RICHARD EDEN: Farewell to Britain’s most colourful aristocrat – Fiona, Lady Montagu of Beaulieu, the Elvis-loving widow of motor museum founder who was jailed for homosexual offences in case that helped change law
- Fiona, second wife of the late Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, died on Sunday aged 79
She married the greatest aristocratic showman of the contemporary era – and proved that she could emulate his exuberance, never more dazzlingly than when, dressed in a white rhinestone-encrusted jump suit, she danced the night away, rubbing rhinestones with Elvis lookalikes.
But when the pace became too much for Fiona, second wife of the late Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, she sought sanctuary in a flat far from Palace House, her husband’s ancestral seat, and its 8,500-acre estate – causing her to be playfully described as ‘the only woman who goes to London to get away from it all’.
It was there that she died peacefully on Sunday, aged 79, after a short illness.
‘She was surrounded by her close family,’ an estate spokesman tells me, explaining that these included her son Jonathan and his wife Nathalie, and their daughter Akina, and her step-children, Mary and Ralph, who succeeded his father as the 4th Lord Montagu in 2015.
Born in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), the young Fiona had been sent to finishing school in Switzerland, before coming to Britain where, while working as a film production assistant, she met Edward Montagu.
Not from the Ghetto: Elvis fan Fiona would dance the night away, rubbing rhinestones with The King’s lookalikes
Beau Suede Shoes: Fiona was the second wife of the colourful Lord Montagu of Beaulieu
They married in 1974, only months after Lord Montagu’s divorce from his first wife, Belinda, whom he had married in 1958.
Four years before that first wedding, he had been jailed for a year for ‘consensual homosexual offences’ with an RAF serviceman.
The case became a cause celebre which helped lead to a change in the law, decriminalising homosexuality, the following decade.
Life with Lord Montagu at Palace House was never conventional. Once, recalled Fiona, she had entered her bedroom to find ‘a little girl, sitting at my dressing table, brushing her hair.
That’s when I decided that my bedroom should be out of bounds to visitors’.
A portrait depicted the peer with both his wives, to whom he jointly dedicated his memoirs.
Cruisey: Fiona, left, with her husband Edward, Lord Beaulieu, and a competition winner
Fiona became the first global ambassador for the Club of Budapest, an informal association seeking a more peaceful world whose devotees range from the Dalai Lama to Basic Instinct star Sharon Stone, while at home she dedicated herself to the Countryside Education Trust.
‘She brought light into every room that she came into,’ its chief executive, Jane Cooper, tells me. ‘She was so good at engaging people.’
Including, it transpires, ‘a millionaire of her acquaintance’. Encountering him on a beach one day – ‘by chance’ – she immediately asked for, and secured, a donation to the trust.