Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Fête of Lord Bath

My London sightings of obscure but (personal favourite) famous people are near legendary (Peter Blake, Jarvis Cocker, Steven Berkoff) – and did I mention I saw Roger Daltrey, Bill Nighy and Anthony Gormley at the Dylan concert at London's Roundhouse the other month? – but my west country celebrity sightings are somewhat lacklustre.

However, with the fête season in full swing last weekend (we managed three), I got a glimpse of one of my favourite West Country people: Lord Bath (unmistakable from at least 100m), The 7th Marquess of Bath, drinking a pint of ale at Horningsham fête in Wiltshire, which is part of the Longleat estate. As famous for his flamboyant, gaudy attire and 'wifelets' as for being the owner of Longleat estate – including its stately home and safari park, at 77 he still cuts a flamboyant figure with his colourful waistcoats, joie de vivre and wild white hair and beard. He looks like the 1960s never went away.

I got a peek into the workings of his mind when I visited his private rooms at Longleat House. Viewable by guided tour only, many of the rooms are coated floor to ceiling with his paintings and murals. Like his waistcoats, they are a garish mish-mash of every art movement of the 20th century, and a few he seems to have invented along the way. Painted mostly in the 1960s when he was in his late thirties, they consist of nothing less than a history of mankind – from Stone Age man and Wessex discos to fantasies and dreams . It almost goes without saying that some of them are quite sexually explicit.

On the tour, I also got a glimpse of one of his wifelet's rooms. Lord Bath's womanising is legendary and to house his extensive female companions – affectionately known as wifelets, he has rooms for them, as well as cottages in the nearby vicinity. At the last count, Lord Bath has had 74 wifelets. That's roughly one a year for every year of his life. He usually has 3 or 4 on the go at a time.

I first encountered Lord Bath – real name Alexander George Thynn – through the BBC's children's series Animal Park, which I used to watch with my daughter. The series followed animals and keepers around the safari park. Many a tear was shed watching the birth of a giraffe or death of an aardvark. Within Longleat there's also Longleat House (where the murals are), Postman Pat village, maze, adventure castle, Old Joe's Mine (with bats), a railway and safari boat ride (complete with sea lions and a look at Nico's – a gorilla – island in the middle of the lake, where you can see a depressed looking ape watching TV – though which came first the depression or the TV, I'm not sure).

Have a look at his fairly confusing web-site (his hyphen) It looks like it was designed in 1994 but has pictures of his murals and a comprehensive collection of his writings (much of it sexual): autobiography ('Chapter 2.5 – Childhood – Sex: unearthing the erotic mould'), songs (yes, sexual), poems (yes, yes – sexual – with lines like:

I see you on my couch
with legs apart
your pussy preening in my avid gaze

He's clearly not one to go for the delicate sexual metaphor when the actuality will do) and his journal. In fact, the only non-sexual section is his speeches to the House of Lords. When he says his intention is to put on record 'his total identity', you know he's not joking: he's apparently written six million words of his autobiography and he's only up to 1994.

You can purchase his paintings from the site for a cool £10,000 – with an estimated wealth of £157 million, you can see he clearly needs the money.

No comments :