June 08, 1981 12:00 PM

All spring long Britain has been diverted by those young lovers, Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer, but last week the spotlight was on the celebrated amours of another famed couple. There were no Buckingham Palace announcements this time, only a splash of accounts in the press about the 50th-anniversary celebration of the English National Opera. Leading the guest list was Queen Elizabeth II. Her presence acknowledged the ENO’s emergence as a rival to the older Royal Opera at Covent Garden, but it also served another purpose: to close the most wrenching chapter in royal romantic history since Princess Margaret’s dalliance with the dashing but divorced Group Captain Peter Town-send in the 1950s.

Just by attending, Elizabeth was signaling the full return to favor of a relative who only eight years ago pointedly wasn’t invited to Princess Anne’s wedding. He is the opera’s managing director, George Henry Hubert Lascelles, 58, who is also the Seventh Earl of Harewood, a grandson of King George V, the Queen’s first cousin and 23rd in succession to her throne.

Harewood rocked the monarchy—and got branded by Fleet Street as the royal “black sheep”—in 1967. That was when he was divorced for adultery by the first Countess of Harewood, the mother of three of his children, and then quickly wed Patricia Tuckwell, an Australian divorcée who had been a violinist and a model. Even more startling was the revelation that Harewood and Patricia, who had been lovers for eight years, had a son named Mark, born in 1964.

Unlike his uncle the Duke of Windsor, who was forced into exile when he insisted on marrying the twice-divorced “woman I love” in 1937, Harewood was permitted to remain in England and try to rebuild his life on his own terms. He has succeeded, well, royally. Besides being the man who consolidated the ENO’s position on Britain’s cultural map, he is the president of the vaunted Leeds United pro soccer team. So secure are the earl and his second countess, now 53, in the roles they have carved for themselves that they are beginning to tell their tale in detail, and a Harewood autobiography will appear this fall. A moral of the story, says the earl: “The one thing you can never know about with certainty is people’s marriages.”

Harewood met Patricia in January 1959 at the Air France terminal in Milan; flights there were canceled by fog, and they were awaiting a bus transfer to Turin. The earl, then 35, had been married—happily, he thought—for nine years to Marion Stein, the pianist daughter of a music publisher; he had gone to Italy to try to get Maria Callas to sing additional performances at the Royal Opera, for which he then worked. Patricia, the daughter of an Australian moviehouse organist, was 31; she was taking her first trip to Europe and on her way to meet her brother Barry Tuckwell, first horn with the London Symphony Orchestra.

George and Patricia sat together on their flight to Paris, then dined at the Tour d’Argent. He went on to London next day but flew back later to take her to the Paris Opera. Within a week they were meeting again in London. It was “not far from love at first sight,” Harewood recalls. Says Patricia: “He was dishy and funny and intelligent. Chance encounters, strange coincidences—that’s how life is.”

Aside from their love of music, they would seem to have little in common. For George, home was and is Hare-wood House, in Yorkshire, an art-filled 104-room Georgian Palladian masterpiece set on 4,600 acres of gardens and farmland that supports 3,000 pigs, 2,000 sheep and 500 cows. It was built in the 18th century with the fortune that the Lascelles family had made in the West Indies sugar trade.

Harewood describes his late father, Henry, who married George V’s only daughter, Princess Mary, as “a countryman who bred racehorses and shot well.” In the halcyon years between the wars young George was equally carefree, forever going to royal shindigs and finding them “lots of fun.” But at 19, just out of Eton, he joined the Grenadier Guards and went to fight in Italy. He was shot and captured by the Germans in 1944 and spent the rest of the war at the Nazi POW camp for officers at Colditz.

“Until the war changed everything,” Harewood says, “it had been assumed that I’d stay in the army a few years and then be at the house as my father was.” But George had been entranced by music since boyhood. His parents didn’t discourage the interest, because he was careful not to speak of it as a vocation. “They’d have thought I was mad,” explains George. But he had decided that where he wanted to be was in an opera house. After he left Cambridge in 1948—the year following his father’s death—he married Marion, began writing music reviews, started an opera magazine and took a job with the Royal Opera.

Patricia had the same love of music, but the Tuckwell family had lived “in 25 houses before I was 20,” she says. Even so, she mastered the violin quickly enough to join the Sydney Symphony at 16. She was also pretty and moonlighted as a fashion model. At 21, she quit the orchestra to marry Athol Shmith, a photographer, and had a son, Michael, now 31 and a journalist. Divorced in 1958, Patricia ran a modeling school, hosted TV shows on beauty and otherwise busied herself before she set off on the fateful trip on which she met Harewood.

The first countess became aware of her husband’s adultery within three months. Says George: “She guessed it, and I told her. I hoped she gradually would come to accept our marriage was finished, but she wanted to see it through.” Indeed, for a while it seemed that the affair might end. After six months Patricia retreated home to Australia, convinced that “it was all impossible.” But the earl coaxed her back and set her up in a townhouse half a mile from Harewood’s place in London’s Orme Square, then bought her a six-bedroom home three miles away. Mark was born there instead of in a hospital. Says Patricia: “It was an attempt at privacy, and it worked.”

Their ploys to keep a low profile also included avoiding first nights and other occasions likely to attract publicity and, on trips, going separately to the airport and meeting on the plane. George had agonized over whether to ask for a divorce—so much so that he went into psychoanalysis “simply to talk through the problems.” Says he: “I doubted my ability to cope. The weighing finally came all on the side of divorce.” But Marion refused.

“We made a conscious decision to have a child,” Patricia continues. “We felt we had no chance of being married, but life must go on.” After Mark’s arrival, Harewood moved in full-time with Patricia. “My life was a mixture of an enormously rewarding relationship and purgatory,” she recalls. “Being the other woman is humiliating, but by far the worst off is the man. He’s really the ham in the sandwich. I used to quail and say it was all impossible. George never did. He was a hero.”

Through it all, George’s royal kin maintained a stoic silence—”not a postcard, not a word,” he says. His mother “did know, but almost never mentioned it,” he recounts. Nor did she ever meet Patricia or Mark. It was only after her death in 1965 that Marion finally consented to a divorce.

Having been forced to resign as artistic director of the Edinburgh Festival, he treaded water professionally until 1972, when he took his ENO post. He considered leaving England, but only briefly: “I had watched others being miserable in exile and wouldn’t have wanted to be one of them.” Some friends, including the late composer Benjamin Britten, dropped him cold. Says Patricia: “There’s nothing like a marriage breakup to sort out the sheep from the goats.”

Even now, Harewood isn’t sure how his marital drama has affected his and Marion’s sons—David, 30, a struggling filmmaker; James, 27, a rock musician; and Jeremy, 26, a record company executive. “The emphasis is on keeping relations normal,” George says mildly. “You don’t ask questions.” As all concerned are acutely aware, Marion’s agonies did not end with the divorce. Six years later she married Jeremy Thorpe, whose career as leader of Britain’s Liberal party was ruined by allegations of conspiracy and incitement to murder a man who claimed to be his lover. In 1979 Thorpe was tried and acquitted.

Despite the burdens of maintaining Harewood House, death duties and Marion’s divorce settlement, the earl has managed to restore his once-struggling estate to solvency. Some 75 percent of the original acreage has been sold off and a staff that once numbered 72 has been cut to five servants and seven gardeners. A painting, Titian’s The Death of Actaeon, was sold for $4,032,000 in 1971, and the house’s first floor has been opened to tourists. For Patricia, their London place is home in a way Harewood never could be. “It’s entirely your own business,” she explains, “whereas at Harewood you always have history and posterity to think of.”

Was it all worth it? “Infinitely,” George says. “I have no regrets except having caused others pain—and what seems now like my indecisiveness. A quick, sharp split earlier might have been better. I don’t know. It’s very difficult when emotions are involved.” Trust sustained them, says Patricia. “Neither of us could conceive of facing life without the other. And you learn, above all, that you mustn’t judge others, because you can never know how you would behave in such a situation.”

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