You Might As Well Live
“Yawnsville, dahling, yawnsville!” Known – among many things – for her catchphrases, Lady Colin Campbell is never ever dull. And she doesn’t tolerate dullness in others. Certainly not in her castle in Sussex, at any rate. “The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity,” Dorothy Parker once said. Lady C would give Mrs P a run for her money in the quips department. “Oh do put that on the internet!” winks Her Ladyship. Not an early riser, at least not today, she appears makeup free, her high cheekbones unadorned. Traces of confetti on the driveway suggest it’s been a busy weekend.
“I’m me whatever – I’m not playing for the gallery. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger and, as you can see, I’m not dead yet!” Lady C gleefully describes her various fundraising activities as “whoring for Goring”. A stint on one celebrity TV programme famously helped pay for the castle’s dome preservation. “My friend Carla, not being English, thinks outside the box and suggested covering the dome with a layer of cling film and carpet protector.” Very Parkeresque: “Take care of the luxuries and the necessities will take care of themselves.” Although when confronted with a 10 metre python in one episode she did exclaim, “I’m not prepared to jeopardise my life for the entertainment industry!”
“Goring Castle was built by the Shelley family for the poet Shelley,” she explains. “It was sold by his wife Mary who, you know, wrote Frankenstein. I saw the potential immediately and I thought it would be possible if I got my Jamaican workers – which I did. I knew what they were capable of – I am Jamaican!” Percy Bysshe Shelley drowned in Italy aged 29. The building is a less compact English version of Northern Ireland’s Castle Ward. Dracu Gothic to the north; Greco Palladian to the south. Either the architect John Biagio-Rebecca or the client had adventurously diverse taste. Or maybe bipolar. “It self evidently hedges its bets with no attempt at unity!” remarks Lady C. As Dotty observed, “Creativity is a wild mind and a disciplined eye.”
“Let’s whizz round the outside,” enthuses the châtelaine. “The gothic front looks more like the original Arundel Castle than Arundel Castle itself. The horseshoe staircase on the classical front was bought by the former owners, the Somersets, on a trip to Italy. It cost £30,000. That’s £8 million today. Beyond belief! They could’ve just done it up much cheaper! Above the stairs is the beautiful Shelley coat of arms made of Coade stone.”
Alas, Dorothy Parker’s aphorism resonated with the found state of the castle: “The only dependable law of life – everything is always worse than you thought it was going to be.” Nothing that a few million quid wouldn’t fix, though. “I bought the castle three and a half years ago and after the first year moved in. Mid restoration! The east wing collapsed into the wall. I took down the outside bread oven. Hideous beyond belief! There have been times when I wished I could stop,” Lady C recalls, “and there have been times when there has been too much for me to do. It has been frenzied at times – there are neverending demands, neverending things to do, and lots of problems. But I have always enjoyed it.” She benefits from Dotty’s “keen eye and magnetic memory”.
“It’s worth the trouble.
It’s a magnificent building.
It’s absolutely beautiful.
It’s laden with history.”
The castle with its obligatory west wing is a sprawling 1,450 square metres. That’s the size of 16 three bedroom houses. An elegant sitting room framed by Doric columns opens onto the terrace under the external staircase. Above, three interconnecting staterooms span the length of the piano mobile. “Its architect understood light and the light here is just fantastic,” Lady C observes. On cue, late morning sunlight gilds the curve of the oval staircase hall. A family staircase leads up to top floor private apartments for Lady C and her two sons. Hopefully there’s plenty of storage for Her Ladyship’s five tiaras and couture wardrobe. She affirms, “Just because I happen to have come from a privileged background doesn’t mean I’m not human, even though many people may think I’m not!”
Two springer spaniels, Totty and Nicky, follow their owner around the place. “It’s very different when you’ve inherited furniture. Interior designers want to cover everything with the same fabric. So American. I went to school in New York but I’m not a New Yorker! We have a licence for people to get married here. Very pretty, but of course, the weather…” Her mobile rings. Instead of Dorothy Parker’s “What fresh hell is this?” she answers, “Hi honee. Hi, where are you? We’ll get there, my son!” Dima is busy on a computer on the top floor. That’s several storeys and hallways and lobbies and corridors away.
Lady C reflects: “Well I would say that there are times in life when you realise that if you put in the graft you get the reward. Effort requires effort.” It’s the end of Lady Colin Campbell’s bold and brilliant, wild and whacky, fast and furious tour. “Appreciation, my dear,” her eyebrows arching, “is a wonderful thing.” What would Dotty do? “Tomorrow’s gone – we’ll have tonight!” And there’s more from the original New Yorker, “Oh, life is a glorious cycle | A medley of extemporanea.” We step out of the recessed gothic porch into the rest of our lives.