Magazine article The Spectator

Wild Life

Magazine article The Spectator

Wild Life

Article excerpt

Laikipia When I first knew Michael CunninghamReid he was such a strict teetotaller that he would not eat trifle for pudding in case there was sherry in it. For years, not drinking was his leitmotif, along with big cigars and a thirst for gambling, racehorses and catching marlin with just two lines out on the Indian Ocean. At Michael's funeral at his Lake Naivasha farm, my wife Claire was the first to reveal she had secretly given him a glass of wine. Julian then confessed he had done the same and said over the microphone, 'Own up, who else?' Mourners under the fever trees wriggled on their hay-bale seats and the giggles rose to a roar of laughter.

It turns out that we had all been helping Michael to fall off the wagon for a decade, keeping it a secret from his beloved German wife Dodo, known as the Panzer.

I was in on it, too. Michael had been writing his autobiography and wanted our thoughts on a draft. I said, 'It's all about your mother, isn't it?' 'Everything, ' he said with a sigh, demanding a large glass of red, which he downed in one. All his incredible life what Michael wanted was the love he did not get from his mother, who makes her mark in his memoirs by her strange absence, apart from the times she set fire to the curtains in an attempt to burn down the family pile and tried to flush her diamonds and pearls down the lavatory. When he was a boy, it was Doris Duke who took him under her wing and he found himself in Pearl Harbor on the day the Japanese attacked. As young Michael watched, a kamikaze Zero flew so low he could see the pilot wave at him before cutting his engines to dive into the USS Arizona.

Michael told me he'd blown about £50 million in his life, all I guess in the search for love. Buried in some newspaper library there's a headline about the Twins of Le Touquet, sisters that Michael took a bath with on a French holiday (one of them was married and the story came out in a divorce case). He found real affection in Kenya with his stepfather Lord Delamere, who told Michael, 'Just because you've been sick in your hat, it doesn't mean you have to put it on your head.' His first job in East Africa was to cull rhinos on the Laikipia plateau, because in the 1950s there was a rhino behind every bush and it was dangerous even to take a walk. …

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