Hector Christie is not your run of the mill aristocrat. He has been running a quasi-commune at his stately home, Tapeley Park near Instow in Devon, and in its surrounding estate for some time – since it was deemed to be very unfashionable and more than a wee bit dodgy to do so.
A son of the Glyndebourne Christies, Hector eschewed control of the family opera company, having tossed for it in a nightclub with his brother Gus. Instead he chose to make for himself and his family, including the teenagers Bess and Archie, something of an environmental activists' haven. He inherited the house from his great grandmother, Lady Rosamund, and sees himself merely as a caretaker.
"It's been an attempt at creating our own world, with shared beliefs and a focus to live in the greenest way possible," he says. "It's great, really. I always thought I was doing something good by inviting people to come and live here, but it had often gone awry. Not least when one chick turned up and announced that she would pay her way through prostitution. A little light weeding and planting was more what I had in mind."
We peruse the achingly beautiful gardens of the Queen Anne house, which overlooks the estuary of the river Torridge and which is open to the public. Hector gives tours himself.
An idiosyncratic fellow, he once interrupted Tony Blair at full tilt, having smuggled himself into the Labour conference by sporting a false ID and wearing a suit. His protest – which involved shouting "You've got blood on your hands" – was about the Iraq war. Otherwise, he generates money at Tapeley with festivals, weddings and tours.
The Tapeley Park gardens are open until 31 October and reopen in March: Sunday to Friday 10am-5pm