After despairing of the jungle celebs, Lady C vows her one woman show will be no ego trip
Jamaica’s least typical daughter is a heady ethnic mix of Lebanese/Russian father and English/Irish/Portuguese/Spanish mother, with a hint of grandmaternal Sephardic Jew, “and I feel all the bits of my heritage”, says Lady Colin Campbell, in an accent that is part Yardie and part Yardley’s English Rose.
“Now we don’t want this to be too profound, otherwise I am going to look terrible,” she says firmly. “It will ruin my image for all time.”
A glorious canter through Lady C’s torrid life leaves one with little breath left for profundity, even were it wanted.
Although born female, she had a “genital deformity” (her description, and one she holds to in the face of negative reaction from transgender activists. “How dare they,” she snaps. “It was my deformity, and I shall call it what I like.”) and was mistakenly registered and brought up as a boy in Jamaica. She moved to New York in her teens, had corrective surgery and stayed to attend the Fashion Institute of Technology.
“When I was a child I loved my dolls and I was practically born with a needle in my hand. I really had an aptitude for sewing – my mother taught me. I even learned to embroider when I was very young and I made the most fantastic dresses for my dolls. So I thought I could be a designer,” she says of her decision.
“My father insisted that each of us have a career. His family were refugees and he understood the vicissitudes of fortune. He used to say, ‘Governments can steal your land, your houses, they can steal the clothes off your back, they can steal your jewels as you try to smuggle them out of the country, but they cannot steal what’s in your head.’”
This meant that although the family’s lifestyle was lavish, the emphasis was on self-reliance. “From when we were about seven we worked in our family store during the holidays. My father said it was important that we know where our money came from. We would be taken down at about 10am and then we would work straight through till 4pm with one hour for lunch, and we were not allowed to sit down or lean on the counter. He was quite determined that we were not going to be spoiled, indulged children. And that was a very good thing.”
The designer thing didn’t last long. She found college boring, and the 1960s fashionistas worse. “Their world revolved around whether a hemline rose or fell by an inch and I just thought ‘This is such trivia and I cannot live in a world where trivia reigns.’” She smiles. She possibly has the most provocative, knowing smile I have ever seen. “But knowledge is never wasted. I did supply two of the hot New York boutiques in ’68 – She and Abracadabra. I would sell them some concoction that I’d made for $60 and they would sell it for $120, which is probably $1,500 now, for absolute crap!” she says, hooting with laughter. “They were very happening.”
In 1974 in New York, having known him for only five days, she married Lord Colin Campbell, younger son of the eleventh Duke of Argyll, separating from him nine months later, leading to an outrageously acrimonious divorce and three decades of what she describes as “mind-blowingly expensive, nerve-wracking litigation”.
“When I was young and, supposedly so beautiful,” she says, “I had a tsunami of men crashing in on me and some really, really nice guys wanted to marry me. But I only ever wanted to marry for love. And I did. And it worked… for the first 20 minutes.”
She now describes her ex-husband – and his father, the then Duke of Argyll – as “great haters”.
I mention, given that she is Edinburgh bound, that the Campbells are not exactly up there in Scotland’s Top Ten Favourite Clans either.
“Oh I know all about that, my dear,” she hoots. ‘When I first married Colin, we took a cousin and a great friend to Glencoe and he made the mistake of dropping his name in the restaurant, to ‘expedite matters’,” her eyebrows arch and lips form a moue worth a thousand words, “and the waitress refused to serve him.” The eyebrows bounce back to their default setting. “I pleaded with her that I was Jamaican, the cousin was half Colombian and half Mexican, ‘so would you please serve us’… yes … and our friend was American… so she got served too. And I said, ‘Well if you are serving all of us…” But no way. ‘I would never serve a Campbell,’ she said, ‘and if any of you feeds him or gives him anything to drink I am going to whip everything away from you.”’
“She stood over us while we ate.” Lady C shakes her head. “At the time I found it dreadful, but I have to say, by the time I had been through the wringer with the Campbells, I could understand it.”
Having kept the blue blood of England at what might be termed “a rolling boil” for many years with exposés on the royals, especially Diana and the Queen Mum, and having adopted two young Russian orphans, Lady C moved from England to live in her French château. As I ask her why, I sense that the answer will not be dull.
“I was slightly caught up in the anthrax scare in 2002,” she says. “The envelope was addressed to Lady Campbell and Family and I asked the police, ‘Can you guarantee my children will be safe?’ and they said no.” I nod understandingly and make to move on but...
“And just before that a paedophile had tried to make off with Dima in Battersea Park,” says Lady C. “He was only foiled by my dog Tum Tum.”
Lady C claims to love France and her château, but says she found the French “insuperably dreadful”.
And so back to England she came, where, a couple of years ago, she bought Goring Castle in Kent, “by accident”, which led her to the jungle.
“They’d been after me for 12 years and I had always said no, but I needed a roof for the castle, so I said yes. My sons were both horrified. And I said, ‘Well, sometimes in life you just gotta do what you gotta do.’” So she did it.
She fits into the whole I’m A Celebrity... Get Me Out Of Here! milieu much less comfortably than you might think. Mainly because she is a real person. What you see is exactly what you get, outrageous as that frequently is. I suggest that some of the more deluded and vacuous celebrities (Lady C is scathing about jungle-buddy Yvette Fielding – “what a fake that woman is!” – and Fringe show performer Nancy Dell’Olio – “odious, delusional and tasteless”) simply lose their real selves in all the adulation and excitement. She withers me with a glance. “Yourself is not something you simply lose… like a handbag,” she says. “There is a four-letter word beginning with ‘w’ that would help them.” She looks at me expectantly. I can only think of one word and it seems somewhat inappropriate. “Work!” she says emphatically. “I would hope I am the antithesis of these people.”
Lady C was persuaded to do her Edinburgh Fringe show by producer Mike Hollingsworth and director Stewart Nicholls, whom she refers to as her “dream team”, and has been rehearsing assiduously.
“I needed to be convinced that people would actually be interested,” she says earnestly.,“that I have something to offer and that I’m not just exercising my ego.” People, I reassure her, will be enthralled. I am. She twinkles in a Ladylike way. “I mean one doesn’t want to sound like one fancies oneself.”
• A Cup Of Tea With Lady C, Gilded Balloon Teviot, 3pm, Friday to 28 August