Shy heiress’s mystery gift

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GIVEN by Queen Victoria to a granddaughter, Mar Lodge is steeped in history and Royal connections.

When the lodge, which is close to Balmoral Castle, was put up for sale six years ago, a mysterious benefactor stepped in and bought it for the nation.

At the time of the 4.5 million donation, it was widely rumoured that the Prince of Wales was the anonymous benefactor. But now she has been revealed as Ann Marie Salvesen, the philanthropic heiress of the shipping dynasty.

The family of the spinster, who died in July last year leaving 15 million in her will, said she was behind the Easter Charitable Trust which enabled the National Trust for Scotland (NTS) to buy the 117-square-mile estate, one of Scotland’s most magnificent .

Yesterday, her brother, company director Andrew Salvesen, said the family had decided to reveal Miss Salvesen’s role in the purchase of Mar Lodge simply to forestall future speculation.

"She wished her donation to remain anonymous during her lifetime as the publicity it would have attracted had her identity been revealed would have compromised the quiet and modest lifestyle she followed," said Mr Salvesen from his home in Aberdeenshire.

"My sister had a deep love of the Scottish countryside and believed that this great Scottish estate should be preserved for future generations and made available to the public through the NTS, an organisation of which she was a loyal and longstanding supporter. Now that she has died there is no useful purpose in maintaining secrecy for the sake of it."

The Easter Charitable Trust was set up to enable Miss Salvesen to make the donation anonymously, according to her brother. It is now dormant, having served its purpose.

The 4.5 million allowed the NTS to buy the estate from US media billionaire John Kluge. With funding guaranteed, the National Lottery-financed National Heritage Memorial Fund was prepared to put up 10.3 million to ensure the day-to-day running of the estate.

"I think the future of Mar Lodge was in the air at the time and she felt that a capital donation to secure the estate for the nation was a good use for her money," said Mr Salvesen.

Mar Lodge is maintained as a traditional Highland sporting estate and open to the public. The house was built by Queen Victoria between 1895 and 1896 for her granddaughter, Princess Louise, Duchess of Fife.

A spokesman for the NTS said: "Now that the executors of Ann Marie Salvesen have made the information public, the National Trust for Scotland wishes to place on record its appreciation of her generosity ."

Unusually, Miss Salvesen appeared comfortable that part of her estate should be paid to the taxman, with her estate likely to pay 4.2 million in inheritance tax. "My sister had a social conscience and rather than wrap things up in offshore tax havens, she felt some of her money should benefit education and the National Health Service," Mr Salvesen explained.