In the first part of our serialisation of the Duke of Beaufort’s rollicking new memoir in yesterday’s Daily Mail, he recalled in ebullient detail the antics of guests at his family pile – including Prince Harry, Elizabeth Hurley and Imran Khan. Here, in the second part of three extracts, he tells of an equally colourful love life…
Back in 1985, Tatler picked me as its No 1 most eligible bachelor. I was living in Chelsea at the time and having to juggle a number of girls around – even on occasions having to return home during my lunch hour to fulfil my duties.
I can’t totally explain this sudden success with women, but I suppose becoming the Marquess of Worcester the year before – when my father became the Duke of Beaufort – had given me a higher profile.
Tatler spoke of girls ‘champing at the bit’ to date me, albeit with the caveat that I was one of the ‘clumsiest men in Europe’.
At one party, some guacamole from a canape was somehow diverted from its passage towards my mouth and ended up in a rather grand lady’s Gucci handbag. She was both bewildered and displeased – in that order – when, in a desperate attempt to remove the green glob, I started throwing the bag’s contents all over the room.
Catwalk: American model and actress Jerry Hall, now 67, is pictured in 1986
To be honest, I was a late developer when it came to girls, cursed with a total inability to communicate with them. As a teenager, I found parties a nightmare of awkwardness as I dragged some unfortunate female on to the dancefloor, and then lumbered around doing something resembling a waltz while making extremely stilted conversation.
The total absence of girls at Eton had fostered a general culture of interest in other boys, though my participation in any form of actual homosexuality was relatively limited. After leaving school, I was roped into the debutante scene – then on its last legs – and met girls at formal parties. Eventually, something clicked and I ended up kissing multiple girls. Despite some exploratory fumbling, however, I was still a virgin.
I’d often heard friends discussing a legendary prostitute in the West End of London called Denise Bunny, who seemed to specialise in these matters, and I even went as far as looking her up in the phone book. Fortunately, I never went down this route, as I later heard she was very much of a certain age. I could have been put off for life.
It wasn’t until a camping trip around Europe with a schoolfriend that I finally got the monkey off my back. On a ferry to Greece, we saw two American girls getting on and bought some duty-free whisky in the hope that this might encourage them to end up with one of us. The plan was only partially successful in that the person who got most drunk was me. Later that night, one of the girls asked if I’d like to come to her cabin, a request I couldn’t refuse.
We got on very well and I emerged triumphant, although the principal merit of my performance was speed of delivery.
After that, my main staple for meeting girls was the Season, kicked off each year by Peter Townend, an incredibly snobbish man who’d just retired as editor of Burke’s Peerage. He’d give a drinks party for debutantes in his Chelsea flat – a wonderful opportunity for ‘eligible’ young men to inspect all the girls who’d recently arrived in London. I felt there was room for improvement in my technique, however, and couldn’t help noticing that the most successful of my contemporaries was Robin Smith-Ryland.
I studied Robin closely and saw he had a way of using his rather large eyes to stare almost hypnotically at girls, somewhat in the manner of the snake in the Jungle Book film, and they seemed to fall at his feet every time. I spent a considerable amount of time staring at the mirror and contorting my face into what I thought was his fail-safe seduction technique.
But when I actually embarked on this approach, several girls looked slightly alarmed and asked if I was feeling unwell. Despite this, I finally gained in confidence, and acquired a couple of steady girlfriends (one after another). Then suddenly I found myself going out with quite a succession of girls, sometimes overlapping.
Meanwhile, I’d become a singer in the first of several rock bands. At the same time, I was also getting to know genuine rock stars, like Mick Jagger. One of my trysts during this period was with Jerry Hall, then Mick’s girlfriend. I’d met her through Rupert Loewenstein, the financial manager of The Rolling Stones, who was a great friend of my parents. In 1981, Rupert and his wife had thrown a ball for their son’s 21st at their house in Gloucestershire. It was a lavish affair, and the theme stipulated that all women wore green, although Princess Margaret defiantly wore a bright pink ball dress. Mick was a guest of honour and, when I sat down at my table for dinner, I was excited to find myself placed next to Jerry.
We got on very well: she was not only beautiful but flirtatious and funny. By then, at 29, I’d reached a stage where I quite fancied my skills as a womaniser, but my target audience still tended to be based around Sloane Square – so to be getting on so well with a star was thrilling. Nonetheless, I didn’t expect any more to come of it.
So I was pleasantly surprised when, about six months later, I got a call from Jerry to say she was passing through London, and would I like to meet for dinner. Of course I accepted. I was even more excited when I discovered she was going through one of her periodic break-ups with Mick.
Once again, we got on incredibly well. I ended up going back to Jerry’s hotel for a drink, and a few hours later I walked home – beaming with pride.
‘Flirtatious’: Harry Beaufort with Tracy Ward. They divorced in 2018 after nearly 30 years of marriage
I was not, at this stage in my life, full-blooded gossip-column fodder, but Jerry obviously was, and I knew it was important to be totally discreet. For two days, I managed to restrain myself, but eventually I couldn’t resist telling a couple of friends in strictest confidence.
It wasn’t that many days later that the floodgates opened, and everyone knew the story. By this time, Jerry was back in America but she must have got wind of my boasting. When somebody asked her about me, she’s reputed to have replied in her Texan twang: ‘If that boy’s c*** was as big as his mouth, he’d be one hell of a lay.’
THE same year that Tatler named me their most eligible bachelor, the number of my girlfriends slimmed down, and I found myself spending more and more time with Tracy Ward. She was the beautiful sister of the actress Rachel Ward, who’d recently starred in the TV series The Thorn Birds. Tracy, also enjoying success as an actress in C.A.T.S. Eyes, was a wonderful free spirit, with a slightly alternative way of looking at things. She had a wider range of friends than I did and I really liked the avenues this opened up. The producers of C.A.T.S. Eyes flew Tracy to Australia for a promotional tour, and I joined her there afterwards.
Our first stop was to stay with Tracy’s sister Rachel and her husband, the Australian actor Bryan Brown. Rachel, once viewed as the most beautiful girl of her generation, had found the limitations of upper-class London life a bit stifling. Her husband – who later co-starred in films such as Cocktail with Tom Cruise – was from a working-class background. When they got engaged, Tracy and Rachel’s mother said she was very nervous about her first meeting with her unlikely son-in-law. By way of making conversation, she said to him: ‘Do you know, I was only 19 when I had Rachel’. To which Bryan replied in his Australian accent: ‘Oh really, I was 35.’
Our trip went well and I asked Tracy to marry me – not the most romantic of proposals as we’d just had a row about travel plans. Our wedding took place in June 1987, followed by a party with a heaving dancefloor. The atmosphere was superb, but all that the newspapers reported was the behaviour of our highest-profile guests, Prince Charles and Princess Diana. Rumours of problems in their marriage were beginning to surface, and stories of Diana dancing maniacally with a succession of young men, while Charles sat in a corner in close conversation with a former girlfriend, added grist to the mill.
For our honeymoon, Tracy and I started at the Ritz in Paris, then drove through Italy. I’d planned the journey around some three-star Michelin restaurants, but after the third night she insisted on skipping the rest as my excessive greed was having a negative effect on more traditional honeymoon duties.
Back on English soil, we lived in London during the week – where I initially worked in a property-dealing company – and stayed with my parents at Badminton House in Gloucestershire most weekends. It was a slight relief that our first child turned out to be a son, as he secured the succession.
Tracy was a very modern mother, feeling no embarrassment at breastfeeding in public. I think this slightly unsettled my parents, who remained polite about it, though my father’s friend Sunny [the Duke of Marlborough] was less discreet.
Witnessing the operation being conducted in the library at Badminton, he commented dryly, ‘The milk bar’s open, chaps’, and gave his traditional Churchillian snort.
With hindsight, Tracy and I were never particularly well suited.
By the time our third child was born, we were based between The Cottage on the Badminton estate and London, but our relationship became increasingly distant.
Leading ever more separate lives over the span of 30 years worked to a point. But in some ways our marriage mirrored the set-up of my own parents, who spent time apart for much of their lives.
Our marriage had the pretence of being functional in that we shared a lot of friends and enjoyed doing things with the children, but when it came down to quietly enjoying each other’s company, there was little common ground. For many years I actively searched for space from my marriage, socialising in London to distance myself from Tracy.
We could have continued like this indefinitely, but I found it increasingly difficult when her passion for environmental causes began to impinge on every aspect of our lives. The fact I didn’t share a key part of her life’s focus separated us further, and I found myself becoming bored. One of Tracy’s main objections to life with me was that there was not enough ‘intellectual’ conversation. The problem was we both had different definitions of what that meant; I enjoy nothing more than a discussion about British politics, but she’d always try to refocus the topic to environmentalism, which I found narrow-minded.
In the end, our differences became intolerable. The other disappointment was that Tracy’s relationship with my father completely broke down; he had even less patience concerning her pet subject than I did, and once described her as being ‘a good woman, but impossible to be in the room with for more than five minutes’.
He was also very irritated by the stream of interviews she gave to newspapers, purportedly to promote her cause, but in fact coming over as criticisms of the Badminton estate and the way it was run. This led to Tracy refusing to accompany me on my regular visits to my parents, which meant our children never had the special relationship with my father that he enjoyed with his other grandchildren.
My marriage would have ended earlier, I dare say, if Tracy and I hadn’t come from fairly liberal backgrounds. Perhaps because of the pain of her own parents’ divorce, she felt it was a duty to endorse marital flexibility, to keep the show on the road for the sake of the children. What this meant in practice was that, from the mid-1990s, I had a number of affairs. And I assumed things would jog on indefinitely in this way.
Thoughts of divorce did cross my mind with increasing regularity, but I was concerned about the effect it might have on my relationship with the children, not to mention the financial implications.
Taking the plunge would need a powerful catalyst – and that arrived when I became completely smitten with one particular woman.
Prior to this, I’d rather subscribed to the Prince Charles ‘whatever love means’ school of thought, but, not far short of my 60th birthday, I absolutely did understand what love meant for the first time. To start with, we were just friends, but after her own divorce, our friendship evolved into an affair. My heart would soar at the prospect of seeing her.
The relationship itself, however, was something of a rollercoaster. Truly wonderful times were interspersed with the trauma of breaking up and then somehow being drawn back together again. I suppose, in my heart of hearts, I sensed that this couldn’t be sustained over the long term, but I felt that life was too short not to take these chances. Still, whatever the outcome, I knew it was time to get a divorce. When the affair ended, I could only reflect that it had been a totally life-enhancing experience.
From a rather late starting-point, I felt I was finally beginning to grow up. I remain grateful to Tracy for not hiring some hotshot lawyer and trying to take me for all I had, but, even so, our divorce was stressful. While proceedings were grinding on, I first set eyes on Georgia Powell – a teacher and journalist, and the granddaughter of the novelist Anthony Powell – who was going through the same process.
When we got together a couple of years later, I was still scarred, and our relationship was initially something of a slow-burn. But as time went on I came to the wonderful realisation that it is possible to enjoy ‘une grande passion’ without worrying that it might crash to an end. I feel lucky, at my relatively advanced age, to have landed so spectacularly on my feet.
In 2017, when my father died, I became the 12th Duke of Beaufort. My divorce was completed just a few days after Georgia and I moved into Badminton, and we married immediately afterwards.
My main priority since inheriting has been to look after the estate and ensure it’s in a good state for future generations. The costs of basic upkeep, heating and staff are enormous, so we’ve gone into the hospitality business.
The long-established Badminton Horse Trials and shooting weekends continue, but we’ve added other events such as weddings, grand parties and film shoots.
Already two major TV series have been shot here: Bridgerton and The Pursuit Of Love. Otherwise, Georgia and I love to fill the place with friends and family. When we’re not entertaining, we retreat to three rooms where we happily eat our dinner in front of a huge television.
I may be 71 now, but I still aspire to be a successful rock singer – and in 2016, my latest band, The Listening Device, achieved a cherished ambition of playing at Glastonbury. To my delight, I’ve discovered that the Great Staircase at Badminton House has acoustics to match those of Abbey Road studios. So occasionally, as I am making my way to bed, I belt out a few lines of a song and listen to them echo up the three floors lined with portraits of all those who lived here before me.
© Harry Beaufort, 2023
Adapted from The Unlikely Duke by Harry Beaufort (Hodder & Stoughton, £25) to be published on November 16. To order a copy for £22.50 (offer valid to 13/11/23: UK p&p free on orders over £25) go to mailshop.co.uk/books or call 020 3176 2937.