David St Vincent: Death of British travel writer and gay activist in Romania treated as suspicious

Mr St Vincent’s decomposing body was found by his landlady in his Bucharest apartment on 12 January

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Police in Bucharest have announced that they are treating as suspicious the death of a British travel writer, adventurer and activist who helped bring about the decriminalisation of homosexuality in Romania.

David St Vincent’s decomposing body was found by his landlady in his Bucharest apartment on 12 January. His death was initially thought to have been from natural causes, but police said that the case had been handed to the Bucharest prosecutors’ office.

Friends of Mr St Vincent, however, said his death may yet be found to have been from natural causes. They said the 48-year-old, who was epileptic, had blood pressure problems and labyrinthitis, an inner-ear infection causing dizziness and difficulties with balance.

They also paid tribute to an “extremely generous, larger-than-life character” whom they described as “a British eccentric in the best possible way”, and their “PG Wodehouse of the internet”.

In his online CV, Mr St Vincent, who worked for The Independent’s travel section in 2004, had included an “unusual experiences” section in which he listed: “Chased by bear in Transylvania”, “Offered job as English language newsreader on Iranian TV on condition I married a Muslim”.

After reading Oriental studies at Oxford University, Mr St Vincent went to Iran to research a travel guide, but was deported in 1992 after being accused of plotting to import Salman Rushdie’s novel The Satanic Verses.

He used the experience to ensure his Lonely Planet guide to Iran included such tips as “Never underestimate the ruthlessness or strength of the Komiteh (a revolutionary committee).”

Undeterred, he went to Romania to write a travel guide and in 1994 he became a founder member of the Bucharest Acceptance Group, later renamed Accept.

The group played a decisive role in achieving the decriminalisation of same-sex relationships in Romania in 2001, but initially had to hold its meetings in secret because of threats of violence.

The Rev Chris Newlands, now the Vicar of Lancaster, who was the group’s first chairman, said: “As chaplain to the British embassy I had diplomatic immunity and could work with some measure of safety. Others chose to take a risk. David was a pretty fearless campaigner.”

Mr St Vincent returned to Bucharest about two years ago, his fondness for tweed jackets and Panama hats soon marking him out as one of the city’s more noticeable characters.

Rev Newlands, who will officiate at his friend’s funeral in Bucharest on 18 February, said: “In a country where people weren’t too familiar with Brits, he loved playing the archetypal English gentleman. 

“He was also extremely generous to his many friends. Beneath the rather idiosyncratic character that he cultivated was a very kind man.”

Florin Radu, of Accept, which organised Romania’s first gay pride parade in 2005, said the group would hold a commemorative event for Mr St Vincent next week.

Mr Radu, 46, a friend of Mr St Vincent’s for 10 years, said: “We are very sad, but very grateful to David for what he did for gay rights. He was a very funny, very kind man who loved Romania.” 

Mr St Vincent’s younger brother Peter Harris, 46, a property developer living in south-west France, said: “I am very proud of David’s achievements, and of how he struck a chord with so many people around the world.”