Thursday, September 22, 2005

Baron of All Trades...

Master to none:

The 35th Lord Kingsale ...who died on September 15 aged 64, was Premier Baron of Ireland; his varied career included spells as a kitchen fitter, film extra, silage-pit builder, white hunter, plumber, proprietor of a dating agency in Brisbane and bingo caller in Birmingham before he retired on invalidity benefit to sheltered housing in Somerset.

While many daydream of grandeur and riches, John de Courcy's misfortune was to have sprung from a line of noblemen stretching back to at least the 13th century, yet to spend most of his life scrabbling for change down the back of the sofa.

"My main line of work is odd jobs," he admitted in 1985. "I am prepared to lend my hand to absolutely anything, however dirty or unpleasant." But he genially accepted the disparity between his background and his fortunes. For many years he listed "self-deception" as a recreation in Who's Who, "because I consider myself important and nobody else does".

The de Courcys had been a force in Ireland since Miles de Cogan took a leading part in the Norman invasion of Ireland and was granted (with Robert fitz Stephen) the Kingdom of Cork by Henry II.

....His mother came from a Yorkshire lanolin oil-distilling family, and he was sent to prep school with the intention that he should proceed to Eton. ....

In the event, he was educated at Stowe and the Universities of Paris and Salzburg, before taking a short service commission with the Irish Guards. He would have liked to remain in the Army, but the oil business went bust when he was a lieutenant. "When I joined the Brigade of Guards you needed a substantial private income to keep up with your fellow officers in the mess," he later explained. "I felt compelled to leave."

Aged 25, de Courcy drifted into odd jobs as "the easiest way of making money". He worked as a bingo caller in Birmingham, as a lorry driver, and played an Egyptian peasant in Cleopatra, Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor's film.

The cold snap of 1965 brought him 17 burst pipes and, with no money to pay for a plumber, he was obliged to learn how to fix them himself. It became a reliable standby, and he also did turns as a digger of silage pits, and as a kitchen fitter. His best gig, he thought, was as a "white hunter" at the Duke of Bedford's safari park. ....

....Securing a spouse and heir was a constant ambition, consistently thwarted....

Kingsale frequently declared his eagerness to wed but, despite being, as he once put it, "the only middle-aged heterosexual bachelor in a 30-mile radius, which has made me a must for any dinner party", matrimony eluded him. He advertised for a wife on several occasions, and got a letter a day from candidates. In 1989, while working as a wine-waiter and butler for hire at £25 a night (including washing up), he became optimistic about a "40-plus, leggy blonde of Hampshire naval stock", but was disappointed again.

....A French genealogist assured him that he held some 18 titles, but it was a continual source of annoyance that, as an Irish peer, he missed out on sitting in the Lords (and the attendance allowance which went with it).

His most successful enterprises included a dating agency in Brisbane called Banaid, which insisted upon an Aids test from those signing up. It did well (though it could not find Kingsale a bride....

Lord Kingsale is succeeded by his cousin, Nevinson Mark de Courcy, born in 1958, whose father was a municipal drains' inspector in New Zealand.

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