The barefoot aristocrat tells of life and lies: Tim Kelsey meets Lord Bath but fails to interview him

THE NEW Marquess of Bath was polite but firm. He had changed his mind about the interview. 'I've turned everybody else down, so I can't really talk to you,' he said. 'I could, I suppose, answer specific questions . . .'

Longleat House in Wiltshire has been home to the Thynne family for 400 years. Even in the rain, it is spectacular. The late Marquess, who died last week, inherited huge debts with his title and founded Europe's first safari park to keep the Elizabethan house. Alexander, his controversial heir, has lived in the west wing since his birth in 1932.

Cuthbert, a retainer, took us to wait in the New Gallery. On the walls and ceilings were some of the murals that Lord Bath has devoted much of his life to producing. Each huge panel represents a different 'Age of History' in art. They are massive designs sculpted out of paint and sawdust in fierce elemental colours. The place reeks of oil paint.

Cuthbert had been instructed to take us on a tour of the murals. We went up the spiral stairs, past the 'Bluebeard' collection of paintings, one for each of his girlfriends. Lord Bath married his present wife, Anna Gael, in 1966, and she lives part-time at Longleat with their son, who is 18, and daughter, 22, and also in Paris. But he has never been secretive about having a number of what he calls 'wifelets' who share his bed from time to time.

Cuthbert dutifully showed us the bed, a four-poster with mirrors. 'George III once slept in the bed,' he said. 'The mirrors went up later.' This room is most famous for its Kama Sutra-type murals. In 1969 the then Viscount Weymouth opened the room to the public; two months later the police closed it.

Lord Bath eventually appeared, barefooted and wearing a multi-coloured cotton jacket and black jeans. 'I told you I wouldn't give you an interview,' he said.

'I know,' I said. 'I am here to ask specific questions only . . . I'd first like to clear up whether your father approved of your idea for a holiday village at Longleat.'

He wanted to show me a letter, and led us into his drawing-room through a pair of violet doors. This is where he does his painting and writing. Closed curtains shut out all natural light; there was a guitar on a chaise-longue (he once made a record called 'I Play The Host'), a chipped wine flask on the floor, and a battered Thermos next to a tatty sofa; the room is topped off by a word-processor and more murals, this time the 'Ages of Man'.

Lord Bath produced from the bureau a letter written by his father to Michael Howard, the Secretary of State for the Environment, expressing 'total support' for his son's scheme. He is infuriated that the press suggested last week that his father had died opposing the idea.

It is a grand project for a holiday village in woodland on the edge of the grounds, with a leisure centre encased in a large translucent dome. One village in the grounds is against the proposal, but, he said, '80 per cent of the local people support it'.

As he spoke, with great energy and enthusiasm, the estate's agent entered with letters for his signature - the first time he had signed himself 'Bath'. The letters were to Sunday newspapers, explaining that his father approved of the leisure project. He wrote 'Sir' on each until the agent reminded him that 'three of the editors are ladies'.

It is clear that the notorious Bohemian loves the house, and the business of running it. He has been directly in charge of the staff for several years, and Cuthbert said later that they firmly believe that the barefoot aristocrat is the man to ensure Longleat's commercial future.

I ventured a more general question: how does he rate his father's achievements? 'No, no. Can't answer that. Interviewing again. I'm trying not to put myself on the front stage.'

All right, then: are there any mistakes in the press reporting of his life? Yes, indeed. First, the 'misconception' that he had altered his name from Thynne to Thynn because he wanted to distance himself from the family. 'It was spelt without an 'e' historically. Sir John Thynne (the first Thynne, secretary to the Protector Somerset) had snob reasons for adding it.'

Second, it was wrong that he saw his father only twice a year. Relations were strained, he admitted: 'It was safest to keep a certain distance, but I saw him six or seven times a year.'

Third, 'it is a gross lie that I have to publish my own books myself'. Lord Bath has found it difficult to make the literary and art worlds take him seriously, but claims more success than his critics suggest. He has written three novels. The second he did bring out himself, but the first edition of his first work was published by W H Allen. The second edition he printed himself. His third novel, about the sexual exploits of a noble family (it helped rupture relations between him and his father), was printed commercially.

Cuthbert ventured that 'the books are very modestly priced'. Lord Bath interrupted: 'I found the suggestion that I was on holiday in France while my father was ill most offensive. I work very hard while I'm in France, painting and writing, mostly writing now.'

He is working on a 50-volume autobiography - he opened a fireproof safe to reveal dozens of his diaries - and has already written four volumes, covering his life up to the age of 26.

At 26, Lord Bath was leading the life of a conventional aristocrat: Eton, Oxford (philosophy, politics and economics), and the Guards. In 1952 he won the Army Officers' welterweight boxing title. But during the Sixties he became a sexual revolutionary, political philosopher (he still campaigns for Wessex regional autonomy) and full-time artist.

His art 'provides some keyhole glimpses into my psyche', he said. 'This particular room (the drawing-room) took two years. My way of working isn't to set myself hours. I'm just happy with working, when I've finished shopping or whatever. This is a lifetime's work.'

Time for a photograph. He agreed, on condition that he appeared to be an unwilling subject, rather than an 'interview-type' picture. He put his leather boots on, and stood, poised to enter, outside the door in the rain.

And so we concluded our meeting, with a warm handshake and mutual assurances that, of course, nothing approaching an interview had taken place during the past hour.

The funeral of the sixth Marquess took place yesterday at the family church at Longbridge Deverill. In accordance with his wishes, mourners did not wear black, the coffin was made of 'cheap materials' and there was 'no unnecessary expenditure.' A jazz band played Didn't He Ramble, a New Orleans funeral march, and the Battle Hymn of the Republic.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
New Articles
tvDownton Abbey Christmas special
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
tvOur review of the Doctor Who Christmas Special
peopleIt seems you can't silence Katie Hopkins, even on Christmas Day...
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: Stanley Tucci, Sophie Grabol and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvSo Sky Atlantic arrived in Iceland to film their new and supposedly snow-bound series 'Fortitude'...
Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman as Clara Oswald in the Doctor Who Christmas special
tvForget the rumours that Clara Oswald would be quitting the Tardis
Arts and Entertainment
Japanese artist Megumi Igarashi showing a small mascot shaped like a vagina
The Queen delivers her Christmas message
newsTwitter reacts to Her Majesty's Christmas Message
Arts and Entertainment
Life and Style
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor


Day In a Page

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all