As one of London’s resident rakes in the swinging ’60s, Patrick, the fifth Earl of Lichfield—and a cousin of Queen Elizabeth II—loved beautiful women, glittery nightlife and himself almost as much as he loved photography. He was linked to jet-set beauties such as Britt Ekland, Jane Seymour, Gayle Hunnicutt and Dewi Sukarno; his premarital manifesto concluded that “fidelity is not essential. I’m sure I shall never be completely faithful to one woman.”
It was in 1967 that Lichfield, already known as a hustler with a shrewd flair for exploiting his good looks, breezy personality and aristocratic entree, photographed Leonora Grosvenor. She was an 18-year-old debutante and daughter of the fifth Duke of Westminster, one of England’s wealthiest landlords, whose estate was estimated at $1 billion. The nervous teenager was terror stricken during the half-hour photo session with Lichfield, which had been arranged by her mother. “He was famous and seemed a very glamorous figure,” she remembers. Lichfield was confounded by “what on earth to do with her hair—it just hung straight.” But the young heiress’ quiet nature appealed to him. “The overconfident debs were nightmares,” he says.
Seven years later Leonora was invited by Lichfield’s sister Elizabeth to spend the weekend at Shugborough, the family’s ancestral home 140 miles from London, which the bachelor lord used for hunting, fishing and trysting. That weekend, Lichfield’s companion was Sukarno, and Leonora recalls with some sarcasm that Dewi “was very much in evidence.” But soon after that she and Patrick began dating, and during a 1974 photo assignment in Los Angeles he impulsively flew to Hawaii, where Leonora was vacationing.
Having spent years dating women he describes as “eminently unsuitable as long-term partners,” it was for Patrick love at long last. “I had to ask myself why I did that in the midst of all those girls in California,” Lichfield says. “It could only be because this was the person I wanted to marry.” Not long after, he proposed in a noisy London restaurant. Leonora mistook his “Will you marry me?” for “Another cup of coffee?” and said, “No, thanks.” After realizing her mistake, she promptly corrected herself. Their wedding was limited to a mere 1,500 intimates including Queen Elizabeth II and Princess Margaret.
As for Patrick’s earlier swipes at monogamy, he reasons that “when you’re younger, it’s easier to be a taker than a giver. Then companionship becomes more important. I suddenly found someone I wanted to be with.” Leonora, once touted as a contender in the Prince Charles sweepstakes, shrugged off Patrick’s wild ways as part of his past.” Besides, she says, “I’d always said that I wanted to marry a challenge, not someone nice and safe.”
She seems to have gotten her wish. Three children (Lady Rose, 7, Thomas [Viscount Anson], 5, and Lady Eloise, 3) and nine years later, the man who gave away Bianca at her wedding to Mick Jagger is still stirring up Fleet Street. A few months back he made headlines when several models complained that he had asked them to strip for video auditions so that he could choose subjects for a nude calendar he was planning. The Lichfields weather such storms, but not without stress. “I have to accept that I’ve become a target,” says Patrick, 45. “My wife is a very much more private person than I am.” Leonora, 35, reacts accordingly. “It does upset me,” she says of the public brouhahas, and worries about embarrassing her family. Yet part of her seems to relish the contrast that has her “reading scandals in the paper one moment and opening a charity fete the next.”
The Lichfields have no trouble getting away from it all. When they’re not in their five-bedroom Eaton Square apartment in London they can head for Shugborough, where they occupy 30 of the 94 rooms that were turned over to Britain’s National Trust in 1960 in lieu of inheritance taxes. Or their newly built five-bedroom house in Mustique, the royal playland in the Caribbean. Or their lodge in Scotland. “We’re lucky we have so many places to go to,” says Leonora. “But it does become a headache.” How do the Lichfields spell relief? S-e-r-v-a-n-t-s. In London they are attended by a maid and a nanny; at Shugborough they have a butler, a maid and a cook.
On the surface their life seems to have leaped off the pages of a Barbara Cartland novel. Yet there is an undercurrent of tension that creeps into Leonora’s marital tales. Not the least of the strain is caused by Patrick’s endlessly energetic and restless nature; he logs about 250,000 miles a year on assignments for clients like Burberry, Cathay Pacific Airways and Olympus Corporation. During the first four months of this year he spent just four weekends with his family. Leonors constantly frets over “how to explain to the children why their father is away so much. Every year he makes a resolution to slow down and to try to direct his work so that he can spend more time at home.” But every year he seems to break it. “Leonora is left alone a lot,” says one friend of the pair. “Most of his trips are unnecessary, but he enjoys the travel and the publicity.” Admits Leonora: “I tried to live at his pace, but I can’t. I had to learn to switch off and go my own speed.” At tranquil Shugborough Patrick gets fidgety after four days. They once canceled a week’s canal-barge vacation when Patrick insisted on installing a telephone on the barge. “He is successful and trying to stay there,” says Leonora. “I don’t know what he’s trying to prove to whom anymore. When I ask i never really get a straight answer.”
Patrick, who beat out friendly rival Lord Snowdon to become the official photographer of the 1981 wedding of Charles and Diana, seems obsessed with proving that he is not just another aristocratic fuddy-duddy and that his success is unrelated to his royal connections. “I don’t think I’m a terribly good photographer,” he says. “I think I try harder than most people.” Besides there is a life-style to support, which includes all those homes, a Jaguar, a Mercedes-Benz, two motorbikes and two Jeeps. “I could exist without working, but I couldn’t live the way I do without work,” he says.
For all of the strain of Patrick’s absenteeism, those close to the Lichfields say that Leonora is handling her globe-trotting husband as well as any woman could. Her resilient nature has proven a perfect foil to Patrick’s free-spirited personality. Indeed Leonora seems to have benefited from the union. “The challenge has made her stronger and more self-confident,” says her younger sister, Jane, the Duchess of Roxburghe. “It’s brought out talents and resources that otherwise might not have emerged.” Patrick insists that he has settled down because of his wife: “She’s been a calming influence,” he says. “I’m far less rash and impulsive. And she’s knocked out the pretentious, fake side of my life. I’m sure she’s made me a nicer person.”
Not everybody else is so certain. “Patrick can be frightfully rude to Leonora and behave badly to staff,” says one friend. “Very few women would put up with it.” Leonora concedes that the two have their share of “short and sharp” battles. “We’re fairly hot tempered,” she admits. “We’ll both fly off the handle if the other forgets something. It’s always something so futile, like leaving a car in the wrong place or not mending a piece of china. But a good row will clear the air.”
During Patrick’s travels Leonora visits her mother and sister, Jane, but otherwise finds his absences restricting. “I am a full-time mother and housekeeper,” she says. She does, however, fit in charity work and several days a month as one of Princess Anne’s five ladies-in-waiting. In London the Lichfields dine out almost nightly, usually with media types or business contacts. “I don’t get involved in the mechanics of Patrick’s business, but I like the aesthetics of it,” she says. Around their house it is she who is the family photographer.
Lichfield has always led a somewhat charmed existence. Born in London, he was evacuated during World War II to Scotland’s Glamis Castle just north of Dundee. (His maternal grandfather was the elder brother of Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, the 83-year-old Queen Mother.) His parents, Viscount and Lady Anson, divorced when he was 9 (his mother later married Prince Georg of Denmark; his father died in 1958), and he grew up in Scotland and at Shugborough, “doing what he damn well wanted,” according to one friend. After attending the exclusive Harrow School, he put in two years of military training at Sandhurst and four years with the Grenadier Guards. In 1962 he horrified most of his family by getting a job as an $8.50-a-week photographer’s assistant in London. He worked his way up the “Fleet Street mill” to become synonymous with Burberry’s tony country look, appearing in ads that he shot himself. Featured frequently in the gossip columns, he was better known than most of his subjects.
Leonora grew up on Ulster’s Ely Island, a 370-acre “paradise for children,” where she and her brother and sister enjoyed a “perfect life, with riding, fishing and every wild country pursuit.” They were six miles from the border of the Irish Republic, a world away from the center of Ulster’s sectarian strife. “We were totally aware that things were terribly wrong,” she recalls, but “it seemed exciting. We didn’t absorb the full horror of it.” When her father died of emphysema in 1979, his title passed to her brother, Gerald, the current Duke of Westminster. At Sherborne, the elite English boarding school, she was “rebellious and headstrong.” She ended her education at a finishing school in Florence and plunged into London’s debutante whirl. In 1967 she was the Deb of the Year. “I was terrified of it at first and then grew to love it,” she says of her deb days. She later worked as an assistant in Sotheby’s Old Master drawings department.
Despite her husband’s absenteeism, Leonora, who coveted the dash of splash that Patrick served up when he entered her genteel life, does not feel she got more than she bargained for. Though at times she gets depressed (“I go off sailing or to the country or just look at a tree”), she is pragmatic—and optimistic—about the future. “I am married to Patrick, and we have a family,” she says. “One has to look forward and beyond. And one has to have faith and trust. I do. I hope he does.”