The eccentric Lord who shunned his family to favour a manservant
Coming to a screen near you soon could well be the latest gripping instalment in the rollercoaster lives of one particular branch of the aristocracy which has seen its fortunes career from dark tragedy to high controversy and is now led by an Edinburgh teenager.
He is student Cody Tennant, still just 19, who three years ago launched a legal bid to challenge his eccentric grandfather Lord Glenconner’s will in the High Court of St Lucia.
The teenager from the Grange, who studied at Aberdeen University, inherited the title when he was a 16-year-old schoolboy at Edinburgh Academy. Expectations that he would automatically inherit his flamboyant grandfather’s tropical estate – thought to be worth around £20m – were initially shattered when it emerged a will made seven months before his death had left it all to his devoted valet, local man Kent Adonai. Cody and Adonai struck a deal to share the fortune.
That in itself might be enough to spark curious film-goers’ interests. But the prospect of Glenconner: The Movie is also interwoven with heartbreaking tragedy, the untimely death of young Cody’s father Charlie at his New Town home, the separate but equally tragic death of his uncle and, of course, the lavish lifestyle his grandfather enjoyed in the company of royalty and celebrities like Mick Jagger and David Bowie, which kept gossip columns and Sunday newspapers busy for years.
It is, of course, a very long way from Edinburgh’s leafy suburbs to the lush paradise of St Lucia, where Lord Glenconner passed away at the grand age of 83 in 2010, bringing to a conclusion a flamboyant life.
But events there inspired London-based St Lucian property owner Michael Jacques to put pen to paper with his version of his dealings with Colin Tennant, the third Lord Glenconner.
Amid claims that he lost a large chunk of his land and property to the aristocrat – a claim that has plodded through the St Lucian courts for more than 19 years without being resolved – and a string of wild and unproven allegations relating to the baron’s behaviour, Mr Jacques is in the process of turning the book into a movie screenplay.
The film and book, he says, focus mainly on his personal dealings with the aristocrat, who spent around half his life living in Mustique where Princess Margaret was a regular visitor, and then St Lucia while his wife Anne – herself from a titled family and a maid of honour during the Queen’s coronation – remained in the UK.
“It was when he was evicted from Mustique and came to St Lucia and needed a place to stay,” says Mr Jacques, recalling his first encounter with the Scottish lord, whose family pile is around an hour from the city centre at Innerleithen, near Peebles. I rented him my motel, and he trashed it.
“He entertained Princess Margaret and Diana [Princess of Wales] visited there but he trashed it and tried to take it off me. “He told me he had the Government in his hand, he was a lord, a white man and I was a black local man. He tried to deprive me of everything.”
Mr Jacques claims that his St Lucian property was eventually sold on – leading to lengthy legal debate. Writing the book and pressing ahead with a movie screenplay, he admits, is one way of venting his anger.
He already has in mind who he’d like to play the starring roles: Sir Anthony Hopkins as Lord Glenconner, Dame Helen Mirren in the role of Princess Margaret, no less.
Of course there are no guarantees that talk of a film will come to anything. But if it did happen, it would be the latest instalment to a family saga of epic proportions, spanning decades and now, at its heart, a young man who may well wonder what his own future holds.
Cody was just two years old when his father, Charles – natural heir to the Glenconner title – died in 1996 from Hepatitis C at his Edinburgh home. Affectionately known as Charlie, he’d developed a serious drug addiction which led to his father, Lord Glenconner, disinheriting him in favour of his second son, Henry. It meant the family’s sprawling Borders estate, known simply as Glen, would pass to Henry and his heirs, although a deal was apparently struck which would have given Charlie the West Indian properties.
Charlie battled his addiction and went on to study history and politics at Napier University. However, he passed away at the home shared with wife Sheilagh and with his young son.
While Charlie had been disinherited, the title of Lord Glenconner still passed to the next heir in line – the third baron’s grandson, Cody. Cody’s mother Sheilagh, an art consultant who runs her business, Artruist, from her home in the Grange, did not want to discuss news of Mr Jacques’ plans to turn elements of the family fortunes into a movie.
“There is no ongoing saga,” was all she would say when asked about the court action involving her son and Mr Adonai when it was going through the High Court of St Lucia. Young Cody, who gave a poignant poetry reading at a thanksgiving service for his grandfather in 2011, remains the fourth Baron Glenconner while his cousin Euan, 32, runs the Tennants’ impressive 19th century baronial home with his mother, Tessa.
Tragically Euan’s own father, Henry, died aged just 29 in a London Aids clinic in 1990 just a few years after announcing he was gay and having left his young family for a relationship with an actor.
That grand property and sprawling 5000 acre estate, bought by the first Lord Glenconner flush from making a fortune from industrial chemicals, now – ironically perhaps given the prospect of what may come – is regularly used by film companies.
It played a role in the 2007 movie Hallam Foe, and has been used as a backdrop for fashion shoots – appropriate, perhaps, as supermodel Stella Tennant was Henry’s cousin – and high society weddings.
Speaking in 2013, Mr Jacques insisted he wished the Tennant family – and in particular, the new Lord Glenconner, well. “I’d like to meet Cody and have a chat,” he said. “He has been thrown in at the deep end.
“I feel sorry for him and I feel sorry for the family. To be treated with so much disrespect by Colin Tennant.
“I can only think that when the end came, he wanted to give something back to St Lucia.”
Curse of the tennants
It’s been called the “curse of the Tennants” and there’s no doubt the family has had its share of heartache along with incredible good fortune.
The family wealth was built on an 18th century chemical empire created by Charles Tennant, an Ayrshire factor’s son. One of his sons, also Charles, became an independent millionaire and in 1853 outbid his father for ownership of Glen House near Innerleithen.
He became Sir Charles Tennant and furnished Glen House lavishly, although many items were later sold by the third Lord Glenconner who preferred the tropical paradises of Mustique and St Lucia to the Borders.
The island of Mustique became known for luxury and celebrity, with Lord Glenconner at the heart of it all, often dressed to impress. He had five children, among them his heir, Charles, second son Henry and a third son, Christopher. Charles fell into drug addiction and was disinherited – Glen estate was to be left to Henry.
However Henry died in 1990, not long after announcing he was gay and leaving his wife, Tessa and their son Euan. Charlie battled addiction but died in 1996 in Edinburgh from Hepatitis C. Meanwhile Christopher was left badly injured following a motorcycle accident in 1987.
Unknown to the family until recently, there was a fourth son, Joshua Bowler. He was introduced to the family in 2010, the result of a 1950s affair.