline, built 1210, I could see his immaculate lawns and coiffured trees. The castle itself, small but perfectly restored, is exquisite. No arguments there.
Author means one book, plus articles. Hmm. We'll skip broadcaster and stuff. If you've been an MP for almost 20 years, how can you avoid broadcasting?
Bon viveur? 'Will you have a snifter,' he said before I sat down. It was four o'clock in the afternoon. I said tea would be lovely, which it was. He stuck to vodka, out of a two-litre bottle, hidden behind a large Russian plate. Dress designer? Up came his pullover for inspection, complete with his coat of arms. Then his buckled shoes, also to his own design. This season's trews are in the Brown Gordon tartan. Over his pully he wears a thick leather belt with an enormous metal buckle, pulled very tight. It must be killing him. Not at all, he says. He always wears it over his pullover, so people can see it.
Painter and poet? We did a brief tour of the castle, passing some of his paintings, mainly of Venice. Very nice, I said. Alas, I forgot to inspect his poetry or his studio.
Partly because, on the tour, he pointed out a large mirror in his dressing room. 'A friend of mine asked her mother, 'Why does Sir Nicholas Fairbairn have such a large mirror in his dressing room? So he can watch himself masturbating?' '
He watched me carefully. Was I supposed to be shocked. Or take it as an example of his famous wit. So I asked if it was true. He turned away, smiling to himself. A strange, dry, upturned sort of smile, easy to miss. Set in a strange dry face. A combination of Oor Wullie and Big Jack Charlton.
His father was an eminent Edinburgh psychoanalyst and his mother a pianist. 'She was a widow from the day she married him. He was the wrong man for her. Terrifyingly withheld. He never had any money because he only ever charged one shilling an hour.' So you had an unhappy home life? 'I had no home life.' He went to Loretto, the Scottish public school. How could your father afford that, if he was so poor? 'Loretto was pounds 60 a term in 1940 when I started, and pounds 60 a term when I left in 1951.'
To Edinburgh University, where he read medicine, then changed to classics, then changed to law. At 38, he became the youngest QC in Scotland, specialising in divorce and in murder. 'I have seen 100,000 marriages disintegrate and have defended 17 people from the death penalty. All of them came out of it alive.'
He got up, I thought for another drink, but it was to wipe the tears from his eyes. 'Excuse me. I still get emotional when I think of those trials.' Because you are remembering the victims? 'Noa, noa,' he said, sitting down again. He speaks slowly, at dictation speed, in well- formed sentences. On certain words, in the manner of Douglas Hurd, he affects a low- class accent. 'I become emotional because I was on trial. If I had asked one question too many or too few, if I had addressed the jury wrongly, then those people would have died. I am the only person in the Commons who has endured that experience.'
He has been married twice. By his first wife he has three grown-up daughters (plus a son and daughter deceased). He married his second wife Suzanne, known as Sam, 10 years ago. She came in to the room from time to time, an attractive-looking woman in tweed knickerbockers and bright red socks. I tried to get her into the conversation, but she retreated.
'The women in the House of Commons are mostly hideous. They have no fragrance. I dislike women who deny their femininity. People like Edwina Currie, they're just cagmags, scrub heaps, old tattles. In the House during the salmonella debate, I reminded her that she was an egg once. I said that people on both sides of the House greatly regretted its fertilisation. On another occasion, she was going on about water being poisonous if you were stuffed full of it. I replied that I did not mind being poisoned by water, but I could not bear to be stuffed by the Honourable Member.
'Who's that big fat one? No, not Marjorie Mowlam. I quite like her. Clare Short. I met her in the Commons one day and she said to me, 'You are a shit.' I wrote to her later, saying that she had proved my point. It showed I was fragrant and she wasn't'
An obvious reply, when he comes out with such comments, is to point to his own appearance. You are not exactly Robert Redford. He affected not have heard of Robert Redford. 'I admit I am no Adonis, but I am happy with my appeal to the opposite sex. Looks are just a clothing. What is most important is sentience, the vibes which we give out. I have certainly no reason to doubt myself on that score.'
When were you first aware of your incredible sex appeal? He thought hard, flicking through his mind, then got himself another drink. 'At seven. Matron at school fell in love with me. Not in a physical sense, but because she sensed my romanticism. My first consummation was when I was 16, with a local girlie. It was hard to do it in those days. Certainly hard to do it if you were not hard . . .' He paused, to make sure I did not miss his sixth- form joke. Then he turned very serious.
'It is shameful the way we are made ashamed of the pleasures of the flesh. The flesh is among the greatest pleasures, along with the pleasures of the eye and of the mind. I often wonder how the ministers of the Kirk have children. Do they hold their noses when they're at it?
'The concept of guilt is central to all religions. It is so ludicrous. You have to do wrong to be forgiven, rather than do good to be rewarded. It took me a long time to break out of the hypocrisy of Christianity. I do not believe that a whole load of witterings, collected hundreds of years after it all happened by assorted prophets, loosely translated from the Greek and the Hebrew in 1611, can have eternal meaning. 'Love thy neighbour as thyself.' Yes, that is a reasonable message. I would call it good manners.
'Monogamous marriage is a facile rule. It may work, sometimes, but my experience of 100,000 divorces is that in practice it does not work. We are supposed to live by self-abnegation, as if the snuff of a man for a woman, or a woman for a man, was not natural. It is natural. My experience of life tells me that sexual fidelity is awfie rare. Look, quick, there's an ox.' He got up and walked into the fireplace, about the size of a garage, and told me to watch the logs burning. Surely I could see an ox's face in the fire. 'I am a great visualist.'
His present marriage, so he says, is very satisfactory, adoring and, he hopes, permanent. But has he been faithful? 'Good Lord, no,' he said. 'It's the sanctimony of alleged fidelity which destroys marriage, not other occasional liaisons.' Did his wife know? 'We don't even discuss it. As long as no one is hurt, it is not a matter which matters. Sex is a human activity like any other. It's a natural urge, like breathing, thinking, drinking, laughing, talking with friends, flower-arranging, golf. They are not crimes if you plan them with someone other than your wife. Why should sex be?'
I suggested golf was not exactly natural, as even in Scotland people are not often born with clubs in their hands, but he was off, moving on to an electrical comparison. 'Is it not better to run a marriage and an affair in parallel than to have marriages in series? I've nothing against affairs in marriage. Wellington managed it, and Lloyd George. If David Mellor required a tart, then so what?
'Let us say I have spent all night screwing a mongoose, and next morning I have to appear in the House or in court. The vital thing is: does it show? If a sexually frustrated fellow, or woman, does not not let their indulgence affect their professional performance, then bullshit, it doesn't matter. Why not be honest about it? I love making love. My appetite is as it always was. One day, no doubt, winter will come, as there will be a winter in many things - in my sight, in my hearing - but in my sexual energy, let us say I am still in the autumn of my life.'
Lady Fairbairn reappeared at the door of the baronial drawing room, then tried to scurry, hearing her husband in full flow. This time I caught her. Did she agree with his views on marriage? 'I think monogamy does matter. I don't expect people to be faithful forever, but if people are constantly looking for other interests, then that is breaking the trust.' Had she been unfaithful? 'Good gracious, no.' What about her husband? 'I know about him,' she said, solemnly, sitting down by the fire, her chin on her hands.
Sir Nicholas was re-elected as Tory MP for Perth and Kinross at the last election, despite his views on marriage, women, the Church and immigration. He is against what he calls economic migration. This resulted in Lord Whitelaw (Lord Marshmallow as Sir Nicholas now calls him) cancelling an engagement to speak on his behalf. 'People prefer me for my opinions. They know I have staunch and genuine belief. I don't suck up to politically correct, opinion. Several Pakistanis wrote to support me.'
In Perth and Kinross, you have Pakistani voters? 'All right, they were from Glasgow. But they don't want any more migrants, the sort who just come for their own economic benefit.' He says he is not racist, nor is he right-wing. 'I am not winged at all. I am against the death penalty. I helped found a left-wing theatre in Edinburgh - the Traverse. I set up birth control clinics all over Britain, despite brutal criticism. That hardly makes me right-wing.'
He expects no further political preferment. 'I was Solicitor-General for Scotland, one of the five great offices of state. The Cabinet and Shadow Cabinet are all mush and brushers, indistinguishable from each other. Only Gary Glitter, as I call Michael Heseltine, has any spark. Jesus Jungle, the rest are still wearing demob suits. How a boring, stupid chap like Mellor could be Minister of Fun beats me.'
His chance of preferment ended 10 years ago after one of his lovers allegedly tried to hang herself from a lampost outside his London house. 'Her so-called hanging was totally bogus. She never tried it. They were out to get me.' He says that a prominent Tory MP, whom he was more than willing to name, rang the newspapers with this lie. The story took a long time to tell, and concerns this MP, who has a wife, a regular mistress, plus another, who wanted to get Sir Nicholas for reasons too complicated and too libellous to repeat.
When he finished the tale, it was time for another snorter. 'What's the difference between a drunk and an alcoholic? A drunk hasn't got to go to all those meetings . . . I told that to one journalist girlie, but she didn't get it. Here's another one for you. What's the difference between a drunk and an alcoholic? A drunk can't hold his drink. An alcoholic can't hold his glass . . . Both of those are original.'
He is not sure how he will be remembered. 'I would like to think they'll remember the galleries and theatres I founded, the houses I saved, the gardens I created, or even just this castle, which was a ruin when I bought it for pounds 100 in 1960, but I fear I will be remembered for only one thing: what I said about Edwina Currie.
'On my death, I suspect the guilt of people will come through in the encomium, and they will say I was an awfully good boy. Later, once the guilt has passed, they'll probably think, no, I was a nasty. I don't care. I won't be here to hear them. Anybody who is positive in their views is either loved or hated. I would hate to be thought of as neutral.'
No one could call him that.
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