A rum idea

Bonhams Magazine

Issue 28, Autumn 2011

Page 28

A rum idea

Bonhams Magazine

Issue 28, Autumn 2011

Page 28

A rum idea

Bonhams Magazine

Issue 28, Autumn 2011

Page 28

A rum idea

Bonhams Magazine

Issue 28, Autumn 2011

Page 28

There is a well-known maxim on Wall Street: "Once is a trend, twice a tradition, and three times a commandment." Lord Glenconner took this to heart when he marked three milestone birthdays with lavish parties, all of which were held in his beloved West Indies.

The trend was set in 1976 with a weekof celebrations for his 50th birthday on Mustique that culminated with The Golden Ball. It was to capture this event that the fledgling photographer Robert Mapplethorpe was given his first assignment. A decade later for Lord Glenconner's 60th, family and friends were flown out to St Lucia to join a luxurious sailing ship for another week of parties through the islands on a cruise south to Mustique for The Peacock Ball. Colin Glenconner had long held a fascination for India, and he had shipped over from the Subcontinent costumes for all. The final 'commandment', his 80th, was held at his house at Beau in St Lucia. He was already living under the terrace of what was destined to become The Great House, which, with a typical impulsive gesture, he had built expressly for the party. On previous trips to India he had bought the columns, arches and doorways of an 18th century monastery in Gujarat, a mirrored room from Rajasthan, and various shrines and decorations from elsewhere. The house itself was constructed of coral blocks from Barbados and incorporated the Indian architectural artifacts. A dhurrie was specially woven for the salon and Victorian chandeliers hung from the domed ceilings; it was a marvelous setting for his collection of Indian and West Indian furniture. And all this was just for a single party, although it would become a fitting setting for his treasures.

Colin Tennant, Lord Glenconner or, as he was affectionately known in the West Indies, 'Mr Tennants', lived in St for more than 30 years. A man proud of his aristocratic heritage and indebted to the Tennant fortune derived in the early 19th century from bleach, he was the sum of his ancestors, a genetic boiling pot of scientists, writers, and politicians laced with the eccentric and the downright bizarre. He had disarming charm, geniality, and a ready wit. He was a marvelous host.

The Tennant family are no strangers to the West Indies. In the 1850s the family received a series of estates in Trinidad as a bad debt: a century later the young Colin Tennant went out to work in San Fernando. There he sold the last of the land and, in 1958, famously bought the Island of Mustique in the St Vincent Grenadines, an unbelievably farsighted act at a time before tourism had arrived in the Caribbean, or before St Vincent even had an airport. During the next decade he put the heart back into the land before founding the Mustique Company to develop the island. At the suggestion of his great friend and confidant, HRH The Princess Margaret, Tennant employed her uncle in- law, the noted stage designer Oliver Messel, to plan the island and design the initial houses. Tennant's originality, coupled with Messel's fl are and sense of scale, made an excellent combination. Not only was Mustique naturally very beautiful, Tennant also made it an attractive and fun place to be, so much so that outsiders wished to become a part of the enjoyable scene.

Having established Mustique, and built a remarkable Indian-style house (complete with an Indian marble temple and fountains), Lord Glenconner (as he became in 1983) sold up and moved to St Lucia where he had bought a mango plantation, Ruby, near Souffrière on the south coast of the island. When the nearby estate of Jalousie came on the market he immediately bought it with a view to creating 'another Mustique'. With his unerring eye he had bought one of the most ravishing places in the Caribbean. Then accessible only by sea, the 480-acre estate was situated on a palm-fringed bay between the Pitons, two large sugarloaf-shaped volcanic plugs that are one of the natural wonders of the world. Today the area is a World Heritage site.

In the early 1980s, Lord Glenconner found that England was too cold to live in and he abandoned his London life to move permanently to St Lucia, a popular move that suited his wife and family who were constant visitors. He was instrumental in the building of the Jalousie Plantation Hotel on his estate, but market forces in the early 1990s were against him and it was sold, along with much of the land, to the Hilton Group, leaving him with what he named the Beau Estate. There he imported an old chattel house to live in, but typically he made it worthy of an article for Architectural Digest. This modest wooden shack was a great improvement on his former residence of two rooms in Souffrière, where the lavatory was in the Texaco fi lling station opposite.

Glenconner thrived on adversity. At Beau he created a beachside restaurant (named Bang as it was "bang between the Pitons"), where the main building was modeled on Oliver Messel's set of the 1950s Broadway musical House of Flowers. His time as a restaurateur, meeting and greeting every guest, cooking swordfi sh steaks or serving rum punch was a total contradiction to his former Eton-Oxford-Guards-City life. Glenconner invariably made each guest's visit memorable – for whatever reason. But it was the arrival of Boopa, a Ugandan elephant and refugee from Dublin Zoo – she cost less than a long wheelbase Land Rover – that changed Colin Glenconner's life on St Lucia. She came in a crate on the back of a lorry one Sunday morning and her arrival emptied the churches around the main square of Souffrière. When she would not come out of the crate, Kent Adonai, a local St Lucian who had helped to unload her at Castries dock and traveled south with her, took charge and was immediately hired. Kent was to stay to the day Lord Glenconner died, 28 years later, acting fi rst as keeper of the elephant, and later as a factotum. Boopa eventually died from a surfeit of stale dry buns, but while she was alive, she was a constant joy. She would pull in moored yachts that were tethered to the coconut palms, stand on the rope, then scavenge for food in the galleys with her trunk through the open port hole. She loved to spray dirty water on clean laundry as it hung out to dry.

Lord Glenconner also thrived in St Lucia – as the performing host of Bang, and as the giver of lavish parties, both at his baronial seat Glen House in the Scottish borders, and in the Caribbean. These events were attended by a potent mix of characters including Mick Jagger, Princess Margaret, and Patrick Lichfield. Glenconner's passion for people was matched by his love of fine art and
Indian jewelry. However, he always maintained that he was not a collector, a type, he believed, that merely hoarded and stored possessions in attics. He saw himself more as a "patron cum dealer".
He supported Lucian Freud in his early days and bought 15 of his paintings (one of himself) selling them 25 years later "so that they could be enjoyed by others around the world".

One of Lord Glenconner's few regrets was that he completed his fi nal building project. The Great House was finished in time for the party and so gave him "nothing to do" for the rest of his life which ended in the house, nearly three years later, on 27 August 2010. Like his forebears, no Lord Glenconner has ever lived beyond the age of 83.

As a goodwill ambassador for St Lucia, the government accorded Lord Glenconner a State funeral. It was attended not only by the great and the good of his adopted country, but by the local people he cared for so much as well. He would have approved of the wake, just as he would have taken pleasure in the dispersal of his possessions for the enjoyment of others around the world.

Nicholas Courtney's biography of Colin Glenconnerwill be published next autumn.

Sale: The Contents of the St Lucian
Property of Lord Glenconner
New Bond Street
Wednesday 28 September at 2pm
Enquiries: Charlie Thomas +44 (0) 20 8963 2814
charlie.thomas@bonhams.com

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