Dai Llewellyn: The ultimate playboy

His death brings to an end a life devoted to the shameless pursuit of pleasure. John Walsh raises a glass
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The Independent Online

If there was a visual dictionary in which mugshots of famous people took the place of definitions, the publishers could save on reproduction costs by using the same picture several times. The words "playboy," "lothario," "socialite," "seducer" and the term "bon viveur" could be fully glossed by printing, beneath all of them, the grinning face and receding hairline of Sir "Dirty" Dai Llewellyn, who died on Tuesday night. He was the most relentless, priapic skirt-chaser and partygoer of the Sixties and Seventies, moving through a heady demi-monde of launches, exclusive nightclubs, exotic holidays and drink-fuelled adventures. He was a fixture in gossip columns as "the Seducer of the Valleys" and befriended writers, especially Nigel Dempster.

Llewellyn embodied that period, in the 1960s, when English aristocrats stopped confining their social lives to ancestral homes and charity functions, and became middlemen and "fixers" at the extravagant end of PR and business. The worlds of royalty and entrepreneurship, Old Etonians and Arab-chasing opportunists, old money and new vulgarity, all met with a resounding crash.

From the Clermont Casino to the Playboy Club (both owned by Victor Lowndes,) from Tokyo Joe's in Piccadilly and Wedgies in Chelsea (both owned by Llewellyn) to Annabel's in Berkeley Square (owned by John Aspinall,) a loose convocation of gamblers, toffs, drunks, facilitators and event organisers scratched each other's backs and regaled one another with company champagne at Ascot and Tramp. Dai Llewellyn, the eldest son of Sir Harry "Foxhunter" Llewellyn, a baronet and Olympic equestrian, pitched himself into this world as soon as he learnt to drink.

Stories of his debauched lifestyle abound. Lunching one day with the journalist Peter McKay at San Lorenzo in Knightsbridge, Llewellyn seemed to remember something important, leapt from the table, exited the restaurant and returned an hour later. "What happened?" asked McKay. "I suddenly remembered," said Llewellyn, "I left my secretary tied up in the bath." Invited by The Independent in 2006 to contribute to the "My Week" slot, he reported: "I am in South Africa on business. I'm staying in the same house in Hermanus [in Cape Town] where I fell through the floor last year attempting to roger a girl called Nettie. Luckily they've mended the hole. The bedroom has become famous, apparently, something of a tourist attraction."

He proudly boasted that "in the late Sixties and early Seventies, I was getting through debutantes like a dose of salts". Although his career as a hard-drinking Casanova started on a negative note – he lost his virginity at Aix-en-Provence university to an older American woman "who smelt so disgusting that it put me off doing it again for several months" – he racked up an impressive list of conquests: Orson Welles's daughter Beatrice, Roald Dahl's daughter Tessa, Annegret Tree, the Sixties beauty, Lady Charlotte Curzon (to whom he proposed 100 times in the course of an evening – but she turned him down) and Vanessa Hubbard, niece of the Duke of Norfolk, whom he married in 1980. It lasted seven years and produced two daughters, Arabella and Olivia, whom he adored. He drove up to his wedding swigging a bottle of champagne and, at the church, extended a languid arm through the car window and handed the remains of the bubbly to a gang of local youths.

His technique was simply, he said, to laugh women into bed. "I am not one of these oily Italian method-pullers," he confessed. "Thirty years and I still can't undo a bra. The only trick is that I do not waiver. I know what I want and so do they."

He fell in love three years ago with the Swedish interior designer Christel Jurgenson and planned to marry her, but she dumped him after 18 months because he kept altering the wedding plans. Writing about the affair, he revealed: "A few months after meeting her, I turned to her and said of myself, in the third person: 'You are the last great love of Dai Llewellyn.'" Given such an approach, it's surprising they lasted as long as they did.

His drinking was legendary. He drank ludicrous quantities of wine every day, at lunch, dinner and the cocktail hour between, and prided himself on his ability to remain lucid and charming, even after "bathfuls". And in case he might ever find himself stranded without (horrors!) a barman or waiter within yelling distance, he used to carry with him a briefcase in which he stowed two glasses and three bottles – of port, brandy and whisky.

Reflecting last September on his alcohol consumption, Llewellyn wrote: "How much did I drink? I have been asked that many times in my life, and the truth is, it's so much that I can't really quantify. But I do recall one particularly heavy night on my own when I consumed eight bottles of wine, one bottle of vodka, one bottle of rum and one bottle of port. People look unconvinced when I say this, but at 6am I was totally lucid."

His relationship with his younger brother, Roddy, a keen organic landscape gardener, deteriorated after Dai blew the whistle on Roddy's affair with Princess Margaret in the Seventies. In 2006, Roddy told the Daily Mail how he resented his brother's "betrayal". His brother retorted by calling him "a snob and a resentful, chippy little twerp". But they made it up before he died.

He inherited the baronetcy in 1999 on his father's death, but did himself few favours with his Welsh neighbours. He bought houses in the south Wales villages of Aberbeeg and Llanhilleth, but turned his back on all things Welsh in 2003 after the cottages were vandalised. He claimed a new strain of "xenophobic nationalism" was in the valleys, and objected to the promotion of the Welsh language, calling it "an unhealthy and essentially racist agenda". He joined the UK Independence Party in the 2007 Welsh Assembly elections but came last. When he announced he would only return to Wales in a coffin, the neighbours retorted that he would not be missed.

He died, officially, of bone cancer, aged 62. He also had prostate cancer, diabetes, extreme anaemia and cirrhosis of the liver, and he knew the real cause of all his illnesses: drink. "I can't say that I regret my relationship with alcohol, as it was something I did awfully well," he wrote. "But let me say this: there's no difference between an alcohol-diseased body in a hospital bed, whether it belongs to an Old Etonian baronet like myself or a guy sleeping rough on the street." Right up to the end he was still drinking a glass of wine every day, and telling young women: "My dear, you're as pretty as a primrose." He hated being ill. "Before this," he said in hospital, "I was like someone in The Bonfire of the Vanities. I was king of the world. I was invincible, above the rules of society. Except I wasn't and it damn near killed me."

Llewellyn's successors

The Twentysomething: Henry Conway

Fun-loving dandy who hosts wild evenings in some of the capital's leading hotspots. Unashamed and unabashed, he reacted to revelations that his MP father paid him £32,000 in taxpayers' money by arriving at a nightclub in a horse-drawn carriage, upstaging Paris Hilton in the process.

The Thirtysomething: Dan Macmillan

Branded the "vulgar viscount" by his former squeeze Jade Jagger (whose best friend, Kate Moss, he subsequently eloped with), the grandson of Harold Macmillan one day stands to inherit £200m from the family publishing firm. Known to enjoy his wealth.

The Fortysomething: Tim Jeffries

Dubbed the Green Shield Stamps "heir" by fawning society mags, but was left a measly half a million from grandpa's fortune. Still, is rarely absent from London's most glamorous soirees, and has escorted a string of beauties including Elle Macpherson and Claudia Schiffer.

Henry Deedes