Obituary: Mark Shand, author and explorer

Mark Shand: Explorer who had a zest for life and conservation but played down his royal connections
Mark Shand: Explorer who had a zest for life and conservation but played down his royal connections
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Born: 28 June, 1951, in London. Died: 23 April, 2014, in New York, aged 62

Mark Shand was the younger brother of the Duchess of Cornwall and their sister Annabel but, being of a resolutely independent nature, he led a far from traditional life. He retained a spirit of adventure and enterprise and, on the night of his death, had organised an auction at Sotheby’s New York to raise money on behalf of his Elephant Family charity. It is thought that $1.6 million (£950,000) was raised.

His devotion to elephants dates from 1988 when he bought Tara, a female elephant, in eastern India for £4,000. She accompanied him on a 600-mile cross-country adventure.

Shand was a well-known figure on the international circuit. He had charisma and was an excellent raconteur who told of his exploits to remote parts with vigour and enthusiasm. He passionately campaigned on behalf of the environment and the preservation of endangered species.

A handsome and distinguished man, in his time he dated companions such as Marie Helvin, Bianca Jagger, Jackie Onassis’s sister Lee Radziwill and Caroline Kennedy.

In 2011, Shand visited Edinburgh’s Royal Botanic Garden to launch Jungle City, comprising 130 sculptures of rare animals, which were exhibited round its grounds. They were later auctioned to aid the preservation of Asian elephants. At the unveiling, Shand explained he was attracted to Edinburgh as one of the most beautiful ­cities in the world with one of the best arts festivals.

Heather Jackson, of the Royal Botanic Garden, told The Scotsman: “Mark was a very vibrant person with amazing commitment and drive towards achieving his vision of a world where Asian elephants are no longer an endangered species. The Jungle City exhibition was a huge success and it no doubt raised awareness amongst our visitors about the Elephant Family charity and the vital conservation work it is carrying out.’’

Mark Roland Shand was the son of Major Bruce Shand – winner of the MC and Bar in the Second World War – and was brought up in Sussex. He attended Milton Abbey School, Dorset, until he was expelled for smoking cannabis.

He took a course at Sotheby’s and then spent two years in Australia before returning to London to work in the auction house’s packing room. He had become fascinated with the atmosphere and traditions of India on a stop-over in Bombay.

His love of travel was furthered when he and a companion spent some months travelling while dealing in antiques. He spent time in Indonesia venturing into cannibal country, had adventurous nights in Bangkok, went trekking in South America and led an expedition to Tibet in search of the origins of the mythical Shangri-la.

Amid all this exploring, Shand was nearly killed when a hurricane shipwrecked his boat in the South Pacific. “That,” he wrote in his book, “was my hairiest moment.” That book, Travels With My Elephant, about his 800-mile trip riding on Tara’s back, was a best-seller and had a charming and endearing quality.

Shand explains that it was Tara who really taught him about elephants – their “emotions, temper and intelligence”. He wrote of his “absolute love” for them and what began as an adventurous whim developed into a life of campaigning to provide vital migratory corridors and improve their habitat. He wrote two other books, Skulduggery and River Dog.

Shand became an authority on the Asian elephant. His comprehensive guide to the background and habitats of elephants won him the Thomas Cook Travel Book Award, the Prix Littéraire d’Amis and was turned into a BBC documentary.

The Duchess of Cornwall, the former Camilla Parker Bowles, always spoke of her brother with deep affection. She admired, it is said, his eccentricity, vitality and impulsive nature. Shand was the total diplomat and never spoke out of turn to the media. He remained discreet about family and royal connections – once deflecting a probing question with a good-natured: “I won’t talk about that, do you mind?”

One friend commented: “Mark walked with kings and queens, but he was extremely humble and had no airs and graces. He wore his closeness to the royals remarkably lightly.”

In 2013, Shand accompanied the Prince of Wales on part of his visit to India so that Prince Charles could see the work done by Elephant Family.

Shand was certainly a man of contrasts. His playboy image – in the Seventies he had been a regular visitor to Andy Warhol’s notorious Studio 54 night club in New York– was only one side of the man. His considerable achievement in speaking out about the environment and animal welfare undoubtedly influenced public opinion.

Shand had a zest for life and conservation. He recently mused: “So I haven’t made much money, but at least I have lived.”

He married Clio Goldsmith in 1990. The marriage was dissolved. She and their 19-year-old daughter, Ayesha, survive him.