11 APRIL 1998, Page 14


Rupert Wright on East Africa's royal family who may be facing extinction Nairobi 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 gov- ernment is so crooked that it is giving cor- ruption 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 con- siderable 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 grandfa- ther 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 ter- race 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 Soysam- bu, the family farm on Lake Elementeita. Beyond the veranda, in a blaze of bougainvillea, is the swimming pool. It's heated,' explained Lord Delamere. can't stand cold swimming pools. When Diana lived here she never bothered with swim- ming so it was unheated. She just lay around with her pearls on and always said to me, "Hughie dear, won't you go swim- ming?" 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 `We appear to be in the old part of town - some of this chewing gum is quite ancient.' knew: she liked men; she would jump into bed with any woman that would have her; and she had a boyish body and liked seduc- ing 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 grandfa- ther'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.'

In one corner of his garden is a large bronze statue. `This is the first Lord, Hugh's grandfather,' said Ann. `After inde- pendence they were going to melt it down and make a statue of Kenyatta out of him, but some awfully nice old dears crawled out of the woodwork and said, `We won't let that happen.' So they turned up in the middle of the night in Nairobi, pulled him off his plinth and brought him up here.'

The Delameres live in considerable style. There are some fine paintings on the walls: a Brueghel, a portrait of Charles I, and another of the first Lord Delamere. `The Brueghel has been rather ruined by one of my aunts deciding that she could paint bet- ter snowballs than Brueghel, so she added some. I don't know why I keep that picture of the first Lord. He was an idiot who decided it would be impressive to have a peerage. He thought he had a bargain when he paid £5,000 for it. The only prob- lem was that the going rate was £1,200. Before he came along we had been content to be shire knights in Cheshire, when William the Conqueror gave us the whole county.'

It is hard to beat an evening with Delamere. Pick a topic and he has a forthright view on it. Take game hunting: `The only way to reason with an ele- phant is with a Rigby .405. That gets to his brain.' On the writer Karen Blixen, author of Out of Africa: 'That wretched Danish woman. What did she know about the country? She only lived here for eight years. As for Robert Redford playing Denys Finch-Hatton in the film, it was ridiculous. Everyone here knows that Finch-Hatton was as bald as an egg, it was the best thing about him.' On farming: 'I plan to grow soya to produce cooking oil. I reckon I can undercut the 'market by 20 per cent and still make an obscene profit. I have nothing against making an obscene profit: I haven't done it yet in my life but I'm about to try now.' About a former gov- ernor: 'He was very bright, but of course he was at Oxford. I was only at Cam- bridge.'

On the way back to the guest house, the African stars were out in full. There was the sound of insects, and somewhere, far off, the roar of a lion. In the guest house hangs a picture of Diana. She looks young and pretty and not at all debauched. Next morning we were up at 7 o'clock for a walk with Delamere and his dogs. He Points out the birds — African black swift, red-necked buzzard, green-headed oriole and the rare emerald-spotted dove. We walk through fields of cattle, large beasts with humps. In the distance is his game park, where he also has a camp. There are zebra, elephant, buffalo and, somewhere, a rhino. He tells us about his experiences shooting. 'I've had eight bad experiences with buffalo,' he says. 'The other times it's not been bad for me, but bad for the buffa- lo.'

After the walk we take his plane to the tea plantation. Once airborne, buffeted by air pockets, Delamere commands me to take over. While he fiddles around and sends messages to a tower somewhere, I hold the joy-stick and try to look uncon- cerned. Below us, where the boundary of his farm ends, is a patchwork of lots of lit- tle properties. He takes the controls back.

`You do fly, don't you? No? Well, you do now.'

Ten minutes later and we're flying low, dodging a pylon, round a tree and landing on the side of a hill. As the plane comes down on the narrow, bumpy strip between rows of tea plants, it's like a scene out of Vietnam. Delamere declares himself pleased with the result. 'Though I say so myself, that was quite a landing.' His plantation manager, Patrick Dyson, is on hand to greet us. His leathered skin has the patina of a plum. Later, when he drinks over lunch, it will turn redder. We Walk round the tea and coffee plants, lis- tening to the traditional farmer's com- plaints about poor prices and rapacious middlemen. There are women picking tea- leaves, carrying huge sacks on their backs like African Santa Clauses. He shows us his Rover, which has bullet marks on the bonnet, a memento from an ambush. Armed men thought he had the wage roll with him and tried to relieve him of it. He drove on despite the shrapnel. 'It was rather exciting,' he said.

Back at Elementeita we take a Land Rover and head to Delamere Camp. He wants to show the spot where we can have sundowners and watch the sun set. As we bump down the dusty track we pass one of his tractors. The driver is instantly con- sumed in a cloud of dust. When I mention that the poor man has been choked, Delamere looks surprised, then adds, `Well, at least I pay him to get choked. He doesn't pay me.'

The camp is grouped along the shore of Lake Elementeita, where pink flamingo flock. If the guests are lucky, they catch sight of birds and buffalo and rhino. If they are really lucky, they get to talk to Delamere.

Delamere's life's work, apart from his 13,000 cattle, is a model railway. This is no ordinary toy train set. It is vast, the size of four ping-pong tables. Putting on a stationmaster's hat, he introduces us to the Tunbridge Wells-Elementeita-Boston-Tokyo railway line. There are more than 40 loco- motives. One of the carriages is the night train, where passengers get up to white mischief. He has painstakingly built the figures and glued them in unusual posi- tions. 'Look at this fellow,' he said. 'He is trying to work it up a bit. Probably an old boy, rather like myself.' Outside there's a whole nursery of miniature trees which will be used for the railway.

Eccentric? Possibly. But this man has as great an understanding of Africa as any- body. He was born there; he will probably die there. His love of the wildlife is pro- found, even though he has shot large swathes of it. He employs 20 staff in the house, not out of necessity, and knows that they look after probably another hundred dependants. His language and way of life would shock many liberals, but they in turn would be unable to cope with its intensity.

In Kenya life is cheap: while we were there the head of an American bank decided to cut short his time in Nairobi, despite the luxurious living conditions and his love of the country. When he was away on a business trip, armed intruders had tied up his wife and threatened his chil- dren. Four weeks later they were back in Surrey. Delamere keeps a gun by his bed in case of similar occurrences.

As we leave Elementeita, Delamere is playing the organ. It was owned by Han- nington, a missionary who came to Kenya to convert the natives to Christianity. Unfortunately, they took exception to his preaching and killed him. His loss is Delamere's gain. He plays a burst of Han- del's Messiah. As we walk over the lawn to the landing strip to greet our pilot, he breaks into a jazz song by Joss White, singing along: 'Black girl, black girl, don't you treat me cruel.'