Born Free; Camilla Parker Bowles's Younger Brother Is an Author and Explorer Who Still Models for Italian Vogue. Alice BB Discovers What Drives Mark Shand, the Glamorous Seventies Playboy Who Married a Goldsmith and Became Saviour of the Elephants
Byline: ALICE B-B
Dressed in khaki strides and a fleece, Mark Shand is handsome in a weather-beaten, explorer way; making it clear why talent agency ICM is managing his career and why, despite the fact that he's in his fifties, his great friend and fashion photographer Bruce Weber likes to photograph him for Italian Vogue. Weber also gave him a starring role in the recent Asprey campaign alongside Keira Knightley.
The press has been interested in Mark for a large chunk of his life. Most notably because Mark's older sister is Camilla Parker Bowles. But he was also in and out of the gossip columns throughout the Seventies and Eighties when he dated a string of beautiful women, including Princess Lee Radziwill, sister of Jackie O, her niece Caroline Kennedy, Marie Helvin and Bianca Jagger. He ran with an altogether fast and beautiful crowd that included his great friend Imran Khan (Mark was best man at Imran's wedding to Jemima Goldsmith in 1995), before settling down to married life with Clio Goldsmith.
Now he's best known as a writer of books about exploring the world's remaining wildernesses and for his charity, Elephant Family. However keen he may be now to underplay the lady-killing image of his youth, his nephew Ben Elliot, son of his other sister, Annabel, says, 'Mark has introduced me to the most beautiful women from all four corners of the earth, and my God it made coming home from school fun.' Ecologist Zac Goldsmith (who is Clio's first cousin) also found the explorer a romantic figure: 'If he'd been born a century ago he'd have been featured in endless films by now.' Shand prefers to paint a portrait of himself as a rather hapless Inspector Clouseau. When I spot a yoga mat rolled up beneath his sofa, he explains that he's had a bad back since the night he brought a pretty girl back to his first-floor South Kensington flat, only to realise he didn't have his keys. So he shimmied up a drainpipe in the pouring rain, attempted a cat leap, slipped and fell 25ft.
'Of course I never saw her again.' He now prefers a garden flat, a bolt hole in Kew where we meet. Aside from his back troubles, he seems pained when I inevitably ask him about the chances of his sister ever becoming Queen. 'I'm the wrong person to ask,' he says, inhaling hard on a Benson & Hedges. 'I know nothing. I will support my sister - always - and I'm sure she's very happy. She is happy. I don't intrude on their life and it doesn't intrude on mine.' He continues, 'I do think the amount of pressure that's put on people like this is unnecessary and I feel sorry for them. This whole country needs to be more positive.' Perhaps that's why he wants to escape from London. As a writer of travel books, he has lived a peripatetic life and is quite prepared to move house, and even country, at a blink. He decamped to Rome after returning from a work trip to find a note from his wife that read: 'Gone to Rome to find an apartment.' It was accompanied by an air ticket.
Mark's family, his wife Clio, 44, and daughter Ayesha, nine, now live in Rome. He first met Clio 16 years ago at a party given by her uncle, the billionaire financier Sir James Goldsmith. She was a racy actress and daughter of ecologist Teddy.
Clio had previously been married to the Pirellityre heir Carlo Puri, by whom she has a daughter, Talitha, 21. 'Clio was about to get married to some boyfriend in Guatemala,' Mark explains, 'and had come to ask her father for a birthday present of a set of suitcases because, like me, she is a great traveller - she lived in a car for two years in Guatemala, selling antiques from the back of it. So we met and then I asked her to spend a weekend with me. She thought, "Shit, he's going to take me to Cornwall or somewhere," but I took her to Bangkok.' They were married in 1990.
He now rushes between London and Rome, using the Kew flat as an office for writing and as the base for Elephant Family, the charity he recently helped set up. …