Dowager Countess Gloria has cut the Earl entirely out of her will and left the bulk of £33m to two interior decorators
Given her part in the rows that bitterly divided the aristocratic Bathurst family, the death of the elderly Dowager Countess Gloria last December, aged 90, might have been expected to bring some closure to one of Britain’s most ancient dynasties.
Gloria Wesley was the American stepmother of the current Earl Bathurst, but when he inherited the title after his father’s death in 2011 and moved into the family seat, Cirencester Park in Gloucestershire, relations between the pair quickly deteriorated.
Just two years ago, at the ripe old age of 89, she even launched an unsuccessful High Court claim against her stepson in an attempt to get her hands on about £13 million of family portraiture and antiques.
But as the Mail revealed this week, in a final broadside fired from beyond the grave, the late Dowager Countess has cut the Earl entirely out of her will and left the bulk of her £33 million personal fortune to a couple of interior decorators instead.
The two lucky men are Grant White, who runs a design business in Fulham, London, and New York-based Geoffrey Bradfield, who features on a list of the world’s top ten designers and specialises in creating lavish mirrored interiors around priceless art.
Why did the Countess decide to favour them over her own beloved husband’s flesh and blood?
The answer lies in the Countess’s astonishing social climb from her family roots in Toxteth, Liverpool, to the seat of one of Britain’s most distinguished families.
Gloria’s friends told me this week of the social and financial insecurities that drove her throughout her life, often poisoning relationships with those closest to her.
The two designers who got their millions: Grant White (pictured left) and Geoffrey Bradfield (pictured right) were friends of the late Dowager Countess
A family friend told me: ‘I think that stemmed from her modest upbringing — she was determined she would never go back there. I think that is also why she became so acquisitive. She was a compulsive hoarder.’
The friend added that ‘she didn’t have a maternal bone in her body’ — rather ironic, given that Gloria inherited four stepchildren from her first marriage as well — and later bitterly locked swords with them too.
So how did the daughter of a Liverpool-born engineer end up with a £33 million personal fortune, believed to include a Knightsbridge flat, a home in the South of France, a Cotswold manor house, several acres of woodland and a collection of Picasso drawings?
Gloria was born in 1927 in Elizabeth, New Jersey, and her early years were nowhere near as salubrious as the life she later enjoyed as the wife of a peer of the realm.
Her mother, Evelyn, was a former schoolteacher; her father Harold Clarry’s fortunes changed when he landed a career with Marconi. His work frequently took the family, including Gloria and her elder brother Gordon, abroad.
After World War II, Gloria, then in her 20s, turned heads thanks to her slender figure and blonde good looks. In the late 1940s she was snapped up as a house model by Parisian designer Jacques Fath.
In London, she became known as ‘Britain’s most perfect outdoor girl’ and in 1952 she was one of three models with ‘typical English charm and beauty’ chosen to fly to Italy to showcase British woollen fashions. She later landed a job on Vogue magazine.
Close friend Gillian Siemon-Netto first met Gloria in the mid-Fifties when she rented a room in her flat in Lennox Gardens, in London’s Knightsbridge.
‘She wasn’t exactly rich but she always managed,’ says Gillian, who last spoke to Gloria two months before her death. ‘She watched the pennies very carefully. She even rationed the soap.’
In 1965, when Gloria was 37, she married wealthy widower David Rutherston a year after his wife’s death, becoming stepmother to his four young children.
The Countess is photographed with the Earl Henry Bathurst in 1999. When Gloria’s husband Henry Bathurst died in 2011, it wasn’t long before tensions rose to the surface. Even at his funeral, says one who was there, Gloria sat on one side of the church aisle, the rest of the Bathursts on the other.
The couple moved to Bisley in Gloucestershire, where Gloria set up home in the Grade II-listed 18th-century manor house Jaynes Court, a stone’s throw from the country home of Prince and Princess Michael of Kent.
According to Gillian, it was ‘a marriage full of tension’. She adds: ‘They fought a lot but there also seemed to be a terrific bond between them.’
But, in what could be seen as a foreshadowing of her battle with Earl Bathurst, relations with her stepchildren were fraught from the start. A family friend told the Mail this week: ‘She could be charming when she wanted, but she seemed to be jealous of the children and their privileged upbringing with staff.’
The family friend claims that when David died in 1975, not only were the children forced to buy back items bequeathed to them by their own mother from his estate, but Gloria was even reluctant to take on guardianship of the two younger children, aged 12 and 14.
‘She pretty much refused,’ says the friend. ‘She only relented when court proceedings were about to begin. It was their aunt who did all the things a mother should do.’
The Countess of Bathurst with her husband the Earl of Bathurst, formerly Lady Sara Apsley at Gloucester Cathedral. The Earl has been denied inheritance in the will and has refused to comment on it
Three years after David’s death, in January 1978, Gloria married the 9th Earl, Henry ‘Barmy’ Bathurst, at Chelsea Register Office, with a church blessing the following day at St Colombo’s in Knightsbridge.
Her first husband David had been friendly with the Earl and his first wife for several years. But a couple of years after Judy Bathurst ran off to Europe with John Vestey, a scion of the Vestey baronets, Gloria and Henry embarked on a relationship.
Gloria’s friend Gillian says: ‘It was a real love match. Gloria wasn’t the easiest person to love but Henry was besotted with her. She was a difficult woman and not one to show a lot of emotion or affection but she was very fond of him.After marrying Henry — once a close friend of Princess Margaret — Gloria inherited three more stepchildren. The current Earl, Allen Bathurst, was 16 when she became his stepmother.
‘I was becoming independent,’ he told the Mail in an interview about their relationship in 2017. ‘My parents had divorced. Life at home was not exactly easy.’
And speaking to the Mail after his stepmother’s death in 2018, twice-married Lord Bathurst said: ‘It was no secret that my stepmother, Gloria, and I did not see eye to eye, despite a number of attempted reconciliations, all of which were thrown back in our faces.’
He claimed Gloria traded on her new aristocratic status.
‘Having married into the family, she was more than happy to use the family name,’ he said. ‘It was just disappointing that she could not follow in the manners, standards and loyalty of the family of the past.’
The family friend puts it a lot more bluntly.
‘Gloria was just a bully. She bullied her four stepchildren [from her first marriage] and she tried to bully the current Earl, but at least he was virtually an adult when she hoved into view and his father acted as a buffer.’
When Gloria’s husband Henry Bathurst died in 2011, it wasn’t long before tensions rose to the surface. Even at his funeral, says one who was there, Gloria sat on one side of the church aisle, the rest of the Bathursts on the other.
Complicating matters further was the fact that while most of the 15,000-acre Bathurst estate had been placed in trust for the current Earl and his descendants, a 3,000- acre chunk of it had been placed in trust for Gloria to enjoy for the rest of her life.
Grant White poses next to Pandimonium. Gillian says he assumed the role of Gloria’s ‘rock’ in recent years. ‘She was lonely after Henry died,’ says Gillian, who met Grant White and his boyfriend David in 2012 at her golden wedding anniversary celebrations
The arrangement included a troublesome clause allowing her ‘use and enjoyment’ of the contents of the main house at Cirencester Park, even though she no longer lived there, having moved to the village of Sapperton, in Gloucestershire, after her husband’s death.
Just a month after Henry passed away, she caused havoc when she refused to renew the lease on Cirencester Park Polo Club, where Princes Charles, William and Harry have all played, which sits on the land she controlled.
She later relented but, two years later, put noses out of joint again when she refused to renew the lease on land used as a staff car park at Cirencester Hospital.
The stand-off caused great embarrassment for her stepson, who is president of the hospital’s League of Friends. A Sapperton parish councillor said this week that the Dowager Countess had also blocked the village fete.
Relations with her stepson deteriorated further in late 2017 when she went to the High Court to try to gain access to the main house ‘to inspect and make a full inventory’ of the valuable artwork there, which included a £6 million portrait of the Duke of Wellington.
Geoffrey Bradfield, adds Gloria’s friend Gillian, often travelled to Gloucestershire to spend Christmas at Cirencester Park (pictured), and later Sapperton, where Gillian and her husband were also guests
Her friend Gillian says: ‘She knew how to get her pound of flesh. When she moved to Sapperton she grabbed anything she could lay her hands on. Henry had to stop her because such items belonged to the mansion.’
Gloria died 11 months after losing the case, but by then she had already cut her stepson out of her will. It is thought that her legacy includes her final home, Manor Farm in Sapperton, as well as several acres of woodland, which come with hunting and fishing rights.
Having become virtually estranged from the rest of the Bathurst family, she was increasingly dependent on friends in her final years. These included the beneficiaries of her will: Geoffrey Bradfield and Grant White.
Bradfield, a South African, has redesigned the homes of some of the world’s richest families and, in the U.S. at least, has the nickname ‘the billionaires’ designer’.
While he was a close friend of Gloria’s for more than 40 years, she is believed to have met White about 15 years ago and to have become increasingly dependent on him since becoming a widow.
The 52-year-old was known to drive her all the way to the South of France when she wanted to go on holiday there, and provided a witness statement during one of her legal wrangles with the present Earl. White was also one of the executors to Gloria’s 2015 will, while his then boyfriend, garden designer David Sanchez, was a signatory. And it was White who registered the death of the Countess, who suffered from Alzheimer’s and failing eyesight and passed away just four days before her 91st birthday in December last year.
He also arranged her funeral, which took place in Sapperton.
Chair of Sapperton Parish Council Sarah Osborn Smith says: ‘After Henry died, Gloria lost her support structure and that came as a blow to her. I think it affected her personality but equally so did her upbringing.
‘Others stepped in to help her. She was well looked after and cared for in her final years and in her dying days. I think that was given with respect and love and not for any selfish reason or with an eye on any financial reward.’
Geoffrey Bradfield, adds Gloria’s friend Gillian, often travelled to Gloucestershire to spend Christmas at Cirencester Park, and later Sapperton, where Gillian and her husband were also guests.
‘He was genuinely very fond of Gloria and grateful because she gave him good advice years ago, telling him not to waste his time in London but to head to the U.S. because that was where the money was.’
But it was Grant White, she says, who assumed the role of her ‘rock’ in recent years.
‘She was lonely after Henry died,’ says Gillian, who met Grant White and his boyfriend David in 2012 at her golden wedding anniversary celebrations. They had accompanied Gloria to Gillian and her husband Uwe’s home in France.
‘Grant filled the void,’ she says. ‘He was very attentive. He was always there with his car to take her where she wanted to go. If she had any problems, she called Grant. He handled everything for her.’
White and Bradfield are not the only beneficiaries of the will. Besides donations of £10,000 to four charities, including Cotswold Care Hospice in Stroud, Gloucestershire, and Canine Partners in West Sussex, Gloria left £10,000 to Gillian and the same amount to another friend, as well as £10,000 each to her stepdaughters from her first marriage, Selina and Jane.
Their brother Max, who like the Earl is excluded from the will, hadn’t spoken to her for 40 years before her death.
The Earl Bathurst declined to comment on the will this week. So too did Grant White and Geoffrey Bradfield. At the end of a dramatic life, it seems clear that Gloria Bathurst divided opinion.
‘I was fond of her,’ says Gillian. ‘But she was a difficult woman to love and not one to show a lot of emotion or affection. And she was certainly never a winner of kiddies’ hearts.’
Sarah Osborn Smith, who saw Gloria the day before she died, adds: ‘I don’t believe she was a good stepmother but I don’t think she understood or was inclined towards children. I think she would say as much herself if she was alive.’
Additional reporting: Simon Trump