Often at dinner as the host at Bellaugello Gay Guest House I relate how odd it is that I choose to run a gay guest house and whilst being a gay man I am in so many ways so un-stereotypically gay.
I ask the question, why as a gay man should I have to like gay icons or divas? I really do not like Liza Minelli and hated the ‘sex and the city’ series, detest ‘big brother’ and would rather not listen to Barbara Streisland’s music. All that tantrums and tiaras stuff just does not cut it for me. Perhaps that is why I am here as a peasant farmer in rural Umbria… I do love my garden, harvesting olives by hand, making marmalade and lolling lazily in my infinity pool. OK I admit being a ‘peasant farmer’ does have its attractions… and maybe some of them are a little bit stereotypically gay but… And Bellaugello does host the most exquisite guys, handsome, articulate, interesting and immensely, fascinating guys from all over the world, So many different professions and different life experiences, I adore my guests, quite simply I adore my job which gives me the opportunity to meet such a variety of people.
By now you will be asking why this long pre-amble? What is Alec on about? Those of you who who who are long-term readers of my blog by now have probably fathomed out a bit how my brain works (could you please let me know!) Others I am sure will be asking themselves ‘why am I reading the is?’
So to cut to the chase one of the people I most admired in my life died this morning. I will admit to being just a wee bit sad and surprised when Joan Rivers died, but it is not her I refer to, but Deborah, Dowager Duchess of Devonshire, her death has left me more than a bit sad. Happy for her that she is out of suffering, but her passing does mark the end of a glamorous era.
As a child I had the immense fortune to have been on holiday in Derbyshire and taken to visit Chatsworth House. I was over-awed by the magnificence, the dare I say grandiosity, the visit stuck in my memory. Times pass and I graduate in hotel management, and periodically Chatsworth crops up in conversation, they are opening Bolton Abbey Hotel, it is a place to watch. The Devonshires take a personal management of the hotel. I re-visit Chatsworth on several occasions, every time there is something new to see. They convert the stables and coach-house into a restaurant and wedding venue, host sculpture exhibitions and the duchess whilst still finding time to tend her chickens is inspirational in opening an organic and quality farm shop. The business goes from strength to strength, and if her books are to be believed, and I believe they are, so very much of the credit must go to the late Dowager. She comes over as innovative, daring, mildly eccentric and yet a bit fragile, a bit outside her circle and un-stereotypical. Not that I would ever deign to put myself on a pedestal akin to hers, the Dowager was pure genius and to me inspirational, her ideas formed the nucleus of so many of mine.
I can’t claim her as a friend, I am just one of tens of thousands whose path crossed hers, but I do remember my time in Wiltshire in the 1990s when I travelled regularly to London and bought books from a rather good bookshop. Occasionally our paths crossed, maybe the Duchess was there for a book signing, but more often she, like me was choosing a book to read, on a couple of occasions she offered a word of advice on my choice or that of the assistant. Her warmth, her passion, evident, yes the Duchess was just another person browsing books and that is exactly as she came across to me, yet back home she was running the most innovative and spectacular and successful business. Reading her books I note that it had not been easy, an unconventional upbringing, fabulously clever siblings, crippling death duties, massive debts, not the easiest of marriages, insurmountable obstacles, the horrid experience of losing children early in their lives, yet she overcame them all, a stoic, and to me was a true inspiration an icon, in my way of thinking a true diva.
and damn it all she was good looking and elegant too….