Found dead in the bath, the aristocrat who kept the gossip columnists busy

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The Independent Online

Yet all Jago Eliot ever wanted from his privileged place in life was to surf the perfect wave and work as a conceptual artist; his website lists his occupation as "magician".

At the weekend he was found dead at a farmhouse he shared with his wife and children in Cornwall. Police said there were no suspicious circumstances.

Eliot, 40, who rarely used his honorary title of Lord Eliot, had lived a similar lifestyle to his father, Peregrine Eliot, 10th Earl of St Germans, invariably described in the gossip columns as "bohemian" and who has staged music and literary festivals at the family's Port Eliot estate. He lists his interests in Who's Who as "mucking about".

His son, who suffered from epilepsy, was found dead on Saturday, in the bath at a farmhouse on the St Germans estate in south-east Cornwall. He had recently completed a masters degree at the University of Plymouth and was due to start a job with Hewlett Packard which combined his interest in experimental art and computer technology. Under "current projects" his website lists such ideas as a portable broadcast system for surround sound, an ongoing festival of free art, a "real-time torture system" whereby sadists and masochists could interact over the internet and "invisible sculptures" sensed using electronic gloves.

The family declined to comment on his death, but Andrew Beaumont, the agent for the Port Eliot estate, said Jago Eliot "was a lovely and very gentle young man. I knew him all my life".

Eliot, educated at Millfield School in Somerset, and the oldest of his father's three sons, originally wanted to be a surfer, travelling the world in pursuit of his passion and raising funds by busking and performing magic tricks in Covent Garden. He turned to body boarding after injuring his hip and competed in the world championships in Hawaii, coming 17th.

He eventually returned to settle down on the family estate. In 1996, aged 29, he was fined £360 by magistrates in Liskeard, for possession of cannabis. He told the court he grew his own cannabis to alleviate pain he suffered from a number of broken limbs, some caused by surfing.

He was popular locally - Mike Jones, landlord of the Rod and Line pub in Tideford, where he was a regular said: "A big part of everyone's life has gone." Harvene Bray, the local butcher, said: "He had such a wonderful sense of humour and he absolutely adored his wife and children. He always had such a good air about him and knew exactly what he wanted. He was simply part of the community and I cannot believe this has happened."

He was also known for giving extravagant parties for his friends, the most famous of which was on the Millennium Eve in 1999, attended by his cousin, Liberty Ross and her friend, the model Kate Moss.

Eliot was married to Bianca Ciambriello, a former model and step-daughter of the late painter Robert Lenkiewicz. They had three children - twin girls, Ruby and Violet, and a son, Albert, born in November 2004 who becomes heir to the title. Although there were suggestions of tensions between Lord Eliot and his father because of the latter's unhappiness that his son had not found a proper career, Lord Eliot's path was always likely to be unconventional, given his own father's lifestyle. Now on his third marriage, to a former Daily Telegraph journalist 30 years his junior, the 10th Earl was known as a party-loving socialite during the 1970s and a few years ago sold a family Rembrandt for £6m to raise money. In 1981, he began a series of music festivals on the estate, called the Elephant Fayre, which many credit with inspiring the subsequent expansion of the Glastonbury Festival. The Fayres featured such acts as the Cure, Siouxsie and the Banshees and the Beat, but came to an end in 1986 when the new-age travellers known as the Peace Convoy invaded the site.

In recent years, the 10th Earl, now 65, has staged a series of literary festivals on the estate. This years' festival will be held in July and is due to feature writers such as Zadie Smith and Hanif Kureshi, the comedian Arthur Smith conducting a tour of the grounds and Biba founder Barbara Hulanicki making recycled clothes in a tent, using materials "from the Port Eliot attics". There will also be cookery demonstrations and a burlesque show.

The estate dates from 1565, when the priory of St Germans was first acquired by the Eliot family, who were Devon merchants. Their power expanded under Sir John Eliot, who at one point controlled five parliamentary seats in Cornwall. Arrested by Charles I, he died in the Tower of London in 1632.

The peerage was created in 1815 and a succession of earls held offices of state including the third Earl, Edward Granville Eliot, who was Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, Postmaster General and became one of the founders of the Conservative Party.