Magazine article The Spectator

The Kennedys of Kenya

Magazine article The Spectator

The Kennedys of Kenya

Article excerpt


PRESIDENT Bill Clinton's African safari was notable for the countries he did not visit. No Zimbabwe, where the government is planning to confiscate land from the white farmers, and no Kenya, where Daniel arap Moi's recently re-elected government is so crooked that it is giving corruption a bad name.

The political situation in both these countries is so tense that many families, some of whom have been there for more than 100 years, have fled. Some are going to South Africa, others to Australia or Canada. Those that remain do so at considerable risk. The way of life is good, but it could change at any time.

The most important family in East Africa are the Delameres: the Kennedys of Kenya. Hugh George Cholmondeley Delamere, the 64-year-old fifth baron, still lives on the 50,000-acre farm his grandfather acquired at the turn of the century. His grandfather almost single-handedly founded the colony. He invested - and lost - much of his fortune there. The terrace bar in Nairobi's grandest hotel, the Norfolk, is named after him; so was the main street until independence, when it was changed to Kenyatta Avenue.

Like the Kennedys, the Delameres have not been short on scandal. Lord Delamere's stepmother was Diana, the beauty who outraged society in the 1940s by her love affair with the Earl of Erroll. His murder in January 1941 was never solved. The story was made into a book, White Mischief, which was filmed with Greta Scacchi in the main role.

The ghost of Diana still haunts Soysambu, the family farm on Lake Elementeita. Beyond the veranda, in a blaze of bougainvillea, is the swimming pool. `It's heated,' explained Lord Delamere. 'I can't stand cold swimming pools. When Diana lived here she never bothered with swimming so it was unheated. She just lay around with her pearls on and always said to me, "Hughie dear, won't you go swimming?" and it was 50 degrees. As soon as she died I had the heating installed. And the wall built. She said the wall would have spoilt the view.'

There are still wardrobes in the house full of Diana's clothes from Chanel, Givenchy and Yves St Laurent. Her jewels remain too: large diamond rings and pearls the size of pebbles. But he does not share the regard that others felt for her. `Of course she was the best whore in the country for 50 years. She was a trisexual. What's a trisexual? I thought everybody knew: she liked men; she would jump into bed with any woman that would have her; and she had a boyish body and liked seducing gays who would then bugger her. There, now you know as much as I do.'

Lord Delamere is no dilettante or socialite but a farmer. His problems are zebras eating his grass, not what to wear at the next governor's garden party. He deplores the changes from his grandfather's time, partly because they restrict his freedom. The zebra are breeding on the farm and destroying his fences. The district commissioner told him that any zebra shot in his game park should come out of his annual quotas of culls on the farm. `It's ridiculous. My grandfather spent a fortune getting rid of the zebra on this farm. Of course what I should have done is shoot the district commissioner, but that's bloody illegal too.'

He is tall, six foot six, with thin grey hair, jagged teeth and a hooked nose. His wife, Ann, is shorter and smiles a lot. She was very beautiful when she was younger. Five dogs have followed us onto the veranda and breathe heavily, their eyes on the sponge cake. `This is the finest tea in Kenya,' he said. 'I grow it myself. I'll show you tomorrow.'

Delamere is the last of a dying breed. He is encircled by a growing population eager for land. The estate is surrounded by small farmers and Masai who steal firewood and land. 'I told one Masai who kept irritating me, "I've got planes, I've got cars, I've got land, I've got much more money than you and I can cause you much more trouble than you can cause me." The Masai aren't used to white people speaking their minds; they think we speak with forked tongues. …

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